Bighorn sheep started coming down to four golf courses in La Quinta in 2007 (from north to south: Tradition, SilverRock, PGA West and The Quarry) as well as Lake Cahuilla. It began with a few rams at PGA West, but in 2012, ewes began coming down to these golf courses with their lambs. At the time, we were in the midst of an extended drought and the ewes came down during summer. However, this behavior quickly changed to year-round use of these golf courses as an artificial food and water source and bighorn began to die from urban-related causes.
High concentrations of bighorn sheep on the golf courses, can lead to increased disease transmission. There are now between 60-70 bighorn sheep regularly on the golf courses browsing in unnaturally large, close groups promoting the spread of disease pathogens. There are considerably more ewes and lambs observed on the courses than rams. This is significant because ewes pass home range knowledge on to their lambs (i.e., where to eat, drink, etc.) so these lambs now consider golf courses “normal” habitat and will pass this to their young. Ewes typically rear lambs in steep, escape terrain for predator avoidance, but these “golf course ewes” bring their lambs down to the urban area shortly after birth. As a result, bighorn lambs and adults are habituated to human disturbance and to the presence of dogs at PGA West. The bighorn sheep that regularly utilize the golf courses have habituated to the point of decreasing their overall fitness, which is a factor in health, reproduction and survival.
Bighorn sheep browse along the canal at PGA West that has claimed many bighorn lives.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service and CA Department of Fish and Wildlife sent a joint letter to the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission (CVCC) and the City of La Quinta in February 2014 notifying them that bighorn sheep have been regularly utilizing the La Quinta golf courses as an artificial food and water source. The letter stated that a barrier (i.e., a fence or functional equivalent) must be installed within two years and the CVCC and the City of La Quinta are responsible for the barrier construction as part of the multiple species habitat conservation plan requirements.
Thirty-two bighorn sheep have died on or near these golf courses from urban related incidents since this letter was sent. Most of these deaths were preventable with a fence. These habituated bighorn sheep are utilizing the golf courses year-round, not just during summer in times of heat/water stress, much like the sheep did in Rancho Mirage years ago. The bighorn exclusion fence in Rancho Mirage eliminated urban-related bighorn deaths in that area; the bighorn population and lamb recruitment have increased and adult mortalities have decreased. The Rancho Mirage fence has been an incredible conservation and recovery tool for this species. The final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the La Quinta fence was approved April 26, 2019, and the fence was put out to bid in mid-October. The bid process was extended to November and then to January 13, 2020, after all November bids were rejected. The first phase of the fence construction will extend behind PGA West and Lake Cahuilla. The Quarry and Traditions still have not provided permission for a fence around their properties.
In August 2020, Bighorn Institute provided a letter to the CVCC at the Chairperson's request (La Quinta Mayor Linda Evans) citing evidence of the bighorn sheep deaths in urban areas. The letter listed out the urban-related bighorn deaths from 2012-August 2020 and compared this to wild bighorn deaths in the mountains of La Quinta away from the urban area. For the same time period, there were a third of the number of bighorn deaths in the wild environment compared to those that use the urban setting. Click here for a copy of the Institute's letter.
Although assured that fence construction would begin in 2020, we regret that the fence still is not underway. This endangered herd of bighorn is being allowed to continue to habituate to human disturbance and die without any repercussions. If you would like to voice your concerns about this issue or get an update on status of the fence, please contact the project lead Katie Barrows 760.346.1127 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bighorn walk in the streets causing human safety issues
Bighorn browse in abnormally large groups on the golf courses promoting the spread of disease
Do Not Feed The Sheep
We’ve talked about this before, but residents and renters at PGA West are still feeding the sheep regularly and it is now a serious human safety issue besides being illegal for an endangered species. Bighorn sheep are approaching people on golf carts because they’re being fed. PGA West has been fining people, but many are getting away with it, which is making it dangerous for everyone. Wildlife is best kept wild and feeding the sheep habituates them to humans, which isn’t in their best interest. Once they lose their fear of humans, they can act aggressively. Peninsular bighorn sheep are adapted to live in our harsh desert and while the mountains may not look like they have enough food for them, they do. Please don’t feed the sheep!
A ewe looks to be fed at PGA West