By Shandra Furtado, Communications Intern
Experiencing the vast grandeur of the Alaskan terrain and wildlife is a rejuvenating occasion, one which American Forests is giving individuals the opportunity to explore this July through our Escape to Alaska expedition in Denali National Park.
Across the slopes and ridges of Denali, it’s not uncommon to encounter a group of Dall sheep striding across the uneven surface with a grace that seems impossible for their stature. Groups of bachelor rams travel solo in the mating off-season, sporting hefty curled horns that can weigh up to 22 pounds. Rams with similar sized horns regularly butt heads for status validation. Horn size establishes social hierarchy and mating rights for the fall breeding season, the only time rams associate with the female ewes and young.
Ewes typically give birth to one lamb in the spring and select steep rocky habitats during the next few months to lower risk from predators. A balance of proximity between feeding areas and escape terrain is key for protecting the young lambs.
The Dall sheep may be hard-headed, but they are no match for climate change in alpine mountain areas. They have a limited range and specialized habitat and, thus, considered an indicator species by the National Park Service. Dall sheep are remarkably sensitive to shifts in local environmental conditions, such as locations of plant communities and intensifying winter storms. They depend on snow-free areas to forage for food during winter months, and heavier wet snow in the winter months can make climbing high ridges dangerous for the sheep. Conversely, warmer temperatures in summer months are changing the alpine plant communities that the sheep thrive on.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s population estimate has dropped 21 percent in the last two decades. Fortunately for now, the declining population has not pushed the Dall sheep over the edge to endangered species status. Monitoring efforts are currently being used to detect changes in population, sheep diets and climate change associated with the alpine environment.
Don’t miss out on this opportunity to see the Dall sheep in all of its mountain glory with us this summer by registering online!