(Lander, Wyo.) – For thousands of years, Bighorn Sheep roamed the Southern Wind River Range and, for a time, a small herd lived in Sinks Canyon in recent history including it’s most famous, or infamous member, Bam Bam the Ram, the last remaining Sinks Canyon bighorn. After Bam Bam died in State custody, his impressive taxidermy mount now watches over the Sinks Canyon State Park Visitors Center. While he is still a “star” in the canyon’s wildlife legacy, an effort is now underway to repopulate the southern winds with more of the wild sheep.
“Their presence here has been documented by petroglyphs dating back 6,000 years,” said Ron Smith, president of the Bighorn Restoration Group. “Reading from journals of the early Lander Valley settlers, it was noted that “impressively abundant” bighorn sheep were on the winter range here. But livestock diseases, primarily from domestic sheep, infected the herds and they pretty well died out,” he told the Rotary Club of Lander this week. “The Wyoming Game and Fish Department used to issue 260 bighorn hunting licenses for the Temple Peak area, that’s how abundant they once were.”
In the 1960’s, Smith said some forward looking local leaders got together and started planning how to get the sheep numbers back up in the Southern Winds. “The Game and Fish Department captured bighorns from the Whiskey Mountain herd near Dubois and relocated them above Lander through the 1980s,” he said. ” But then domestic sheep were introduced into the canyon in the 1990s, for only two months, but it was enough that bighorn ewes co-mingled with the domestics and the result was disastrous, disease spread like wildfire and one year later almost all the bighorns had died off.”
After he relocated back to Wyoming, in 2015 Smith joined other scientists, Game and Fish and Wind River Reservation Wildlife personnel and other interested parties and the Bighorn Restoration Group was formed. “Together we captured 13 of the remaining bighorns and put radio collars on them to learn about where they traveled and what habitat they occupied. The effort was repeated in 2017 when 11 more were captured and collared, making a study group of 24 animals. As of two years ago at our last count, we now have a resident population of about 100 bighorns in the Southern Winds, spread the length of the range in six or seven distinct herds,” he said.
Right now the group is working on how to promote lamb retention in the herd to grow the population. “Lamb survival is our new focus,” he said.