The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe (Tribe) will release bighorn sheep to the Lake Range on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation Monday, January 13, weather permitting, in a historic project between NDOW and the Tribe to reintroduce the species to the mountains surrounding Pyramid Lake where they once thrived.
Bighorn sheep are native to the Lake Range, two-thirds of which is on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation. Explorer John C. Freemont wrote in his journal on Jan. 11, 1843 during his travels through the Lake Range that he and his party “saw herds of mountain sheep”. While the native fish of Pyramid Lake were historically the primary food source for Paiute people (Numu) other large game species were harvested including bighorn sheep (Koepa).
“It is an extremely important reintroduction both from a wildlife standpoint, as well as a cultural standpoint for many Native American Tribes across the west,” said Larry Johnson, a long-time bighorn sheep conservationist. “This has been a large priority of mine for decades. Luckily, the stars finally aligned and there has been a memorandum of understanding developed between the Tribe and the Nevada Department of Wildlife to not only allow this to occur, but hopefully for future wildlife projects.”
For years, Johnson has been heavily involved with NDOW in bighorn sheep restoration efforts. In June of 2018, PLPT Tribal Council approved to have their staff collaborate with NDOW in the development of a bighorn sheep restoration plan. Through close collaboration between the NDOW, the Tribe and Johnson, planning and coordination for the bighorn restoration efforts were conducted for more than a year.
“This is a win-win quite frankly, for everybody involved. This is the result of a lot of efforts put in by the Pyramid Lake Natural Resources Department, the Nevada Department of Wildlife, and of course funding from multiple sources,” Johnson said.
Funding came from multiple sources, including a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant, Nevada Bighorns Unlimited and the Nevada Wildlife Record Book Foundation.
NDOW has captured and translocated over 4,000 bighorn sheep within Nevada and throughout western U.S. and Canada, helping to restore Nevada’s and other state’s bighorn sheep herds. Nevada’s population was as low as 2,000-3,000 animals in the early 1960s, but now sits at more than 12,000.
A helicopter crew will capture bighorn sheep from a herd in the Sheep Creek Range in Lander County. After NDOW and PLPT biologists, wildlife veterinarians, and volunteers evaluate vital signs and health, collect samples, and attach tracking devices, the sheep will be transported to the Lake Range. The release is expected to take place in the late afternoon.
If you are interested in attending release please contact PLPT Natural Resource Biologist, Emily Hagler at 509-929-1105, and view the regulations for tribal lands listed below.