Montana wildlife officials are seeking public comment on bighorn management within the state. The public comment period will run until Monday, August 3rd, 2020. The proposal is to establish one or more healthy bighorn herds in the Little Belt Mountains. The Little Belt Mountains area is an island range just southeast of the city of Great Falls. The area is considered to be prime bighorn sheep habitat. The Little Belt Mountains has 910,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land. The Topography of the area is generally rolling and timbered with cliffs and deeply split canyons. Bighorn sheep were a common sight in the Little Belt Mountains prior to the year 1900. However, in the following years, bighorn sheep became scarce across much of the west. Likewise, over-hunting and disease wiped out all of the bighorns in the Little Belt Mountains.
“That afternoon we entered the South Fork of the Judith. At that time there was no wagon road into it. A few trees felled across the lower canyon made Jake’s fence. Shut off from the outside world it was a hunter’s paradise bounded by walls of mountains and containing miles of grassy open spaces more green and beautiful than any man-made parks. These parks and the mountains behind them swarmed with deer, elk, mountain sheep, and bears.” – Author C. M. Russell on his time living at Russell Flat from 1880 – 1882
Bighorn management in the Little Belt Mountains
In 1962 Montana wildlife officials transplanted 18 bighorn sheep in the central Little Belts. However, this restoration attempt failed. A few bighorns have wandered into the Little Belts during the last ten years. Wildlife biologists have documented bighorn populations in the area since 2015. However, the staff has yet to find more than 6 sheep at one time. This small herd is believed to have migrated from the HD 482 herd, this herd was established in the Beartooth WMA which is roughly 50 miles away. The proposal is asking to relocate 50 bighorns into the area, 5 rams, and 45 ewes. The plan is to release them during winter of 2020/2021, with the release being on public land near the South Fork of the Judith River. All released animals will have GPS tracking collars that will last 5 years. You can be apart of this proposal during the public comment period. People looking to comment on Montana bighorn management should go to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website.
What are your thoughts on the Little Belts bighorn management proposal? Would you like to see more bighorn reintroductions? Let us know in the comments.