2018 Pusch Ridge Wilderness Closure, Bighorn Sheep – 1/12/2018

The top section of the Temporary Area Closure for the Protection of Desert Bighorn Sheep signed in October of 2017. October 2017.
The top section of the Temporary Area Closure for the Protection of Desert Bighorn Sheep signed in October of 2017. October 2017.

In October of 2017 Kerwin S. Dewberry, Forest Supervisor of Coronado National Forest, renewed the Temporary Closure Order for the Protection of Desert Bighorn Sheep. The closure imposes restrictions a number of restrictions in the Bighorn Sheep Management Area of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. The closure has been in place since 1996 and the new closure order has two changes from the past few years:

  • The closure order runs for 2 years (rather than the 1 year duration of orders since 2013)
  • There is an added restriction on domestic goats and sheep (I believe the concern is that goats and domestic sheep can carry diseases that bighorn sheep are vulnerable to).


See this link for more details including a map and list of trails impacted by the closure (the Bighorn Sheep Management Area does not cover the entire wilderness area) – the restrictions:

  • 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


There were two new publications specifically about bighorn sheep in the Santa Catalina Mountains in 2017:


Examining the Response of Desert Bighorn Sheep to Backcountry Visitor Use in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area

In March of 2017 there were a number of presentations about bighorn sheep at the Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort and Spa – if you attended you may have listened to Brett Blum talk about tracking human visitation via cameras and making detailed observations of bighorn behaviors. This research is presented in Examining the Response of Desert Bighorn Sheep to Backcountry Visitor Use in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area. 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)

Not currently included with the paper is a detailed analysis of the visitation data, Brett indicated in an email that he is “still working with the Coronado National Forest to quantify all the visitor use data” – hopefully this data will be available at a later date!

Part of the cover of And Then There Were None: The Demise of Desert Bighorn Sheep in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. January 2018.
Part of the cover of And Then There Were None: The Demise of Desert Bighorn Sheep in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. January 2018.

And Then There Were None: The Demise of Desert Bighorn Sheep in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness

Paul R. Krausman has worked on Bighorn Sheep research in the Santa Catalina Mountains for many years and in this book he brings together a wide variety of scientific and historic information about the sheep in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. I think it is fair to say that the book is written for a professional/academic audience – but it is certainly accessible enough to be interesting to someone like me without a wildlife related degree. Two excerpts that might inspire you to read more:

  • “there is no evidence that predation, limited water, disease, or the presence of other ungulates contributed to the demise of the desert bighorn sheep in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. However, the increasing human population from Tucson and surrounding areas encroaching on bighorn sheep habit, and related urbanization, have not been positive influences… there is strong evidence that urbanization and habitat alteration were major influences in their extinction” (pp. 141-142)
  • “when bighorn sheep are translocated back into the Santa Catalina Mountains, they will likely continue to need assistance from humans, including predator control, prescribed fires, periodic transplants to enhance genetic diversity and mitigate the loss of corridors to other mountain ranges, and restrictions on humans in their habitat” (p. 157)
Map showing the Bighorn Sheep Management Area - note that it does not cover the entire Pusch Ridge Wilderness. October 2017.
Map showing the Bighorn Sheep Management Area – note that it does not cover the entire Pusch Ridge Wilderness. October 2017.

Weather, Bighorn Death, Zipline – 1/4/2016

The edge of the storm - Pusch Ridge, Linda Vista Trails. January 2016.
The edge of the storm – Pusch Ridge, Linda Vista Trails. January 2016.

Catalina Hwy closed, 2 feet of snow expected this week – Arizona Daily Star: The Catalina Highway was closed because of weather, there was rain in Tucson and by sunset a beautiful layer of clouds covered most of the Santa Catalina Mountains – there should be some great mountain weather over the next week!

The latest Santa Catalina Bighorn Sheep Reintroduction Project update includes several interesting pieces of information:

  • Pregnant Ewe #39554 died during this period – a fall appears to be the reason for the death, disease testing has not been completed and the cause of the fall is unknown (although predation has been ruled out). Another bighorn found dead in Catalinas – Arizona Daily Star.
  • The collars on the Bighorn Sheep released in 2013 are running out of battery life and are expected to drop off in January of 2016 – it seems to me that the information from the collars will be missed, while there will still be quite a few sheep with collars the alerts from the collars have helped provide very interesting mortality information.
  • The yearly trail restrictions on off-trail travel in the Bighorn Sheep Management Area are now in place and will last until April 30 – this page has the details.


Arizona Zipline Adventures is getting closer to opening – located off of Mt. Lemmon Road past the American Flag Trailhead outside of Oracle Arizona Zipline adventures is planning on offering an eco-zipline tour, hiking trails, gold panning and team building activities with your corporate, family or school groups along with deli style food, camping gear/equipment and locally-sourced goods. New zipline in Oracle provides high and fast adventure over the desert floor – OroValleyVoice.com, Adventures opening soon – CopperArea.com

Brilliant light bathes Ventana Canyon at day’s end – Arizona Daily Star: Nice pictures and information on the Ventana Canyon Trail.

