Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep – absent for many years from the Santa Catalina Mountains – were re-introduced to the range in 2013 – recent news/links about Bighorn Sheep in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Pusch Ridge Wilderness Closure Information

The closure defines a ‘Bighorn Sheep Management Area’ inside the Pusch Ridge Wilderness (see notes and map below for the trails/boundaries), inside that area:

  • From January 1 to April 30 travel more than 400′ off of designated Forest Service Trails is prohibited
  • Dogs are prohibited except for seeing-eye dogs and handi-dogs – year round
  • Bring in, possess, or allow domestic sheep or goats into the closure area – year round
  • Maximum group size – day use size of 15 and overnight group size of 6 – year round

2017-2019 Closure Order (pdf) – includes a very useful/clear map of the closure (note that the document is clear that boundary trails are included in the closure).

Map of the closure area – note that boundary trails ARE included in the restrictions.


Trails and Destination Impacted by the Closure

Trails that are inside or are on the boundary of the Bighorn Sheep Management Area are noted below. Trail sections that are on the boundary are subject to the restrictions above.

  • Cathedral Rock Trail – Entire trail is on the boundary
  • Esperero Trail – On the boundary from the Cathedral Rock Trail to the Ventana Trail
  • Finger Rock Trail – Entire Trail is within the Bighorn Sheep Management Area
  • Linda Vista Trails – Entire Trail is within the Bighorn Sheep Management Area
  • Pima Canyon Trail – Entire Trail is within the Bighorn Sheep Management Area
  • Pontatoc Canyon Trail – Entire Trail is within the Bighorn Sheep Management Area
  • Pontatoc Ridge Trail – Entire Trail is within the Bighorn Sheep Management Area
  • Romero Canyon Trail – Outside of Catalina State Park most of the trail is within the Bighorn Sheep Management Area and then it is on the boundary
  • Sutherland Trail – a middle section of the trail is the northern border
  • Ventana Trail – Entire trail is on the boundary
  • West Fork Trail – from Romero Pass to the Cathedral Rock Trail it is on the boundary

An important detail in the closure is that travel more than 400′ from ‘designated Forest Service Trails’ is prohibited. A number of destinations inside the Bighorn Sheep Management Area have well established trails that are not ‘designated Forest Service Trails’ (Pusch Peak is a good example) or lack even a well established trails (‘off-trail’ destinations like Table Mountain and Bighorn Mountain) – these destinations/unofficial trails are closed from January 1 to April 30. The list below is NOT comprehensive but this includes many of the well known destinations that are closed:

  • Alamo Canyon – Closed outside of Catalina State Park
  • Bighorn Mountain
  • Buster Mountain
  • Cathedral Rock ‘Peak’ – The trail is open, the trail to and the peak are closed
  • Catchment Canyon
  • The Cleaver
  • Dead Horse Canyon
  • Finger Rock – The Finger Rock Trail is open, the trail to and the Finger Rock formation are closed
  • Finger Rock Guard
  • Golder Dome
  • Gorp Peak
  • Leviathan Dome
  • Montrose Canyon – Closed outside of Catalina State Park
  • Pontatoc Ridge – The Pontatoc Ridge Trail is open – the unofficial trail to the top of the ridge is closed
  • Prominent Point
  • Pusch Peak – All routes to Pusch Peak are closed
  • Romero Canyon – The Romero Canyon Trail is open – travel in the canyon outside of Catalina State Park is prohibited
  • Rosewood Point
  • Table Mountain
  • Table Tooth
  • Wolves Teeth



Arizona Game and Fish – Catalina Bighorn Sheep Reintroduction Project

2016 Closure Order, 2014 Closure Order, 2013 Closure Order – The original 1996 closure order is linked below – the current closure is linked above. In 2013 the boundary information was updated – the closure order stayed the same until late 2017 when it was updated to restrict domestic goats and sheep in the closure area.

Catalina Bighorn Advisory Committee – The website of the Catalina Bighorn Advisory Committee “a cooperative effort to restore a healthy, viable and self-sustaining population of desert bighorn sheep to the Santa Catalina Mountains, outside Tucson, Arizona.” Formed in 2013. Facebook Page. So far (2014/12/23) the meetings of the Advisory Committee have not been open to the public – in late 2014 AZGF released meeting notes in response to a public records request – this page contains the notes along with some notes by AZGF.

Examining the Response of Desert Bighorn Sheep to Backcountry Visitor Use in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area (2017), Brett C. Blum: A combination of visitor data (collected via camera) and bighorn observations are used to assess the impact of visitors to the Pusch Ridge Wilderness on the bighorn sheep. Two interesting details from the paper:

  • “bighorn responded to increased human activity by bedding. Bedding likely decreases the potential for both detection or interaction with humans and would be a more energetically conservative approach to avoidance that may be exhibited in part due the predictable nature of concentrated visitor use on established trails.” (p. 27)
  • “A study of the former population of bighorn sheep by Schoenecker and Krausman (2002) found 18% of visitors observed engaged in off trail use between 1994 and 1996. In contrast we documented roughly 1.5% off trail use from January 2015-May 2016 suggesting current human use of the PRWA may be largely confined to established trails” … “We speculate that the effects of urbanization around the PRWA may have also inadvertently restricted visitor use to established trails by limiting non designated access points around the base of the study area that were present during the former population.” (p. 28)

And Then There Were None: The Demise of Desert Bighorn Sheep in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness (2017), by Paul R. Krausman (Author), Bethann Garramon Merkle (Illustrator), William W. Shaw (Foreword) – Brings together a broad range of research about Bighorn Sheep to provide a critical analysis of Bighorn in the Santa Catalina Mountains. This is an academic work at heart – but is written in a way that is accessible and interesting even without a related degree. From the Amazon description: “Once plentiful in the mountains of southern Arizona, by the 1990s desert bighorn sheep were wiped out in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness of the Santa Catalina Mountains as a result of habitat loss and alteration. This book uses their history and population decline as a case study in human alteration of wildlife habitat. When human encroachment had driven the herd to extinction, wildlife managers launched a major and controversial effort to reestablish this population.”

