Rare bighorn sheep face new pressures from lions

By TRACIE CONE | June 25, 2011 | 11:15 AM EDT

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — As the annual Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep lamb count is underway, state biologists are wondering how new program protections for mountain lions will affect the population.

The 400 remaining Bighorns, which live in the rocky alpine wilderness of the eastern Sierra Nevada, are one of the most endangered large mammals in the United States.

This winter, however, state biologists had to scale back efforts to snare and collar suspected nuisance cougars after a complaint that even those not threatening sheep were being harmed.

Now a lion proven to kill bighorns can be shot. But lions can't be snared to collar and track them.

California voters gave mountain lions special protections in 1990.

The sheep, with horns that splay sideways, have been listed since 1999.