By Miriam Raftery; photo by Daren Sefcik
July 17, 2013 (Borrego) – The 43rd annual sheep count in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park was completed July 5-7.
“This year we tallied 332 bighorn, which replaces the 2011 count as the second largest tally in sheep count history at Anza-Borrego,” states a letter to volunteers from coordinators Steve Bier and Mark C. Jorgensen.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story, though. The count did not include some portions of the park where populations may be under the most stress—and at least two dead sheep were found during the count due to apparent dehydration.
“We don’t count down in the south end of the park, only the northern areas and we hardly have resources to do that,” said photographer Daren Sefcik, a participant in the count.
The southern area of the park borders the new Ocotillo Express Wind facility, which fragments bighorn territory and produces infrasound that some experts have suggested could be detrimental to the sheep. The U.S. Department of Interior issued take permits to Pattern Energy, the project developer, allowing up to 10 bighorn ewes and lambs to be killed inadvertently without liability by the developer.
But this year’s high count may be inflated due to sheep venturing into more visible locations in search of water.
“Numbers this year were high, but only due to the drought as the sheep are desperate for water,” Sefcik said. Then he revealed, “We had one dead at our site when we arrived and another die during the first day of counting…It really is that bad right now,; many of the year-round reliable water sources have dried up.
The official count does not list dead sheep. Of the 332 Peninsular Bighorn Sheep counted, the tally includes 162 ewes, 95 rams, 42 lambs, 25 yearlings, and 8 not identified.
Twenty locations were included in the county. Highest concentration (48) of sheep was found at First Grove Palm Canyon. Ironically, no sheep were found at Sheep Canyon.
Participants braved scorching heat that reached 112 degrees.
Volunteers are needed for next year’s count, which will be held July 3-6, 2014.