Elk, bighorn study continues in South San Juan Mountains


Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is continuing its study of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and elk populations in south central Colorado. As part of the study, the agency plans to capture and place telemetry collars on 20 elk and six bighorns Aug. 5-9.

The capture will be done by a helicopter crew in the South San Juan Mountains on both the east and west sides of the Continental Divide. Some of the capture will take place in the South San Juan Wilderness Area for which permission has been granted by the U.S. Forest Service.

People hiking in the area might see or 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 trailheads to inform wilderness users of areas that might be influenced by motorized activity.

The project, which started in 2012, is helping biologists and land managers identify herd migration patterns in 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.

If all goes as planned, this will be the last capture operation for this study. Previously, 29 elk and six bighorns were captured. The telemetry collars provide location information to biologists who will monitor animal movements for the next five years.

The project is supported by the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the U.S. Forest Service.

To learn more about elk and bighorns in Colorado, go to the agency’s website at cpw.state.co.us.