Bighorn Sheep Project
On December 2, 2009 the Wyoming Game and Fish Department successfully transplanted 20 Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep into the Seminoe Mountains near Rawlins, Wyoming. It all started in Paisley, Oregon several days before. Partnering with the WGFD, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife service agreed to capture the sheep for the project. Wyoming photographer Drew Rush was asked travel to Oregon and photograph the project from start to finish. Here’s Drew’s perspective on the project.
At 5:30 in the morning, the air was quite crisp and the desolate landscape that surrounded me was reminiscent of Wyoming. I guess that was the point considering we were in Oregon to capture 20 Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep and transport them to Wyoming where they would be released in the Seminoe Mountains.
Paisley, Oregon sits in the south central part of the state and in a sea of sagebrush at that. The high desert of the area and it’s similarities to Wyoming is only one of the reasons that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department decided to come here to capture these animals to try and reestablish Bighorn populations in Wyoming. Another is that the lambing characteristics of these particular sheep seemed to better suit their new home, that is the lambs would have their ewes earlier in the spring when forage is better.
When capture operations began on December 1, you could feel the excitement. The 30 or so people that it takes to effectively (and safely) catch and transport the 20 Bighorns destined for Wyoming were hustling around preparing for the first sheep to be brought in by the helicopter. And what a sight it was. After the helicopter would catch the sheep with a net gun, they would package them for transport to our “basecamp”, where the folks on the ground would begin recording body temperatures, taking blood samples and a host of other tests designed to give the Wyoming Game and Fish a better understanding of the health of their new sheep. Thirteen of the sheep were also fitted with radio collars to help biologists track their movements and get a better idea of how the population is doing.
When the trailer door closed and the 20th sheep was loaded, handshakes and smiles were in order as we thanked everyone involved from the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Service. There was no time for delay, as we were now faced with an 18 hour drive to get back to Wyoming and promptly release these animals into their new home. Driving through the night we crossed the border into Wyoming at 4:30 A.M. and the anticipation steadily increased the closer we got to Rawlins.
Finally at mid-morning, with a small army of onlookers the doors to the trailers were opened and the Bighorns obliged the crowd, running into a new landscape on the hopes of many that the Bighorns will thrive in their new home.
About Drew: Born in Salem, Oregon, Drew moved to Wyoming when he was three. After graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2003, Drew guided fishing and snowmobile trips until he decided to pursue his love of photography full time. While he still occasionally guides, most of the time he can be found with a camera in his hand documenting the wild world around us.
All photos in this article are copyrighted by Drew Rush. You can see more photos from the Bighorn Shep Project and other images from drew by going to his website below.
Drew Rush Website: http://www.drewrush.com