Kick off 2016 with an invigorating hike – Arizona Daily Star: I hope you have been able to get out and enjoy the great outdoors in 2016 – one option for getting out on the 1st was Arizona State Park’s “First Day Hikes” program that included a hike on the 50-Year Trail in Catalina State Park. Catalina State Park and Oracle State Park host a wide variety of events – well worth checking their calendars for interesting opportunities!

Rescues/Accidents/Incidents including information from the SARCI Newsletter:

  • Box Camp Trail – 11/29: Hikers on the Box Camp Trail decide to continue down rather than hike back up – they loose the trail and one hiker continued on for cell phone reception, he was eventually brought out by helicopter. A search was set in motion for the other hiker who had been found and helped by other hikers.
  • Finger Rock Trail – 12/4: Hiker ran out of water and becomes exhausted – called for help but was able to continue down.
  • Injured hiker rescued from Ventana Canyon – Arizona Daily Star: A rescue after a hiker fell 30′ in Ventana Canyon. The SARA report on this incident provided some additional details: “A hiker scrambling around on a rocky pinnacle near the Window pulled loose a handhold and fell about 30 feet. His companion was unable to reach him, but called for help” – the injured hiker was short-hauled out.

Winter Weather, Crowds, Rescues, Missing Hikers, Lambs

Winter Weather! The entire mountain was winter wonderland at one point and weather has certainly been in the news – Rain falling in Tucson; hard freezes to follow – Arizona Daily Star, Brrr-inging in the new year in Southern Arizona – Arizona Daily Star – (A few good snow photos from the mountain), A wet and white New Year’s coming to the desert – Jeff Beamish – KVOA.com.

Ski Valley opens all of it’s runs! Last year Ski Valley did not open any runs for the first time in 50 yearsMt. Lemmon Ski Valley open; traffic restricted – Doug Kreutz – Arizona Daily Star.

Winter weather has caused restrictions on the highway to come and go over the past week. The winter weather + holiday weekend has also combined to produce big enough crowds on the mountain that – at times – the Pima County Sheriff’s Department has stopped traffic at the base and only allowed a car up the mountain when one comes down. On Saturday at 4pm, while coming back from the Milagrosa area, I  drove past a line of cars waiting to go up the mountain that stretched back nearly to Houghton! Mt. Lemmon Highway now open after Wednesday road restriction – Tucson News Now, Sheriff briefly limits access to Catalina Highway, weekend crowds expected – John Ames – Tucson News Now, Mt. Lemmon Highway closed due to overcrowding – Arizona Daily Star.

Sledding proves to be dangerous on Mt. Lemmon – Christina Myers – KGUN9: Stay safe while sledding! The article says that “two kids had to be taken to the hospital on Thursday after hitting objects that were sticking out of the snow”.

Hikers planning on hiking from Sabino Canyon to the top of the mountain call for help and are rescued. Three hikers rescued from Mt. Lemmon – Rikki Mitchell – KGUN9, 3 Mount Lemmon hikers rescued by helicopter –   Carmen Duarte – Arizona Daily Star, Rescuers searching for two women lost on Mount Lemmon – Scott Oathout – KVOA.

A group on the Butterfly Trail is reported missing. Sheriff’s deputies search for group of six missing hikers – Alyssa Reilly – KVOA.

First Day Hike is great way to start 2015 – Cathalena E. Burch – Arizona Daily Star: There were a number of parks with guided First Day Hikes this year – a great way to start the year!

The Bighorn Sheep Restoration Project Status update for 12/18 to 12/31 is now available (all updates are currently available here). Three new lambs have been observed in the Santa Catalina Mountains and there is video of one of them! This update has information on recent deaths including a report on the death of Ewe #643. When the death of Ewe #643 was first investigated there was not an obvious cause – later analysis indicates that an infection, probably originally caused by an external trauma, was the cause.

News – Fire Restrictions Lifted, Bighorn Update

Coronado National Forest to Lift Fire Restrictions Fires to be Permitted Friday, Visitors Reminded to use Caution, Coronado National Forest and Coronado National Forest lifts all fire restrictions, KVOA – Fire restrictions have been lifted due to rain/moisture levels! KVOA reports that “Arizona has still had nearly 1,000 wildfires this year scorching over 150,000 acres” and, of course, the Coronado National Forest Press Release urges caution.

Bighorn status update for 6/23 to 7/7 (all updates are currently available here) – no mortalities and the 5 lambs reportedly continue to appear healthy. The maps in this report are fascinating – the sheep in these maps are in the very southwest corner of the range with movement in nearly all directions from there – they are certainly crossing a number of popular trails!

News – Rain! Fire Restrictions Still In Effect

Mountain flowers get a boost from the monsoon – Arizona Daily Star – Flowers!

Fire Restrictions in Southern AZ Remain Despite Monsoon Storms – Arizona Public Media – Not enough rain/moisture yet to safely lift restrictions.

Monsoon off to a splashing start – Arizona Daily Star – Article includes rain totals since 7/3 for several points in the Santa Catalina Mountains – over 3″ at the Palisade Ranger Station!