First bighorn sheep population update since Bighorn Fire

Counting bighorn sheep
Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 8:26 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Some may count sheep in their head to fall asleep, but Arizona Game and Fish is counting them to get an update on their population.

The department conducted a bighorn sheep survey Monday and Tuesday. It was the first population update since the Bighorn Fire burned more than 100,000 acres in the Santa Catalina Mountains in 2020.

Despite the wildfire and drought, the department found the number of bighorn sheep living in the mountains didn’t changed much since the last survey in 2019.

“The mountains are a fire adapted community both for plants and animals,” said Arizona Game and Fish Wildlife Manager Nate Foley. “We weren’t expecting to see big losses as a result of the fire.”

Crews counted 35 sheep this year compared to 40 sheep in 2019.

“We try to take photos of all of our groups and go back and look at those closely so we might adjust that number up or down by a couple,” he said.

Assuming only half of the sheep are seen, they double the numbers to get the total population.

”We’re expecting to have some good results post-Bighorn Fire, further in the future and certainly if we continue to have good rainfall,” Foley said.

Thanks to this year’s monsoon, the mountains are lush with plants and new growth is appearing in areas devastated by the fire.

”The real story is going to be told in the next three to five years to see how the sheep adapt to using that burned area and the revitalization,” he said.

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