Collaring data

Encampment students aid Game and Fish in bighorn sheep number/habitat study


January 9, 2019

Photo courtesy Jordan Sietz

A view of Bighorn Sheep rams through a spotting scope.

Last February, students from Encampment K-12 School aided the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) in collaring five sheep of the Encampment River herd with Global Position System (GPS) collars under the guidance of Jordan Seitz, Encampment 6th grade classroom teacher and 8th grade Earth Science teacher, along with Saratoga Wildlife Biologist Will Schultz and Habitat Biologist Katie Cheesbrough.

The intent in collaring the five sheep was to provide credible estimates for wildlife managers as to the number of bighorn sheep utilizing winter range habit in the Upper Platte Valley.

"Due to a glitch with the GPS capabilities of the five collars that were deployed in 2018, Wyoming Game and Fish Department personnel have not been able to collect fine-scale GPS movement data of the bighorn sheep," said Teal Cufaude, current Saratoga Wildlife Biologist. "However, we have been able to use the very high frequency (VHF) radio-tracking capabilities of the collars to locate several of the collared ewes."

Once school resumed, Seitz sought to involve his new students in the bighorn sheep study, and invited Cheesbrough and Cufaude to speak with both his 6th and 8th grade classes in October.

"Habitat Biologist Katie Cheesbrough gave students a presentation on bighorn sheep habitat, diets, and digestion. The following morning, I led a field trip with the objectives of giving students an opportunity to explore bighorn sheep habitat and also introduce the students to radio telemetry," Cufaude said.

"At first it was a downpour, and we made do by making a shelter over the back of one of our suburbans with a tarp to stay dry while Teal did a condensed presentation on the local habitat and showed them examples of plant life found there that the sheep would eat," said Seitz. "Once the rain let up, she taught them about telemetry and they got to practice using the gear before we headed out on a hike."

While on the hike, Seitz and his students were unable to see any of the ewes that had been collared in early 2018, but came across rams in the canyon of the Encampment River Valley. Following the hike in October, Cufaude returned to speak to Sietz's classes in November about the history of bighorn sheep with focus on the Encampment River herd.

As the school year has progressed, Seitz has taken his classes out periodically to observe the Encampment River bighorn sheep and record their locations, according to Cufaude.

"At some point this winter, we plan to ski or snowshoe into their winter range and try to collect some more location data," Seitz said. "If everything works out, we may get the opportunity to help with another collaring initiative. And finally, down the road we hope to put together a habitat improvement project with Game and Fish."

"In late January 2019, the students will have the opportunity to assist with another planned capture/collar effort. We hope to capture five-six bighorn sheep ewes and fit them with properly working GPS radio collars. Over the two year period that the collars are on the bighorn sheep, wildlife managers and Mr. Seitz's students will have the opportunity to watch the movements of these bighorn sheep. During this time, we hope to use the movement data collected to propose projects that will enhance bighorn sheep habitat in the Encampment River area," said Cufaude.

Photo courtesy Jordan Sietz

Encampment students, most dressed for the weather, point to something on the horizon.


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