The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe reintroduces bighorn sheep on tribal lands
February 13, 2020 at 9:13 AM - Views: 6 #268167
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For the first time in roughly 100 years, the species returns to historic habitat.
Kalen Goodluck Feb. 13, 2020
The day began early for the crew of scientists, state and tribal officials — long before the sun rose across the snow-covered sagebrush. “How many are you going to give us?” asked Alan Mandell, vice chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. “Twenty to 25,” said a biologist, rubbing his palms together in the cold. “That’s a great start,” Mandell said, smiling.
All fell silent as a helicopter approached from the horizon above Nevada’s snowy Sheep Creek Range. “We have four,” crackled a voice over the radio. In the distance, the payload dangled in slings from the chopper’s haul: California bighorn sheep, carefully blindfolded. Emily Hagler, biologist and wetlands environmental specialist for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, stood back and watched the first one touch down in a swirl of snow. Teams rushed to the site, weighed the bighorns and placed them on tables for medical examinations.
It’s finally happening, Hagler thought, eyeing the bighorns. After decades of on-and-off negotiations between state and tribal agencies and time spent seeking grant funding as well as gathering tribal council and community support, the bighorns were coming home.
“We lost almost our entire fisheries that we’ve been working decades to recover,” said Hagler. “This is just the next step in restoring another native species that has been lost.”
For the first time in roughly a hundred years, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe will have a flock of bighorn sheep on tribal land that was once a part of the sheep’s historic habitat. Not only will the effort help restore the species; it will also renew hunting and tanning traditions and support ceremonial uses — practices disrupted as the sheep population declined. The bighorns will be closely monitored for nearly three years to create a tailored conservation plan. “We won’t know what the herd will need to thrive until they’re on the landscape,” said Hagler. Restoring an animal to its native habitat is a time-consuming and expensive task. It’s also uncertain at times; sheep don’t always survive the stress of capture, and they are lethally susceptible to local livestock diseases. And after release, they’re on their own.
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