Two herds of bighorn sheep released a year ago on tribal lands in western North Dakota have fared better than expected. Gov. Doug Burgum in January 2020 signed an agreement with Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation Chairman Mark Fox outlining the translocation and management of bighorns on the Fort Berthold Reservation, where the animals historically roamed.
Later that month, 25 ewes and five rams were brought from the Rocky Boy’s Reservation in Montana and released in rugged, remote areas near Mandaree and Twin Buttes. Twenty ewes were pregnant. A September survey counted 19 lambs, “which is phenomenally good,” North Dakota Game and Fish Big Game Biologist Brett Wiedmann said. Even 10 lambs would have been a success, he said. MHA Tribal Councilman Cory Spotted Bear, who represents the Twin Buttes segment, is encouraged by the bighorns’ success, The Bismarck Tribune reported.
“It sounds like the genetics, the herd, the habitat are all a good formula,” he said. The lambs still have to survive winter and potential predators such as mountain lions, according to Wiedmann. The winter so far as been mild. Deep snow can negatively affect lambs, making them use more energy to dig for food and move around, and also leaving them more vulnerable to predators. “These lambs their first year are having a really, really easy winter so far,” Wiedmann said. The lambs will be recounted in February to see how many survived the first year. One ewe was killed. Officials suspect it was inadvertently shot by a deer hunter. Game and Fish has been co-managing the herds with biologists of the Three Affiliated Tribes Fish and Wildlife Division, which will take over sole management of the bighorns in 2022. The animals are collared for GPS tracking. [full article]