Volunteers Complete 50th Sheep Count
Last updated 8/1/2022 at 11:24am
The 50th Annual Anza-Borrego Desert Bighorn Sheep Count was completed on July 10, but results of the census were not announced by coordinators before the Borrego Sun went to press.
What was learned from field observations, however, was the count was significantly reduced this year, with less than 30 volunteers at 13 field locations.
Prior to COVID, the annual bighorn sheep census drew more than 70 participants who manned about 20 locations during the three-day count.
Some of those locations required extensive hikes to reach, and counters remained in the field the entire time, often enduring temperatures well into the triple digits.
In comments received by volunteers, who asked to remain anonymous, no remote sites were covered by sheep counters this year.
Additionally, new regulations that required volunteers to undergo background checks, fingerprinting, and sign waivers that prohibited them from speaking about the count, may have contributed to the reduced number of participants. Additionally, any photographs taken by volunteers became property of the state.
The new requirements soured many of the veteran volunteers, many who have participated for more than 30 years.
Many of the new regulations likely resulted from the tragic death last year of a volunteer who was overcome by heat while hiking to cache water at a remote location several weeks prior to the count. Even though there has never been a serious injury during the sheep count, state park officials ramped up safety training and imposed the new requirements for volunteers.
Several participants this year praised state park staff for the additional safety training.
Critics of the event, however, called it poorly organized and many of the count locations were not well selected.
“In my opinion, it was mostly a cluster without skilled leadership and the results will mostly be a waste as far as comparison with the previous 49 years of data,” commented one veteran sheep counter.
In 2019, the last year of a full count prior to COVID, a total of 273 sheep were observed by participants at 20 locations. The largest number of sheep spotted then was 46 at a remote location in the Santa Rosa Mountain known as Rattlesnake Spring.
The 50-year-old census has been a valuable source of data for wildlife managers, providing an annual snapshot of sheep numbers, herd and habitat conditions and early warning of possible disease in the sheep population.
Volunteers who participated this year are hopeful that the bugs can be worked out and there will be more volunteers recruited for the sheep count next year