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Thread: Bighorn capture underway on Antelope Island-video

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    Bighorn capture underway on Antelope Island-video

    A helicopter capture of bighorn sheep got underway today on Antelope Island. The Bighorns had what for a sheep would be the ride of a lifetime: first by helicopter, then a hand-carry operation, and finally into a trailer for a road trip.

    It's because the bighorn sheep of Antelope Island have been reproducing very successfully. Justin Dolling, with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, says, "We view this herd as a nursery herd. Our target population here on the island is about 120 to 150 animals. We've exceeded that now. We're at about 200."

    A few dozen are getting new homes from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. They'll run free in two West Desert mountain ranges, two of the 23 places in Utah where you can now find bighorn sheep herds. It's a pretty good turnaround for a species that nearly disappeared from Utah.

    "Our real goal is to get them back out into the wild and re-establish those populations that were lost at the time of settlement," said Dolling. Before the pioneers arrived, bighorns were one of the most abundant big-game species, but disease and hunting nearly wiped them out in Utah.

    Now, hunters themselves are paying to restore the herds. Don Peay, of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, said, "Wildlife resources does all the hard work and the technical work. We just write the checks."

    The Foundation for North American Wild Sheep goes to ranchers with offers some can't refuse: a buyout of grazing permits so they'll remove domestic sheep and free up habitat for bighorns. "You can't have domestic sheep and wild sheep. So we've gone to the ranchers and said, 'Look, you want to retire? We want to put wild sheep here,' write them a big check, and that's basically what we've done," said Peay.

    For the hunters, it's more trophy animals to go after. For the rest of us, it's a chance to see a unique species we almost lost.

    The capture operation on Antelope Island is expected to continue tomorrow and Friday. You're welcome to watch, from a distance, at the Buffalo Point overlook. It's accessible via the causeway from Davis County.

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