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Greetings from the Great White North

February 6, 2012

With fresh alfalfa to eat, these bighorns don't care about photographers or much else. They met us at the site and stayed while we put up a drop net.

Greetings from Hinton, Alberta, at the foot of the Canadian Rockies and 1,800 miles from home, which is where I hope we’ll be headed Tuesday with four horse trailers full of bighorn sheep.

That’s why I headed north with sixteen other Nebraska Game and Parks Commission staffers last week. We wanted to expand our bighorn sheep population and the folks here inAlbertahad some to spare at a reclaimed coal mine where the new landscape fits a sheep’s needs perfectly.

Things get frosty at night at 6,000 feet.

We set drop nets today. It looks like the chances for success are high: about 90 bighorns fed on the alfalfa that has been brought to the bait site for the past week while we were setting up the net just a few yards away. I’m pretty sure I heard one say to another: “Pretty good hay, eh?” To which the other said: “Yea sure, you becha.” They just can’t resist it.

At the second site, only four fed while we worked, but 60 to 80 have been there in the days prior. The one thing that could spoil the soup is wolves chasing them off. We’re all still hoping to see one, just not at the bait site.

We’ll bait the site again in the morning and sit back and watch and wait. When enough sheep are under the 60-foot square net, an explosives technician used to blasting rock from the top of coal beds will trigger blasting caps on the rope holding up the net. Then the rodeo begins.

Our staff, as well as others from the mine, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (the province’s game and fish department), and a whole herd of volunteers will come running to the net, subdue the sheep and fit them with blinders to calm them down. When the net is folded back and sheep are immobilized with hobbles, they will be carried to a station where vets will draw blood and biologists will fit them with ear tags and radio or GPS collars before loading them in a trailer for the trip home.

If all goes well, we should be able to get the 40 or so sheep we’re hoping for in one drop, but we’ll drop a second net if necessary.

We’ll head south ASAP, stopping for the night in Lethbridge, just north of the border, so we can be there when USDA vets get to work Wednesday morning. From there, we’ll head toLusk,Wyoming, spending another night there so we don’t have to turn the sheep out at night. We’ll release them first thing Thursday in the Pine Ridge near Harrison, where they’ll find habitat that fits their needs, not to mention much milder winters.

It will be the fourth source of sheep forNebraska’s herds. The original herd, introduced into a pen at Fort Robinsonin 1981, came fromSouth Dakota. We brought sheep back fromColoradoto the Wildcat Hills southwest of Gering in 2003. Sheep from Montana were turned out in the Pine Ridge in 2004 and in the Wildcats in 2007.

This is my first chance to take part in the fun. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Of course, next time it might be 30 below. That might not be as much fun.

Hope to give you an update from the road tomorrow.

-Eric Fowler

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 8, 2012 6:31 pm

    That is so awesome. I no longer live in Nebr but my heart is still there. You people are doing wonders for the wild life of Nebr. Good job.

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