Bighorn Fire and Bighorn Sheep

While the fires burning in the Tucson area are not in Ironwood Forest National Monument, both the Monument and the Catalina Mountains have strong populations of bighorn sheep.

One of our members was worried about how the Bighorn fire (named for Bighorn Mountain in the Catalinas) would affect the sheep. 

Here is a response:

Hello Bill,

The fire is no threat to the bighorn sheep in the Catalinas. It will be a terrific benefit to them in 6 weeks or so. The Forest Service won’t let it burn in the Saguaro/ Palo Verde habitat near the bottom of the mountain. What it has burned so far is a lot of under-story litter and brush. So far it has done a tremendous job of opening up habitat that has become overgrown with trees and other lower growing plants. I just wish it had burned more to the west than it did but the wind wasn’t blowing that way.

The lambs at 24 hours old are very agile and will follow mom. In a research project in New Mexico ewes were fit with vaginal implant transmitters so the researchers would know the moment they gave birth. They collared the lambs to get an idea of mortality and other behavioral aspects of the ewes and lambs. They had less than 24 hours to catch the lambs because they were so adept at getting away from them. I would guess that there might only be one or two Catalina lambs that are younger than 2 months old right now. Most of them are born in January and February and are 3/4 size of mom right now.

I can’t wait for the monsoons because new growth that is soft and palatable will start sprouting and the sheep will be all over it. I couldn’t be more excited for the Catalina sheep herd as a result of this fire. I feel 100% confident we didn’t loose any sheep. The long answer to your question is the sheep are fine and the long term benefit will be great for the sheep, deer and the health of the country it burned.

Thank you for your concern about the sheep. Enclosed is a picture I took last Spring.

Joe Sheehey
Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society