North Dakota will not have a bighorn sheep hunting season this year for the first time in more than three decades.
The state Game and Fish Department is making the move because of the deaths of dozens of sheep last year in the western Badlands due to bacterial pneumonia in the herd. Many of them were mature rams, according to Jeb Williams, the agency’s wildlife chief.
Most of the sheep had been transplanted from Alberta, Canada, about a year ago. State wildlife officials said the wild sheep likely were infected by domestic sheep, though sheep ranchers questioned that theory.
The last time North Dakota did not have a bighorn sheep hunting season was 1983.
“The summer 2015 (bighorn population) survey will provide more information as to when Game and Fish may be able to re-establish a sheep season,” Williams said.
Bighorn sheep licenses are once-in-a-lifetime licenses in North Dakota, meaning hunters who get a license cannot get another one even if they fail to bag a sheep. One license is given out every year through an auction to raise money for sheep management, and the rest are given out through a lottery drawing. All five hunters who got a bighorn license last year bagged a ram.