1981A New Restoration Program
In 1981, the Utah DWR Director Doug Day wanted to start a restoration program for bighorns, but had no funds to do it with. The legislature told Doug if he could find his own money - believing full well he couldn't - go ahead. Doug and Jim Karpowitz, the new local biologist, had started a couple of new herds in the San Rafael, Kaiparowits and Escalante areas with the $20,000 in funds from selling one Desert tag in the San Juan herd. Back then, herds were started with just 10-15 sheep in the original re-introductions.
1985A Dramatic Die-Off
The driving force for this movement resulted from a dramatic die-off of over 600 Desert bighorn sheep in the North and South San Juan herds in 1985, most likely caused by domestic sheep, which transmit a fatal pneumonia virus when nose to nose contact occurs between the two species. The pneumonia is transmitted throughout the wild sheep herds, and over 600 desert bighorn sheep perished in less than a 4 month period.
While Utah had much wild sheep potential, in 1991, Utah had just a handful of wild sheep herds and they all had domestic sheep conflict issues, just waiting for another herd disaster.
1991Utah FNAWS is Created
In 1991, the Utah Chapter of the Foundation for North American was founded by Don Peay, Lee Howard and Fred Morris.
1981A Single Desert Sheep Tag
Had Fred Morris not stepped up with the $20,000 prior to the die off in 1985, it is probable that Utah today would have NO bighorn sheep. That single auction tag went a long way.
1992The First Fundraising Banquet
The first Utah Fundraiser banquet was attended by 300 sportsmen and a total of $12,000 was made. Those attending included Keele Johnson and Carl Mahon of the San Juan area, who had guided sheep hunters and had been in charge of a somewhat defunct Utah Wild Sheep society. Immediately, Utah FNAWS went and signed a $40,000 conservation easement with the Lyman Grazing Association. The Agreement called for the Wyoming grazers to not graze domestic sheep on their private lands which border the Hoop Lake forest area, the location of a recently established bighorn herd. Wayne Anderson, another former Forest Service Employee deserves some credit, as he was told by his supervisor he couldn't turn the bighorns loose, because the environmentalists didn't have all the paper work done. Wayne went to Dubois anyway and 20 Rocky Mountain Bighorns were released.
1993The Second Fundraising Banquet
The second Utah Fundraiser netted $35,000 and the third netted nearly $80,000. Utah FNAWS signed an $180,000 check to eliminate domestic sheep in the Rattlesnake area, near Green River. Bighorns brought in from Canada by the Ute Indian Tribe had migrated south onto BLM lands and were in direct conflict with domestic sheep. Utah FNAWS went and obtained 20% of the sheep tags - which at that time numbered less than 10 statewide - and offered to sale these tags and put the money into expanding Utah's wild sheep herds.
1994-2008Big Money Raised for Sheep
From 1994-2008, the Utah Chapter of FNAWS funded over $4 Million in 24 Major habitat acquisition projects - primarily paying domestic sheep ranchers to retire their allotments on public lands, or convert them to cattle - and transplant costs for 28 different transplants carried out by the Utah DWR. Each domestic buy out typically took 3-5 meetings, getting to know the ranchers and finding a win/win deal. Utah FNAWS also fought some major political battles to allow for conversion from grazing to wildlife, as some Utah and national politicians favored protectionist policies for domestic livestock. Utah FNAWS also played a key role in getting logistics for transplants, including Charter a jet and flying to Canada to collect blood samples and get them to a Boise, Idaho lab, clearing the way for wild sheep to come to Utah from Hinton Alberta Canada. Utah FNAWS also worked with other states and other Governors and state FNAWS chapters to make things happen. As part of one conversion, over 200 chapter members spent 3 weekends building 12 miles of fence and a massive corral to accommodate cattle loading.
Research has also shown that mountain lions are major deterrents to establishing bighorn sheep herds. In one area, right after a transplant, a cougar killed a bighorn sheep. It was predicted that 5 lions would be in the area. It turns out, 80 lions were taken from a 10-mile area along the Wasatch Front in just 18 months.
In 2001, Lee Howard was appointed to the Utah Wildlife Board, and Ryan Foutz became the Utah FNAWS president.
Utah wild sheep populations have gone from less than 500 in just a couple of herds, to now more than 5,000 wild sheep found in 28 different herds. Utah has three subspecies of bighorns, the Desert, California and Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep.Transplant stock has come from Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, British Columbia, Alberta, Nevada, and Arizona. Today bighorn sheep are found in all of the following ranges in Utah: Flaming Gorge, Bear Top Mountain, North Slope of the Uintas, Antelope Island, Stansbury Mountains, Newfoundland Mountains, Timpanogos, Provo Peaks, Mount Nebo, Upper Range Creek - Jack Creek, and Lower Range Creek, Rattlesnake, Potash, North San Juan, South San Juan, Professor Valley, North San Rafael, South San Rafael, Dirty Devil River, Little Rockies, Escalante River, Kaiparowits Plateau, Virgin River Gorge, and Zion's park.
Today and BeyondA Bright Future
Utah is approaching 100 bighorn sheep permits each year, and hunters have the opportunities to take nice - including record book rams. The Utah wild sheep recovery effort is a major success story, using the dedicated DWR employees efforts, the financial resources from generous FNAWS donors, partners with the National FNAWS and other FNAWS Chapters, and a tremendous amount of work to negotiate buyouts of domestic sheep, protect against excessive Predation, poaching patrols, and other management activities.