Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Colorado National Monument: Please Slow Down for the Desert Bighorn Sheep

To many of us, the wild beauty of bighorn sheep captures the spirit of Colorado. They are the state mammal and seem to embody the essence of wilderness and wild. Two subspecies of bighorn sheep are native to Colorado. It is the Desert bighorn (Orvis canadensis nelsoni) that live in the canyon country of western Colorado. They are the animal that people who visit Colorado National Monument from near and far most want to see and photograph.

Although present historically, a survey of western states in 1960 found there to be no Desert bighorn sheep left in Colorado. The present-day Black Ridge herd was established through four translocations during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Their population has fluctuated but last spring, Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife estimated there to be between 40-50 Desert bighorn sheep living primarily within Colorado National Monument, and approximately 200 sheep in the greater area including the monument and Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness. Desert bighorn sheep are social animals, and when seen are often in bands of eight to 10 individuals.

Colorado National Monument is a refuge for wildlife; an area where they can not only survive but thrive. Three times this fall, bighorn sheep have been hit and injured by vehicles traveling too fast on Rim Rock Drive. The most recent accident occurred yesterday morning on the west hill between the Balanced Rock pullout and the lower tunnel, and involved one ewe in a small band of sheep. Park officials are asking for help from drivers and bicyclists - the speed limit along the west hill is 25 mph to help protect wildlife. Please do your part. Be watchful. Slow down. Give yourself time to react when a ewe or ram jumps down from an adjacent ledge onto the roadway in front of your vehicle.

A second, larger band of Desert bighorn sheep has been seen frequently crossing Rim Rock Drive and munching grasses at the edge of the roadway where it crosses upper Wedding Canyon between the visitor center and Independence Monument viewpoint. Drivers and bicyclists are asked to keep a distance of 75 feet between themselves and the sheep. Please respect the space the sheep need to feel safe and unstressed.

Desert bighorn sheep do not pioneer new range or move to new habitats easily, even those adjacent to areas in current use. They will likely continue to inhabit Fruita and Wedding canyons, and be seen on and near Rim Rock Drive. The monument can be a refuge for wildlife but only with your help.


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