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Wild Horse Island bighorn sheep captured and relocated

By Adriana Fehrs

A helicopter swoops in to drop off five ewes at the Big Arm state park. The ewes were tested for pneumonia and overall health before being transplanted via trailer to the southern Cabinet Mountains and Kootenai Falls Wildlife Management Area. (Adriana Fehrs photo)A helicopter swoops in to drop off five ewes at the Big Arm state park. The ewes were tested for pneumonia and overall health before being transplanted via trailer to the southern Cabinet Mountains and Kootenai Falls Wildlife Management Area. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

BIG ARM On Wednesday February 26, the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes Wildlife Management Department partnered with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to capture sixty-one Bighorn Sheep on Wild Horse Island to be relocated to the southern Cabinet Mountains and Kootenai Falls Wildlife Management Area.

Early Wednesday morning around 8:45 a.m. CSKT and the FWP conducted a capture operation of Bighorn Sheep on Wild Horse Island. The sheep were rounded up by a professional helicopter capture crew from Alaska and then processed at the Big Arm State Park. John Fraley from the Montana FWP says, Using a helicopter is the easiest way and is less stressful [on the sheep].

Biologists from CSKT and Montana FW&P work quickly in the cold on Wednesday February 26 to remove the sheep from their harnesses, which were used to transport them via helicopter. (Adriana Fehrs Photo)Biologists from CSKT and Montana FW&P work quickly in the cold on Wednesday February 26 to remove the sheep from their harnesses, which were used to transport them via helicopter. (Adriana Fehrs Photo)

FWPs goal was to capture about 60 sheep and then transfer them by trailer to two different wildlife management areas. Bruce Sterling, area Wildlife Biologist out of Thompson Falls for FWP, says after a coordinated effort with CSKT to survey the Wild Horse Island, the biologist found the island was overpopulated with Bighorn Sheep. The target population for the island is around 100 sheep. CSKT and FWP estimated there was about 160 to 200 sheep on the island, and made a quick decision to remove a portion of the population. We survey the island every year, and since there are no predators on the island, the population is able to grow at a healthy rate, so we are able to use this area as a nursery herd where we can transplant these sheep to other locations in Montana to help boost populations.

The breath from a captured big horn ewe condensates in the air on Wednesday February 26. Biologists perform health checks on the big horn sheep before loading them into trailers and transplanting them to the southern Cabinet Mountains and Kootenai Falls Wildlife Management Area. CSKT and Montana FW&P’s goal is to capture 19 ewes total from the Wild Horse Island State Park. (Adriana Fehrs photo)The breath from a captured big horn ewe condensates in the air on Wednesday February 26. Biologists perform health checks on the big horn sheep before loading them into trailers and transplanting them to the southern Cabinet Mountains and Kootenai Falls Wildlife Management Area. CSKT and Montana FW&Ps goal is to capture 19 ewes total from the Wild Horse Island State Park. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

The sheep, before being transplanted, underwent a health and condition test. Body temperature, nasal swabs, throat cultures for pneumonia, blood analysis, and fecal samples for lungworm were all part of the tests done on the sheep. Though pneumonia is not a problem in Montana sheep herds, they were tested as a preventative measure. Dale Becker, CSKT Wildlife Program Manager, says, All of the sheep caught have been exceptionally well. Only one ram died during the capture, and one escaped on site.

Employees from CSKT wildlife management and Montana Fish & Game work together to perform health and condition tests on the big horn sheep caught on Wild Horse Island. (Adriana Fehrs photo)Employees from CSKT wildlife management and Montana Fish & Game work together to perform health and condition tests on the big horn sheep caught on Wild Horse Island. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

A total of 59 Bighorn sheep were release on February 26 and 27, consisting of 37 rams, 21 ewes, and one male lamb. One group, consisting of 26 rams and six ewes were relocated to the Kootenai Wildlife Management Area west of Libby. The other group, consisting of eleven rams, fifteen ewes, and one male lamb were relocated to the Berray Mountain in the Bull River drainage north of Noxon. Sterling says, We were mainly focusing on [capturing] young adult rams, because they transplant well. All of the ewes caught were fitted with radio collars, he says, we track the females because they give a better definition of summer grazing lands.

Funding for the capture came from the annual auction of a single Montana Bighorn ram hunting permit through the Foundation for Wild Sheep.

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