50 sheep translocated from herd in Missouri River Breaks. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and partnering organizations and agencies captured and translocated bighorn sheep this month to an area of the Little Belt Mountains about 65 miles southeast of Great Falls.
Bighorn sheep, whose populations were once vast across the West, were extirpated from the Little Belts by the early 20th century. In the past 10 years, a few bighorn sheep have naturally returned to the mountain range, and although FWP biologists have documented lamb production there since 2015, they have been unable to verify more than six sheep at one time in the entire range.
The historical significance of wild sheep in the Little Belts is depicted by Native American pictographs along the Smith and Judith river drainages and observations from renowned Montana artist Charles M. Russell, who noted in the early 1880s that the area “swarmed with … mountain sheep” and other wildlife.
On Dec. 17, FWP and partners released 50 bighorn sheep near these storied landmarks along the South Fork of the Judith River in the eastern Little Belts.
The sheep — five young rams and 45 ewes — were captured on the south banks of the Missouri River Breaks in bighorn sheep hunting district 482, an area with a productive sheep herd that has grown past population objectives.
During capture work, FWP staff and volunteers collected biological samples from the sheep and outfitted each animal with a GPS collar. These collars will provide real-time information that will help biologists monitor the sheep’s movements, habitat use and survival for up to five years.
The capture and release were preceded by extensive public scoping, planning and habitat modeling that showed the Little Belts as having high-quality summer and winter ranges for sheep. FWP published an environmental assessment for