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Black Gap Land Donations, Easement To Benefit Wildlife
MARATHON, Texas — Land donated by the Texas Bighorn Society and a conservation easement to protect adjacent private land will improve wildlife habitat management at Black Gap Wildlife Management Area and benefit multiple wildlife species in the Big Bend region, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission voted Aug. 24 to accept the land donations and the easement.
The Texas Bighorn Society in March voted to donate up to $100,000 to buy inholdings (smaller parcels of private land inside the state-owned WMA) in desert bighorn sheep habitat. Department biologists and land experts created maps of the inholdings, prioritized these tracts for their wildlife value and contacted owners to negotiate purchases. To date, contracts totaling 1,380 acres have been negotiated with willing sellers. Commission approval means the department can now move forward to accept the inholdings.
The Texas Bighorn Society was formed in 1981 to restore desert bighorn sheep to West Texas, and since then has invested close to $2 million in private donations. Desert bighorns were originally native to the region, but had disappeared in Texas by the 1960s due mainly to diseases transmitted by domestic sheep.
Through the years, bighorn society volunteers have contributed more than 30 projects to provide water for sheep, radio telemetry equipment for monitoring bighorns, and educational programs to generate public interest in Texas bighorns, such as a Web camera at Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area monitored by sportsmen, schools, zoos and others via the society Web site.
The society has continued to donate money, manpower and equipment to restore bighorns on private land and at public sites such as Black Gap with good sheep habitat.
Although the focus is sheep, land acquisition and habitat protection made possible by society donations provide habitat and travel corridors for many other wildlife, including black bear, mule deer, and a diverse bird community.
For many years, department employees have been working with private landowners, conservation groups and government on both sides of the border to increase large-scale conservation in the Big Bend region. This strategy includes acquiring inholdings at Big Bend Ranch State Park and Black Gap WMA and securing adjacent landowner cooperation.
The recently approved conservation easement covers 9,470 acres of rugged habitat adjacent to and south of Black Gap on the former Adams Ranch. CEMEX USA, a Texas-based, U.S. corporation affiliated with the CEMEX family of global cement manufacturing companies, recently bought the property.
The easement was donated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the department’s official nonprofit partner. On Aug. 24, the TPW Commission approved transfer of the easement to the department. The easement permanently restricts development on the property to make sure the land fulfills habitat conservation goals, including bighorn sheep restoration and maintenance of travel corridors for wildlife moving back and forth across the Rio Grande.
CEMEX USA bought the former Adams Ranch as part of a broader bi-national effort to provide wildlife habitat and travel corridors on both sides of the river throughout the Big Bend region. Across the river from Black Gap and the Adams Ranch in Coahuila, Mexico is the federal Maderas del Carmen Flora and Fauna Protected Area of approximately 513,000 acres. Here, the Mexican government, environmental conservation groups, CEMEX and others are working to protect an important ecosystem with high biodiversity.
Within the Maderas del Carmen area is CEMEX’s El Carmen conservation project, where the company and its partners have reintroduced desert bighorn sheep after a 60-year absence, monitored and managed the area’s black bear population and founded a long-term management plan to restore an area that is home to more than 500 plant species, 400 birds, 70 mammals and 50 reptiles and amphibians.
Farther west, Mexico has also established the Canon de Santa Elena Flora and Fauna Protected Area across the river from Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park. Also, the area between El Carmen and Santa Elena is reported to be in the planning stage to be an expansion of the total area protected on the Mexico side. Unlike U.S. parks and wildlife areas, land inside these Mexican protected areas is privately owned.
This month’s land and conservation easement donations follow a “land swap” last year between the department and the Texas General Land Office (GLO), one outcome of H.B. 770 passed by the Texas Legislature in 1997. The bill directed TPWD, the GLO and the School Land Board to negotiate land transactions to exchange inholdings and square up boundaries on properties held by each agency. The intent was to improve TPWD’s ability to manage its land without diminishing the assets of the permanent school fund.
The bottom line is by November 2005 the land office had turned over 25,943 acres to the department in exchange for 14,933 acres of TPWD land and $458,658 in cash. The Black Gap component of the transfer thus resulted in a net increase of 10,241 acres to the wildlife management area.
Prior to this transaction, Black Gap was severely “checker boarded” by GLO inholdings and the adjacent GLO tract was likewise fragmented. The swap thus not only meant more land for TPWD, but it provided land with higher conservation value for bighorn sheep and other wildlife, and adjacent GLO land is now contiguous.
Black Gap WMA currently contains 102,387 acres. It borders Big Bend National Park on the park’s eastern boundary. The main purpose of the property is to provide a setting for wildlife research and habitat management demonstration projects, as well as public hunting and other recreational use. The Texas Game and Oyster Commission, the predecessor of TPWD, purchased the original 28,000 acres of what is today Black Gap WMA in 1948.
Maps for news media use showing the land donation and easement locations, plus a regional map showing conservation land holdings in the Big Bend, are on the TPWD Web site as .jpg files suitable for print publication.
On the Net:
- Black Gap WMA: http://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/hunt/wma/find_a_wma/list/?id=2
- Black Gap maps: http://tpwd.texas.gov/newsmedia/news_images/?g=black_gap_wma
- Texas Bighorn Society: http://www.texasbighornsociety.org
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