After killing more than 50 bighorn sheep on Goslin Mountain in 2010, Utah state wildlife officials began efforts last week to restore the herd along the Green River below Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
Twenty-three Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep captured in Desolation Canyon lower on the Green River were released Thursday on Goslin Mountain.
There have been scattered reports of bighorn sheep from anglers fishing the Green River since 2010. But this is the first time wild sheep have officially been spotted on Goslin Montain since the herd was wiped out by disease or killed by wildlife officials.
During the winter of 2009-10, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) decided to kill any bighorn from the Goslin herd that had survived a deadly outbreak of bacterial pneumonia. Fifty-one of the animals were shot.
Biologists were worried the highly contagious malady would spread to other bighorn sheep herds in the northeastern corner of Utah, leading to a death count reaching into the hundreds.
“We believe we killed all the sheep that may have been involved in the pneumonia outbreak and we then left that niche empty for a period of time,” said Leslie McFarlane, wildlife disease specialist for the DWR.
“The Green River sheep are doing really well, but their population is higher than we would like,” she said. So by moving animals while keeping the Green River sheep at an optimal number, “we can be successful in both places.”
More bighorn from Desolation Canyon will be moved to Goslin Mountain as opportunities arise.
The pneumonia outbreak was discovered when anglers came across a dead bighorn ram near the Little Hole Trail, which runs for seven miles from Flaming Gorge Dam to the Little Hole Day Use Recreation Area.
The animals killed in 2010 had not been in the area long. Two releases of bighorn sheep from Montana, in 2004 and 2007, created the Goslin herd.
The herd in Montana where the animals in the second transplant came from was also impacted by pneumonia in 2010.
The cost of the Montana transplants was roughly $100,000, Ryan Foutz, Utah director of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, told the Tribune in 2010.
Money for the transplants comes from Utah’s conservation hunting permit program which provides select hunting tags to the highest bidders.
“I’ve got my fingers crossed that these [sheep] will do better than the previous herd,” said Dan Abeyta, a U.S. Forest Service biologist assigned to Goslin Mountin, in a prepared release.