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Stone’s Sheep Seasonal Range & Habitat Use Study

July 6, 2022
posted in: Conservation, News

Executive Summary
Stone’s sheep are surveyed only sporadically, as flight budgets and favorable weather conditions allow. Aerial surveys flown in 1985 and 1993 in British Columbia’s Omineca Region 7A indicated significantly more Stone’s sheep than were found in a 2020 helicopter survey. This prompted the initiation of a multi-year Stone’s sheep project in this remote portion of BC’s Russel, Swannel, and Tatlatui Mountain Ranges. Stone’s sheep here occur at very low densities inhabiting small pockets of these mountain ranges.

Since little to no recent data was available on sheep numbers, distribution, seasonal movements, habitat use, survival, recruitment, or herd health; plans called for capturing, collaring, and sampling up to 30 Stone’s sheep over the next four years.

Finlay-Russel Stone’s Sheep Project
The Wild Sheep Foundation facilitated securing $14,000 USD from Cabela’s Outdoor Fund and $10,000 USD from our WSF Midwest Chapter to help pay for a portion of this project. The Wild Sheep Society of British Columbia (WSSBC) and BC’s Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF) contributed additional funding. This collaborative multi-year project involves the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD), WSSBC, Wildlife Infometrics, Inc., the Kwadacha First Nation, the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation, WSF, and HCTF. Collaboration with First Nations is an important part of wild sheep conservation and management in British Columbia, recognizing the traditional territories and ecological knowledge of BC’s indigenous people.

This past February 2022, capture/collaring began, scheduled to continue for at least four years. Knowledge gaps for thinhorn sheep are huge and readily acknowledged by Stone’s sheep managers in northern BC; this project will attempt to fill those data gaps over the 4-year project timeline.

Thirteen Stone’s sheep ewes were captured via helicopter net-gunning, and GPS radio collars were attached. In addition, critical biological samples were collected as part of BC’s thinhorn sheep health surveillance program. The youngest ewe was 3.5 years old, while the oldest ewe was estimated to be 12.5 years old. More than four months after capture/collaring, a lambing survey was flown the last week of June 2022; a total of 136 Stone’s sheep were observed during this flight, including 32 lambs. The next steps include tracking cause-specific mortality of collared ewes and assessing lamb recruitment. Additional GPS radio collars will be deployed in winter 2022-2023.

Map of portion of the Omineca Region 7A, northern British Columbia

Approximately 1-month old Stone's Sheep lambs, with their mothers, in a nursery/maternity group.

Stone's sheep ewes observed in late June 2022, ~4 months post - (net gun) capture/collaring.

Stone's sheep ewes and lams, late June 2022.

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