Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) and Dall's sheep (O. dalli) use mining areas despite high human activity. We studied bighorn sheep selection of landscape features within a mine in a desert environment to determine those important for bighorn sheep and to enhance reclamation efforts of mines in desert environments. We collared and observed 8 male and 6 female bighorn sheep from December 2003 to January 2005 in the Silver Bell Mountains, Arizona, USA. We classified 13 unique features within a mine landscape based on topography, hydrology, and vegetation. Subadult male, adult male, and female bighorn sheep used desert islands (54, 76, and 54%, respectively) followed by highwalls (14, <10, and 11%, respectively). Subadult male, adult male, and female bighorn sheep selected for desert islands, and subadult males and females also selected for highwalls, whereas adult males did not. We did not observe bighorn sheep using leach ponds, pit bottoms, or tailings dumps. Bighorn sheep behavior while on desert islands was similar to behavior recorded when outside the mine perimeter. Subadult male and female bighorn sheep fed and were alert less and socially interacted more on highwalls than they did while outside the mine perimeter. Bighorn sheep in mines select areas similar to conspecifics outside of mined areas. In areas where mining and bighorn sheep are in proximity, mining engineers and wildlife biologists should work together to design reclamation plans that benefit bighorn sheep. In places where revegetation is difficult (i.e., deserts), mine engineers should design infrastructure (i.e., roadways, waste dumps, buildings) to minimize the unnecessary destruction of native slopes and vegetation.
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