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Roadside bighorns.

Nothing stops traffic like a 200-pound, full-curl bighorn ram. And that's exactly what happens at's exactly what happens along Montana Highway 200 when bighorn sheep drop down from the steep, rocky mountain slopes to feed in the alfalfa fields in the Clark Fork valley.

Between Plains and Thompson Falls, the highway runs along the Clark Fork of the Columbia River and crosses the home of one of Montana's largest bighorn herds. Along with spectacular scenery, the river valley offers all the essentials that make for perfect bighorn habitat: steep cliffs for protection from predators, south-facing slopes that stay free of snow in the winter, and open, grassy hillsides.

As idyllic as this sounds, the sheep posed a serious traffic problem. To solve it, individuals from federal, state, and local agencies and organizations got together to find a way to permit the public to continue viewing the sheep while keeping traffic flowing safely.

The solution? A wildlife viewing area and interpretive site-created by volunteers.

A state highway patrolman who had spent considerable time breaking up bighorn-caused traffic jams spearheaded the project, with support from the rangers of the Plains/Thompson Falls district in Lolo National Forest.

More than 15 cooperators chipped in materials, labor, and equipment to make the solution a reality. The county provided fill material, the state highway department paved the pullout, a local nursery donated plants for landscaping, timber companies provided building materials, volunteers from two sportsmen's organizations donated time along with the state fish-and-game department, and a high-school shop class built a rail log fence to keep visitors out of the field and sheep off the pullout.

Although most of the bighorn habitat falls on national forest lands, the property along the highway is privately owned. Buz and Les Hodges, landowners who generously share their fields with the bighorns, donated the land for the viewing area.

The national forest supplied interpretive signs that describe bighorn biology and habitat. The signs are beautifully illustrated by Craig Phillips, a local wildlife artist who donated his artwork.

If you get the chance to travel Highway 200 in western Montana, pull off the road at the Kookoosint Bighorn Sheep Viewing Area. Stretch your legs, learn about bighorn sheep, and, if you time it right, look for a full-curl ram peacefully munching alfalfa.
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Title Annotation:Focus: Partners for the Land; wildlife protection in Montana
Author:Reel, Sue
Publication:American Forests
Date:Nov 1, 1990
Words:381
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