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The bighorn sheep of Battlement Mesa - a low elevation population


I studied bighorn sheep on Battlement Mesa, Colorado, from 12/88 to 7/90, to determine present and past herd status and distribution, so that 1) management options are clarified and 2) future management activities may be evaluated. I studied the herd by tracking 1 radio-collared ewe and obtaining visual observations and by systematically sampling study area units for sheep, sheep sign, potential competitors, potential predators and sheep carcasses. I recorded water sources that were encountered. I developed an historic perspective of the herd by searching agency files and local newspapers and interviewing local residents. The herd numbered up to 200-250 animals in the early 1900s and declined to an estimated 50 animals by 1970. Minimum herd sizes during 1989 and 1990 were 23 and 26, including lambs, respectively. Since 1961, the herd has abandoned approximately 56 km2 of historic range in the Mamm Peaks area. The herd decline corresponded with probable vegetation changes on Battlement Mesa, intensive livestock grazing through the 1950s, reports of poaching and an increasing elk herd. Sheep remained on the western portion of the range during winter and spring, 1989. Ewe/juvenile groups migrated to Anderson and Durant Gulches between 5/15-7/15/89 for lambing. Rams were more dispersed and in groups of 1-3, except during the rutting season. Ewe/juvenile group size ranged from 1-13. During dry months, (7/89, 8/89, 6/90) sheep concentrated in Anderson and Durant Gulches where a free-flowing spring and a seep were located. Bighorn sheep on Battlement Mesa appear limited by dense mountain shrub stands which separate all productive meadows from escape terrain and cover historic migration routes. A significantly greater use of the shale slope habitat contributed most to rejecting the null hypothesis that sheep use habitat types in proportion to their availabilities on Battlement Mesa. Sheep remained on shale slopes most (75% of all observations) of the time, using scattered grasses, forbs and shrubs for forage and seeps for water. Intensive and long term habitat management for bighorn sheep on Battlement Mesa is required. I suggest a 4-phase management program to improve existing range and later to reestablish and maintain historic migration corridors to productive historic summer range. Without management to improve existing conditions, this small, unique herd will remain static or decline.


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Bighorn sheep -- Colorado -- Battlement Mesa


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