By Lars Dalseide | May 2 2014 10:59

From the Nevada Department of Wildlife - Nevada implements Bighorn Eve hunts to manage growing populations

Now that you can hunt a Big Horn Sheep Ewe in Nevada, this won't be the only horn of your list - image courtesy of  Nevada Department of Wildlife's Facebook Page Reno, Nevada - The Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners voted in their January/February 2014 meeting to allow bighorn sheep ewe hunting at the recommendation of the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW). The first ever ewe hunt was a decision of last resort based on several factors of bighorn sheep management. Bighorn sheep are now facing issues of overpopulation.

"Nevada has been highly successful in restoring bighorn sheep since the first bighorn release occurred in 1968," said NDOW big game biologist Mike Cox. "Bighorn populations went from an estimated 3,000 to 11,000 and we have become victims of our own success."

Drought conditions, disease, competition for forage and high population growth rates have all contributed to several bighorn herds exceeding their sustainable management levels and limiting management options to alleviate these levels. NDOW biologists conducted an evaluation of herd status and disease distribution statewide, and release opportunities both in-state and in other states to determine the best solutions to managing sustainable bighorn herds. It was determined that removing individual animals via hunting, including ewes, in concert with continued captures for translocation, would be needed to accomplish this goal.

The regular removal of sheep from capture and translocation efforts, had to date alleviated the need for any other population management tool such as ewe hunts. However, the extreme rate of increase in sheep numbers has made it challenging to manage herd populations solely through capture and translocation. Each year available release sites are fewer due to successful bighorn release efforts.

Adding to the concerns of translocation is the recent confirmation of herds exposed to, carrying, and shedding Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae. This M. ovipneumoniae is a bacteria, which has been recognized west wide and in Nevada, as playing a significant role in the bighorn sheep pneumonia complex.

In addition, natural methods of herd size limitation have been compromised. Bighorn are nomadic, seeking optimal habitat conditions and lower herd densities. However, today, herds are often restricted to a single mountain range or section of a mountain range due to man-made infrastructures and habitat fragmentation.

"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."

Removing bighorn sheep, including ewes, from overpopulated herds creates a greater likelihood of the success of the overall population. It is important to remove excess animals to help ensure the health of the remaining herd.

NDOW has provided comprehensive information on ewe hunting via their website at www.ndow.org. This includes information on specific hunt units and their individual needs for sheep population reduction.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) protects, restores and manages fish and wildlife, and promotes fishing, hunting, and boating safety. NDOW’s wildlife and habitat conservation efforts are primarily funded by sportsmen’s license and conservation fees and a federal surcharge on hunting and fishing gear. Support wildlife and habitat conservation in Nevada by purchasing a hunting, fishing or combination license. Find us on Facebook, Twitter or visit us at www.ndow.org.

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