From January 27 – 29, 2020, KUIU, along with a group of 16 great customer donors and 34 volunteers, were fortunate enough to complete the first company and customer funded bighorn sheep transplant. As the inaugural project of the new KUIU Conservation Direct initiative, it included the concept, purchase, testing, capture and transplant of 55 excess Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep from the Rocky Boys Indian Reservation in northern Montana.
The first 30 sheep were given to the Three Affiliate Tribes (TAT) in North Dakota for reintroduction in two separate locations. The second 25 sheep were given to the State of Utah for release and reintroduction on Antelope Island as the seed stock for the new Rocky Mountain Bighorn nursery program in Utah.
This transformative conservation project came to be reality due to the generous financial support of KUIU’s incredible customers, along with the sweat equity of dozens of selfless volunteers. KUIU Nation is committed to hands-on, one-project-at-a-time conservation efforts that create hunting opportunities for generations to come.
Thank you again to all the donors and Volunteers who helped make this happen.
Conservation Direct Financial Donors
Cari and Leo Goss
Mike and Aaron Davison
Geoff and Rex Rowley
Brett Wiedmann, North Dakota Game and Fish Big Game Biologist
Jace Taylor - Bighorn Sheep Biologist- Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Native Range Capture crew
Jan Rubbert, Rubbert Aerial Pilot
David Rivers, Native Range Pilot
Kevin Coates, NR Net gunner
Colton Hodson, NR Net gunner
Seth Phillips, NR Net gunner
Cedar Hincke, NR Ground Support
ND Day 1 volunteers
Charlie Bahnson, NDGF Wildlife Veterinarian
Judd Jasmer, NDGF Resource Biologist
Levi Jacobson, NDGF Resource Biologist
Curt Francis, NDGF Resource Biologist
Ryan Herigstad, NDGF Wildlife Technician
Bill Tidball, Veterinarian
Vern Bleich, CA Fish & Game Senior Environmental Scientist (Retired)
Jeff Merchant, NDGF Fisheries Technician
Matt Becker, NDGF Lab Technician
Sam Courtney, NDGF Lab Technician
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Day 2 Volunteers
Dr. Annette Roug - Wildlife Veterinarian
Dave Rich - Terrestrial Biologist
Dave Smedley - Terrestrial Biologist
Jay Tuttle - Wildlife Veterinarian Student
Rocky Boys Volunteers
Chris Wolfchief Rocky boy Game warden
Zack Hammond Rocky boy Game warden
Justin FourColors -Rocky Boys Sheep Manager
Bobbi Favel- CCT Fish and Game Director
Three Affiliate Tribes Volunteers Day 1
Toni Smith, Three Affiliated Tribes Fish and Wildlife Director
Kristin Mason, TAT FW Wildlife Technician
Michael DeVille, TAT FW Wildlife Technician
Jordan Yellowbird, TAT Warden
Midwest Wild Sheep Foundation
Utah Wild Sheep Foundation
Transplant Recipient Background Information
While KUIU and our customers were the driving force behind this project, we did not do it alone. There were many partners and professionals involved on the receiving end in both North Dakota and Utah that need credit for the hard work they put in.
First, we want to thank the people of Rocky Boys Reservation and the Chippewa Cree Fish and Game for allowing us the opportunity to purchase and be stewards of their sheep surplus. Excess bighorn sheep are quite possibly the rarest commodity in the west. We did not take the opportunity for granted.
We are grateful for the biological guidance and capture coordination planning provided by Brett Wiedmann of North Dakota Game and Fish and Jace Taylor of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Sheep safety and disease testing were the top priority from capture to release. Both Brett and Jace are shining examples of progressive biologist solely dedicated to the protection and expansion of bighorn sheep populations in their states. Everything on the receiving end of these transplants were managed entirely by these two incredible biologists and their state agencies.
All State and Tribal laws were followed from capture to release on each group of sheep. The latest in disease testing was performed by two independent labs for both translocations to ensure the health of the source herd and new herds going forward. Both North Dakota and Utah had very specific biological testing requirements which were handled by each state agency independently. Testing was expedited and confirmed before the sheep were released.
We are very grateful to Travis Jensen of Utah Wild Sheep Foundation for the help he provided in facilitating the acquisition of 15 collars on behalf of the Sportsmen of Utah for our ongoing study involving all three herds. He was very instrumental in the entire Utah portion of this project.
We are very appreciative of Midwest Wild Sheep Foundations Mike Boutin and Patti Murry for independently managing and ensuring total financial transparency for the project. Midwest Wild Sheep took on the role as the bank for all donations and payments. KUIU and Conservation Direct did not touch any of the money involved in this project. Every dime went through MWSF.
