New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
Media contact: Dan Williams, (505) 476-8004
Public contact: (505) 476-8000
dan.williams@state.nm.us

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, AUG. 12, 2007:

BIGHORNS RELEASED IN DRY CIMARRON, RIO GRANDE GORGE

New Mexico has larger Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep herds in the northeast and in the Rio Grande Gorge following the release of 59 sheep captured Aug. 10-11 in the Pecos Wilderness.

A crew of New Mexico Department of Game and Fish biologists, conservation officers and staff used drop nets baited with salt blocks to capture the sheep near Pecos Baldy. The sheep were then transported by helicopter to Terrero, where they received blood tests, vaccinations and were fitted with radio collars.

Thirty-four sheep were taken to the Dry Cimarron River Canyon in northeastern New Mexico , where they will supplement an existing small southern Colorado herd that occasionally uses the Dry Cimarron area.

Twenty-five sheep were taken to Bureau of Land Management property in the Rio Grande Gorge, where they will join a small herd released last year by Taos Pueblo.

"The sheep released last year are adapting quite well to the Rio Grande Gorge," said Elise Goldstein, a bighorn sheep biologist for the Department. "In fact, the new herd produced about 12 lambs this spring."

The New Mexico National Guard provided a Blackhawk helicopter and crew to move trapping gear into the wilderness and back. Representatives from Taos Pueblo, the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service also assisted in the trapping and release operation.

Bighorn sheep restoration began in New Mexico in the 1930s, but struggled until the animals were moved to the Pecos Wilderness in the 1960s.  That herd is now the source for many transplant operations, and the statewide population now has grown to approximately 1,000 sheep. Moving the animals helps keep the population within the limits of the available alpine habitat.

The Rio Grande Gorge near the Taos Junction Bridge was identified as suitable low-elevation habitat for bighorn sheep in 1993.

"We're thrilled to be a partner in this effort," said Linda Rundell, New Mexico State Director of the BLM. "As part of our agency's Restore New Mexico program, we're working with landowners, conservation groups and other agencies to restore degraded landscapes and habitats throughout New Mexico. The final step - reintroducing native wildlife to areas where they've declined or disappeared - is the icing on the cake."

Funding for the traps and transplanting operations comes from the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep and the federal aid program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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