Desert Bighorn reintroduced to Pima County this fall | Environment
Both the Oro Valley Town Council and the Pima County Board of Supervisors have unanimously adopted resolutions supporting the state reintroducing desert bighorn sheep to the Santa Catalina Mountains, where they have been seen since the late 1990s.
Oro Valley’s Town Council adopted a resolution on September 18, and the Board of Supervisors passed a similar measure on August 19 that also directed the Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department, as well as the county Office of Sustainability and Conservation, to “actively assist with the reintroduction efforts to the greatest extent possible…”
The plan is for the first 30 bighorn sheep to be re-introduced to the Pusch Ridge Wilderness sometime this fall, with an ultimate goal of more than 100 animals after three consecutive years of transplants. The total figure includes anticipated lamb births, estimated yearling survival rates, and natural mortality.
The goal the Santa Catalina Bighorn Sheep Restoration Project is “to restore a healthy, viable and self-sustaining population of desert bighorn sheep to the range that coexists with an equally healthy native predator population in a naturally functioning ecosystem. The project dovetails with a larger, holistic restoration effort to mitigate human impacts, improve habitat in the Catalinas and return fire as a natural process necessary for proper habitat functioning.”
Both resolutions recognized work on the project by the Catalina Bighorn Advisory Committee. The committee, established in December 2012, is comprised of local representatives from the following organizations who are working closely with the Arizona Game and Fish Department and Coronado National Forest personnel on the project:
- Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society,
- The Wilderness Society,
- Sky Island Alliance,
- Arizona Wilderness Coalition,
- Center for Biological Diversity.
Each of the reintroduced sheep will be fitted with a state-of-the-art satellite GPS collar that will provide real time information about location and any mortality events that may occur. This intensive monitoring effort will enable managers to make informed management decisions as information from collars becomes available.
This technology comes with a cost; currently the overall project cost is estimated at $600,000 over the next three years. A public and private fund raising effort is currently underway to secure necessary funding to complete the project.
Sponsorship opportunities are available through the Arizona Game and Fish Department, to find out more call (520)628-5376. Tax deductible donations may be made online at: http://adbss.org/catalina_donation.html.
More information about the project may be found at www.catalinabighornrestoration.org
The Pusch Ridge Wilderness once contained a robust native population of desert bighorn sheep. Credible population estimates ranged from an estimated 75 to 150 animals in 1979.
The population’s decline beginning in the late 1980s cannot be attributed to any single factor, instead a multitude of them, which may include the following - urban encroachment, human disturbance in sheep habitat, disease within the sheep population, fire suppression, and predation.
The project is being considered at this time due to four key factors that increase the likelihood of success:
- Improved habitat in much of the Catalinas resulting from the Bullock Fire in 2002 and the Aspen Fire in 2003, which removed unnaturally dense vegetation and reduced fuel loads.
- The Coronado’s anticipated use of prescribed fire in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness under FireScape, a landscape-scale fire and ecosystem management program, intended to re-establish a natural fire regime that reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfire, improves wildlife habitat and sustains the natural ecosystem processes.
- Current and projected availability of desert bighorn sheep from other healthy populations within the state from the Yuma and Mesa regions.
- Trail restrictions currently in place within the Coronado's defined Bighorn Sheep Management Area that will be enforced and are important in preventing disturbance to reintroduced desert bighorn sheep, particularly during the lambing season.
Planning meetings by the committee will continue to be held throughout the project to guide all aspects of the sheep restoration effort to provide the highest likelihood of success.