Presenter: Calvin Richardson
Commission Agenda Item No. 3
Texas Bighorn Society – A 30-Year Partnership
May 28, 2009
I. Executive Summary: The Texas Bighorn Society (TBS) was founded in 1981 to assist the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in re-establishing desert bighorn sheep to their native range in the Trans-Pecos region of west Texas. At the guidance of the bighorn sheep program of the Wildlife Division, TBS has been instrumental in funding and implementing habitat related projects for TPWD. A historical and current perspective of the TBS and its relationship to TPWD will be presented.
II. Discussion: Pictograph evidence suggests the presence of wild sheep in the mountains of the Trans-Pecos in prehistoric times. While the total population of bighorn may not have been large, unregulated hunting and exposure to disease from contact with domestic sheep drastically reduced bighorn numbers soon after European settlement began in the 1800s. Initial TPWD efforts to restock bighorn sheep at Black Gap WMA in the 1960s encountered major obstacles (disease and predation) and were discontinued by 1978. In 1981 a small group of bighorn sheep supporters formed the Texas Chapter of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS) and the Texas Bighorn Society (TBS), and began intense lobbying of the TPWD Commission and the Texas Legislature to obtain support for the re-introduction effort. The Texas Chapter of FNAWS and TBS later merged under the auspices of the Texas Bighorn Society as a non-profit volunteer conservation organization dedicated to promoting the restoration of desert bighorn sheep in Texas. Their efforts garnered the support of House Speaker Gibb Lewis, TPWD Commission Chairman Perry Bass, Executive Director Charles Travis, and others to fund and re-establish the bighorn sheep program.
In 1982-83 TBS raised over $200,000 to construct four 10-acre brood pastures in the Sierra Diablo Wildlife Management Area (SDWMA) to serve as the center of the revitalized bighorn re-introduction efforts. In 1983 the pen facilities were donated to the state of Texas to be managed by the TPW Commission. Arizona, Nevada and Utah donated desert bighorn sheep to Texas, and TBS members transported the donated sheep to SDWMA to restart the sheep program.
Following the construction of brood pens at SDWMA in 1983, TPWD and TBS established the tradition of the annual work project. These annual projects are designated by the TPWD staff managing sheep on TPWD facilities or providing technical assistance to Trans-Pecos private landowners who own sheep habitat. Typically a water infrastructure construction project, these well orchestrated events bring the TBS volunteers from far and wide across the state to deliver all materials and tools to a mountaintop to erect the required structures. Welders, plumbers, helicopter pilots and construction site managers are some of the skilled laborers working as TBS volunteers; the masses include a few dozen day laborers to do the back breaking work that is required at these remote sites who on their day job may be NASA engineers, housewives, corporate CEOs, ranchers, attorneys, teachers, business owners, and even kids eager to be out of school for a few days. Exhibit A is a partial list of the projects completed since the construction of the SDWMA brood pens. The total value to date of contributions toward bighorn sheep restoration in Texas exceeds $2,000,000.
Other significant events in sheep program development include the donation of the 23,000-acre Elephant Mountain Ranch to TPWD by Mr. C.G. Johnson in 1985. Now Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area (EMWMA), this facility was the first recipient of Texas raised bighorns when 20 bighorns were relocated from SDWMA in 1987. Today the Elephant Mountain WMA herd totals more than 150 animals and has provided transplant stock to other habitat in the Trans-Pecos.
Beginning in 1996, Elephant Mountain WMA has been the site of the Texas Grand Slam Hunt, which has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars for sheep management in Texas. As sheep numbers increase, so will the number of hunting opportunities both on private land and through public drawings. These permits have and will create many once-in-a-lifetime experiences for sportsmen/women.
Today, approximately 1,500 desert bighorns roam seven mountain ranges of west Texas, an acknowledgement to the professionalism and dedication of the wildlife biologists, program managers, TPW Commission members and citizens who have supported the program. Still, many historically occupied mountain ranges do not currently support bighorn sheep, and the restoration program requires continued attention from TPWD, the TPW Commission and TBS.
For more than twenty-five years, the relationship between TPWD and TBS has worked well by handshake agreement with trust and cooperation building through time. In 2008, as required by the Texas Legislature, TBS was designated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission as a Non-Profit Partner of TPWD. In addition, TPWD and TBS began working on a "Memorandum of Understanding." The purpose of this MOU is to formalize the relationship between TBS and TPWD in support of the restoration of desert bighorn sheep to their native range in Texas for the future, as has been done in the past.
Attachment - 1
- Exhibit A - List of Accomplishments
List of Texas Bighorn Society Accomplishments
- Constructed a 40-acre brood-pen facility and cave shelters on the Sierra Diablo Wildlife Management Area. Upon completion, the brood pens were donated to the state of Texas. Bighorn sheep donated by the states of Nevada and Arizona were transplanted to the SDWMA brood pen facility.
