BISMARCK — The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is allocating five bighorn sheep licenses for the 2019 hunting season, two more than last year.

Game and Fish issued three licenses in Unit B1 and a portion of B3, and one license is valid for units B3 and B4. Also, one license, as authorized under North Dakota Century Code, was auctioned in March by the Midwest Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation, from which all proceeds are used to enhance bighorn sheep management in North Dakota.

The number of once-in-a-lifetime licenses allotted to hunters is based on data collected from the Game and Fish Department's summer population survey. This year’s results showed a 10 percent decline in ram numbers from 2018, with the population dominated by young rams, said Brett Wiedmann, big game management biologist for Game and Fish in Dickinson.

“Our objective this hunting season is to reduce the number of rams in the southern Badlands, to lessen the risk of transmitting disease to the northern population,” Wiedmann said, adding the concern is the ongoing effects of the bacterial pneumonia outbreak that was first detected in 2014, which resulted in a loss of 15% to 20% of the adult population. “Moving forward, our intention is to have the southern Badlands wild sheep herd as a discussion item during our fall district advisory board meetings.”

There are more than 300 bighorn sheep north of Interstate 94, but only 20 south of the interstate, Wiedmann said.

Game and Fish in February said the status of the bighorn sheep hunting season would be determined after completion of the summer population survey. Now that the survey is complete, the bighorn lottery was held, and successful applicants have been notified.

Prospective hunters were required to apply for a bighorn license earlier this year on the bighorn sheep, moose and elk application. A record 15,518 applicants applied for bighorn sheep.