Bighorn Institute’s Annual Membership Meeting was held January 7th at the Institute. We discussed our accomplishments in 2016, plans for 2017, and elected the Board of Directors. We would like to welcome new Board Member, Dr. Bob Gebhart! We are happy to have Bob on our team as he will be a wonderful asset to our conservation work. We want to thank everyone that was able to join us. We would like to extend a special thank-you to Rancho Mirage council members, Iris Smotrich and Richard Kite.
We are able to continue our much-needed conservation efforts for the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep because of members like YOU. We encourage everyone that receives our monthly update to become a member. Memberships start as low as $25/year and are completely tax-deductible. Thank you!
Local Population Update
For field aging consistency, wild bighorn sheep are aged a year older in January so the 2016 lambs are now considered yearlings. Two of the three local herds have increased in number from Palm Springs to La Quinta. There are now approximately 70 adult bighorn in the San Jacinto Mountains near Palm Springs with 16 lambs surviving. In the northern Santa Rosa Mountains there are now around 80 adult bighorn with 13 lambs surviving. Both of these herds have increased, but the central Santa Rosa herd near La Quinta has decreased slightly, according to the recent helicopter survey. There are now approximately 119 adult bighorn there and at least 10 lambs survived. The last estimate, from 2010, was 133 adult bighorn in this herd.
New Range-Wide Population Estimate
In mid-November, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) conducted a helicopter survey for bighorn sheep in the Peninsular Ranges. This was the first range-wide survey since 2010. They saw 588 bighorn sheep (including lambs) and 62% of the collared bighorn. Statistically, CDFW estimates there are now 794 adult bighorn in the Peninsular Ranges, which stretch from Palm Springs to the Mexican border. This population estimate is down from the last survey in 2010, which estimated 955 Peninsular bighorn.
2017 Lambs Have Arrived
We are excited to report that the first lambs of 2017 have arrived! We have seen 5 lambs so far and this year we saw them as early as ever on January 2nd! There are lambs in each of the three local herds from Palm Springs to La Quinta. Lambing season for Peninsular bighorn typically extends from January through June and many ewes show signs of pregnancy so we anticipate more lambs will be born any day. Lambing season is a stressful/sensitive time for ewes and lambs. Ewes isolate themselves away from all disturbance to give birth, including other sheep. They spend a few days alone with their lamb to bond then search out other ewes with lambs and form nursery groups. If you are out hiking and get lucky enough to see ewes and lambs, please respect them and view them from a distance to not cause unnecessary stress. If you just sit down you are likely to get a better observation than if you move toward them. It’s an amazing experience! Please let us know if you see sheep, you can email us or enter your sighting in Bighorn Institute’s iNaturalist project (instructions here: https://www.bighorninstitute.org/inaturalist-project).
The new year is off to an incredible start as we received approximately 2.8” of rain in January at the Institute. These rains were perfect slow rains allowing for maximum absorption. We may not be out of the drought, but one thing is certain, spring wildflowers will be incredible! In the meantime, we can’t help but admire how green the hills are, which means wonderful new vegetation for the sheep and other critters in our local mountains.
In January, our biologists gave three presentations about bighorn sheep in the Coachella Valley. We would like to thank the Coachella Valley Alumnae Panhellenic, Palm Desert Sunset Rotary Club and Coachella Valley Hiking Club for asking us to speak to your groups about the sheep. An important part of the Institute’s mission is education, so if you would like us to give a presentation about the bighorn at an upcoming event, give us a call at 760-346-7334.
Last month’s membership hike in Palm Springs was rescheduled due to rain, but it proved a great success as we saw 8 sheep on a beautiful sunny day! The next Member Hike will take place on February 10th at 8:00am in La Quinta. We would love to have you join us, but space is limited, no dogs, and you must RSVP for this first come first served hike. To sign up or for more information, please call us at 760-346-7334 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.