- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 22, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A survey of bighorn sheep in the western North Dakota Badlands indicates the herd is rebounding from an outbreak of bacterial pneumonia, boosting the likelihood of a fall hunting season.

The Game and Fish Department survey released this week counted 292 animals in the state-managed herd, up 8 percent from last year and 3 percent above the five-year average. Big game biologist Brett Wiedmann called the numbers “encouraging.”

Bacterial pneumonia hit the herd in 2014 and re-emerged last summer. The hunting season was called off last year for the first time in more than three decades due to dozens of sheep deaths.

“Adult mortality slowed significantly in 2015, and we had a good number of lambs survive in 2014 and 2015 to compensate for most of the adult losses,” Wiedmann said

Earlier this month, Game and Fish announced a tentative fall hunting season based on projections that the herd would continue to fight back.



Sheep are still dying, but at a much slower rate, according to Game and Fish Veterinarian Dan Grove. The agency said the only thing that would preclude a hunting season would be a larger-scale recurrence of disease this summer. A final decision on a hunting season will be made Sept. 1, after a summer count of the sheep.

“As far as an exact number, we don’t have a set goal, a specific number in mind where we would say yes or no” to a hunting season,” state Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams said earlier this month. “It’s going to be very dependent on the overall survey and mature rams. Do we have enough mature rams in that population to give away those licenses?”

Big horn sheep hunting is popular. At least 10,000 hunters apply each year for a once-in-a-lifetime North Dakota license, while the state gives out only a handful on average. The deadline for hunters to apply for the tentative season is midnight Wednesday. If a season is not held, application fees of $5 for resident hunters and $100 for out-of-state hunters will not be refunded.

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