- TBS member, director, and ultimately President Bill Leach purchased the Utah desert bighorn permit at the FNAWS Convention in Nashville. He convinced the state authorities to let him capture a ram for use in the Texas breeding program. This action inspired the governor of Utah to donate three additional sheep to Texas.
- TBS members and Texas rancher C.G. Johnson donates his 23,000-acre Elephant Mountain Ranch to the state for the express purpose of restoring desert bighorn sheep to Texas.
- Twenty-five sheep from the Sierra Diablo brood pens were transplanted to the newly formed Elephant Mountain WMA. At the FNAWS Convention in Nashville, TN, TBS member Doc Thurston purchased the first permit to legally hunt a bighorn in Texas since 1903 for $60,000. The money raised by this permit funded the transplant of sheep form Nevada to the Baylor and Van Horn Mountains.
- Water guzzlers were built at Molcajete Springs on Elephant Mountain WMA, and on High Lonesome peak on the Lado Ranch in the Van Horn Mountains.
- A water storage tank was installed on the McAdoo Ranch in the Sierra Diablo Mountains.
- TBS built a horse and mule trail on Elephant Mountain WMA, and funded a study on long range plans for the desert bighorn sheep in Texas. TBS also assisted in the release of 27 sheep onto the Black Gap WMA. The first sheep in modern times to be harvested out of the Sierra Diablo WMA was taken by David Abbey of Dallas, and a water guzzler was constructed in the Beach Mountains.
- Two water guzzlers were built on the Black Gap WMA.
- Two water guzzlers were constructed in Victorio Canyon in the Sierra Diablo Mountains.
- Twenty sheep from Nevada were transplanted to the Black Gap WMA in October.
- Two water guzzlers were built on Black Gap WMA.
- Two slick rock water guzzlers and a crash shack were built on the Black Gap WMA in March of 1996.
- With help from the Water for Wildlife Foundation of Lander, WY, two water guzzlers were built in the Del Norte Mountains, and a slick rock guzzler was constructed on Elephant Mountain WMA. The water guzzler at Molcajete Springs was also rebuilt during this work project.
- Two slick rock guzzlers and one conventional water guzzler were constructed on Black Gap WMA.
- Two additional slick rock guzzlers, and one conventional water guzzler were built on the Black Gap WMA in March.
- In the most ambitious work project ever, a total of six slick rock water guzzlers were built. Three were constructed in the Beach Mountains, two in the Baylor Mountains, and one in the Sierra Diablo Mountains.
- An interpretive exhibit about bighorn sheep in Texas was sponsored by TBS at the world renowned Fort Worth Zoo's "Texas Wild" area. Anchoring this exhibit were three life size bronze sheep donated by TBS to the zoo. In March of this year, two water guzzlers were constructed in the Sierra Diablo Mountain range. Also this year, a “first of its kind" web camera was installed on Elephant Mountain WMA.
- Water guzzlers were repaired and drinkers were replaced on Sierra Diablo WMA and Elephant Mountain WMA. Also during 2002, TBS purchased and donated a fuel trailer to TPWD for use during the annual bighorn surveys as well as during TBS work projects.
- Nine water guzzler locations were refurbished on the Black Gap WMA during the annual TBS work Project. At the 2002 TBS Roundup in Dallas, the first ever TBS Special Permit was auctioned for a record $102,000 to Mr. Glen Thurman of Mesquite, TX.
- The old "soft-release" pens on the Black Gap WMA were re-furbished by the TBS volunteers in March. In October TBS committed $200,000 to the land exchange between TPWD and the Texas General Land Office which consolidated isolated “checkerboard” sections into manageable areas for both organizations.
- A conventional water guzzler was built on Elephant Mountain WMA.
- Mr. Walter Ford, a TBS member, purchased the second TBS Special Bighorn Permit for a new record of $105,000 at the Roundup this year. Two conventional guzzlers were built on the Sierra Diablo WMA during the annual work project.
- An additional $100,000 was allocated to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for the purchase of in-holdings within the Black Gap WMA. During the annual work project, a "Super Guzzler" was built on the Sierra Diablo WMA. This guzzler featured two collection aprons and feeder hoses to three different drinker locations and allowed for the possibility of hauling water by truck to the main holding tanks. TBS was honored with induction into the Texas Conservation Hall of Fame for its work on reintroduction of desert bighorns to Texas.
- Two conventional water guzzlers were built on the Baylor Mountain Ranch north of Van Horn, Texas. TBS committed $45,000 to the re-establishment of bighorns in the Big Bend Ranch State Park. This amount was matched by the Dallas Safari Club and an additional $10,000 was committed to the effort by the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep. A new web camera was installed at Elephant Mountain WMA.
- Two conventional water guzzlers were built on the Lado Ranch in the Van Horn Mountains, and the old guzzler built on High Lonesome in 1988 was repaired.