An estimated 175 desert bighorns inhabit the Dolores River corridor in Montezuma, Montrose, San Miguel and Dolores counties. Statewide, the population is estimated at 540.
Desert bighorn are a subspecies of the larger Rocky Mountain bighorn that live in the Rocky Mountain West, including the San Juan Mountains.
In Colorado, desert bighorn sheep populations are managed within specific geographic areas. Management plans, written every 10 years, include habitat evaluation, history of the herd, management issues, public comments and establishment of preferred population and sex-ratio objectives.
The plan is used to guide the number of hunting licenses that are issued annually. In 2017, five hunting licenses for rams were issued, with about a 70 percent success rate.
About 55 desert bighorn were reintroduced to the Dolores Canyon in 1986 and 1987. The current population is healthy and has been increasing, said local Parks and Wildlife biologist Brad Weinmeister.
“There was an unexplained decrease in 2003, then in 2011 the populations came back up,” he said.
On-the-ground population surveys are done yearly on the local population, which move all along the lower Dolores River Canyon. In 2010 and 2011, biologists captured and moved 30 desert sheep from south of Slickrock to the middle Dolores River Canyon about 20 miles north near the Paradox Valley.
The location was chosen because few desert bighorn had been seen in the area and there was favorable habitat. Biologists were pleased to learn that the newcomers found a band of desert sheep in the area and had joined it.
In come cases, herds will not accept transplants, biologists said. Acceptance increases genetic diversity, which is favorable for long-term survival.
Two other desert sheep herds exist in the state in Colorado National Monument west of Grand Junction and in Escalante-Dominguez Canyon west of Delta.
Public input is being sought on the Dolores Canyon population. The information will be used to help determine objectives within the new management plan. Those interested are asked to take an online survey at the CPW web site at: bit.ly/desertbighorn The survey link is on the right side of the page. Filling out the survey will help CPW learn what the public thinks about these animals and how people interact with them.