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Wildlife Species Guide

Bighorn Sheep

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Follow the relocation effort of a herd from Canada to Nebraska

Read articles on Omaha.com bighorns bound for Nebraska | Omaha.com on the recent bighorn sheep relocation effort. Watch the video (video is preceded by advertising)

Follow OWH’s Alyssa Schukar’s Photo Blog from the trip | Read Eric Fowlers Blog on the Trip

One of our most visited albums on facebook and flickr is the Panhandle Collection.  The stunning photos in these collections are photographed and published by our Panhandle District team members and spotlight one of the most beautiful parts of our state as backdrops for their work.  View them on Facebook |  View them on Flickr.

Prior to the 1900s, the Audubon bighorn sheep inhabited parts of western Nebraska including the Wildcat Hills, the Pine Ridge, along the North Platte River to eastern Lincoln County, and along the Niobrara River. It is thought that the Audubon bighorn probably became extinct in the early 1900s with its last stronghold being the South Dakota badlands.

In 1981, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, with the help of the North American Wild Sheep Foundation and the Nebraska Chapter of Safari Club International, began a bighorn sheep introduction project in the Pine Ridge. A dozen bighorns were released into a 500 acre enclosure at Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford where they could be viewed by visitors.

In December, 1988, 21 sheep were released from the pen and in January, 1993, the remaining 23 sheep were released. Nebraska's bighorn sheep population is now estimated to be between 70 and 80 animals. A few sheep, mostly rams, have ranged from the Fort Robinson complex as far east as the Bordeaux Creek drainage southeast of Chadron, south near Belmont, west near the Gilbert-Baker Wildlife Management Area and north in the Oglala grasslands.

2012 Update - Nebraska’s Bighorn Sheep Management Program – 30 Years and Climbing

Bighorn sheep are considered one of the most majestic big game mammals in North America.  Their presence has created many recreational opportunities such as viewing, photography and hunting.

In the early 1900s bighorn sheep were extirpated from Nebraska due to habitat loss, disease, and unregulated hunting.  In 1981, with the help of several conservation partners, Game and Parks embarked on a Bighorn Sheep Management Program with the first bighorn reintroduction at Fort Robinson State Park, in the Panhandle.  In 2001, 2005, and 2007, three more reintroductions occurred, resulting in four herds in the Panhandle with two herds in the Pine Ridge and two in the Wildcat Hills.

Nebraska’s bighorn sheep management goal is to: “Establish free-ranging bighorn sheep in the Pine Ridge, Wildcat Hills, and other suitable habitats while providing hunting and viewing opportunities within resource limits.”

Plans are underway for a fifth reintroduction to the Panhandle, with hopes of adding more sheep to the western Pine Ridge.  By February of 2012, Nebraska will have completed its fifth reintroduction in 30 years.

With the assistance of  various conservation partners, Game and Parks has not only reintroduced bighorn sheep to this state but have also acquired tracts of land critical to bighorn sheep.  We have also implemented several bighorn sheep research projects, improved bighorn sheep habitat and continued to track and monitor the overall health of the herds.

Bighorn sheep are a very sensitive and vulnerable species and are listed as a Tier I At-Risk species in the Nebraska Natural Legacy Project, a comprehensive wildlife conservation strategy document.  Disease issues seem to be our greatest challenge at this point causing setbacks with population growth.  However, 30 years ago there were no bighorn sheep in Nebraska and today the program’s count is 315.

In December of 2011, Nebraska harvested its 16th and 17th bighorn ram since hunting bighorn sheep began in 1998.  When population levels allow, bighorn permits are authorized to provide the opportunity to harvest mature, older age, rams which has little effect on population growth of the herd.  As with all big game, including bighorn sheep; permits, donations and conservation partners provide necessary funding to conserve Nebraska’s wildlife resources. Working together, Nebraska’s bighorn sheep management program can be a successful venture for all to enjoy.



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