Wildfires help habitat for northern Colorado bighorn sheep populations

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BOULDER (AP) — After struggling for decades, the bighorn sheep population in the Big Thompson and St. Vrain canyons finally appears to be stabilizing. While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause, wildlife biologists at Colorado Parks and Wildlife have ironically linked at least part of the herd’s success to wildfire.

“Sheep typically don’t like closed in areas with a forested canopy so when you have major landscape changes such as a fire, it’s usually pretty beneficial for the sheep,” said Ben Kraft, a wildlife biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “The Big Elk Fire and the fire on Kenny Mountain (in 2002) certainly benefited these sheep.”

Once so abundant in the late 1800s, bighorn sheep were declared Colorado’s state animal, but by the early 1900s the population was nearly wiped out due to unregulated hunting and the spread of diseases from an increasing number of livestock located close