TUCSON – Bighorn sheep are thriving in southern Arizona. Now, we are in year six of a 10-year relocation plan. So far, officials say they are right on track.
The goal of releasing bighorn sheep into the Catalinas is to restore the population to their historic range.
“They disappeared in the late 1990s. Some fires in the early 2000s came in and cleaned up the habitat,” said Mark Hart, Arizona Game and Fish Department public information officer.
The long-term relocation project started in 2013.
“They are part of the landscape,” Hart said. “Our operating philosophy is to restore native species to their historic ranges where they are part of a natural habitat up there and we are glad to see them back.”
AZGFD put tracking collars on the bighorns to see if they are surviving and thriving. This time last year, 66 bighorn sheep were found.
“When we surveyed the population last week, we saw more sheep up there than any time before,” said Hart. “We could have up to 75 Bighorn Sheep in the Catalina now.”
Hart said the plan going forward is more sheep.
“We are going to bring bighorn sheep into the Picacho Mountains, about 20 or 30 again this fall,” he said. “We have a very stable population in Silverbells, about 200, and the Galiuro Mountains which are also part of our area, but not visited often have 130.”
Hart sent News 4 Tucson video of the Silverbells taken on Monday. Arizona Game and Fish saw more than 160 bighorns. He said the population is now estimated at more than 200.
Hart said when you come across bighorn sheep or a cute little lamb, snap a photo and send it their way.