Bighorn sheep transplants chosen carefully
DEADWOOD (AP) — Bighorn sheep slated to be transferred from Canada to western South Dakota were picked for their ability to withstand harsh winters and for their familiarity with mining activities.
The state Game, Fish and Parks Department is bringing 40 bighorns from Alberta to the Deadwood area early next year as part of a program to rebuild herds in the Black Hills. The sheep are from the Cadomin coal mine area south of Hinton, Alberta, and also are big and heavy, helping them withstand deep snow, senior wildlife biologist Chad Lehman told the Rapid City Journal.
“I know they get quite a bit of snow up in that Lead-Deadwood area. That’s one of the things those sheep are going to have to deal with,” Lehman said.
Bighorn sheep are native to the Black Hills, but disease — particularly pneumonia — has decimated herds over the years. The state is using $80,000 from the auction of a hunting license to establish the herd. The state issues three bighorn sheep licenses annually: two by lottery, one by auction.
The $102,000 received from last year’s auction funded an effort to import animals from Montana in January. Custer State Park received Alberta bighorns more than a dozen years ago, Lehman said.
“The town of Deadwood is right there. They (sheep) could easily wander over into town,” Lehman said. “There are people that live all over the place in the Black Hills. There could be some interface there.”
The city will need to address safety concerns, Deadwood Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lee Harstad said.
“I assume that there will be signage about bighorns crossing and a nice public relations push to let people know the sheep are going to be here and they’ll be crossing the roads,” Harstad said.