We want to thank the North Dakota Game and Fish and the Three Affiliate Tribes (Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation) for their hard work in preparing to receive the sheep and their commitment to ensure these herds prosper in the future.
We Also want to thank Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Antelope Island State park for welcoming these sheep and this collaboration. Utah did an incredible job of ensuring the quick turnaround to make Antelope island ready for bighorns again. It took many partners on their end to make this happen.
The rock stars of the entire operation are the capture crew. Native Range was able to catch and handle all of the sheep without a single mortality. An incredible feat that is only pulled off by true professionals.
When we set out on these projects there were only two requirements.
In the continued interest of total transparency, once the sheep were released to each location there is no connection to KUIU or the people involved. Both were a gift from KUIU and KUIU customers to the hunters of the United States with no strings attached.
The Three Affiliate Tribe (TAT) now owns the sheep in North Dakota, which will be managed by Brett Wiedmann and the State of North Dakota. This partnership is the first of its kind in North Dakota involving wild sheep. Future tags will be split between the state of ND and the tribe for both auction and drawing. It is estimated the first hunt will take place in the fall of 2025 or 2026.
The hunters of Utah now own the sheep given to Utah, which are managed by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources as a nursery herd on Antelope Island State Park. In the future these sheep will be made open to hunting by both auction and state draw once sustainable numbers and age are reached.
KUIU Conservation Direct Bighorn Sheep Transplant Timeline
May 2018 – Spring count on Rocky boys Reservation reveals sheep numbers have increased over herd objective numbers through incredible lamb recruitment and low predation.
August 2018 – Brendan Burns proposes purchasing the excess sheep on behalf of KUIU which is approved by the Chippewa Cree Tribal Council.
September 2018 – Places a call to Travis Jensen of Utah Wild Sheep Foundation about potential release sites. Utah does not have an area available immediately.
Places a call to Brett Wiedmann of North Dakota looking for a suitable release site. Brett has several proposed areas with suitable habitat and puts the wheels in motion to receive sheep.
September 2018 – Conservation Direct is formed.
November 2018 – Antelope island starts to see sheep dying of pneumonia related outbreak.
November 2018 – North Dakota proposes release site on the Three Affiliate Tribe for a Co-managed herd.
December 2018 – Capture and transplant of 34 sheep to North Dakota is planned for late February of 2018.
January 2019 – Mike Boutin of Midwest Wild Sheep Foundation offers to manage all the funds for Conservation Direct.
January 2019 – Antelope Island depopulation begins to remove diseased sheep.
February 28, 2019 – Transplant to North Dakota postponed due to weather and impending lambing dates for sheep safety.
March 2019 – Antelope island Depopulation is complete leaving the island void of sheep for the first time in 30 years. Jace Taylor of Utah Division of Wildlife confirms Antelope island will now be available to receive sheep.
July 2019 – Spring and summer sheep counts reveal sheep population increased. Number of excess sheep available for transplant is increased to keep Rocky Boy’s number within objective.
September 2019 – Simultaneous transplant is put in motion for 30 sheep to ND and 25 to Utah. Capture is set for late January 2020.
November 2019 – Final Confirmation of sheep numbers by ground and aerial ground count.
November 2019 – Cost estimate for capture is finalized. Money to fund the transplant is raised in 16 phone calls to generous customers by Brendan Burns. KUIU Board of Directors approves matched funding for the project.
December 2, 2019 – Pre capture testing and collaring of 15 sheep to create a disease profile and overall health of the sheep.
January 25, 2020 – KUIU Crew arrives for pre capture, staging, and planning.
January 27, 2020 – ND capture. 25 ewes and 5 rams are captured, processed, collared, tested and begin transport to release site.
January 28, 2020 – Utah Capture- 20 ewes and 5 rams are captured, collared, processed, tested and begin transport to Antelope island.
All sheep are confirmed disease free by immediate testing and ready for release.
January 28, 2020 – North Dakota releases 30 sheep at the confluence of the Little Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea. North side herd at Mandaree (3 rams and 12 ewes) and South side herd at Twin Buttes (2 rams and 13 ewes).
January 29, 2020 – Utah reintroduction onto Antelope Island. All 25 sheep released.
Update Today – All 55 sheep are alive and Healthy. We are expecting the first lambs to be born in both North Dakota and Utah any day. All three herds have collars on them giving daily updates. We are using the data collected to study and compare lambing dates over time when sheep are moved to different habitat and elevations.