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Crystal River bighorns in trouble

Charles Agar
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

REDSTONE, Colo. ” Young bighorn sheep along the Crystal River near Redstone aren’t surviving to adulthood.

Or so Colorado Division of Wildlife officials discovered during studies and a recent mass capture in Filoha Meadows along Highway 133 near Redstone.

The population of about 100 adult sheep ranging from just south of Carbondale to Marble are reproducing, but 85 to 95 percent of the young aren’t surviving to adulthood, according to Colorado Division of Wildlife Officer John Groves.



“We’re not exactly sure what’s causing it,” Groves said, but bighorn lambs are dying off at about four to six weeks old.

DOW staffers noticed that lambs were disappearing in recent years and have found lamb carcasses in the area, Groves said.




Groves suspects a disease ” likely pasturella, a bacteria, or some type of micoplasms ” but said the recent capture and radio-collaring of some 25 sheep will help researchers find the cause.

He hopes to get into the high country in coming months to intervene with young lambs before they die off, but Groves said tracking and capturing the fleet-footed animals in the valley’s rugged terrain is not easy.

“It is something that we’re looking at statewide,” Groves said of the thinning herd.

The Crystal River Valley herd, which once numbered as many as 250 sheep, is larger than herds near Basalt or in Glenwood Canyon, Groves said, but the population is dropping steadily.

“We’re concerned about it,” Groves said. “We want to get a handle on it before that herd declines to where it is not a viable population.”

More than 40 DOW officials, researchers and volunteers were out on March 15 to capture and tag the sheep in Filoha Meadow, Groves said.

Crews drew blood and took bacterial swabs from the animals’ throats and expect results of the tests in coming months.

John Armstrong, a ranger with the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, was there for the capture he called an “exciting” event that required group cooperation to corral the animals after DOW staff dropped a large net.

“It requires everyone’s best efforts,” Armstrong said, especially to ensure that the trapped animals aren’t injured from flailing under the net.

Volunteers came from as far as Fort Collins and Grand Junction for the capture, Armstrong said.

Groves said the DOW plans more captures and will continue to follow the progress of the herd during the upcoming lambing season.

cagar@aspentimes.com

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