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Bighorns will be reintroduced to Tucson-area ridge

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A steep, rugged and rocky ridge in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson will get some new four-legged residents later this month.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department plans to capture about 30 bighorn sheep from the Kofa Mountains northeast of Yuma and release them onto Pusch Ridge, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

The project will reintroduce bighorns to an area considered ideal terrain for the sheep.

``You look up at that ridge and you think: There should be sheep there,'' said John McGehee, a wildlife manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

A previous herd that lived there died out in the 1990s. Suspected causes of its demise include urban development, predation by mountain lions, disease, human impacts from hiking and bringing dogs into the area, and changes in habitat conditions.

McGehee said wildfires within the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area since the 1990s have improved the habitat for sheep by making forage more palatable and making predators more visible, which should help sheep elude them.

The Forest Service plans to place several restrictions on use of the area during the sheep's lambing season, from January through April.

Dogs will be prohibited in the area during lambing season, and hikers will be prohibited from traveling more than 400 feet off designated national forest trails during that period, said Heidi Schewel, a Forest Service spokeswoman.

Some Tucson-area residents are worried that reintroduction of bighorns to Pusch Ridge might curb access by people.

Mike Harris, chief guide for the Southern Arizona Hiking Club, is a supporter, but he has a concern about continued access to the area.

``The club's biggest concern with the reintroduction of sheep is that the Forest Service may prohibit all hiking in the wilderness,'' he said.

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