Bighorn sheep reintroduced to island mountain ranges in Utah

A nice thing about a number of the isolated mountain ranges in the Great Basin is there are no domestic sheep, making the reintroduction of bighorn possible.

The reclamation of historic bighorn range is largely limited by domestic sheep, which quickly pass killer diseases to their wild cousins.

“Big day for bighorns: Mountain sheep get helicopter ride to new domains.” By Tom Wharton. Salt Lake Tribune.

Across the Great Salt Lake Desert to the Newfoundland Range. It’s surrounded by mud flats and salt flats. Sometimes, such as wet years, by water. Copyright © Ralph Maughan






  1. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Two or three weeks ago in Oregon big horns were helo’ed to another area to increase biological diversity. It was a very large group that was relocated. The adventure of a lifetime for the sheep!

  2. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    oops… too quick to hit the button
    It was good that the author wrote about the disease that domestic sheep caused the decimation and that alotments being retired has led to the increase in numbers.

  3. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I was hired by IDFG for the summer of 1970 to evaluate and recommend areas in central Idaho for reintroduction of bighorns. My biggest frustration was trying to find sites that didn’t have domestic sheep allotments nearby in the same mountain range.
    Based on my study, bighorns were put in Birch Creek(near Reno), and in Mahogany Creek and Elbow Canyon in the Lost River Range. Most of those bighorns were eventually lost to disease when they encountered domestic sheep allowed back into the area by the Mackay Ranger District. They had assured me that they would not re-open old, unused sheep allotments.

    The same problem exists today. Idaho bighorns DIE whenever they come in contact with domestic sheep.
    If you want bighorns in Idaho, present day domestic sheep allotments need to be permanently retired! If you want wolves in central Idaho, domestic sheep allotments need to be permanently retired!

    There is a meeting at the Idaho Department of Agriculture Building at 2270 Old Pentitentiary Road in Boise tomorrow, (Monday) at 1:30 pm, to discuss the conflict between bighorns and domestic sheep. I suspect the sheep industry will be well represented. I will attend if they will let me in.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks for information Larry. I do think BE will be there too.

    I had wondered what had happened to the bighorn reintroduction near Elbow Canyon.

    I see theytried again a couple years ago with a reintroduction near Doublesprings Pass in the Pahsimeroi Rnage. I wonder how that is going?

  5. Brian Ertz Avatar


    I sent you my number via email – if you have any problems getting in – which i don’t anticipate, feel free to call and we’ll get you in or raise hell trying… i almost hope they opt for the latter 😉

  6. Jim Avatar

    What is it that the BLM in Utah “get” that the BLM in ID and OR don’t “get?”

  7. Larry Thorngren Avatar


    The entire front of the Lost River Range from Pass Creek to Rams Horn Canyon was reserved for wildlife grazing when Bighorns were released in the area. Since then, cattle were allowed access to this area and over grazing by cattle, in the area Bighorns used for their winter range, contributed to the loss of the Bighorns.

    One of the major problems I encountered in that 1970 study was over grazing of public lands in the areas I looked at for releasing Bighorns. Most of sites I looked at were in such bad shape, that transplanting Bighorns into them would have been met with failure.
    I stopped by the May Ranger Station, that summer, to discuss the proposed release of Bighorns into Mahogany Creek.
    The secretary informed me that the District Ranger had just been called to the Upper Pahsimeroi by one of his range technicians. It seems that a rancher had just been caught bringing 2x as many cows, onto his forest service allotment, as he had a permit for. (Multiple Use)
    The secretary told me that the rancher was the Bishop of the Mackay ward, where the district ranger was a member. The secretary was laughing and enjoying the situation.(She was not a member of the same religion).
    The condition of public rangelands thoughout central Idaho in 1970, led me to believe that this same type of “multiple use” was not uncommon.

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    We (Western Watersheds Project) were out in the Upper Pahsimeroi in early June.

    It was already a mess, and the BLM was violating a court agreement to keep cows out of Burnt Creek. The BLM was having the cattle moved back out (we watched the permittee’s folks work very slowly).

    The cows were already running out of water. I think we saved a lot of them when we reported a herd gathered around a defective water trough spring trying to drink the scant shit water.

    In years past the Lost River Ranger District won WWP’s Golden Cowpie award for going the extra mile in range mismanagement.

    The district has a new district ranger now. We went on two tours with her in 2007. Brian Ertz has a video of her, a range tech, and Jon Marvel discussing the ethics of the grazing.

    I’m the guy alternatively trying to look at the scenic mountain peaks and then down so I didn’t step in too much.

    Photos of the degradation of the Pass Creek area are up on Google Earth.

  9. Paul Cockrell Avatar
    Paul Cockrell

    Nice to see FNAWS getting credit for all the good work with Bighorns in Utah. FNAWS has funded many domestic sheep grazing allotment buyouts over the years including one in Montana’s Beartooth Absaroka Wilderness a few years ago.

  10. David Avatar

    Good for bighorns may be not that good for cougars.
    I remember reading something about killing cougars preying on released bighorns. I think it was on the Stansbury mountains (UT), does anyone know more about it?

  11. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Those allotments we toured – Lost River Ranger District – were shameful – just shameful …

  12. Jeff Avatar

    A few years back I remeber reading about NM Game and Fish doing extensive cougar control for the benefit of desert bighorns there. The California Sierra Bighorn herd is so small that some advocated aggressive cougar thinning there to help out the herd. In these isolated cases, for the short term, I am okay with increased cougar quotas as part of the overall plan to bump up bighorn numbers.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan