TWO IN LIFETIME?

November 14, 2003 12:00 am
There are about 640 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in Oregon, and almost all are in Wallowa and Baker counties. Oregon's California bighorn sheep population is 3,700. (Photo/JIM WARD).
There are about 640 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in Oregon, and almost all are in Wallowa and Baker counties. Oregon's California bighorn sheep population is 3,700. (Photo/JIM WARD).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

A second lifetime.

It's what hunters who have won tags for bighorn sheep in Oregon must hope for.

They have no choice.

Hunters lucky enough to have drawn a bighorn tag cannot reapply for other Oregon sheep tags. Individuals can win a tag for an Oregon bighorn hunt just once in a lifetime.

Hunters who have used up their quota can take heart, though. Someday they may be able to apply again for Oregon bighorn hunts.

The draft of an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife management plan gives them reason for hope. The plan recommends the policy be examined.

Under the proposal a hunter who had won a Rocky Mountain or California bighorn tag would be able to apply for drawings to hunt the other sub-species.

The draft plan states that if it is determined there would be no negative consequences and if it might increase revenue, ODFW may develop a proposal to "allow two bighorn tags in a lifetime.''

The proposal would have to be approved by the Oregon Legislature.

Tag drawings are among several subjects addressed in Oregon's Bighorn Sheep & Rocky Mountain Goat (draft) Management Plan. Public input is being accepted by ODFW.

The plan also addresses issues such as the problems caused by cougar predation and harassment. Cougars not only are the chief predators of bighorns, but they also can cause herds to split up. When transplanted herds are split into small groups their chances of surviving are reduced.

Cougar predation and harassment problems are why the plan recommends ODFW be able to take steps to increase cougar harvests in areas where bighorns are released.

Cougar predation has been the second highest cause of adult mortality in radio-collared bighorns, according to the draft plan.

Another bighorn issue addressed is the possibility of having hunts for ewes. The proposal states that the possibility of having hunts for ewes may be considered as a tool for managing populations. Bighorn sheep populations have not reached the point where this might be necessary but the possibility exists that it could. Presently when an area's population is over capacity the problem can be addressed by trapping and transplanting bighorns to other sites, said ODFW Baker District biologist George Keister.

However, there may come a time when all bighorn habitat sites are filled to capacity. Controlled hunts for ewes may then be necessary, Keister said.

There are about 640 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in Oregon, and almost all are in Wallowa and Baker counties. Oregon's California bighorn sheep population is 3,700.

The management plan also addresses issues concerning Rocky Mountain goats. It recommends ODFW continue putting out salt blocks in areas where mountain goats might bother campers.

In the Elkhorns, mountain goats were a problem for campers until salt blocks were put out several years ago, Keister said.

"They would come into camps looking for salt. They would run off with clothing and lick remains in fire pits,'' Keister said.

The goats have not hurt anyone. However, the potential for a violent encounter exists because nannies are not shy about defending their young.

"They're not aggressive with people but they are defensive with kids,'' Keister said.

Sometimes family dogs in camps have chased kids and a nanny has responded by attacking the dog. Keister recalled that one time ODFW biologists were in the Elkhorns conducting a population count when they saw a nanny gore a dog.

The dog survived after receiving help from the biologists.

The ODFW's management plan doesn't address cougar predation and mountain goats because cougars don't appear to have a major impact on mountain goat populations. There is a high ratio of kids to adults in Northeast Oregon, and the region's mountain goat population is growing, Keister said.

The main reason cougars don't take many mountain goats may be that they live in steep, rugged habitat, Keister said. Another reason could be that goats have sharp horns that can be used as a lethal weapon.

Oregon has about 400 Rocky Mountain goats, including 150 in the Elkhorns, about 200 in the Wallowas and 30 in Hells Canyon. There are also less than 20 in the Strawberry Mountains and in the Mount Ireland area on the Baker County and Grant County line.

The ODFW's draft plan for Rocky Mountain goats and bighorn sheep is available on the Web at www.dfw.state.or.us/. People who'd like to submit comments can do so via e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will review the draft plan and the comments at its Dec. 12 meeting in Salem.