Bighorns culled from Río Grande Gorge herd


Several bighorn sheep were recently culled from the Río Grande Gorge herd in the southern end of Taos County by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

The department killed at least two rams Jan. 4 but may have harvested up to eight wild bighorn sheep, according to a Jan. 5 interview with department spokesperson Dan William.

Williams told The Taos News the sheep were harvested "near Pilar" and were "most likely" within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument.

The big horn sheep were "getting too close for comfort" to a herd of domestic sheep, Williams said. Domestic sheep and goats carry diseases that can devastate wild sheep populations if the two populations intermingle. Williams said the bighorns were "within a couple miles" of the domestic herd.

The Taos News made repeated attempts to ask the department follow-up questions about the bighorn cull, including the number of animals harvested, their ages, the specifics of the harvesting operation and the history of culls in the Río Grande Gorge herd. The department did not respond.

Taos Pueblo led the effort to reintroduce Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep to the Río Grande Gorge in 2005. Initially, fewer than 25 sheep from a herd in the mountains above the pueblo were relocated to the river landscape. The state department supplemented the herd in 2007 with bighorns from the Pecos Mountains.

The gorge herd is split between some animals on the east and west side of the Río Grande, which is managed by Taos Pueblo and the Bureau of Land Management, respectively. The population is now more than 300 animals, according to a 2016 interview with the state's bighorn biologist. The most recent data on the department website is from 2014.

Taos Pueblo natural resource officials did not comment on the bighorn cull. John Bailey, manager of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, told The Taos News Jan. 17 he was aware of a small herd of approximately 20 to 30 bighorns that for several months has moved closer to Pilar.

No bighorn hunting licenses were sold for the Río Grande Gorge herd until 2015.

The sale of "enhanced authorizations," those that are auctioned and raffled in partnership with big-game conservation organizations, have generated significant revenue for the state; between 1990 and 2013, the enhanced authorizations brought in $419,119, according to the most recent data available on the department website.