30 bighorn sheep released on tribal lands in North Dakota

Bighorn Sheep

MANDAREE, N.D. (AP) — Thirty bighorn sheep are running free on the Fort Berthold Reservation as part of a new agreement between the state of North Dakota and the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.

The bighorns brought from Montana were released Tuesday as part of a plan to reestablish the sheep in the western part of the state.

The Bismarck Tribune reports the bighorns come from the Rocky Boy’s Reservation.

MHA Tribal Councilman Cory Spotted Bear said 13 ewes and three rams were released near Mandaree, while 12 ewes and two rams were released near Twin Buttes.

North Dakota’s Game and Fish Department and the tribe assisted in bringing the sheep to North Dakota. The bighorns have been disease-tested and are radio-collared for tracking purposes.

State Game and Fish Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams said the transport and release went well and the bighorns seem in “good, healthy condition.”

Costs to Game and Fish for the project were minor, mainly time and travel, he said.

The tribe had “minimal” costs but did commit up to about $140,000 for expenses of the project, Spotted Bear said. The tribe contributed to transport costs and also paid for the radio collars, he said.

Spotted Bear said the bighorns’ release was “a nice homecoming” in restoring an animal that was native to the landscape about 150 years ago.

The only other bighorns in North Dakota are about 330 animals throughout the state’s rugged, western Badlands, mostly north of Interstate 94.

The state allocated five bighorn licenses for its 2019 season.

Williams said all five hunters were successful. More than 15,000 people applied for the 2019 license lottery.

Since 2014, North Dakota’s bighorns have endured an outbreak of bacterial pneumonia which resulted in about a 30% mortality rate.

Williams said the herds have rebounded some, but the disease can persist within a population in individual animals for several years.

Spotted Bear said “there’s no guarantee” the reservation sheep won’t migrate or encounter disease, but he hopes they “flourish.”