ARIZONA GAME AND FISH DEPARTMENT – HABITAT PARTNERSHIP COMMITTEE – HABITAT ENHANCEMENT AND WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT PROPOSAL – Reintroduction of Desert Bighorn Sheep into the Santa Catalina Mountains – 2012 – The 2012 Arizona Game and Fish proposal for the reintroduction – this has an interesting overview of sheep in the range and details about the project.

Impact of the Bullock and Aspen Fires on Desert Bighorn Sheep Habitat in the Santa Catalina Mountains, Arizona, Paul R. Krausman, James W. Cain III, Heather E. Johnson (2004) – From the end of the report – “If bighorn sheep are to be translocated and are to persist in the Santa Catalina Mountains, an aggressive management plan that reduces the conflicts between bighorn sheep, urban development, fire suppression, and human recreation will be required.”

Desert bighorn sheep and fire, Santa Catalina Mountains, Arizona, Paul R. Krausman, George  Long, Luis  Tarango (1996) – A study of fire, visibility and Bighorn Habitat – quite a few interesting details about Bighorn habitat usage and fires in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Human Disturbance in Bighorn Sheep Habitat, Pusch Ridge Wilderness, Arizona (alternate source), Kathryn Schoenecker and Paul R. Krausman (2002) – Results from monitoring usage of Bighorn Sheep Habitat in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness from June 1995 to June 1996 with an emphasis on hunting, off-trail hiking and noise.

The Decline of Bighorn Sheep in the Santa Catalina Mountains, Arizona – An interesting quote from this, especially in the context of the 2013 plans – “to transplant additional sheep into the area without solving the problems of disturbance and habitat alteration would be akin to a put and take fisheries operation.”

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge – Information on Bighorn Sheep in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, be sure to scroll down and read thru at least some of the links – quite a bit of interesting information. While I want this page to be largely about the Santa Catalina Mountains Kofa is of particular interest in Arizona because it has been the source for a number of translocated populations (including Aravaipa). This page on Translocation talks about relevant issues and has a table showing the details of captures/releases numbers and locations (back to 1957). The 2012 Population Survey News Release.

Rapid Decrease in Horn Size of Bighorn Sheep: Environmental Decline, Inbreeding Depression, or Evolutionary Response to Trophy Hunting? – Both interesting information and interesting references.

Wildlife Water Developments and Desert Bighorn Sheep in the Southwestern United States

Desert Bighorn Sheep: A Guide to Selected Management Practices

Bighorn sheep habitat use and selection near an urban environment Esther S. Rubin, Walter M. Boyce, Chris J. Stermer, Steven G. Torres – A California based study, included here because it deals specifically with Bighorn in an urban environment, I thought this was interesting since the Pusch Ridge Wilderness is near so much urban area.

Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society – An organization whose mission is “to promote the management of bighorn sheep and increase their population in the state of Arizona.” They are working with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to reintroduce bighorn sheep into the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Aravaipa Canyon Desert Bighorn Sheep Project – A document hosted by the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society by Bob Weaver, AGFD – Retired, with a concise summary of the re-introduction in Aravaipa Canyon in the Galiuro Mountains – a project that started in 1955!


1996 Closure Order

The links below are about the 1996 (original) closure order. This was update by the Forest Service in December of 2013, while the bulk of the closure is the same the newer closure order includes a clear map/information and makes at least one boundary change.

Direct from the Biologists mouth on dogs in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness – a useful post on the Meetup Alt Hiking Message Board that has an email exchange in 2011 with Joshua Taiz (District Wildlife Biologist, Santa Catalina Ranger District) about the original closure order that “much of the Ventana trail is open to dogs up to its junction with Forest Trail 42 and 25” and emphasizing that the closure area does not include all of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness (also notes that dogs are not permitted in the Sabino Canyon recreation area). This post is no longer relevant since the updated 2013 closure order clearly/carefully includes the Ventana trail.

A scan of the Original 1996 Closure Order – interesting to see the original closure document, also has brief notes on the closure.

1996 Closure Information – for many years the message like the one linked to the left on the Tucson Hikers Yahoo Group were  the best source of information on the closure in large part because the original closure order did not include a map and defined the Bighorn Sheep Management Area with Township/Range/Sections which don’t have much meaning to many hikers. 


Update Notes

  • 1/9/2018 – Added a section on the trails and destinations that are inside or on the boundary of the Bighorn Sheep Management Area
  • 1/6/2018 – Added the most recent closure orders, links to several earlier closure orders, updated And Then There Were None details and included Brett Blum’s recent paper
  • 12/23/2016 – Update  the closure order to 2016 version, put the AZGF link to the project at the top of the links – with the release of the recent population count on that page first it now seems like the most important link, add link
  • 12/23/2014 – Added links to new papers, link to new AZGF page with release of meeting notes
  • Added link to news page
  • 2/23/2014 – Converted to WordPress and separated out ‘news’ updates for later blog use.