Bighorn sheep return to North Dakota reservation for first time in 150 years

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Bighorn sheep were released in late January on the Fort Berthold Reservation in northwestern North Dakota. It's the first time the sheep have roamed free on the reservation in more than 150 years, thanks to a partnership with tribal and state leaders. Submitted photo / Special to The Forum

MANDAREE, N.D. — After more than 150 years of absence, bighorn sheep have returned to the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, thanks to a partnership of tribal, state and private business leaders.

Video from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department shows 30 rams and ewes jumping out of trailers late last month near Mandaree and Twin Buttes before trotting through the Badlands. The introduction of the bighorns was made possible by an agreement between the department and the Three Affiliated Tribes.

“To see that come to reality today was just something you only dream of,” Cory Spotted Bear, a Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation Tribal Council member who opened one of the trailers to release the sheep, said in the video released this week. “It’s a pretty special moment to see the trailer gate open.”

The bighorns were captured on the Rocky Boy Reservation in north-central Montana before being transported to the Fort Berthold Reservation, said Brett Wiedman, a big game biologist for the state. Hunting gear and apparel company Kuiu funded the project, the Game and Fish Department said.


"It just extends the entire range of bighorn sheep in North Dakota," Wiedmann said.

The rugged terrain is perfect for bighorn sheep, according to the Game and Fish Department. Years in the works, the agreement calls for the department and the Three Affiliated Tribes to co-manage the herd for at least two years, Wiedmann said.

“Everybody coming together to make this happen, it’s a wonderful example of how the state and tribe can work together to accomplish meaningful things,” Spotted Bear said.

Of the 30 bighorns, five young rams were released in an effort to promote reproduction. The first tribal bighorn sheep hunting season could happen in five or six years, if management goes well, Wiedmann said. Some licenses will go to the state for issuance to hunters, while others will be used by tribal members, he said.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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