OURAY COUNTY Bighorn populations climbing slowly

Bighorn sheep have been sighted frequently near Ouray in recent weeks. These ewes are part of the Cow Creek-Wetterhorn herd.

Plaindealer photo by Bill Tiedje

By Bill Tiedje

Sightings of bighorn sheep in and around Ouray have increased along with a slow recovery of species' population in the region, but there are a few things to keep in mind when viewing the state animal.

In the past five to six years, Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists have noticed an increase in the size of the Cow Creek-Wetterhorn herd that typically ranges from east of Ouray to the Telluride area, according to Public Information Officer Joe Lewandowski.
This area has good habitat that is well suited to bighorns.
In early 2014, CPW biologists estimated the herd size to be approximately 225 animals.
"We are concerned because there has been significant lamb mortality over the last three years,” Lewandowski said.
"There's always concern about contact with domestic sheep," said Lewandowski, but he said CPW was unsure of the cause of the recent lamb deaths.
"In the 1970s, it was estimated that about 300 animals comprised the (Cow Creek-Wetterhorn) herd, but then there was a large die off in the 1980s that knocked the herd down to 50 animals.”
Bighorns recover slowly from disease-related die-offs, and biologists continue to monitor the herd, Lewandowski added.

When viewing bighorns:
⁃    do not provide any food to the animals;
⁃    keep some distance;
⁃    observe for a short time and move on;
⁃    don't approach the animals (this causes stress which can be especially harmful during food-scare winter months);
⁃    if viewing from the highway, slow down and give the animals space; and,
⁃    it's okay to honk your car horn if animals block the road, but doing so in traffic may cause the animals to jump in front of oncoming traffic.