Game and Fish track new big horn sheep daily - Tucson News Now

Game and Fish track new big horn sheep daily

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

The Catalinas have not had big horn sheep for more than a decade.  Now, 31 of them, from six rams to 24 ewes to one lamb, roam the rocky slopes after they were released from the Romero Trail in the Catalina State Park area this week.

"White butts going up the hill, that's the metric that wildlife biologists use," said Kevin Hurley with the Wild Sheep Foundation, one of the many organizations that contribute to the effort.  Land managers, wildlife conservationists, sportsmen and others came together and had to agree on the terms of the project for it to happen.  After four years, the sight of big horn sheep running into the Catalinas is a reality.

"Ran out, grouped together, which is what we were hoping for, and then went on up the mountain.  So,  everything went very well, very smooth," said Arizona Game and Fish wildlife manager Ben Brochu.

But now the biologists can't see the sheep going up the hill.  That's where 30 programmable GPS collars come in, one on each sheep except the lamb.  While getting the sheep from Yuma to Tucson required plenty of care, making sure each $3500 collar worked put Brochu on edge the most.

"The functionality of the collars is fundamental to all the decisions we've made thus far and could make in the near future.  There was a lot of pressure there," Brochu said.

At a celebration of the release on Tuesday night at the Sheraton El Conquistador, a map showed where the sheep had been on their first day.  One sheep strayed toward Sabino Canyon.  Another headed north to the Charlow Gap.  But two main groups either moved to Pusch Ridge or to the Kachina Trail, which is between the release site and Summerhaven.

One "mortality alert" showed that one moved very little in an eight hour period.  Other sheep were near it.  Game and Fish would be eager for the Wednesday morning update from the tracking collars to see if the alert was a false alarm.  Each morning would provide an update from the collars, and each update would show four locations that each sheep had been the previous day.

"Within the first week or so, we can expect, that's fairly typical of bighorn sheep from all of our previous restoration efforts," Brochu said.

"It will give great data on the very parameters that the department needs to manage this herd through time," Hurley said.

If a big horn is killed, Game and Fish will determine if a mountain lion is responsible, track the cat, and possibly remove it, unless it's a female feeding her cubs.

Restoring big horn to the Catalinas is funded by donations and fees such as hunting licenses.  Two more releases over the next two years are planned to get about 100 sheep in the Catalinas.

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