Category Archives: bighorn sheep

Survey Shows Severe Decline in Mount San Gorgonio Desert Bighorn Sheep Population

Aerial and ground surveys of Southern California’s Mount San Gorgonio desert bighorn sheep population conducted during early March have confirmed a severe decline in numbers. Biologists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and partner agencies counted 60 animals, approximately one-third the number counted in the last helicopter survey conducted in March 2016.

Watch video of biologists preparing for the survey at: https://youtu.be/ecdag5Y6d1g

This reduction appears to be consistent with an outbreak of respiratory disease that CDFW has been investigating since December.

“Die-offs of bighorn sheep of this type and magnitude that have occurred in the past have almost always been triggered by contact with domestic sheep or goats,” CDFW Wildlife Biologist Dr. Jeff Villepique said.

In December 2018, multiple reports of dead or dying bighorn sheep in Whitewater Canyon and the Mission Creek drainages were confirmed by biologists working for CDFW. Tissue samples from carcasses were sent to pathologists at the California Animal Health and Food Safety laboratories. The investigation is ongoing, with 21 bighorn carcasses identified thus far.

Administering medical treatment to sick bighorn is not feasible due to many factors, including the remote location, the difficulty of capturing animals and inability to capture and treat the entire herd.

Southern California is home to approximately 4,800 bighorn sheep in 64 herd units. To date, there have been no reports of sheep in nearby herds being affected by the disease.

CDFW is one of several entities involved in managing bighorn sheep in California, and participates in the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Wild Sheep Working Group. The Group has declared respiratory disease to be “the biggest impediment to restoring and sustaining bighorn sheep populations.”

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Media Contacts:
Dr. Jeff Villepique, CDFW Inland Deserts Region, (909) 584-9012
Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (208) 220-1169

 

CDFW Investigating Die-Off of Desert Bighorn Sheep

Wildlife biologists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) are investigating what appears to be a significant mortality event associated with respiratory disease among the San Gorgonio desert bighorn sheep population in Riverside County. CDFW has confirmed that at least 20 animals have died but suspects that total mortality may be greater.

“The significance of this outbreak to the San Gorgonio desert bighorn sheep population is being investigated,” explained Heidi Calvert, an environmental program manager with CDFW’s Inland Deserts Region. “Our top priority right now is to determine the source and nature of the disease so that we can identify the right management actions to mitigate future risk.”

CDFW staff began receiving reports of sick desert bighorn sheep in December 2018 and immediately began collecting samples for lab analysis. CDFW is continuing to survey and monitor the population to gather more information on the extent and magnitude of this loss to the population. Private landowners and partner agencies are assisting with this effort.

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Wild Sheep Working Group considers respiratory disease to be “the biggest impediment to restoring and sustaining bighorn sheep populations.” Respiratory disease in bighorn sheep is most commonly attributed to contact and/or proximity with domestic sheep and, to a lesser extent, domestic goats. Diseases that originate with domestic animals can pose a significant risk to bighorn sheep populations.

The affected desert bighorn population is located within Desert Bighorn Sheep Hunt Zone 5. The recent die-off will likely result in reducing the two hunting tags to zero in this zone for 2019.

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Media Contacts:
Heidi Calvert, CDFW Inland Deserts Region, (760) 872-0751 

Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988

CDFW to Hold Public Meetings on Elk and Bighorn Sheep Environmental Documents

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), on behalf of the California Fish and Game Commission as Lead Agency pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act, is preparing draft environmental documents that address potential impacts resulting from the implementation of elk hunting regulations and bighorn sheep hunting regulations. Pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act Guidelines, section 15082(c), public scoping sessions will be held to identify potentially significant effects on the environment that may result from the proposed regulations, as well as any feasible mitigation measures that should be addressed in the draft environmental document.

Both meetings will be held Friday, Nov. 30, 2018 at the CDFW Wildlife Branch, 1812 Ninth St. in Sacramento (95811). The scoping meeting for elk will be held from noon to 1 p.m., and the scoping meeting for bighorn sheep will be held from 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Existing law (Fish and Game Code, section 3950) designates elk (genus Cervus) and bighorn sheep (subspecies Ovis canadensis nelsoni) as game mammals in California. Fish and Game Code, section 332 provides that the Fish and Game Commission may fix the area or areas, seasons and hours, bag and possession limit, sex and total number of elk that may be taken pursuant to its regulations. Fish and Game Code, section 4902 provides that the Commission may authorize sport hunting of mature Nelson bighorn rams.

