Through conservation partnerships and critical habitat restoration, Wild Horse Island State Park on Flathead Lake has produced the largest ram in the world.
The Boone & Crockett Club on February 7 confirmed that a 9-year-old ram that died of natural causes at the state park is pending as the new world-record bighorn sheep. The ram was officially measured at the club’s headquarters in Missoula and received an official entry score of 216-3/8 points B&C. The new score shatters the previous record by nearly 7 inches. The current world-record ram was hit by a vehicle in 2010 in Alberta and tallied a final score of 209-4/8.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will offer the public a chance to see this historic wildlife monument at an upcoming public viewing. The ram’s horns and skull will be on display at FWP’s regional headquarters in Kalispell, 490 N. Meridian, between noon and 5 p.m., Friday, February 23.
The ram was discovered in the fall of 2016. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks staff kept it in storage with two others that were found that year. The two other rams were also officially measured, entered and accepted by the Boone & Crockett Club at 205-2/8 and 209-0/8, both scores landing in the top 10 all-time. The horns and skull of the pending world-record ram weigh roughly 48 pounds.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has worked together with partners, including the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, to manage the unique ecological and environmental qualities of the largest island on Flathead Lake. State and tribal fire crews have simulated fire scenarios to balance habitat conditions while preserving the natural character of the forested island.
“Wild Horse Island is a unique state park that provides world-class wildlife viewing opportunities for the public. We’re devoted to preserving this special place, and we look forward to working with conservation partners to perpetuate critical habitat work that maintains this incredible bighorn sheep herd,” said David Landstrom, State Parks Manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 1.
At 2,160 acres off the west shore of Flathead Lake near Dayton, Wild Horse Island features stands of Old growth Ponderosa pine and Palouse prairie native bunch grass that create an idyllic setting for recreationists and wildlife alike. One of six state park units on Flathead Lake, Wild Horse Island is a world-class wildlife viewing destination that provides visitors spectacular glimpses of bighorn sheep, mule deer, songbirds, waterfowl, bald eagles, and falcons, as well as wild horses. Big Arm State Park to the south is the primary launching point to access Wild Horse Island.
“Without natural fires, we have to resort to mechanized habitat stimulation and removal of brush and trees. This costs money and we have to rely on creative funding sources and donations to get the job done,” Landstrom said. “It’s a challenge our people freely accept, especially when we can see results like this special animal, and share this special place with people.”
While the forested refuge gets its name from its classic herd of horses, the state park’s bighorn sheep population has become the star attraction in recent years. The island has also played a pivotal role in the recovery of bighorn sheep herds across North America. Over the years, FWP has transplanted bighorn sheep from the island to other parts of the Western U.S. and Canada, where bighorn populations are historically suffering from disease outbreaks and disappearing habitat.
“Wild Horse Island provides a vital nursery herd that has helped supplement other herds across the West,” said Neil Anderson, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wildlife manager for Region 1.
The pending world record will be certified by a special panel of senior Boone & Crockett officials who will verify all the ram’s entry score measurements. The panel is scheduled to convene in early March at the Wild Sheep Foundation’s national headquarters in Bozeman.
To continue managing and maintaining Montana’s state parks, such as Wild Horse Island, Governor Steve Bullock has signed an executive order chartering the Montana Parks in Focus Commission as a public-private collaboration to strengthen Montana’s state park system and identify long-term sustainable funding options. The purpose of the Parks in Focus Commission is to provide expert, independent recommendations on effective ways to implement the Montana State Parks and Recreation Strategic Plan. The principle focus will be on implementation of the three recommendations from that plan: developing diversified revenue streams, growing strategic partnerships, and building an engaged constituency for state parks.