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North Dakota’s bighorn sheep worth saving

They’re back. Welcome home.

In case you missed it, there was an important homecoming recently when bighorn sheep were released near Mandaree on the Fort Berthold reservation.

It’s been 150 years since bighorns roamed that part of the state and their return was celebrated by those who understood the significance of the effort to restore the bighorn population.

“There are historical accounts from our tribal members of hunting them with bow and arrow,” said Cory Spotted Bear, Twin Buttes councilman. “Crows Heart, a full-blooded Mandan and one of the last of the old timers, said they would go to the Little Missouri breaks specifically to hunt bighorns. To see these sheep released was very uplifting and emotional. It’s meaningful for us and the state.”

The introduction of bighorns to tribal land was done by the KUIU hunting and apparel company in a cooperative agreement between the Three Affiliated Tribes and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

In all, 30 bighorn sheep were released. The sheep were captured on the Rocky Boy Reservation located in north-central Montana and transported by trailers back to North Dakota.

There is no guarantee that the effort will succeed. There have been a myriad of changes in the environment since bighorns last occupied this part of the state – increased population, agriculture, oil development to name the obvious ones. But that is not to say that bighorn sheep can’t co-exist here today. In fact we very much hope they can. Seeing bighorns in the wild would be a real treat for locals and for anyone traveling through the state.

It’s too late to save the dinosaurs, and bison will never blanket the plains of North Dakota as they once did, but it is not too late to help save our native bighorn sheep. We owe that to the lands we are blessed to occupy.

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