Summer-Fall 2011 Telluride Magazine

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Page 26

nature notes

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Make a Comeback

photo by kevin ludwig

Panorama Ridge

It’s never advisable to count sheep when you’re behind the wheel, but motorists on Highway 145 down valley just might be tempted to pull over and try. A flock of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, the state’s symbolic animal, has returned to the steep canyon walls between Bighorn sheep Deep Creek and Fall Creek for the first time return for in nearly 30 years. the first time Wildlife officials suspect the herd originated from a larger group that frequents the cliffs in nearly along Red Mountain Pass. Their appearance 30 years down valley is a reflection of the Ouray County herd’s slow recovery from an epidemic that reduced its numbers from 300 to 50 in the 1980s. Around that time, wildlife officials said a herd near Sawpit was pushed out by residential development and the concomitant menace of pet dogs. The reappearance of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in San Miguel County is a little startling. The species breeds slowly—one lamb per year is the norm—and even now the Division of Wildlife estimates the Ouray herd only numbers 150 animals or so. Biologists will be tracking some of those sheep with GPS collars this summer to see whether their range overlaps with grazing allotments on public lands, ▶▶

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summer/fall 2011