East Vail sheep herd shines in a new documentary film
'Home to the Wild' shows why the East Vail herd is so special
Telling the story of the East Vail bighorn sheep herd in a video was first seen as a quick thing, almost like a TV commercial. It quickly grew into something bigger.
The mini-documentary, “Home For The Wild,” was sponsored by the town of Vail, and put together by Capture the Action Productions. Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society also played roles in the film.
State wildlife officers played a key role in the production, bringing Capture the Action’s cameras and drones into some stunning backcountry areas while they pursued tagged sheep.
Capture the Action’s Nick Junker said he or partner Jeff Woods would get a call from wildlife officers Devin Duval and Ethan Kohn, drop everything and head into the backcountry.
Over months of creating the video, Junker said he got some footage up close and personal when wildlife officers were putting radio collars on bighorns. Other shots required long lenses to spot the bighorns scrambling around on steep rock faces. Other images were captured via drones, being careful not to fly over Interstate 70 or private homes.
Some of that drone footage shows the highway and the town seen from the perspective of the bighorns’ winter range in East Vail.
Vail Environmental Sustainability Director Kristen Bertuglia said showing the proximity of the town and the habitat was part of the point of the film.
The film’s genesis actually dates back to early 2018 and a presentation about the decline of wildlife populations in Vail and the broader Eagle River Valley. Vail’s bighorn herd was a big part of that presentation.
What makes the East Vail herd special is the fact that it’s perhaps the last truly native herd in the state. The herd has used its range in that area since before humans ever occupied the valley.
“We wanted to get the word out about this endemic herd,” Bertuglia said. “We want people to be inspired to protect (the animals), and how unique and special (the herd is),” she added.
Bertuglia noted there’s a lot to the conservation of bighorn, particularly since the animals won’t just move to another spot if displaced. Keeping the herd intact — and perhaps growing the herd from its current population of 50 to 60 animals — will take money, habitat improvement projects and, perhaps most important, humans observing trail closures and keeping their dogs leashed on trails, she added.
Vail Mayor Kim Langmaid has been among those leading the effort to preserve the herd. Langmaid said the film is “really well done,” and praised the team that produced it.
Langmaid said she’s glad that the film includes the dangers to the wild bighorns from domestic sheep. A bighorn ram wandering through a flock of domestic sheep can easily pick up diseases wild sheep have no resistance to, endangering other wild sheep.
Langmaid said the more she watches the East Vail bighorns, the more she’s impressed by how well adapted they are to the rugged terrain of their native habitat.
Because the herd has been in the area so long, Langmaid said those animals have an instinctive knowledge of the terrain.
“It’s amazing — the trails they’ve worn over the cliff face, where they hide,” Langmaid said.
Langmaid and others are encouraging as many people as possible to view the film.
Bertuglia said the town’s websites and Facebook page have more than 4,200 views, and the YouTube version has been seen more than 1,300 times.
Junker said he learned a lot from doing the film, and hopes Capture the Action can do more wildlife-related work in the future.
“We’re talking about an elk video,” Junker said, adding that he’d like to be part of protecting “the reason we’re all here.”