The newly installed mesh on steep rock faces along the Seward Highway is intended to catch falling rocks. But this week, it caught a sheep.
A member of the public spotted the sheep on Wednesday near mile marker 111.5 of the Seward Highway, which is near Beluga Point. The person called it in to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Assistant area biologist Cory Stantorf said at first, they couldn’t find it.
“A lot of times on those ledges, if they lay down, they completely disappear from sight,” he said. “You could drive the road and not see them. And that’s exactly what happened. By the time DOT got out there, just before, they had no idea where it was because it wasn’t standing up any more. It was laying down, and you could just see its head poking up between vegetation there.”
A ranger with Chugach State Park was able to spot it on Thursday, Stantorf said. He headed down to the scene for the rescue, along with state troopers and state Department of Transportation workers.
Stantorf said it was an adult female Dall sheep. The ewe looked relaxed at first, but got a little stressed when a truck with a boom arm got involved.
DOT workers used a hook on the boom to pull the mesh away from the rock face.
“After about 45 minutes of you know, trying a couple of different spots where he pulled the screen back, we finally were able to kind of show her a path that she wanted to finally take,” Stantorf said. “And as soon as she did that, it was a matter of, you know, 5 seconds and she was out.”
The rescuers shouted encouragement and cheered as it headed into the open.
“In the time that I’ve been in this position, which is like, 7 or so years, this is a new one on me,” Stantorf said.
DOT spokesperson Jill Reese says the netting is a new addition to the highway. She said time will tell if wildlife issues like this are a recurring issue.
The rescue limited highway traffic to one lane around the scene for about an hour.
Stantorf encourages the public to use the “report wildlife encounters” button on the Fish and Game website if they spot an animal in distress.