Tracking 600 bighorn sheep isn’t easy. But Jerran T. Flinders and Thomas S. Smith (BS ’82), BYU professors of plant and wildlife sciences, and their students are helping six herds feel at home in northern Utah. The sheep have been helicoptered in from Canada, Colorado, and Montana to restore the state’s once thriving herds. Since the program began in 2000, the BYU researchers have tracked the woolly creatures through mountainous cougar country to study their movements, habitat needs, and population growth. Students pick up frequencies emitted from some of the sheep’s collars and use scopes to confirm that a brown-colored speck isn’t just another rock on the mountainside.
“We’re trying to see how we can successfully transplant sheep,” Flinders says. “We’ve been identifying factors that cause the transplants to be unsuccessful and getting rid of those factors so the sheep can flourish.”
The professors mentor graduate and undergraduate students through the project. Their research has been presented at more than two dozen conferences and used by some students in their master’s and doctoral programs.