Utah’s bighorn sheep population has grown by 49 animals after wildlife officials completed a transplant that brought the mammals from Nevada to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
The desert bighorn sheep were captured via net guns fired from helicopters Monday and Tuesday near Valley of Fire State Park and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and transported to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, where the final 14 were released Wednesday.
“They were airlifted to a remote canyon to help re-establish that area,” said Teresa Griffin, a regional wildlife manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR).
After being transported from Nevada, the sheep were airlifted in metal boxes to a release site near the Escalante River arm of Lake Powell within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Lonnie Pilkington, a natural resources program manager with the recreation area, said there are an estimated 770 desert bighorn sheep at Glen Canyon, but added sightings are “uncommon.”
Biologists have determined that the national recreation area can support more than 1,500 bighorn in its more than 1.2 million acres — although most of it is covered by water.
Nevada has a healthy population of bighorn sheep and is glad to help other states bolster herds.
“Utah has provided us with pronghorn antelope and elk,” said Mike Cox, a big-game biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “We have more desert bighorn than anybody else and we have been gracious to provide them to other states like Utah, Texas and Colorado.”
Utah “probably has the most, good unoccupied habitat in the West,” Cox said. “We are running out of places in Nevada to restore bighorn. We want to see them put to good use and see them flourish.”
Thirty-five bighorn were captured Monday. Volunteers from the Utah chapter of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep raced blood samples from Nevada to Utah to make sure the animals were free of disease before they were released Tuesday. The animals were also fitted with radio collars.
Fourteen more sheep were transported to the release site early Wednesday. Limited hunting permits are offered in the area.
The transplant was funded by $40,000 raised by the Utah chapter of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, which auctioned conservation hunting permits for bighorns.
“It will benefit all of us to see all our western states increase our bighorn herds,” Cox said. “The more we have the less likely we are to see population declines that we can’t overcome.”