Science for Applied Management of Bighorn Sheep in Montana
The Montana State-wide Bighorn Initiative is a collaboration between Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Montana State University focused on developing a long-term research study to better understand the ecology of Montana's bighorn sheep herds and enhance their management. Our primary intent is to collect information from a sample of Montana's herds that have diverse disease history, health, and regional climate regimes to assess the role of herd attributes, annual variation in climate, disease pathogens, and habitat conditions on recruitment, adult survival, and population dynamics.
Bighorn sheep conservation and management has been, and continues to be, a challenge. Approximately a century ago all of the ungulates native to Montana were severely depressed in numbers and distribution due to overexploitation, habitat modification, and a lack of concerted and scientifically-informed management. Regulation of harvest, habitat protection and enhancement, intensive natural history studies, and translocation programs resulted in successful restoration of most ungulate species. Today elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and pronghorn are all abundant, broadly distributed across the state, support a robust hunter harvest, and are enjoyed by nearly all Montanans and those visiting our state. While similar management and conservation efforts have been devoted to bighorn sheep, most populations are relatively small and are patchily distributed across the state, with many populations static or periodically experiencing dramatic declines despite the fact that adequate habitat seems to be abundant. Therefore, there is a need to collect information from coordinated and intensive long-term research involving multiple populations in diverse ecological settings.
Our project has the following objectives: