The Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners voted earlier this year to allow the hunting of female bighorn sheep at the recommendation of the Nevada Department of Wildlife (DOW). With current drought conditions and worries over forage availability, the success of Nevada’s bighorn restoration is now working against wildlife officials.
“Nevada has been highly successful in restoring bighorn sheep since the first bighorn release occurred in 1968,” said DOW big game biologist Mike Cox in a press release. “Bighorn populations went from an estimated 3,000 to 11,000 and we have become victims of our own success.”
There are so many sheep in the state now that DOW officials can afford to export some animals for restoration efforts in other parts of the country.
“We now have more sheep than any other state except Alaska,” Department of Wildlife spokesman Chris Healy told the Associated Press.
Now the long-term sustainability of Nevada’s bighorn is being threatened by dwindling forage and drought-related stress. DOW biologists have recommended 100 hunting tags for ewes in the hopes of reducing the number of bighorn dependent on a shrinking habitat.
“We have to focus on the overall health and sustainability of bighorn sheep herds to ensure long-term success of these animals in Nevada,” said Cox. “At this time, that means removing excess animals, including ewes, through hunting as we have exhausted all other avenues. It’s a better practice to remove 20 animals to lessen the danger to 500. While a ewe hunt has not been used in the past, it is an accepted management tool and one that is used each year to manage nearly every other big game species in Nevada.”
If approved by wildlife commissioners in next week’s meeting, 85 of the proposed tags will be issued for desert bighorn in the southern part of the state while 15 will be reserved for California bighorns in the north.