Dall's Sheep

Dall's sheep

Photo by Stacia Backensto NPS Bio Tech


Dall's sheep are an alpine adapted species at their northernmost extent in the Brooks Range. They live on rocky peaks that protect them from most predators. Dall's sheep feed on green grass and sedges in summer, and in the winter they search for slopes where the wind has blown the snow off lichens and dried or frozen grasses.

Dependent on rugged escape terrain and available forage in the sparsely vegetated alpine, Dall's sheep are susceptible to fluctuations in weather and highly sensitive to local environmental conditions. Because of this sensitivity, and the fact that they don't migrate makes Dall's sheep good indicators of ecosystem health.

Dall's sheep are a valuable harvested species. Local residents can hunt sheep for subsistence throughout Gates of the Arctic, and non-local residents from Alaska and elsewhere can hunt sheep in the Itkillik Preserve, in the northeastern portion of the park unit.

Widespread and dramatic declines in sheep numbers were observed in the early 1990s following several severe winters of higher than average snow fall and icing events that likely increased vulnerability to predation and decreased access to food sources. While some populations appear to be recovering, regional numbers remain lower than were seen in the 1980s. The NPS has developed new aerial survey methods to monitor population trends in Gates of the Arctic and five other parks in Alaska. The NPS will also collect fecal pellets and vegetation for analysis of diet composition and forage quality. These methods are critical in understanding how to conserve Dall's sheep and subsistence opportunities. Dall's Sheep is a "Vital Sign" for the Arctic Network Inventory and Monitoring Program (ARCN).

Information gathered from this long term monitoring effort will be used to:

  • Detect changes in the abundance and distribution of Dall's sheep across the park.
  • Provide information about population sex and age structure that affect population health and growth.
  • Detect changes in sheep diets and forage quality.
  • Improve our understanding of alpine environmental conditions and change, and the effects of environmental change on local sheep populations.

Counting Dall's Sheep in Alaska Video

Counting Dall's Sheep in Alaska - Learn about monitoring of sheep by the Arctic and Central Alaska inventory and Monitoring Programs.


Last updated: April 30, 2018

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