California desert bighorn to be tracked using GPS collars

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High-tech collarsto track bighorn

By Lukas Velush, The Desert Sun.

October 16th, 2001

Bighorn sheep that have been hoofing it around the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains for thousands of years suddenly have been catapulted into the forefront of modern technology.

Trendy global positioning units are now being used to track the steps taken by endangered bighorn sheep.

Sixteen sheep in the two local mountain ranges were captured and outfitted with GPS collars last week.

"This is a first," said Pete Sorensen, division chief for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is paying for the $2,000 collars.

The collars will be used to track sheep movements for two years to help research biologists learn more about the behavior patterns of the endangered animal, said Jim DeForge, executive director and research biologist for the Palm Desert-based Bighorn Institute, which is studying how to help the endangered bighorn recover.

After two years the collars will be retrieved, and an immense pool of data will be analyzed.

If it works, the information will show which trails, valleys, canyons and other kinds of habitat the sheep use. In turn, that will provide managers with the information on which land should be protected from development and recreation.

The newer technology augments existing radio telemetry technology, which relies on having biologists chase after the animals until they get close enough to hear a beeping from a similar collar.

"We don’t need people to track them every day now, but we will be (hiking in to visually) see them every week or so," DeForge said.

Staff from the institute will have to hike in and find each collared sheep once every three months so that preliminary information can be downloaded from the collar.

The institute, Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department and Fish and Game collared about 60 sheep last week throughout the bighorn’s entire range. The peninsular bighorn lives at the base of low-elevation mountains stretching from the Coachella Valley south to Mexico.

In the 1970s, there were 1,200 bighorn in the peninsular ranges. The numbers dropped to an all-time low of 276 in 1996. Since then the species has rebounded to about 400 sheep.

The species was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1998. Fish and Wildlife’s bighorn recovery plan indicates the species won’t come off the endangered species list until there are 750 adults for 12 consecutive years.

The plan also says nine groups of bighorn sheep living in the peninsular ranges must each have a stable population of 25 ewes before the species can come off the endangered list.

The northern Santa Rosa population currently has 18 ewes. A second herd in the San Jacinto Mountains has 12 ewes.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lukas Velush covers the environment for The Desert Sun. He can be reached at (760) 778-4625 or via e-mail at Lukas.Velush@thedesertsun.com.
 



spectr17

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High-tech collarsto track bighorn

By Lukas Velush, The Desert Sun.

October 16th, 2001

Bighorn sheep that have been hoofing it around the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains for thousands of years suddenly have been catapulted into the forefront of modern technology.

Trendy global positioning units are now being used to track the steps taken by endangered bighorn sheep.

Sixteen sheep in the two local mountain ranges were captured and outfitted with GPS collars last week.

"This is a first," said Pete Sorensen, division chief for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is paying for the $2,000 collars.

The collars will be used to track sheep movements for two years to help research biologists learn more about the behavior patterns of the endangered animal, said Jim DeForge, executive director and research biologist for the Palm Desert-based Bighorn Institute, which is studying how to help the endangered bighorn recover.

After two years the collars will be retrieved, and an immense pool of data will be analyzed.

If it works, the information will show which trails, valleys, canyons and other kinds of habitat the sheep use. In turn, that will provide managers with the information on which land should be protected from development and recreation.

The newer technology augments existing radio telemetry technology, which relies on having biologists chase after the animals until they get close enough to hear a beeping from a similar collar.

"We don’t need people to track them every day now, but we will be (hiking in to visually) see them every week or so," DeForge said.

Staff from the institute will have to hike in and find each collared sheep once every three months so that preliminary information can be downloaded from the collar.

The institute, Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department and Fish and Game collared about 60 sheep last week throughout the bighorn’s entire range. The peninsular bighorn lives at the base of low-elevation mountains stretching from the Coachella Valley south to Mexico.

In the 1970s, there were 1,200 bighorn in the peninsular ranges. The numbers dropped to an all-time low of 276 in 1996. Since then the species has rebounded to about 400 sheep.

The species was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1998. Fish and Wildlife’s bighorn recovery plan indicates the species won’t come off the endangered species list until there are 750 adults for 12 consecutive years.

The plan also says nine groups of bighorn sheep living in the peninsular ranges must each have a stable population of 25 ewes before the species can come off the endangered list.

The northern Santa Rosa population currently has 18 ewes. A second herd in the San Jacinto Mountains has 12 ewes.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lukas Velush covers the environment for The Desert Sun. He can be reached at (760) 778-4625 or via e-mail at Lukas.Velush@thedesertsun.com.
 

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