Bighorns Reintroduced in Picacho Mountains

A bighorn sheep grazes along the Colorado River. | Coral C Coolahan

A reintroduction project earlier this month returned one of Arizona's most iconic species to a mountain range northwest of Tucson.

As the Eloy Enterprise reported, the Arizona Game and Fish Department released 30 desert bighorn sheep in the Picacho Mountains, which are along Interstate 10 near Picacho Peak State Park. The animals were relocated from a population in the nearby Silver Bell Mountains.

“When we can help re-establish a native species to their historic habitat, we’re truly part of something special,” said Amber Munig, AZGFD’s big game management supervisor. “Projects such as these help us to conserve and protect bighorn sheep by establishing subpopulations within their native ranges, which could help if there ever were a disease outbreak. Such an outbreak wouldn’t have a devastating effect on the entire population.”

A second relocation, one that involved the Rocky Mountain subspecies of bighorns, moved sheep from the Morenci area to an area north of Payson. That area was scorched by this year's Tinder Fire, providing new growth that made the area suitable for bighorns, the newspaper reported.

The department partnered with the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other organizations on the releases.

According to some estimates, the nationwide bighorn population is only about 10 percent of what it was before the West was settled.

Longtime Arizona Highways readers might recall a February 2014 essay by the late Charles Bowden on bighorn introductions in the Pusch Ridge area of the Santa Catalina Mountains, near Tucson. As of last year, that population appeared to be thriving.

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