- Associated Press - Sunday, March 16, 2014

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - A deal struck between multiple agencies is bolstering the state’s struggling bighorn sheep population.

Efforts from the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks, U.S. Forest Service, Oglala Sioux Tribe Parks and Recreation Authority, Midwest Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation and Chippewa Cree Tribe in Montana brought 40 bighorns to South Dakota in January.

The animals found new homes in Hell Canyon west of Custer and on Cuny Table in the south unit of Badlands National Park on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“To have all those organizations work together - Wow, when does that ever happen?” said Matt Rippentrop of Oelrichs, a member of the Midwest Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation, which chipped in $25,000 to help fund the project.

The Chippewa Cree Tribe wanted to cull its herd of about 140 bighorns and offered 40 animals to the Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Authority in Pine Ridge.

South Dakota tribal officials wanted just 20 of the animals to build a population on the south unit of Badlands National Park, but needed funds to cover the cost of the transfer.

South Dakota wildlife officials also wanted bighorn sheep to build up Black Hills herds badly thinned by disease. Pneumonia is blamed for killing 80 percent of the bighorn sheep in Custer State Park.

The South Dakota Department Game, Fish & Parks couldn’t use state hunting tag auction funds to bring sheep to tribal lands, Rippentrop said. So, the Wild Sheep Foundation agreed to cover the cost of moving sheep to the Badlands.

“This deal wouldn’t have happened without the Oglala Sioux Tribe coming to us and saying, ‘Would you like to help?’” Rippentrop said.

Wildlife biologists used a helicopter and a net gun to capture the animals in the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation in north-central Montana.

After being checked for disease and fitted with the radio collars to track their movements, the bighorns were trailered to their new homes in South Dakota.

Game, Fish & Parks regional wildlife manager John Kanta said the sheep survived the 12-hour drive none the worse for wear.

“So far, so good. Everybody was still alive when they came out of the trailer. They looked really good,” Kanta said.

Kanta hopes the transplanted Hell Canyon bighorns will intermingle with an existing herd of about 100 animals on nearby Elk Mountain in Wyoming.

Kanta said that a majority of the ewes transferred from Montana were pregnant, and should drop their lambs in mid-May.

“It’s kind of a bonus,” he said. “When you consider the lambs, it’ll be more (than 20).”

Kanta said plans are underway to bring 30 to 40 more bighorns from Alberta, Canada, to areas near Deadwood in early 2015.

Rippentrop said the state of North Dakota just completed a transfer of sheep from Alberta.

“We’re hoping we’re next on the block and we’re bringing those same sheep to South Dakota,” he said.

Kanta hopes the newly transplanted bighorns will thrive again in the Black Hills and increase opportunities for hunters.

For the past several years, thousands of state residents have applied for a bighorn sheep tag, with only one or two licenses granted.

“We’ll evaluate how they’re using the area and where they’re going,” Kanta said.

“Ultimately the goal is to increase numbers and with that, offer more licenses,” he said.

Kanta was also pleased with the multi-agency cooperation that allowed the move to proceed.

“Everything went really well considering all the different players,” he said.


Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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