WASHINGTON COUNTY, Utah - Dozens of bighorn sheep in southern Utah are getting relocated for the winter.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is moving the animals with the help of some highflying equipment.
Helicopters flew around Hildale gathering up sheep for transport Monday. Biologists rounded up close to a dozen and moved them to an area near Pine Valley.
The roundup is part of a transplant program DWR has used since the 1970s to keep the herds throughout Utah at healthy levels.
“This is the Zion unit,” explains Utah DWR southern region wildlife program manager Tresea Griffin. “It’s been doing very well over the last decade, to the point where the densities are too high, so we’re trying to thin it out a little bit.”
Crews track the sheep by helicopter, shoot them with a net gun, then air lift them to base camp. Veterinarians check the animals out to make sure they’re healthy, and then they’re placed in a trailer for transport.
“Ideally they’ll bring back two to three sheep at a time,” said Utah DWR wildlife biologist Jason Nicholes.
Close to a dozen sheep have been transferred to San Juan County, another eight or so were let go near Pine Valley.
The sheep bolster herd populations in those areas, but removing them also benefits the local herd.
“If they expand outside of the area that we have allotted for them, they run the risk of contacting domestic livestock and contracting some diseases that they are naive to,” Nicholes said
In some cases climate changes can be extreme, but DWR puts radio trackers on the sheep to monitor their movements and Griffin said bighorn sheep are resilient animals.
“It’s interesting,” Griffin said. The ones we just got from Nevada I’ve noticed, looking at both of them, their fur is not as dense, so they’re probably adjusting to some cold nights.”
The roundup program started over the weekend and will continue for until at least Wednesday.