DOW studies Glenwood Canyon sheep herd
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The hum of tractor trailers, SUVs and passengers speeding down Interstate 70 echoed across Glenwood Canyon’s western mouth.
About a football field above the bustling highway, on private property on the flanks of Iron Mountain, stood a herd of about 15 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.
They were waiting. They were waiting for Sonia Marzec, a district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
“They are pretty used to this spot,” said Marzec, throwing a mix of hay and apple pulp onto the ground for the sheep on Friday.
Marzec has been trudging up the steep incline on private property above the Yampah Springs Vapor Caves almost every day since the beginning of January to feed the Glenwood Canyon bighorn sheep herd, which stands at about 25 to 30 sheep.
The site is crucial for Marzec to study and monitor the members of the herd. It is a place where she can feed them, but also trap them to put radio collars around their necks and to take blood samples to find out whether they have diseases. Marzec will end her feeding of the sheep in March.
Marzec’s work is part of an ongoing, 4-year baseline study to monitor the population of the Glenwood Canyon herd, to find out where the animals are going and to understand why some of the young lambs of the herd have been dying in recent years.
Marzec said at the beginning of the winter there were six live lambs in the area, but that two of them have not been observed.
Randy Hampton, a spokesman for the DOW, said the agency has at least five ongoing studies tracking and monitoring big horn sheep in the state.
The agency puts so much effort into tracking the animal because of its connection to Colorado, he said.
“Bighorn sheep is one of the state’s most popular watchable wildlife animals,” Hampton said. “It is the state mammal in Colorado. Bighorn sheep just have a tremendous historical and cultural significance. So the more we know about things like (the animal’s range usage) and disease issues and anything else that negatively impacts them, the better we can be as wildlife managers.”
The population of the animal statewide stands at about 7,000 animals, Hampton said. But over recent years there has been a decline in the number of sheep.
“That is really what we are taking a look at to see, if we can watch that a bit more closely,” Hampton said.
Another part of Marzec’s study is to find out why the herd has an equal balance of male and female sheep.
“That means the social dynamics of the herd is off,” said Marzec, adding male sheep are called rams, while females are called ewes. “Ideally, we look to a (4 ewes to 1 ram ratio) to get the population increased. A big concern for us is why we don’t have a healthy (sheep) population. The environment here could support a lot more sheep.”
The high number of males in a herd can also cause problems for the ewes, who can become stressed in such an environment. Last year, a ewe was hit by a car after she was pushed into the road by a ram, Marzec said.
DOW would like to see four ewes to one ram in the herd, a ratio that would make the herd grow in population and would be a trend that could make the sheep available to hunting, Marzec said.
Right now the herd is off limits to any hunting, Marzec said. The Glenwood Canyon herd may become open for hunting if its population increases to 50 to 100 sheep, Marzec said.
The Glenwood Canyon herd population has remained stable at around 25 to 30 sheep for the last three years, Marzec said. Prior to starting the study four years ago, the herd was estimated to have 15 animals.
“Once we started the study, we found other animals,” Marzec said.
The study of the Glenwood Canyon bighorn sheep herd is part of other efforts to track area sheep. Another study is tracking the Avalanche Creek herd, which roams south of Carbondale near Redstone, Marzec said.
“It is a great experience to watch the wildlife so close on hand,” Marzec said. “It brightens my day.”
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