Bighorn Sheep Research Project to Begin Next Week in Weminuche Wilderness

To gain a better understanding of wild Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in the Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service are cooperating on a five-year project to study the cliff-dwelling mammal.


Sometime in late November through early December, a helicopter crew will be used to locate and capture bighorns and fit them with GPS telemetry collars. The collars will allow biologists to follow daily movements of the animals and determine what areas of the wilderness they use. Crews may also swab nasal tissue and take blood samples that could be used to determine if the bighorns have been exposed to diseases that can adversely affect the animals. These actions will help the agencies achieve conservation objectives for bighorn sheep herds on National Forest System lands.


The remote nature of the Weminuche bighorn herds has made detecting and monitoring the animals from the ground difficult. Consequently, the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region has approved landing the helicopter in the wilderness for the project. Weather permitting, the capture crew will attempt to capture up to 17 animals in five days of operation. In the primary capture area, roughly between Vallecito Creek and Wolf Creek Pass, there are about 405 bighorns that reside primarily in the Weminuche Wilderness.


“We don’t know a lot about how these bighorns use the landscape,” said Brad Weinmeister, a terrestrial biologist for CPW in Durango. “We know that this area provides good habitat, but we’d like to get more information to help us with management plans.”


Four of the five Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep herds occurring on the San Juan National Forest are in the Weminuche Wilderness.


Colorado Parks and Wildlife considers the Weminuche population to be a top priority for state-wide inventory and monitoring, habitat protection and improvement, disease prevention and research. The project is being funded by the U.S. Forest Service, CPW and the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society.


For wildlife questions, please contact Joe Lewandowski, Public Information Officer, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Southwest Region, 970-375-6708.

For wilderness questions, please contact Joni Vanderbilt, Acting Public Affairs Officer, San Juan National Forest, 970 385-1219.  


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