Presenter: Claw Brewer
Commission Agenda Item No. 3
Desert Bighorn Sheep Restoration
I. Executive Summary: This item presents a short history of desert bighorn sheep restoration efforts in Texas, recognizes the Texas Bighorn Society (TBS) for their invaluable support of those restoration efforts and provides an opportunity for the presentation of a check to the department by the TBS for purchase of land at the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area.
II. Discussion: West Texas rock art provides archeological evidence that desert bighorn sheep (O. c. mexicana) historically occupied most of the arid mountain ranges of the Trans-Pecos region of Texas. Bighorn numbers during the late 1800s were estimated to be as high as 1,500 animals. By the early 1900s, Texas bighorn populations had declined or were extirpated from much of the historic ranges. Bailey (1905) estimated the population at 500 animals and described 16 mountain ranges that supported bighorns. Davis and Taylor (1939) reported sightings from only 11 mountain ranges and estimated the population at 300 animals. By the mid-1940s the population was estimated at 35 individuals. The last documented sighting of a native Texas bighorn occurred in October of 1958 on Sierra Diablo WMA. It is believed that the last native Texas bighorns were gone by the early 1960s.
Protective measures for bighorn sheep were initiated as early as 1903 with the enactment of a hunting prohibition. Further protective measures occurred in 1945 with the establishment of the Sierra Diablo WMA to serve as a sanctuary for the last remaining Texas bighorns.
Restoration efforts were initiated in 1954 with the development of a cooperative agreement between the Texas Game, Fish and Oyster Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Boone and Crockett Club, Wildlife Management Institute, and Arizona Game and Fish Commission. Initial and subsequent efforts focused on propagation of desert bighorn sheep in captivity to provide a source of stock for transplanting into suitable habitat. The first propagation facility was constructed on Black Gap WMA and was operational by 1959. Additional facilities were constructed on Sierra Diablo WMA in 1970 and 1983, and Chilicote Ranch in 1977.
In 1981 the Texas Bighorn Society was formed for the purpose of assisting TPWD with bighorn restoration in Texas. The purpose remains the same today. Beginning in 1982 with the construction of brood pastures on the Sierra Diablo WMA, TBS has raised over $1,000,000 and donated thousands of man-hours of volunteer labor for restoration efforts. The result is that not only have desert bighorn sheep been successfully reintroduced, they have flourished. Today, the Trans-Pecos region of Texas currently supports seven free-ranging populations of desert bighorn sheep. These occur within the Baylor, Beach, Sierra Diablo, Sierra Vieja, and the Van Horn Mountains, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Black Gap and Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Areas (WMA). Desert bighorn numbers in Texas are currently approaching 800 animals.