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Sheep Airlifted Off Island

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BIG ARM -

It only comes but once a year, and it's quite a sight to see.

Over the next few days FWP is trying to airlift 60 Bighorn Sheep off Wild Horse Island and send them to other parts of the state.

"Yeah, this is great," said Bruce Sterling, a wildlife biologist who has helped with the annual transfer for nearly two decades.

They're blindfolded, bound, and strung up underneath a helicopter, then flown and gently landed in Big Arm State Park where they get a whole set of medical tests before being carried into a trailer.

Then the entire thing starts over again.

"The only way to really control the population is to periodically go in and capture sheep," explained Sterling.

Wild Horse Island really doesn't have many predators for the sheep and hunting isn't allowed, so the numbers can get out of hand. The Island can only support about 100 sheep, and at last check, 155 sheep were spotted, but there could be more. They're hoping to airlift out 20 ewes and 40 rams.

The collars are equipped to locate the animals with radio waves and they put two fingers underneath the collars for a good fit.

"The radio collars are going out on ewes and we're doing that so we can keep track of where they go, and primarily know where they spend the summer," said Sterling.

Some of the sheep will head to the Cabinet Mountains, and the others will be sent to the Kootenai Falls Wildlife Management Area just west of Libby. Sterling says the sheep populations in these areas aren't struggling, but they could use some beefed up numbers.

"I enjoy doing it," said Sterling, "You know it's a lot of work getting it all set up. It's fun to see the results, and it's even more fun when you finally get the animals back out of the trailer."

This year, a helicopter capture crew out of Colorado is helping FWP officials pull off the transport. So far, Sterling says they've managed not to hurt anyone, or any of the animals.

FWP says they use the Wild Horse Island sheep as a nursery herd that helps start or increase populations throughout Montana.

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