Two bighorn sheep rams have been found dead in the last month, according to the Golden Rod and Gun Club.
Four sheep have been lost in the last year in total.
The rams were a part of a herd of sheep that call the Kicking Horse Canyon home and can frequently be spotted on the outskirts of town by the highway.
According to Meg Langley, a local biologist who has been studying limiting factors of the herd, the two deaths means there’s only 11 sheep left in the herd, two of which are rams, with one elderly ram and one barely sexually mature.
It leaves the herd in a precarious position if the eldest ram were to pass away, in terms of recruitment and growing the herd.
Langley says she feels there is a duty to protect the sheep, as the majority of the limiting factors to the herd are human caused.
“We know that we know that three were killed by vehicles and the fourth by the train, so all were human things and influences, not natural mortality like predation,” said Langley.
“It does seem that we have the responsibility give that these animals are living tin this area to resolve that conflict somewhat.”
The Golden Rod and Gun club have been monitoring the herd for almost two years now, with five sheep outfitted with collars to monitor herd movement.
The project will help analyze the movements of the sheep prior to, during and after the ongoing construction in the canyon.
Brian Gustafson, executive director of the Golden Rod and Gun Club, says that losing the sheep is hard, not just on the herd, but on those who are working towards their conservation as well.
“It’s hard to take, we put so much effort and attention into this herd and every death, every loss that we get hits us hard,” said Gustafson.
“It makes us wonder what we’re fighting for, if it’s a lost cause, because we’re all quite passionate about conservation of this small population of sheep and we take it quite personally when we lose a sheep in the canyon.”
Both Langley and Gustafson said that a major limiting factor is vehicles and the sheep’s proximity to the highway, as the animals are drawn to the road from grain spills, salt deposits and pooling water.
While certain areas of the highway have exclusionary fencing meant to keep the sheep out, Langley and Gustafson say it’s not necessarily the best solution.
Langley says the sheep have been known to circumvent the fencing and open gates, while Gustafson said it’s not fair to split the sheep’s habitat and keep them from accessing both sides of the highway.
“We are actively working towards long term solutions for these sheep, knowing that this highway expansion is going to include exclusionary fencing,” said Gustafson.
“We’re actively looking at improving some habitats adjacent to the highway to move this herd in the future.”
Langley says she is also working on increasing the signage along the highway that warns motorists of the presence of the sheep.
She says such signage has been seen to help slow cars and prevent further casualties to the herd.