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Bighorn sheep population remains high

North Dakota's bighorn sheep population is in excellent shape, according to Brett Wiedmann, big game biologist for the state Game and Fish Department in Dickinson.

A July-August survey in western North Dakota showed 309 bighorn sheep, down only seven from last year's record summer survey. "Last year I remarked that our bighorn sheep population was thriving, so needless to say I am very pleased with our current numbers," Wiedmann said. "In fact, I feared our counts would be much lower due to the severity of last winter. However, despite the extreme conditions, the adult segment of our population is in great shape, along with a surprisingly high number of lambs."

Survey results revealed 98 rams, 161 ewes and 50 lambs - 242 in the northern badlands (an increase of 10 from last year) and 67 in the southern badlands (down 17). "To help bolster the southern herds, this winter we plan on translocating sheep from the northern population," Wiedmann said. "We will relocate some of the Montana sheep (transplanted to North Dakota in January 2006) that continue to do very well."

Annual bighorn sheep survey statistics are not recorded using a calendar year, but instead are done over a 12 month period beginning each April and ending the following March. Each summer, typically in August, Game and Fish Department biologists count and classify all bighorns, a process that takes nearly six weeks to complete as biologists radio-collar three-to-five sheep in each herd, locate them from an airplane, and then hike into each band in order to record population demographics using a spotting scope and binoculars. Biologists then recount lambs in March to determine lamb recruitment.

North Dakota's bighorn sheep hunting season opens Oct. 9 and continues through Oct. 25. Five licenses were issued.