Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) use of Sheep Lakes mineral site, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA, has decreased since 1996. Officials were concerned that human disturbance may have been contributing to this decline in use. We evaluated effects of vehicular traffic and other road-related disturbance on bighorn use of Sheep Lakes in the summers of 2002 and 2003. We found that the time and number of attempts required by bighorn to reach Sheep Lakes was positively related to the number of vehicles and people present at Sheep Lakes. Further, the number of bighorn individuals and groups attempting to visit Sheep Lakes were negatively affected by disturbance associated with the site. The number of vehicles recorded the hour before bighorn tried to access Sheep Lakes best predicted an animal's failure to cross Fall River Road and reach Sheep Lakes. We conclude that human and road-related disturbance at Sheep Lakes negatively affected bighorn use of the mineral site. Because Sheep Lakes may be important for bighorn sheep, especially for lamb production and survival, the negative influence of disturbance may compromise health and productivity of the Mummy Range bighorn sheep.
Additional publication details
Bighorn sheep response to road-related disturbances in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado