Increase in bighorn sheep population
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s 2018 bighorn sheep survey, completed by recounting lambs in March, revealed a minimum of 283 bighorn sheep in western North Dakota, up 7 percent from 2017 and equal to the five-year average.
Altogether, biologists counted 84 rams, 161 ewes and 38 lambs. Not included are approximately 20 bighorns in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
“The increase in the 2018 count reflects lessening effects of bacterial pneumonia that was detected in 2014,” said Brett Wiedmann, big game biologist
The northern Badlands population increased 9 percent from 2017 and was the second highest count on record. The southern Badlands population declined again to the lowest level since 1999.
“The total count of adult rams declined in 2018 but adult ewes increased,” Wiedmann said. “Most encouragingly was the significant increase in the lamb count and recruitment rate following record lows in 2016 and 2017.”
Game and Fish Department biologists count and classify all bighorn sheep in late summer, and then recount lambs the following March, as they approach one year of age, to determine recruitment.
A bighorn sheep hunting season is tentatively scheduled to open in 2019, unless there is a recurrence of significant adult mortality from bacterial pneumonia. The status of the bighorn sheep season will be determined Sept. 1, after the summer population survey is completed.
Game and Fish issued three licenses in 2018 and all hunters were successful in harvesting a ram.