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  • Free to be Wild. Again.

    Their survival means more than a wild animal among us.  Their survival, I am convinced, guarantees the tangible truth of our imaginations.  Ellen Meloy [1]

    In December, a group of Bighorn Sheep ran free in the Klamath River canyon after relocation and release by ODFW [2].

    Bighorns populated central and southeast Oregon’s mountains, rims, and scarps until arrival of euroamericans with domestic sheep herds (competition and disease) and an efficient passion for killing wild ungulates.  Given a very few decades, Bighorns were extinct in Oregon by the early 20th century.  In the 1950s Bighorns were re-introduced into the basalt rims of Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge in Lake County. [3]

    Petroglyphs lakeside west of Hart Mountain attest to the special place Bighorn Sheep held in thought and expression of indigenous peoples.  Petroglyphs appear on the capping basalt blocks tumbled from the high rims, the preferred terrain of the sheep.  These selected petroglyphs, from a rich and varied tradition, are probably late Holocene, the last 1000-1500 years.

    Bighorn Sheep petroglyphs at Hart Lake

    [1] Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild (2005).  Ellen Meloy’s journey with the spirit of Desert Bighorns inspires through adventure, patience, and humor infused with a deep caring. Highly recommended. -DB

    [2] ODFW release notice with video (2 minutes), December 2014: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/news/2014/december/120514.asp

    [3] 1983 Bighorn Sheep report (10 MB download) provides habitat analysis for SE Oregon: http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/pnw_gtr159.pdf

    Coda. As noble as restoration has been, and as tenacious as these sheep can be, the new normal of extreme drought in SE Oregon may result someday in petroglyphs speaking to a dry and silent world devoid of most of the creatures we now treasure. -DB