Churchill County Commissioner Carl Erquiaga is passionate about Nevada’s bighorn sheep.
In 31 years involvement with the Nevada Bighorns Unlimited’s Fallon Chapter, Erquiaga said the number of sheep has increased — slowly but steady — in Nevada over generations. At last week’s county commission meeting, Commissioners Bus Scharmann and Pete Olsen also learned how the Nevada Bighorns Unlimited has provided funding for the re-establishment of the bighorn sheep in the Silver State but more specifically in Churchill County.
In conjunction with the Fallon chapter’s 39th annual fundraising banquet on Feb. 17 that sells out early, commissioners declared the week of Feb. 11-17 as Nevada’s Bighorn Sheep Week in and for Churchill County.
Erquiaga said the desert sheep’s population hovered near 2,600 in the mid-1960s, but through concerted efforts to re-establish the animal in Nevada over the years, the population has now swelled to about 12,000. Erquiaga mentioned during the commission meeting that he drove out to the Fairview Range near the earthquake faults during the previous weekend and snapped a photo of 17 sheep grazing on vegetation growing within a burn area that was consumed by a wildland fire last July.
In an article written by Aaron Meier of the Nevada Department of Wildlife, he said historical accounts and other reports put the bighorn population at more than 30,000 in 1860, but diseases, overhunting and other causes led to many decimated herds. Meier said the last sighting, for example, of bighorns in the Ruby Mountains south of Elko came in 1921.
“The recreational opportunities from this great success are also pretty astonishing. Almost 6,800 bighorn rams have been harvested since the first hunting season in 1952,” Meier wrote last spring. “This includes 5,690 deserts, 974 California, and 115 Rocky Mountain bighorn rams. The unique opportunity to spot, stalk and harvest a bighorn ram in the rugged and steep Nevada mountains, who some consider an original ‘extreme’ sport, has grown from 139 tags in 1990 to 397 tags in 2017. Hunting opportunities from reintroduced herds make up 58 percent of the total bighorn tags statewide.”
In its proclamation, commissioners also noted the population of bighorn sheep in Churchill County was nearly wiped out in the early 1900s, but they also commended NDOW for improving today’s number to more than 12,000 — 1,000 in the county — and annual hunting opportunities for more than 400 hunters statewide.
Bighorns, according to NDOW, are primarily found on the western slopes of the Desatoya Range in elevations ranging from Eastgate at 5,100 feet to the top of Desatoya Peak at 9,971 feet. Sheep are found near rock outcroppings and precipitous terrain along the western exposures of the Desatoya Range, and in the areas of Eastgate, Grayback and the Broken Hills.
The proclamation recognized the Fallon chapter of the Nevada Bighorns Unlimited as one of the key sportsmen’s groups that provided funding for the re-establishment of the sheep in Churchill County; furthermore, the proclamation stated the county museum displays an exhibit depicting a Bighorn ram released into the Stillwater Mountain Range east of Fallon.
The proclamation concludes, “Churchill County recognizes hunting is a major economic driver in Nevada, contributing upward of $200 million annually to the state’s economy ... and hunting has important cultural roots and instills a value system in all Americans that should be protected, promoted and enhanced.”