Bighorn sheep - a species that was practically the symbol of the Arizona Catalina Mountains before the herd there died out in the 1990s - will soon roam the range again.
State wildlife officials said 30 bighorns will be moved from a healthy herd near Yuma to the Pusch Ridge Wilderness in the Catalinas this fall. Additional transplants in the following two years will bring the total bighorns to more than 100 animals.
Committee members studied possible reasons for the decline of the herd including urban encroachment, human disturbance, disease, fire suppression and predation.
The obvious questions faced by the committee were: What's different now? Why would it make sense to move healthy sheep to a place where a herd had died out?
Four key factors were identified that increase the likelihood of success including improved habitat, plans for prescribed burns, availability of healthy bighorn sheep to be transplanted and trail restrictions, especially during lambing season.
The overall cost of the reintroduction project is estimated at $600,000 over the next three years and will include global positioning system collars fitted on each animal. The collars will provide real-time information about the bighorns' location and any deaths that might occur.
Reprinted in part from Arizona Star