LANDER (WNE) — The Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation announced the launch of the Sweetwater Rocks Initiative to return wild sheep to their native range within the Granite Mountains.
Bighorn sheep historically roamed the Sweetwater Rocks and were documented as early as 1812 by fur trader Robert Stuart and later by trapper Osborne Russell and explorer John C. Fremont. However, native bighorn sheep were extirpated from the area in the early 20th century due to overhunting and disease from domestic sheep.
An active proposal for their reintroduction has been presented to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission.
“It is important for the viability of the species in Wyoming to have populations of wild sheep across our landscape,” said Katie Cheesbrough, executive director at WY-WSF. “Isolated herds in high-quality habitat, like the Sweetwater Rocks, are important so that if disease is impacting one herd, we still have a stronghold of another herd that is unaffected and healthy.”
Increasing the populations of wild sheep in Wyoming also adds additional wildlife viewing and hunting opportunities.
In 2021, a habitat viability study was completed at the University of Wyoming – Monteith Shop and found that the Sweetwater Rocks was ideal, high-quality habitat due to available forage and superb escape terrain. The risk of contact between wild sheep and domestic herds ranks as the lowest probability of occurrence in Wyoming.
The Sweetwater Rocks consists of high-desert habitat dominated by rocky outcrops and sagebrush grasslands. Land features within the 73,101-acre boundary include Devil’s Gate, Split Rock, Lankin Dome, Savage Peak, and Martin’s Cove.