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An evaluation of Bighorn Sheep Movements along US Highway 191 and Morenci Mine



Arizona motorists always need to be vigilant while driving due to the potential of wildlife crossing roadway. Wildlife-vehicle collisions are an increasing problem along highways throughout Arizona and can lead to serious injury or death to both motorists and wildlife. Many roads around Arizona will be up-graded to accommodate the increased traffic volume from Arizona’s expanding population.  Conflicts with wildlife arise because these animals need resources to survive, which means they may need to cross a major highway to complete daily and seasonal movements.  Wildlife collisions can be very costly to smaller and more isolated populations, such as bighorn sheep (Ovis Canadensis). A “barrier”, such as a roadway blocks the movement of sheep from others of their kind or essential habitats. Isolated populations have a higher chance of being extirpated from an area due to disease or from inbreeding due to lack of new individuals.   

Collisions with Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (RMBS) are a serious problem along US Highway 191.  US 191 is a major scenic highway between I-10 and I-40 and has been designated as a National Scenic Byway and given the name of Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, as this approximates the path taken by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado between 1540 and 1542.  Many more motorists are traveling across this scenic byway every year.  Road kill data on this highway over the last 9 years indicate a high number of bighorn sheep accidents near the Freeport-McMoRan mine in the Clifton-Morenci area.  A majority of these sheep-vehicle collisions occur between mile posts 165 to 174.  Arizona Game and Fish Department personnel are teaming up with the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society to evaluate RMBS movements along US 191 to determine  recommendations that can be provided to the Arizona Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Department for potential crossing structure placement or other mitigation efforts in the future.



This research is being conducted along US highway 191 near the Morenci mine from mile posts 165 to 174.


The Department uses two approaches to determine where bighorn sheep cross US 191:

  • Monitor Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions:  Game and Fish personnel, Arizona Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety gather data related to the location of road-kills along the US 191 study area.  The data can often be used to identify areas where animals are attempting to cross the highway.
  • GPS Movements:  In April 2009, the Department placed GPS collars on approximately 13 bighorn sheep.  These animals were instrumented in the “high accident zone” near the highway.  The GPS collars collect a waypoint on a particular animal every two hours when the sheep are most active and likely to cross the highway.  These collars will be collecting data on these animals until the fall of 2010.

The data gathered from these two techniques will allow the department to 1) determine where sheep are crossing the highway, and 2) recommend possible locations for crossing structures and “funnel” fencing.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Ram                       


The information we gain from these animals will result in a better understanding of wildlife-highway relationships.  The GPS information we gain from these sheep show us their natural movement corridors and will lead to effective placement of wildlife crossing structures in the future, benefiting motorists and wildlife at the same time.

Special thanks to the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society for funding for satellite collars essential for this study.

Related Links - Wildlife - Highway Projects in Arizona:

Video Links - Wildlife - Highway Projects in Arizona:

For more information contact:

Jeff Gagnon, Arizona Game and Fish Department
5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85023

Rob Nelson, Arizona Game and Fish Department
5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85023

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