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Sep 28, 2013 8:30 PM by Sam Salzwedel

Volunteers help bighorn sheep near Tucson

TUCSON - Dozens of volunteers helped clean up the Ironwood Forest National Monument to honor National Public Lands Day.

Joe Sheehey helped trim vegetation around a water hole so animals could drink with less risk of being attacked by predators. He has been tracking bighorn sheep around the Tucson area for decades. He especially enjoys seeing lambs in the spring.

"It's been an exciting run," Sheehey said. "My heart rate gets elevated every time I see a ram, or a sheep, period."

The Friends of Ironwood Forest helped organize the event on the Bureau of Land Management property. Volunteers also picked up brass cartridge casings and other garbage around a shooting site.

The projects should help the sheep population northwest of Marana, but Sheehey is also working with several agencies to restore the bighorns to the Catalinas. They died off in the 1990s.

"If you talk to 5 biologists, you'll probably get 5 different answers on why those sheep disappeared," Sheehey said.

Wildlife managers hope to relocate sheep from the Yuma area to the Coronado National Forest by November 16. Sheehey is confident the population will survive.

"There are so many players that are important, that are really committed to this project," he said. "And I believe this will go."

Arizona Game and Fish Department Wildlife Manager Diane Tilton occasionally checks on some of the 15 waterholes in the Ironwood Forest. She cannot keep up with the job without volunteers.

"They're really important," Tilton said. "Especially on days like today, when we can get out and do larger projects, and spread the word about what's going on out here."

Tilton and about 60 volunteers also helped redevelop a worn down water catchment near Silverbell Peak last February.

Game and Fish will hold a public meeting about the reintroduction of the sheep on October 9th. It will be at the Westward Look Resort at 6:30 p.m.

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