News Room banner [Photo (c) Timothy C. Mayo]

Netting Bighorn Sheep


Daybreak in January on Torrey Rim is no picnic. You need a good reason to be there, and a lot of layers. Seventy-five volunteers and I had both, plus a huge net suspended on poles, apple pulp bait, bandana eye covers, and kits for collecting bighorn sheep bacterial specimen.

Our version of a picnic goes something like this: shovel mounds of apple pulp under the suspended net, wait until sheep congregate on the bait, trigger the net to drop, then launch every available human across frozen ground to immobilize the struggling sheep. It takes three strong men to hold down the rams, possibly a fourth to cover the eyes with a bandana, hence calming the animal. Two people can settle a ewe or lamb into a quiet position. Moving and speaking as softly as the howling wind and bitter cold allowed, a team of veterinarians and assistants worked through the humans huddled over netted sheep, attaching a numbered ear tag, recording gender and age, drawing blood, swabbing noses and tonsils.

The objective of this brisk outing was getting a bead on the prevalence of various pathogens in the herd. Bacteria have been implicated in pneumonia outbreaks in bighorn sheep, which in turn is attributed to the dramatic decline of this herd since 1990. Much speculation exists about the linkages and variables involved, but collecting data is the only chance of ultimately discovering the cause, or causes, of the herd’s waning condition. The last time this net fell on Whiskey Mountain sheep, the herd was healthy and robust, and the objective was relocation. This time it was an effort to provide a baseline of biological data, and ultimately a path back to that vigorous condition.

-Ellen Vanuga
Wind River Program Director

The Wind River Program of the Jackson Hole Land Trust holds easements on two properties in the Torrey Creek Valley, 1,360 acres of valuable winter habitat for the Whiskey Mountain bighorn sheep.

View All Posts from 'Notes From The Field'