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Wildlife agency seeks public help on poached desert bighorn

Tyson Floersheim of Colorado Parks and Wildlife is pictured Monday investigating the illegal killing of a desert bighorn sheep off Colorado Highway 141. CPW seeks the public's help in identifying the person who poached the ram. (Courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife)
Mature ram was illegally shot between Gateway and Grand Junction near the Gunnison River

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife is seeking the public’s help in an investigation regarding the poaching of a desert bighorn ram between Gateway and Grand Junction.

Wildlife officers responded Monday when a rock climber called to report a desert big horn that had been shot and left on Colorado Highway 141 between mile markers 147 and 148 west of the Gunnison River.

Officers found a mature desert bighorn and determined the ram had been shot at least 24 hours earlier, according to a CPW news release.

A rifle bullet was recovered from behind the front shoulder of the ram. The investigation is ongoing.

“The ram was shot and left there with nothing removed from it,” said CPW wildlife officer Kevin Duckett in the news release. “There is a desert bighorn sheep hunting season in that unit, but it does not start until Nov. 1, and this ram was killed out of season and left to rot.”

Duckett said the ram had a ⅝ to ¾ curl of its horns. Fines could exceed $25,000 for the illegal take of a bighorn ram over half-curl.

Willful destruction of a big-game animal is a felony in Colorado and can result in a lifetime suspension of hunting and fishing privileges. Convictions could result in fines and jail time, depending on the charge.

CPW is asking the public for any information regarding the parties responsible for the killing of the bighorn. Duckett can be reached at 970-275-3556 or kevin.duckett@state.co.us. Wildlife officer Stuart Sinclair may also be reached at 970-209-2370 or stuart.sinclair@state.co.us.

Anonymous tipsters may call or email Operation Game Thief at 877-265-6648 or game.thief@state.co.us.

Operation Game Thief is a Colorado Parks and Wildlife program that pays rewards up to $1,000 to citizens who turn in poachers.

Poaching robs from the public of a valued natural resource for hunters, businesses and state tax and fee revenue, CPW said.

“Desert bighorn sheep are pretty limited, and CPW offers very limited opportunities for hunting these sheep,” Duckett said. “This act of poaching takes away from sportspersons.”

An estimated 175 desert bighorns inhabit the Dolores River corridor in Montezuma, Montrose, San Miguel and Dolores counties. Statewide, the population is estimated at 540.

Desert bighorns were reintroduced into the Dolores River canyon near Slick Rock during the mid-1980s. The last bighorns had disappeared from the area in the 1950s because of factors including illegal poaching, predation, livestock disease and habitat and range destruction.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com