Gunnison Hosts Bighorn Observation Program Lecture

You may have heard of the Bighorn Observation Program in the Weminuche Wilderness in southwestern Colorado. If not, check out this story by High Country News. Program creators Terry Meyers, the Executive Director for the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, and Dan Parkinson, Southwestern Colorado Regional Director for BHA, are looking to expand this citizen science project into the Gunnison Valley. On Thursday, October 3, Dan and Terry gave a public lecture at Western Colorado University on bighorn sheep, domestic sheep, and the conservation concerns surrounding the co-mingling of these species with the intent of creating more citizen scientists.

Visitors convened in Western’s movie theater at 6:30 PM where Cody Chandler, the president of Western Colorado University’s collegiate chapter of BHA, and Gabby Zaldumbide, the Gunnison Valley Regional Director, introduced them to Dan and Terry. They kicked off the lecture by sharing a little bit about themselves, their background, and why they care about bighorn sheep. They showed two videos, Peak to Peak and Running with the Herd, to inform the audience about bighorn and domestic sheep co-mingling concerns, especially surrounding respiratory diseases.

After the audience was familiarized with the issue, Dan and Terry narrowed the scope of the lecture to Colorado. They covered areas of concern in the southwest, including where bighorn ranges overlap with sheep grazing allotments. They introduced their iNaturalist project, the San Juan Mountains Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Monitoring Project, and how the public can get involved. Joining is simple; you create an iNaturalist account if you don’t already have one, search for the project, and click “Join.” From there, your photos of bighorn sheep or domestic sheep will enter their database, and you will successfully become a citizen scientist!

Dan and Terry’s goal is to expand this monitoring project to the greater Gunnison area in 2020. In fact, Utah, Montana, and New Mexico have also inquired about the expansion of this project to other states. They are both looking forward to coming back to the Gunnison Valley to educate folks on how to become citizen scientists and expert sheep spotters.

“This is a great opportunity here to document bighorn sheep, domestic sheep, and co-mingling events,” stated Terry. He then plugged Paige Blankenbuehler’s High Country News article (linked above) for its high-quality reporting on this issue.

If you’d like to become more involved, please contact Gabby at zaldumbideg@gmail.com. She’d be happy to connect you to Dan and Terry, get you more involved in BHA and this project in the Gunnison area, or send you in the right direction toward sheep conservation areas of concern in Colorado or other states. If you’d like to view the first 30 minutes of this public lecture, you can view the YouTube video here. We can’t wait to see Gunnison sheep sightings pour into iNaturalist!

About Gabriela Zaldumbide

Graduate student studying integrative and public land management at Western Colorado University.

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