How important are the high-country meadows of Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks for bighorn sheep that summer in the two parks? That's a question researchers want to answer through a study that would involve placing radio collars on a few dozen sheep.
The study under consideration comes more than a decade after Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep were listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. In the late 1990s, the population of bighorn had declined to about 100 animals and very few remained within
Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Today, the population numbers about 370 animals, an increasing number of which are using the parks, according to a park release.
Meadows are focal vegetation communities for both wildlife and human activities. The preliminary objectives of the study are to: (1) identify the extent to which bighorn sheep use meadows within these parks, specifically meadows and other habitats that are used by pack stock and backpackers; (2) determine whether the use of meadows and other habitats by pack stock or backpackers limits use by bighorn sheep either through competition for forage or by the presence of pack stock; and 3) develop a model to predict the relative probability of use of various habitats by bighorn sheep.
Meadow systems are important habitats to Sierra Nevada bighorn and provide a high density of nutritional forage. Meadows occupy only 1-2% of the landscape at higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada, and the persistence of high-elevation meadows is threatened by a number of factors, including climate change. Given their sensitivity to disturbance and their slow recovery following disturbance, it is important that the NPS understand the
extent to which human activities affect the value of meadows as wildlife habitat.
For a good overview of this species, check out the video on Yosemite National Park's website: http://www.nps.gov/yose/naturescience/countingsheep1.htm
Sequoia and Kings Canyon officials currently are soliciting input on what the study should entail. Under the proposal, upwards of 40 bighorn sheep would be captured and fitted with radio collars. The captures would be accomplished with netting shot onto sheep from helicopters.
"About 75 percent of the work would occur in the sheep’s winter range, which is located outside and east of Sequoia and Kings Canyon nNational parks," the park release said. "Some of the captures, however, could occur within the eastern portion of these parks. The California Department of Fish and Game would be the principal investigator on this project, conducting the operation under their existing permit with the Fish and Wildlife Service."
Public comments are currently being accepted during this scoping phase. After analyzing comments received during scoping, the NPS will determine the level of analysis needed for this project.
More information on the proposed project is available online at the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment website, http://parkplanning.nps.gov/seki, then clicking on Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
All comments must be received in writing by July 19, 2010. It may be submitted at this website, or sent to the park via e-mail to [email protected] or via mail or hand delivery to:
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Attn: Bighorn Sheep Study
47050 Generals Highway
Three Rivers, CA 93271