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Annual Bighorn Sheep Count Top Return

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Last updated 6/2/2021 at 10:40am

As life continues to emerge from the cloud of COVID-19, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park has announced that a full summer bighorn sheep count will return this year.

Last year's count was abbreviated because of COVID, with fewer locations and counters limited to local residents only.

Sheep count coordinator, Michael Puzzo has again opened participation in the 50th annual count and is inviting anyone interested.

"Interest in the sheep count has increased significantly in recent years and due to COVID-19 I know everyone is exceptionally excited to return to a normal count," Puzzo said.

Dates for this year's census will be July 1 – 4 with orientation and training for new counters scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 19 at the Steele/Burnand Desert Research Center, 401 Tilting T Dr., in Borrego Springs.

"We know many of you have counted bighorn for years, but we can all use a refresher. The orientation will cover bighorn sheep identification, California Fish and Wildlife's recovery efforts, bighorn sheep natural history, census methods, desert safety, and site assignments," Puzzo said.

Typically, the count is conducted during some of the hottest summer days in the desert. It's done on purpose, since hot weather means animals will more likely come to the few available summer water sources.

Puzzo said that there is a chance that the number of volunteers may exceed counter capacity.

"We will do our best to place everyone," he said.

Counters will head into the field on the afternoon of July 1. Some will be at sites that allow them to come out in the evenings, but others will remain in the field at more remote locations until the count ends on the 4th.

Information collected by observers helps wildlife managers determine bighorn sheep population numbers, breeding success, and overall herd and habitat conditions.

Anyone interested in joining the count can contact Puzzo at AB.Sheepcount@Parks.ca.gov for additional information and a reservation form for the orientation.

Last year's count was supposed to be the 50 annual event but was not recognized because of the abbreviated format.

During a normal year, nearly 90 counters travel to 20 locations. Only 13 sites were counted last year with 26 volunteers.

Puzzo, who is a state park environmental scientist, said the goal was to reduce risk because of the coronavirus, so count volunteers were limited to Borrego locals or a few veterans who limited their interaction with Borrego residents.

"The sheep count is always a snapshot, but this year it was a very narrow view," Puzzo said of the 2020 count.

A total of 90 sheep, compared to a more normal count number of 273 were logged last year.

The count is no picnic. Often, daytime temperatures reach over 110 degrees and can be especially challenging for those counters who spend the entire time in the field. But it is important work.

"Over the years, volunteers have accumulated thousands of hours of data that provides wildlife managers with critical information about these magnificent animals," Puzzo said.

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