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Wild Horse Island Bighorn Sheep Capture Operation Completed

Education - Region 1

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A total of 61 sheep were captured on Wild Horse Island State Park on February 26 and 27. FWP contracted with a helicopter wildlife service to capture the sheep. The operation was conducted cooperatively with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

The sheep captured included:
--21 ewes
--1 male lamb
--39 rams
After capture, the sheep were transported from Wild Horse Island by helicopter to Big Arm State Park, where biologists processed them. Health and condition tests on the sheep included: nasal swabs and throat cultures for pneumonia complex diseases, blood analysis for various health tests, fecal samples for lungworm loads, and body condition index tests. According to FWP Biologist Bruce Sterling one ram died during the capture operation and one escaped on site.

A total of 59 of the sheep were successfully released yesterday and today in two locations in Northwest Montana to bolster the existing herds at these two locations:
--Kootenai Wildlife Management Area: 26 rams, 6 ewes
--Berray Mountain (in the Bull River drainage north of Noxon): 11 rams; 15 ewes, 1 male lamb

The objective of the capture project on Wild Horse Island is to keep the bighorn sheep population in line with available habitat. The target population for the island is about 100 sheep, but the population had reached 160-200 sheep before the capture operation. State Parks staff has been working for the past several years to conserve the island’s short grass prairie habitat that is important to wild sheep and other wildlife species.

FWP has utilized the Wild Horse Island population as a nursery herd. Many new Montana bighorn sheep populations have been initiated or augmented with Wild Horse Island bighorn sheep over the years.

Funding for this project came from the annual auction of a single Montana bighorn ram hunting permit through the Foundation for Wild Sheep