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.
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).
To help reduce collisions, Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife remind motorists to be on the lookout during Watch Out for Wildlife Week, which runs Sept. 16 – 22.
“With every project we build, we look for innovative ways to protect drivers and wildlife,” said Caltrans Director Laurie Berman. “That can be as simple as installing flashing warning signs or putting in specialized fencing and crossings to provide wildlife with safe passages. Drivers can make a difference too, just by staying alert.”
Watch Out for Wildlife Week coincides with the season when California’s deer and elk migrate and look for mates, and California’s roadways often cut through these animals’ migration routes. It’s vital that drivers be especially alert now through December to avoid collisions with wildlife. These crashes not only harm wildlife, but collisions with large animals can damage vehicles and cause injury and death to drivers and passengers.
“In the fall, wildlife exhibit natural behaviors that can lead them to more unpredictable movements, and nearer to humans and roadways,” said Vicky Monroe, CDFW Statewide Conflict Programs Coordinator. “Deer, bears and other wildlife are most likely to be killed or injured by vehicle collisions between September and December. Bucks fight for mates during breeding season, does travel more with their fawns, and many deer herds migrate to their winter ranges. Black bears travel farther for food as they enter a period of excessive eating and drinking to fatten up for hibernation.”
According to the California Highway Patrol, 12 people died and 383 people were injured in 2,134 collisions with wildlife on state, county, and local roadways throughout California in 2017.
Wildlife experts offer the following tips for motorists:
Be extra alert when driving near areas wildlife frequent, such as streams and rivers, and reduce your speed so you can react safely.
Pay extra attention driving during the morning and evening when wildlife are often most active.
If you see an animal on or near the road, know that another may be following.
Don’t litter. Trash odors can attract animals to roadways.
Pay attention to road shoulders. Look for movement or reflecting eyes. Slow down and honk your horn if you see an animal on or near the road.
The Watch Out for Wildlife campaign is supported by Caltrans, CDFW, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Road Ecology Center at the University of California, Davis.
Here are a few examples of what Caltrans, CDFW, and their partners are doing to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, improve awareness of key issues, and improve ecological sustainability:
Highway 395, Improving Wildlife Connectivity in Lassen County
Caltrans is modifying existing undercrossings that were installed on U.S. Highway 395 in Lassen County near the California-Nevada border more than 25 years ago. To improve the area for wildlife, Caltrans will remove deer gates, install escape ramps for mule deer, and extend fencing to guide animals to existing undercrossings. The project area will be monitored with wildlife cameras.
Highway 101, Liberty Canyon Undercrossing in Los Angeles County
The completed environmental document for the famous U.S. Highway 101 Liberty Canyon Project was signed in September 2017. Until a large overpass can be constructed, Caltrans has managed several short-term improvements in the Liberty Canyon area to entice mountain lions to cross safely underneath US-101. New fencing is designed to prevent animals from trying to cross the highway, and a former streambed south of Agoura Road has new vegetation to guide animals safely under the highway.
Highway 101, Wildlife Monitoring Cameras in Sonoma County
Caltrans is monitoring wildlife movement on U.S. Highway 101 north of Santa Rosa. Cameras have been installed on culverts that cross under the highway, and Caltrans regularly downloads images from the cameras to understand more about wildlife in the project area. Mountain lions are just one species that have been observed checking out the culverts along US-101. Camera data will be used to determine potential future improvements that will allow animals to safely cross US-101.
Highway 74, Bighorn Sheep Warning Signs in Riverside County
Efforts are underway to decrease vehicle collisions with Peninsular bighorn sheep, a federally endangered species, on a windy portion of State Route 74 above Palm Desert. In June 2018, Caltrans installed four bighorn sheep warning signs with two flashing beacons to alert drivers that sheep may be in the area. This was a coordinated effort with the Bighorn Institute, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and CDFW.
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.
Time is running out for California hunters to apply for the 2017 Big Game Drawing. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is accepting applications for elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and deer tags as well as fundraising random drawing tags. Applicants must complete the sales transaction before midnight June 2, 2017. Applications may be submitted anywhere California hunting licenses are sold.
The following resources are available to assist hunters in applying for the 2017 Big Game Drawing:
Big Game Tag Quotas – Approved 2017 tag quotas can be viewed on the species webpages located at wildlife.ca.gov/hunting. Severe winter weather resulted in high mortality of deer in the Eastern Sierra. For this reason, 2017 tag quotas were significantly reduced for the X9a, X9b, X12 zones and archery hunts A16, A17 and A20. Before applying, hunters should check access restrictions to hunting areas since some roads were washed-out due to winter storms.
Online Licenses Sales and Service – Purchase licenses, apply for the big game drawing, review your existing applications and preference points, or find a license agent near you at www.ca.wildlifelicense.com/internetsales.
Telephone License Sales – Purchase licenses and submit drawing applications by telephone at (800) 565-1458.
Any hunter who is under 18 years of age on July 1, 2017 qualifies for a junior hunting license. Junior hunters who are 12 years of age or older on July 1, 2017 may apply for apprentice deer, elk and pronghorn antelope hunts. Hunters must be at least 16 years of age on July 1, 2017 to apply for bighorn sheep tags.
Fundraising Random Drawing Opportunities
Any person who will be 12 years of age or older on July 1 may apply for fundraising random drawing tags, except that applicants for bighorn sheep tags must be 16 years of age on July 1. Applicants may apply as many times as they wish. The application fee is $5.97 per entry. Applicants do not need a valid hunting license to apply, but a hunting license must be purchased prior to issuing the tag. Fundraising tags will be issued at no additional cost. For 2017, four fundraising random drawing tags will be available:
Open Zone Deer Tag
The open zone deer tag allows the hunter to hunt during the authorized season dates of any hunt, using the specific method and meeting any special conditions of the tag for that hunt.
Owens Valley Tule Bull Elk Tag
The elk tag is valid in all elk zones within the Owens Valley, with any legal method of take. The hunt dates are from July 29, 2017 to Aug. 27, 2017.
Northeastern California Pronghorn Tag
The pronghorn tag allows the hunter to hunt in any of the northeastern pronghorn antelope zones (Mount Dome, Clear Lake, Likely Tables, Lassen, Big Valley and Surprise Valley) with any legal method. The hunt dates are from July 29, 2017 to Sept.17, 2017.
Marble/Clipper and South Bristol Mountains Bighorn Sheep Tag
The bighorn sheep tag is valid only in the Marble/Clipper and South Bristol Mountains hunt zones. If drawn, the hunter must attend a mandatory orientation to receive the tag. The hunt dates are from Nov. 4, 2017 to Feb. 4, 2018.
Media Contacts: Lai Saechao, CDFW License and Revenue Branch, (916) 928-7416 Clark Blanchard, CDFW Education and Outreach, (916) 591-0140