Colorado Parks and Wildlife managers are expanding their study of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and elk populations in south central Colorado that started last January.
In the south San Juan Mountains, the agency is planning to place radio and GPS collars on more animals so that their movements can be tracked over the next five years. The work is planned for Aug. 8-15.
Some of the trapping may take place in the South San Juan Wilderness Area; so people planning to go into that area should be aware that they might see and hear a helicopter. ?At times, the helicopter will be flying low while following animals and will briefly land to complete the collaring. The flights, however, will be in remote areas away from most established trails and disturbances in any single area will be of short duration. Signs will be posted at some trailheads to further inform wilderness users of areas that might be influenced by motorized activity.
While summer captures are unusual, this project is important because it will help biologists and land managers identify herd movement patterns through southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. The elk study is examining migration patterns and testing agency methods for estimating populations. In the bighorn study, biologists are examining habitat use to determine their range and if it overlaps with areas where domestic sheep graze.
“Since early this year, we’ve learned a lot about how these animals move in the southern San Juan Mountains,” said Stephanie Steinhoff, terrestrial biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the San Luis Valley. “Adding more tracking collars will help us to expand our knowledge base.”
A contract helicopter crew will capture the animals and put on the collars. Steinhoff hopes that 25 elk will be collared in addition to the 25 that were collared in January. Five more bighorns will receive collars to bring the total to 12.
To learn more about elk and bighorns in Colorado, see http://wildlife.state.co.us/Pages/Home.aspx.