TRCP’s Nevada Field Representative goes back on a promise to himself, for the sake of the sheep
The Carson City BLM district holds some of the best desert bighorn populations in Nevada today. Because of the efforts of sportsmen working with Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW), this area is now home to more than 2,400 desert bighorns, and this year, 83 lucky hunters will be hunting rams in this part of the state. More than 350 rams have been taken by hunters in the Carson City district in the last decade—just imagine all those stories filtering down to 350 sets of grandkids, who are raring to get outside and hunt!
With a little extra effort from the BLM, plus conservation-minded volunteers and advocates, wildlife can continue to thrive for this new generation of hunters. That’s why I recently found myself doing something that I said I would never do again—building fences.
I grew up on a ranch and spent plenty of days unrolling and stretching barbed wire in the hot Nevada sun. They’re not exactly part of my happiest memories outdoors, but wildlife fences could have been responsible for a few hunts that were. The livelihood of our wild bighorn sheep depends on barriers that keep wild bighorns away from domestic sheep, which carry diseases the bighorns aren’t resistant to. I recently volunteered to build a fence between some private property and a two public hunting units that hold some amazing sheep—also thanks to sportsmen.
The Excelsior Mountain Range in Nevada’s Mineral County has been the focus of NDOW’s program to re-establish bighorns since the 1980s. Natural water is lacking in these arid mountains, so there has been an ongoing water development effort parallel to the release of these sheep. More than a dozen guzzlers were funded by sportsmen’s dollars and built with nearly all volunteer manpower, particularly by groups like Nevada Bighorns Unlimited (NBU) and Mineral County Sportsmen. As a result, the current population estimate for bighorn sheep in units 206 and 208 is more than 300 animals.
The most recent release of bighorns was carried out in Garfield Hills on the northern edge of these units this January. These were pregnant ewes that are being followed as part of a doctorate research project focused on desert bighorn lamb recruitment and resource selection during the lambing period. There is hope that this research will provide greater insight into causes of pre-winter mortality in lambs and the effects of translocation on lambing activities.
As wild sheep often do, some of these recently released ewes are developing an affinity for the part of the Garfield Hills near the private property and its farm flock. To address these concerns, NBU offered to provide the materials and manpower to strengthen the property owner’s fence and rebuild sections that were in disrepair. Discussions are also taking place to secure an easement and build a second fence inside the private property, parallel to the existing one, to provide a buffer zone and hopefully prevent nose-to-nose contact between the wild and domestic herds.
My involvement with NBU spans nearly 30 years, and in that time I have volunteered on many water developments, including some in this hunting unit. When the call for volunteers went out to repair this fence, I put aside my disdain for handling barbed wire and made the two-hour drive on a Saturday morning in March. There, I met many familiar volunteers, plus some new faces who were eager to help. After a long hot day, we were even treated to a steak dinner, so everyone went home with full bellies, knowing we’d made a difference.
When I’m trying to paint a picture of a special place, one with a conservation success story that’s worth doing some work to improve or preserve, I think of the Excelsiors and those bighorns. The area holds large expanses of intact habitat that needs to be protected and could be enhanced through active management practices, such as continued water development and protection, pinion-juniper removal, and management of the feral horse and burro populations.
As active as Nevada sportsmen have been in bighorn releases, raising funding for conservation, erecting wildlife watering structures, and, yes, building fences, we need to be just as active about urging the BLM to manage these special places with the best tools available.
Backcountry Wildlife Conservation Areas (BWCA) are new tools at the agency’s disposal, and there’s an opportunity to apply this management concept on at least200,000 acresin the Excelsior Range and the Gabbs Valley Ranges, as well as in other high-value habitat. Conservation of intact backcountry areas is needed to maintain the hunting opportunities that are found there today. And every hunter’s voice matters. Contact the Carson City BLM district and state BLM Director John Ruhs and let them know you want to see these areas included as BWCAs in the final Resource Management Plan for the area.