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Repatriated desert bighorn sheep population on the Nevada National Security Site

April 1, 2019

Ecological studies have been conducted on the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) since the 1960s. Desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) were considered rare visitors on the NNSS, with only 9 recorded observations between 1963 and 2009, all of which were males. Females and young were not documented definitively until winter 2011, when several were killed by a radiomarked female mountain lion (Puma concolor). Following these observations, we initiated a study of desert bighorn sheep on the NNSS to better understand their movements/interactions with other populations, prevalence of disease, population size, origin, radionuclide burdens and potential radiological dose to humans that may consume harvested animals away from the NNSS. We captured and radiomarked 6 sheep (2 females, 4 males) in November 2015, and 15 (7 females, 8 males) in November 2016. We sampled blood for genetic and disease testing and collected nasal swabs for respiratory disease testing. Sheep from the NNSS spent most of their time around Shoshone Mountain, Fortymile Canyon, and Yucca Mountain but also moved to Bare Mountain, Thirsty Canyon, and Black Mountain. Females greatly expanded their core and overall home ranges during spring, whereas males expanded their home ranges during summer. Of 18 sheep sampled for disease, 12 showed an immune response to Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, and 5 had the bacteria present. Genetic testing revealed that the ancestry of NNSS sheep is from the Bare Mountain (1991-1995, within 24 km of our study area), Specter Range (1990-1995, within 32 km of our study area), and Stonewall Mountain (1975-1983, within 72 km of our study area) reintroduced populations. Radionuclide burden in NNSS sheep was minimal with no significant difference from sheep captured on the Nevada Test and Training Range and northern Nevada. One marked adult male was legally harvested off the NNSS north of Bare Mountain. This recently colonized reproducing population of sheep on the NNSS warrants further monitoring, protection, and inclusion in resource management plans.

Publication Year 2019
Title Repatriated desert bighorn sheep population on the Nevada National Security Site
Authors Derek Hall, Kathleen Longshore, Chris Lowrey, John D. Wehausen, Grete WIlson-Henjum, Patrick Cummings
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70240305
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center