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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Texas Wildlife Officials and Private Ranchers have a reall affinity for Bighorn Sheep and as a result, 1200 wild sheep call the "longhorn State" home...........This, after complete extirpation of Bighorns by 1960..................The Goal of Texas Parks & Wildlife is to restore the Sheep across the State and bring back the herd to the 2000 animal count that existed 50 years ago,,,,,."All (suitable) state lands will have plenty of sheep," . "After that, we'll go to private land.".... "Our goal is to restore sheep to their native habitat"...............I wish this restoration fervor deep in the heart of Texas included bringing back Wolves, Pumas and Black Bears so that as the Sheep are restored, so too are their dance partners, wild carnivores!

Desert bighorn sheep are comeback kids

By Ron Henry Strait;
  • A thousand feet above the valley floor, a Texas Bighorn Society work crew builds a water collection guzzler in the Sierra Diablo Mountains. Photo: Ron Henry Strait / SA
    A thousand feet above the valley floor, a Texas Bighorn Society work crew builds a water collection guzzler in the Sierra Diablo Mountains.
.The desert bighorn sheep is the comeback kid among Texas big game animals.
In its fight to maintain a precarious foothold in its native mountain ranges in arid West Texas, the magnificent beast has taken some critical body blows over the past century. During the nation's westward expansion in the 1800s, the wild sheep were used for food by the pioneers and work crews who first crossed the purple-hued mountains west of the Pecos. Later, the introduction of domestic sheep into wild sheep habitat brought exposure to diseases that decimated the bighorn herd.

Modern times brought modern issues, including roads, fences and others facts of civilization that further isolated populations and restricted herd interchange.Where, at one time, there were an estimated 2,000 desert bighorn sheep in 15 Texas mountain ranges, by 1958 the last of the native herd was gone. With that loss, it seemed the fight was over for the state's rare, reclusive sheep.

That was hardly the case. The legacy of Texas wild sheep remained alive, embedded in memories, anchored in history and nurtured by a chorus of state biologists who knew the desert bighorn still had a place in those purple mountains on the horizon The sheep had another friend in their corner of West Texas, too, and more help was on the way.

About the time that the last wild sheep was lost, the Texas Parks &; Wildlife Department began a restoration effort, transporting 13 desert bighorns to Texas from southwest Arizona. More sheep came in the 1960s and '70s from Mexico and Nevada to Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, a 100,000-acre state property south of Marathon. By 1993, there were about 400 sheep restored to West Texas. That herd was expanded into Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area, a 23,000-acre state property south of Alpine, where herd numbers continued to grow.

Surplus animals were then trapped and transported to other historic ranges. Today, the state's desert bighorn sheep herd numbers about 1,200 animals, said Fraylon Hernandez TPWD's desert bighorn sheep program leader. They have been re-established in seven historical sub-herds, all on state land. Those herds are in the Beach, Baylor, Sierra Diablo, Van Horn Eagle Black Gap-Del Carmen, Elephant Mountain and Bofecillos mountain ranges.

The remaining native habitats, identified by records of old surveying crews and historical recollections of ranchers and biologists, are located on private property."The population today is down from about 1,500 sheep a couple of years ago because of the drought and heat," Hernandez said. "But it is stable. The lamb crop (survival) was down to 15-20 percent. It's usually 30-40 percent."

The restoration of sheep in the last two years to the Bofecillos Mountains in Big Bend Ranch State Park has included more than 140 sheep, Hernandez said. More sheep will be placed there, and Black Gap WMA might receive an additional 40 sheep as surplus animals become available. Most of those sheep are from herds that roam private ranches.

Hernandez sees the isolated dispersal of sheep populations in simple, best-practices terms: "We don't want all our eggs in one basket, so we have them in a lot of baskets."
There are more baskets to restore in the remaining eight historical ranges, which are on private ranches, he said.With a long-term restoration plan in hand, the biologists early on identified water among the critical habitat needs in the comeback of the desert bighorns. But resources — mostly money and manpower — were in short supply.

Stepping into the ring in both regards was the Texas Bighorn Society, founded in 1981 as part of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep. By 1985, TBS had established its own identity and now has about 600 members, with David Wetzel as its president. "Our role is to support the restoration," Wetzel said. "We let TPWD direct our efforts. We have invested about $2 million in the bighorn restoration project."In the past quarter-century, TBS has also contributed thousands of hours of sweat equity to the effort, primarily in the form of the group's annual work project. Many of those projects include the building of isolated, high elevation water-collection facilities known as guzzlers.

And there is more: "We have dedicated $20,000 a year for work by a (Sul Ross State University) graduate student who is studying the sheep released at Big Bend Ranch," Wetzel said. "He is doing GIS-mapping habitat research. The research will help determine where the next transplant will be done."Hernandez said some future transplants will be to private ranches and acknowledged that effort will have its own challenges.

"All (suitable) state lands will have plenty of sheep," he said. "After that, we'll go to private land. Our goal is to restore sheep to their native habitat."Many of the sheep used in the restoration project have come from private ranches"The restoration depends on a combination of factors," Hernandez said. "Landowners are the key."Wetzel echoed that sentiment: "Private landowner efforts are an important part why the restoration has worked. Those efforts are appreciated."

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