Herd ’round the canyon
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Despite living next to an interstate highway, being ogled by tourists and sometimes chased by dogs, the bighorn sheep of Glenwood Canyon are doing just fine.That is the opinion of one who would know – Colorado Division of Wildlife district officer Sonia Marzec, who is caretaker to the herd that can currently be seen at the mouth of Glenwood Canyon. Lately they’ve been congregating on a grassy verge between the bicycle path and Interstate 70 on the west side of the No Name tunnels.Over the last few weeks the sheep have been highly visible along the interstate. Marzec said the sheep come down to the canyon floor around No Name during their mating season, between November and December. They’ve been such a steady part of the canyon scene that this year DOW, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, the city of Glenwood Springs and the Colorado Department of Transportation, will install two spotting scopes and educational signs at the No Name rest area on I-70 to give people a closer look. DOW will also install a sign at the entrance to the bike path at the Vapor Caves.”They’re a very watchable herd, which is a great benefit for Glenwood Springs,” Marzec said. Although they can be seen grazing perilously close to the busy interstate, they have no reason to cross over. “They don’t cross the concrete barrier” between the bike path and the highway, she said. “They don’t need anything on the other side.”However, accidents do happen. A ewe that was run over by a car near No Name earlier this year was being pursued by a ram which chased her out into traffic. Marzec estimated about one sheep gets killed by traffic every year.
They’re in a good place to get lots of attention. People speeding by on the highway and walking along the bike path get a good look at them.Nor does the attention seem to bother the sheep.”They’re very docile,” Marzec said. On a cold, snowy Wednesday, Marzec was out observing the sheep, counting ear tags and radio collars. A group of eight, about an even number of rams and ewes, were grazing on a hillside above the Vapor Caves.While the two dominant rams, sporting almost full-curled horns, moved off at her approach the ewes and young rams continued to feed. One ram moved toward her, stopping about 10 feet away. He paid no attention to her but pawed at the snowy ground, exposing the grasses that are abundant on the hillside, chopping the stalks with his dainty teeth.This year Marzec began a study of the herd that roam near the west end of the canyon, which she estimates has between 17 and 19 individuals. About 30 sheep inhabit the entire canyon. But it’s hard to tell the exact size of the Glenwood Canyon herd because the numbers are fluid. That’s one of the reasons she wants to put ear tags and radio collars on them so she can track their movements.”This is a small, static population,” she said, with about the same number of rams as ewes. They should be more diverse, with a ratio of one ram to about four ewes, to ensure genetic viability.Marzec will set out a trap to pen the animals. She’ll tag and collar the ones that aren’t already carrying tags, and draw their blood to test them for disease. Marzec will also dose them with antibiotics to combat disease.
Sheep are susceptible to a parasite known as lung worm, which has devastated herds in the past. The parasite causes pneumonia. While the adults usually survive and develop resistance to the worms, the lambs are born without that protection and often do not survive their first year.Sheep get the parasite from nose to nose contact with domestic sheep, Marzec said.”I’ve found dead lambs in the past several years,” she said, which may account for the small numbers of sheep in this herd.The sheep are natural residents of the canyon.”We have documentation of them going back to the 1900s,” she said.When the interstate came through the canyon in the late 60s, DOW moved many of the sheep “because they were getting hit a lot,” she said. But in the early 1990s, DOW brought sheep back to the canyon to supplement the herd.In 2003 when DOW began tagging and collaring the sheep, it became apparent there is some travel back and forth between the canyon herd and a herd of about 110 near Deep Creek on the Flat Tops.Marzec guessed a couple rams with the herd Wednesday might be from Deep Creek.
“They usually range from four to five miles. We see them between No Name and Grizzly creeks,” she said. They hang out in the bottom of the canyon during breeding season then go to the higher country in the spring and summer.All in all, Marzec is pleased with the herd’s good condition going into the winter.”These guys look really healthy this year. Their bodies are filled out,” she said. The wet fall and green grass was a big help. “We grow nice big rams.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. email@example.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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