Posted 2 weeks ago
By John Axtell
Nebraska Game and Parks staffers and a contract helicopter crew Wednesday captured 26 bighorn sheep from the herd in the Hubbard Gap region of the Wildcat Hills south of Gering for relocation to the Crawford area.
The 21 ewes and 5 rams were moved in 3 livestock trailers to two separate locations…one at Fort Robinson State Park west of Crawford and the other in the Bighorn Wildlife Management Area east of the town.
Game and Parks northwestern district wildlife manager Todd Nordeen says the transfer, the first between two of the state’s bighorn herds, is intended to bolster the struggling Fort Robinson herd and expand its genetic pool.
Bighorn sheep were native to western Nebraska, but died out in the early 1900s because of disease, habitat loss and unregulated hunting. The species was reintroduced to Fort Robinson in 1981 and released into the wild 7 years later.
Four other transplants were conducted with bighorns from other states in 2001, 2005, 2007, and 2012 resulting in 3 herds in the Fort Robinson area and 2 in the Wildcat Hills.
Nordeen says the Fort Robinson herd once had 100 or more animals, but disease and other issues had dropped the number to an estimated 27 this winter.
The Hubbard Gap herd, on the other hand, has been thriving with an estimated 210 animals between it and the Cedar Canyon herd. In fact, Nordeen says the growth of the two Wildcat Hills herds helped convince the Game and Parks Commission to offer one bighorn hunting permit this year after 3 years of none.
Nordeen says the key to the decision was allowing the hunter access to all the herds instead of just the Fort Robinson herd.
The 26 bighorn moved to Fort Robinson on Wednesday were fitted with tracking collars and ear tags that allow Game and Parks staffers to plot locations and better manage the population. Crews also capture 14 others that were collared, sampled, tagged and released back to the Wildcat Hills.
Nordeen says the plan is to similarly process another 12 bighorns in the Cedar Canyon herd as part of the overall effort to track the herds and determine the health of the animals.