Bighorn Sheep in and near Glacier National Park

Science Center Objects

USGS collected GPS data as well as genetic and other samples on over 100 bighorn sheep east of the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park, Waterton National Park, and the Blackfeet Reservation. Bighorn sheep across the west are vulnerable to disease such as pneumonia. We are therefore working to improve our understanding of bighorn sheep movements, approaches for monitoring bighorns, and habitat use in Glacier National Park.

Bighorn sheep in Glacier NP.

Movements relative to salt licks

Salt licks provide important nutrients for the development of strong bones and horns, are important to overall sheep health, and by strengthening immune systems, may buffer sheep from disease. Because natural salt licks are relatively uncommon, they may represent a limiting resource in this system. We will use GPS collar data from ~95 bighorn sheep to summarize sheep movements towards known salt licks and compare how these movements compare with other sheep movements. We will also summarize the timing and frequency of bighorn use of known salt licks. This work will help us determine whether we can monitor bighorn sheep in this area solely by monitoring known salt licks.


In 2014, we also deployed 2 different kinds of remote cameras to evaluate ways to monitor sheep at one salt lick in Glacier National Park. We are partnering with a program that trains autistic students to transform the remote camera photos into data.

Habitat use

We will use GPS data to create a map of habitat use for bighorn sheep. This will provide a layer that Glacier Park, Waterton Park, and the Blackfeet Reservation can use for sheep management decisions.

Population Structure

In late 2014 the Glacier National Park Conservancy provided funding to genotype blood samples of 100 captured bighorn sheep at 18 loci. We will evaluate the structure of the population based on these data, along with sheep movements and disease prevalence and presence to assess implications relative to disease, climate change, and other threats.


Mark Biel, John Waller, and Tara Carolin (Glacier National Park)
Barb Johnson and Robin Steenweg (Waterton National Park)
Dan Carney (Blackfeet Reservation)
Kim Keating (retired USGS)


US Geological Survey
Glacier National Park Conservancy
US National Park Service

Thanks to: Kim Keating (previous PI), J. Powers, M. Wild, V. Jameson, S. Ratchford, V. Boccadori, J. Brown, C. Dickenson, P. Lundberg, S. Schmitz, J. Shrum, R. Yates, J. Potter, S. Gniadek, R. Menicke, and S. Lewis for help in data collection and general project support.



Miller, D. S., et al. 2011. Shared bacterial and viral respiratory agents in Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), Domestic Sheep (Ovis aries), and goats (Capra hircus) in Montana. Veterinary Medicine International. 2011: 1-12.

Keating, K. A., and S. Cherry. 2009. Modeling utilization distributions in space and time. Ecology. 90:1971-1980.

Ott, S. J., Dobbin, H. S., Keating, K. A., Weiser, G. C. 2009. Distribution of Pasteurella trehalosi genotypes isolated from Bighorn sheep in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Journal of the Idaho Academy of Science. 45(2):10-20

Luikart, G., S. Zundel, D. Rioux, C. Miquel, K. A. Keating, J. T. Hogg, B. Steele, K. Foresman, and P. Taberlet. 2008. Low genotyping error rates and noninvasive sampling in bighorn sheep. Journal of Wildlife Management 72:299–304.

de la Fuente, J., M. Atkinson, V. Naranjo, I. G. Fernández de Mera, A. J. Mangold, K. A. Keating, K. M. Kocan. 2007. Sequence analysis of the msp4 gene of Anaplasma ovis strains. Veterinary Microbiology 119:375–381.