top of page

Bighorn lamb deaths are again mounting up around La Quinta


Five endangered peninsular bighorn sheep lambs have died on La Quinta golf courses since May 6 this year. The green, wet golf courses attract the sheep to graze, but the courses also expose the sheep to a bacterium that mows the population down. The problem has been known for decades and desert cities and golf course resort managers continue to do nothing to solve the problem.

The bacteria, first introduced to the wild sheep in the Santa Rosa Mountains above Palm Spring and Indio by domestic animals, is being maintained and flourishes in the manicured golf courses. The courses attract and concentrate the wild sheep where they are likely to contract the disease. This particular population of sheep has been pushed to near extinction in the recent past, and its recovery has been malingering because the Department of Fish and Wildlife (CFW) has been unwilling to force the city managers and landowners in the desert communities to comply with regulations.

For over two years, the City of La Quinta has flaunted a DFW order that required fencing to keep the wild sheep out of the golf courses where they contract the bacteria. The city has ignored the rule and has even tried to argue the sheep population is growing because of the golf courses, even though there is absolutely no science to support that idea.

DFW biologists believe the entire crop of young produced by the bighorns this year will die within the next few weeks because of the disease, ending and reversing the slow growth trend in this segment of the sheep population. Yearling and adult sheep could also be killed if the infection becomes virulent enough. There is also a very real fear the bacteria will intensify throughout the mountain range as the sheep wander, decimating the entire population. Again. It only takes a few seasons when none of the lamb crop survives for the population to crash. The bacteria and an associated virus has devastated the wild sheep population in the past, and we are poised to relive this horrible history.

At what point will the Department of Fish and Wildlife get serious about forcing these desert developers and city managers to protect this iconic symbol of the region? The state agency has spent tens of millions of dollars on research and recovery efforts over the past 40 years, and it appears those decades of efforts are being destroyed because vocal homeowners don’t want “unsightly fences” in their backyards.

While the sheep die-off is growing and seems more widespread this year, it is a problem that has been around for decades. Each time sheep die there is hue and cry. The cities and homeowner’s groups all act horrified and sound sympathetic, but say it’s not their fault. The local wildlife advocates demand the law is followed and preventive measures be implemented. The responsible agency, the one that could implement positive change, wrings its hands and stomps its feet. But ultimately, the DFW does nothing.

Just like it did virtually nothing for decades while bighorn sheep and desert mule deer drown in the unfenced Colorado River aqueduct, the DFW does nothing to protect this endangered sheep species.

This is unfettered incompetence and political pandering by DFW management and the governor’s office.

If the DFW was doing its job, it would sue the City of La Quinta and the resort associations that have refused to protect the bighorns. It would slap a fine on the city and individual resort associations for each endangered sheep that has died, and impose stiff daily fines on these groups until the sheep are protected.

Does anyone want to bet what the DFW will do? I will give 10-to-one odds the agency will do nothing of substance and the sheep population will plunge yet another time.

FAMILY FISHING/LEARNING OPPORTUNITY: Pathways to Adventure, a non-profit organization dedicated to introducing families to a variety of outdoor activities for the past 15 years, has announced two new programs at the privately-owned Oak Canyon Park facility in Orange County adjacent to Irvine Lake.

“Fish” and “Fish 101” kick off a new era in the organization. Both programs give families an opportunity to fish and learn about fishing in an uncrowded, scenic park setting on a heavily-stocked lake. The lake is also completely wheelchair accessible for families with special needs.

“Fish” gives families an opportunity to come spend a day catch-and-release fishing without the crush of crowds. Many of the fish carry tags that make the angler catching the fish eligible for a outdoor prizes, from kayaks to mountain bikes to fishing gear. All fishing gear is provided and those attending do not need to have a fishing license. There is also limited help available on “Fish” Days at Oak Canyon for beginning anglers.

“Fish 101” is a more intensive hands-on instructional event for families to be taught the basics of fishing while having an opportunity to catch fish from a heavily-stocked park lake. All gear, terminal tackle, and bait is provided, along with one-on-one instruction that will give fishing newcomers broad-based instruction on rigging gear, terminal tackle, baits, along with actual on-the-water application of their skills.

The first sessions of the new program will be Memorial Day weekend, with the first Fish 101 event will be May 29 and the first Fish day will be May 30. Cost of “Fish” events is $59 for adults, $35 for kids, with an annual season pass available for $250, making users eligible for all 50-plus “Fish” days at Oak Canyon. The more intensive “Fish 101” sessions cost $99 per person. Reservations are required in advance and may be made on-line at You can also get more detailed information on the website.


[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 909-887-3444.]

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
bottom of page