A prescribed fire ignited on Ram Mountain was intended to improve grazing and sightlines for bighorn sheep.

A prescribed fire ignited on Ram Mountain was intended to improve grazing and sightlines for bighorn sheep.

Prescribed mountain burn to benefit bighorn sheep

Bighorn sheep roaming Ram Mountain will have clearer sightlines and better meals as a result of a prescribed burn carried out last week, says a wildfire ranger from Rocky Mountain House.

Bighorn sheep roaming Ram Mountain will have clearer sightlines and better meals as a result of a prescribed burn carried out last week, says a wildfire ranger from Rocky Mountain House.

Barry Shellian said that a prescribed fire ignited on the mountain, located 40 km west of Rocky Mountain House, has cleared foliage and laid a cover of nutrient-rich ash on an area of about 380 acres.

The fire was a collaboration between the province and Alberta Sheep Foundation, whose biologists are studying wild sheep populations in the area.

Organizers planned to burn 465 acres, but are happy with the results achieved and have no plans to extend the area of the burn at this time.

Besides laying the groundwork for better grazing, the burn clears sightlines so the sheep can get a better view of any predators that may be stalking them, said Shellian.

Human hunters should not be an issue for now, however, since there is a moratorium on hunting sheep in that zone until next year as part of the study, he said.

While the wildfire hazard in the Clearwater Forest has been rated as extremely high, the area covered in the burn was restricted by natural barriers, with fire crews patrolling the edges where it may have had an opportunity to jump out.

Shellian said earlier that the fire would not have been started if the crews involved were needed to fight wildfires.

The fire was started at the bottom of the mountain and burned upward, leaving a layer of ash on what had been a fairly thin layer of vegetation, he said.

Fire crews remain on scene to watch for flareups where there may be some fuel left from the fire. Ram Mountain also has its own fire tower, with an observer trained to look for signs of trouble.

Benefits of the burn should be felt for years to come, said Shellian.

Besides enhancing wildlife habitat, prescribed burns are used as a natural means of providing fire barriers and controlling forest pests, including pine beetles, he said.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com