Workshop on the Sustainable Management of Bighorn Sheep in Baja California
By Ray Lee, Chairman Desert Bighorn Council
The First Workshop of Experts on the Conservation and Sustainable Management of the Bighorn Sheep in Baja California was held in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, February 16-18, 2011. This workshop was organized by the State Department for the Protection of the Environment and Cremnobates Consultants. Collaborators included the National Commission on the Protection of Natural Areas, the General Director of Mexico's Wildlife, and the Autonomous University of Baja California. Thus there were included in the Workshop representatives from both the State and Federal governments, academia, as well as landowners and interested conservationists.
After the objectives of the workshop had been discussed, there were a number of presentations about the general biology of bighorn sheep and the quantity and quality of available habitat. A report was then given on the results of the various bighorn sheep surveys that had been conducted in Baja California; particularly the most recent one that we conducted in December of 2010.
I then gave a presentation on the Economic Aspects and the "Market" for Desert Bighorn Sheep. During the presentation, I noted that:
- Desert bighorn sheep, properly managed, can sustainably provide humans with both aesthetic and economic benefits. The aesthetic value to people to be able to observe wild sheep in their native habitat is considerable; even the knowledge that these animals merely exist in the nearby mountains is of demonstrable value.
- Opportunities to hunt desert bighorn sheep have been available through wildlife conservation auctions since 1984. These auctions provide conservationists with an avenue to pursue their philanthropic goals to provide economic support for conservation programs that enhance wild sheep. Every state with free-ranging desert bighorn sheep (including 4 states in Mexico) offers this opportunity, except for Baja California.
- These auctions have generated millions of dollars for wildlife conservation efforts; with many of these dollars being spent locally. In addition, many local people obtain employment supporting these management programs. This provides self respect for the individuals involved, as well as an enhanced appreciation for the wildlife.
- In every state where these conservation programs have been in effect, desert bighorn sheep numbers have increased. This increase has led to a larger, more diverse, and more competitive market for desert bighorn sheep hunting opportunities.
The outcome of the meeting was a guideline to involve all of the interested groups in the development of a plan for the sustainable management of bighorn sheep in Baja California. This plan will likely make provisions for the opening of a bighorn sheep hunting season in 2012. While the bighorn sheep population in Baja California can certainly support a hunting harvest; the where, when, how many, and who benefits from the revenue must still be determined.