Some units see declines in bighorn sheep populations

KINGMAN - Each year personnel from Arizona Game and Fish's Region 3 fly through the rugged Black Mountains along the western border of Mohave County to count the desert bighorn sheep and other wildlife that reside there.

It is not an easy task, flying around in a helicopter trying to locate and then count animals that blend in so well with their habitat.

This year, Region 3 personnel were shocked to discover a tremendous loss of sheep in some Colorado River units.

Erin Butler, the region's game specialist, noted that the number of sheep surveyed in Unit 15B West had dropped below the five-year average for two years in a row. This unit's boundaries are located west and north of the Temple Bar road, over to U.S. 93, and then north to Hoover Dam.

In Unit 15C North, which is located on the west side of U.S. 93 and whose southern boundary is Cottonwood Road, a drop of over 76 percent was noted.

The last time this unit was surveyed, which was in 2013, 162 animals had been seen. This year only 46 animals were seen.

Unit 15C South, which is located south of Cottonwood Road to Highway 68 on the southern end, also showed a drop in the number of sheep located.

In 2013, a survey found 52 sheep in the unit. This year the survey showed just 12 animals, for a drop of 81 percent.

Other units within Region 3 showed that the sheep numbers are increasing. In Unit 10, which includes Cataract Canyon, the number of sheep surveyed was 68, which is an increase from previous year's surveys.

In Unit 16A South, the number of sheep seen rose from just five in 2014 to 36 this year,

In Unit 15D, which is regarded as the best sheep unit in Region 3, the number of sheep surveyed increased from 374 in 2014 to 580 this year. The number of Class 3 and 4 rams also increased, from 41 in 2014 to 77 this year.

Butler noted that the region was able to document nine dead sheep that were found during the surveys in units 15B and 15C North. One other sick ewe was located and three additional ewes were captured and all showed sign of having pneumonia. Tests are being conducted on the sheep to determine exactly what disease is killing them.

Three mountain lions were documented within Unit 15C, which no doubt has led to the decrease of the sheep population.