“Sheep Week” Set The Bar HIgh

As the Wild Sheep Foundation’s (WSF) virtual “Sheep Week: The Experience” ends, I am in awe.

Having just watched an Arizona desert bighorn tag sell for $315,000, many other record tag bids and a week that took digital conservation communication to a new level, hope is alive and well.

That hope is that despite incredible setbacks due to COVID-19 that purpose and innovation can serve as a model for how future challenges can be met in a digital platform.

Everyone, myself included, hopes there will be an in-person “Sheep Show” in Reno, NV next year but if the pandemic continues, WSF officials have proven something impactful can still happen.

While total fundraising results were not available at the time of this writing, it should be anywhere between $4-5 million for the purpose of putting and keep wild sheep on the mountain.

And that of course is extremely important but there’s something else here.

And that is connection.

Among the numerous Zoom meetings, seminars, chat rooms and a very interactive vendor’s expo hall, sheep and mountain hunters from around the world were able to do business, get educated and make friends.

Officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department capture and move sheep at Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area. Translocations are at the hart of sheep recovery. (Photo by Chester Moore)

As a wildlife journalist, I spent much of my time communicating with state and regional biologists and various WSF chapters and state sheep conservation groups.

With the desire to bring the latest in sheep coverage here and via our other media platforms it was great to connect with the people on the ground doing the work and getting the inside story of what’s happneing with wild sheep in North America.

While we humans are battling a pandemic, wild sheep have been contending with one since domestic sheep were brought out West in the 1800s. Pneumonia that is minimally impactful to domestic sheep is devastating to wild sheep and has had an impact at some level everywhere from Canada to Mexico.

Lambs like this Rocky Mountain bighorn lamb from New Mexico are especially susceptible to pneumonia. In fact, once a mother it exposed, most lambs don’t make this long. This is a six month-old lamb. (Photo by Chester Moore)

Conservationists like those involved with WSF and in the state, tribal, and provincial wildlife agencies have taken up the cause. Through population transplants, habitat and domestic sheep grazing management have brought the numbers up to about six-fold from their all-time low of 25,000.

But the problems that impacted sheep in the 1800s are still there and without conservation efforts of sheep hunters there would be little hope for these truly majestic animals.

It will be exciting to see the fundraising tally that will help so many states and provinces manage their wild sheep.

But in my opinion, an equally powerful victory was keeping the mountain hunting community connected and expanding the reach of WSF’s vision.

Sheep and mountain hunters sometimes crave time alone in the outdoors but need to stay connected to other like-minded individuals. (Photo by Demi Schlageter)

For the first time, the organization has topped 10,000 members, showing that “Sheep Week” was an experience that many found appealing.

That’s a very good thing because many challenges lie ahead for our beloved rams, ewes, and lambs.

“Sheep Week” shined the bright light of hope on them and set the proverbial bar for digital conservation interaction far above the tree line-into sheep country.

Chester Moore

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