A monumental day in Montana Bighorn Sheep history occurred on February 19, 2021, when Montana Fish & Wildlife Parks reintroduced a herd of 26 bighorn sheep into the Tendoy Mountains early that Friday morning. The Tendoy Mountains haven’t seen bighorn sheep since the eradication of the previous herd in 2015. Montana’s overall sheep population has been run, essentially, by a sheep pandemic since the 1900s, and the original Tendoy sheep were no exception. The herd fought this disastrous disease from 1990 – 2015, when FWP made the decision to start fresh in the Tendoys.
“It’s missed,” he said. “In the springtime seeing the lambs down on Big Sheep Creek Road right at the Mallard Flats, right towards the mouth of the Muddy — I look forward to that — and coming up here and seeing the rams moving and fighting and playing on the hillside.” says FWP game warden, Rick Schmauch.
FWP pulled these 19 ewes, 2 lambs, and 5 rams from the herd of bighorns on Wild Horse Island due to their good disease resistance history, and plans to pull another 30 sheep from the herd by the end of 2022. They rounded up the sheep by helicopter the day prior to transplanting, and each had blood samples and tonsil swabs taken for further testing. After being deemed healthy, each was given a GPS collar to allow for the FWP to keep careful track of them. While a few mortalities are to be expected, the overall health of this herd is optimistic. Montana FWP’s plan is to have an established herd of between 125 – 150 animals. After the herd is stable and self-sustaining, hunting will be allowed.
Eric Deneault, OGL VP, was able to talk with Jason Matzinger of Into High Country, who was there when the sheep were released into the Tendoys. When asked what makes it so exciting to take part in reintroducing sheep to the Tendoys, he told Deneault, “whether it’s the Tendoys or Littlebelts, it’s always exciting to be on the forefront to reintroduce sheep back to their native range…there are a lot of factors that will come into play in this being a healthy herd, but if all goes well, it will take about 5-7 years. You’ll see numbers increase and older age class in animals.”
An active member of the Wild Sheep Foundation, the conservation of Bighorn sheep is close to Matzinger’s heart. “It’s important to reintroduce sheep to their native ranges so generations to come will be able to enjoy them; whether that be through hunting, photography, or site seeing.”
Without the Wild Sheep Foundation and the Montana Governor’s Sheep Tag that puts so much money into conservation, this would not be possible. The Governor’s Sheep Tag was sold for $440,000.00 this year. This helps conservation and longevity of the animals we love.
There are high hopes and a bright future ahead for Montana’s future Bighorn Sheep population in the Tendoy Mountains.
Chloe Powell, March 1, 2021.