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Bighorn Sheep Survey Needs Volunteers in San Gabriel Mountains

A desert bighorn ram in the snow | Photo: aquilachrysaetos/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Want to hike in some of California's most beautiful mountains and make an important contribution to conservation science at the same time? The agencies behind the 35th annual desert bighorn sheep count in the San Gabriel Mountains can use your help the first weekend in March.

Held every year since 1979, the count gives wildlife managers a sense of how the wild sheep are faring in the Angeles National Forest and elsewhere in the San Gabriel Mountains. Sponsored by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Society for Conservation of Bighorn Sheep, the count relies on volunteers to help biologists spot and record wild bighorns in one of America's most heavily urbanized regions.

This year's count will cover areas near Lytle Creek and Mount Baldy. Volunteers don't need experience doing wildlife surveys, according to the organizers, but they should be capable of hiking at least a mile or two in rough terrain (most routes will be longer) and come prepared to spend several hours in inclement weather. A required training session on March 1 will cover the rest.

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The San Gabriel Mountains once held the largest desert bighorn sheep population in the state of California, with close to 800 individuals in good years. San Gabriel Mountain's sheep numbers crashed during the 1980s but have gained again in recent years, with an estimated 400 sheep now inhabiting the range.

Among the factors threatening survival of the bighorn are habitat fragmentation, diseases such as pneumonia contracted from domestic livestock, and lack of forage due to the state's record drought.

Volunteers who want to help out with the sheep count must be at least 16 years old. All must attend an orientation session Saturday, March 1 at 6 p.m. at the Angeles National Forest Supervisor's Office in Arcadia. Free camping for volunteers will be available at the Lytle Creek Campground on Saturday night, and participants will need to start hiking early Sunday morning.

All volunteer teams will be led by representatives of CDFW, USFS, or the Society for Conservation of Bighorn Sheep, so each party will have a seasoned expert on hand. Weather can be unpredictable in early March at altitude, and the counts can often involve strenuous activity mixed with hours of sitting quietly, so bring sufficient layers for cold conditions. Bring binoculars and spotting scopes if you have them.

Prospective volunteers can sign up online or by calling (909) 627-1613 or (909) 584-9012,

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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