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From the Pen of Robert L. Cook

Sometimes we use words like conservation, restoration, management and preservation as if they were interchangeable, but they do not mean the same thing at all. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and state fish and wildlife agencies across the nation are much more about conservation, restoration and management than we are about preservation. First, we are almost entirely funded by hunters and fishermen. Second, the world is changing; there are more demands on our natural resources every day; there are more people to provide for every day. We believe that in most cases involving fish and wildlife and their habitats, that you have to do more then just “preserve” something. You must have a goal, know what you want the habitat to look like and that you have to make things happen on the ground to achieve that goal. Fortunately, most Texans, especially private landowners, are also “action-oriented” and are willing to commit resources and to work hard to conserve, restore and manage our state’s fish and wildlife. As a result of hard work and action on the ground, individual species are conserved, and preserved, and the overall health and diversity of the habitat is improved.

For example, in 1905, after a decade of extensive exploration and field work, naturalist Vernon Bailey and his team of scientists reported in their Biological Survey of Texas that only about 500 wild desert bighorn sheep remained in far West Texas. Legal hunting of the desert bighorn had been banned in 1903. Bailey reported that habitat degradation, illegal hunting, predation by mountain lions and competition with domestic sheep and goats were depleting the resource. Naturalists estimated that, at its peak, there may have been as many as 1500 wild sheep in the region’s rugged mountains. By the late 1940s, the population bottomed out and the last native wild sheep in Texas was observed in October 1958. In the 1960s, TPWD and landowners in the region initiated a cooperative effort to restore the desert bighorn sheep, and to properly manage bighorn habitat. Over the next 30 years, wild desert bighorn sheep were donated to the Texas restoration effort by the states of Nevada, Arizona and Utah, and by the nation of Mexico. The Texas Bighorn Society, a group of hard-working, private conservationists and hunters, funded the construction and operation of brood-pen facilities on the TPWD Sierra Diablo and Black Gap Wildlife Management Areas. Thanks to C.G. Johnson’s generous donation of Elephant Mountain Wildlife Area, we now have a natural brood facility and no longer have to raise sheep in captivity. The Texas Bighorn Society, concerned landowners and TPWD cooperated in the construction of watering facilities for bighorns and other wildlife species, and worked together to improve habitat conditions for wild sheep throughout the region.

As a result of these cooperative efforts and four decades of hard work, the current population of wild desert bighorns in Texas is pushing 800. Since 1988, through a carefully controlled hunting permit program, West Texas landowners and TPWD have allowed hunters to harvest 45 rams from this population. The result is a unique outdoor experience that also generates hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been used to improve habitat for this magnificent species. This success did not happen because we acquired something, locked it up and saved it. It happened because a lot of people worked hard, improved habitat, eliminated problems and took some chances.

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