State law (Fish and Game Code, section 207) requires the Commission to review mammal hunting regulations and CDFW to present recommendations for changes to the mammal hunting regulations to the Commission at a public meeting. Mammal hunting regulations adopted by the Commission provide for hunting elk and bighorn sheep in specific areas (hunt zones) of the state (California Code of Regulations Title 14, sections 362, 364 and 364.1). 

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Media Contacts:
Victoria Barr, CDFW Wildlife Branch, (916) 445-4034
Regina Vu, CDFW Wildlife Branch, (916) 445-3728
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988

 

General Hunting Seasons for Bear, Elk and Bighorn Opening Soon

Big game hunters throughout California are eagerly anticipating the 2018 general hunting seasons. While deer are by far the most frequently hunted big game species in California, many hunters also enjoy fair chase of bear, elk and bighorn. Some of the seasons for these species are already underway, but the majority will open over the next month. The upcoming general season opening and closing dates vary by zone and can be found by following the links below.

Hunting for wild pigs is growing in popularity and can be done year-round. Most seasons for pronghorn, another California big game species, concluded in August.

Californians enjoy some of the widest ranges of habitat and hunting conditions in the nation. While California has its fair share of privately owned land, there are vast swaths of national forest, timber lands, state wildlife areas and other lands accessible to the public that provide excellent hunting opportunities. CDFW administers public hunts on private lands through its SHARE Program. Other opportunities for access to private lands are available through the Private Lands Management Program.

A valid California hunting license and appropriate tag(s) for each zone and/or species pursued must be obtained before entering the field. There are still many deer tags available for purchase. Hunting license and tags can be purchased online or through a CDFW office or license sales agent.

California hunters are required to complete a hunter education training course, pass a comprehensive equivalency test, or provide a valid hunter’s safety certificate before purchasing a hunting license for the first time in California. Each year approximately 30,000 students complete the state’s hunter education course.

Hunters always have the responsibility to be familiar with state game laws before entering the field. All regulations can be found online.

Given the exceptionally dry conditions this year, it is even more important that everyone does their part to prevent wildfires. One less spark means one less wildfire. Learn more here.

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Media Contacts:
Brad Burkholder, CDFW Wildlife Branch, (916) 445-1829
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988

Volunteers Needed for Bighorn Sheep Survey

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Society for Conservation of Bighorn Sheep (SCBS) are seeking volunteers to assist biologists with a sheep count in the San Gabriel Mountains on March 3 and 4, 2018 (Saturday evening and all day Sunday).

No survey experience is necessary to participate but volunteers must attend an orientation on Saturday, March 3, at 6 p.m. at the Angeles National Forest Supervisor’s Office in Arcadia.

Volunteers will hike to designated observation sites early Sunday morning to count and record bighorn sheep. Volunteer groups will be led by a representative from CDFW, USFS or SCBS. Participants must be at least 16 years old and capable of hiking at least one mile in rugged terrain (most survey routes are longer). In general, hikes will not be along trails and accessing survey points will involve scrambling over boulders, climbing up steep slopes and/or bush-whacking through chaparral.

Volunteers are encouraged to bring binoculars or spotting scopes in addition to hiking gear. Mountain weather can be unpredictable and participants should be prepared to spend several hours hiking and additional time making observations in cold and windy weather. Volunteers will need to start hiking early Sunday morning.

Surveys for bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel range have been conducted annually since 1979. The mountain range once held an estimated 740 sheep, which made the San Gabriel population the largest population of desert bighorn sheep in California. The bighorn population declined over 80 percent through the 1980s but appears to be on the rise with recent estimates yielding approximately 400 animals.

Please sign up online at www.sangabrielbighorn.org. If you do not have access to the internet, you may call (909) 584-9012 and leave a call-back number to register.

This annual event is always popular and fills up quickly.  Please sign up soon to ensure a space.

Media Contacts:
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944
Zach Behrens, USFS Communications, (909) 382-2788
Norm Lopez, SCBS, (805) 431-2824