Southwestern North Dakota bighorn sheep herd stabilizes

Medora, N.D. (AP) – The bighorn sheep population in southwestern North Dakota has stabilized, thanks to the mild winter.

The state Game and Fish Department's annual sheep survey in the southern Badlands found 283 bighorns, the same number as last year and a figure just 3 percent below the five-year average.

"We monitored 71 radio-marked bighorns last winter and didn't have a single mortality,'' Big Game Biologist Brett Wiedmann said. "Although spring lamb production was low in 2011 due to the severity of (the 2010-11) winter, lamb survival through this past winter was exceptional.''

Wiedmann said 83 percent of lambs counted last summer survived the winter, and a "bumper crop'' of new lambs is expected within a couple of weeks, with adult ewes in good condition.

"Overall, we're quite pleased with the results of this year's survey,'' Wiedmann said. “Following three epic winters our bighorn sheep population is only 10 percent below our record count in 2008.''

Four bighorn sheep hunting licenses will be issued this year. Three of them will be doled out through a lottery drawing. The fourth was auctioned last month, raising $42,000. North Dakota has auctioned one bighorn license each year since 1986 to raise money for sheep management in the state. Bighorn licenses are once-in-a-lifetime licenses, meaning the lucky hunters get only one chance at a trophy kill.

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