DWR Partners with Young Living to Open Desert Bighorn Sheep Nursery | News
The Utah Division of Wildlife announced in a Nov. 30 press release that the agency has partnered with a private company to establish a “nursery” to raise a herd of desert bighorn sheep that can be used for to grow and sustain wild populations of the species in the state. The nursery will be located on approximately 1,800 acres of land in the Skyrider Wilderness Ranch in Duchesne County. The property is a ranch, farm, and wildlife refuge owned by Utah-based essential oil company Young Living.
âWhen the first settlers arrived in Utah, the bighorn sheep were one of the most abundant ungulates on the landscapeâ¦ more abundant than even our mule deer here,â said Riley Peck, Unique Species Coordinator for the DWR . When settlers brought domestic cattle to Utah, these animals brought diseases that spread to wild sheep and drastically reduced their numbers. Wild sheep also had to compete with domestic sheep for forage and space; hunting and habitat loss have also contributed to the decline of wild bighorn sheep in Utah.
âAnytime you take something natural out of the landscape, the benefits and impacts are hard to estimate,â said Peck, explaining that while it is difficult to quantify the full function of bighorn sheep in the ecosystem, their role is important.
The bighorn sheep is native to North America and often appears to be depicted on petroglyphs and pictographs. Historical records indicate large numbers of sheep when the first European explorers came to Utah. The DWR estimates that there are now approximately 1,500 Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep and 2,800 Desert Bighorn Sheep in Utah.
The two species of wild bighorn sheep are very similar except in the habitat and diet to which they have adapted. Desert bighorns are a bit smaller and browner in color than their Rocky Mountain cousins, Peck said, but they would be difficult to distinguish for an untrained observer. However, the Desert Bighorn Sheep is much better adapted to the hot, dry conditions of its habitat than the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.
The DWR aims to establish and maintain sustainable populations of bighorn sheep across the state and uses “transplants” to increase and / or diversify wild herds. Often this will mean removing sheep from areas where a herd has outgrown its habitat and moving them to suitable habitat where there are no sheep or where the existing population is small. According to a 2018 Utah Bighorn Sheep State Management Plan, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep were first moved to Utah in 1966, and Desert Bighorns were first moved to Utah in 1973.
âSince the start of the restoration efforts, over 1,200 Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep and over 1,000
bighorn sheep from the desert have been released into areas of historic habitat, âthe document said.
There is a Rocky Mountain Bighorn Nursery on Antelope Island, but the DWR has struggled to find a suitable location for a Desert Bighorn Nursery.
Skyrider Wilderness Ranch, according to a description found on Young Living’s website, is an 18,000-acre plot used to cultivate plants, primarily a plant called small spelled, for the research and production of the company’s essential oils. It’s also a working elk and bison ranch, and 10,880 acres are managed as a nonprofit conservation easement The Nature Conservancy as a wildlife refuge. The multilevel marketing company has farms all over the world. The DWR had been looking for a location for a desert bighorn sheep nursery for several years. Duchesne County DWR biologists had a working relationship with Skyrider Ranch biologists, and the idea of ââusing part of the ranch for the nursery grew out of that relationship.
The planned nursery area has perennial water; is isolated from other sheep populations that could spread the disease; and has the right conditions for sheep to thrive, qualities the DWR has struggled to find when searching public land for a suitable location. Peck said that while working with a private entity can be difficult, Young Living has been a fantastic partner.
The Utah DWR hopes to start the project with 50 sheep from a healthy Nevada population. The nursery can accommodate a flock of around 150 sheep. Once the population is healthy and stable, the DWR can tap into this population to augment existing wild herds or to reintroduce sheep to their historic habitat.
“Sheep are very social animals,” and will seek out and join existing flocks of sheep on their own, Peck said. âThey adapt and participate almost immediately in the dynamics of the existing herd.
Before these translocations can occur, however, the nursery flock must be firmly established. Peck said it will likely take at least five years. Once the agency is ready to transfer the sheep from the nursery, areas in Grand County may be candidates to receive some of these people.
âCertainly we have desert bighorn sheep in Grand County,â Peck said. âWhere you already have desert bighorn sheep, it makes sense to supplement those populations. However, the agency is still years away from choosing translocation sites for sheep. In a Science on Tap presentation in Moab on December 14, wildlife biologist Dr Joel Berger said that a herd of Bighorn Sheep in Grand County called the Potash Herd is the only one in the State not to have been manipulated by managers.
The Bighorn Sheep of the Grand County Desert often stay in remote locations, but during quieter times of the year they can be seen in developed areas. On December 4, a group of desert bighorn sheep grazed along Highway 191 just north of the entrance to Arches National Park.
âPeople who have lived or visited the Moab area for a long time may recall seeing bighorn sheep more regularly in this area,â said Pam Riddle, wildlife biologist for the Moab Bureau of Land Management . âBighorn sheep are very sensitive to noise. and activity. I would expect that as the city calms down during the winter we could see them more frequently in this area. If you are lucky enough to see bighorn sheep in the desert, help them stay happy and healthy by admiring them from afar and allow them to continue their activities undisturbed. “