Presenter: Jerry Cooke

Commission Agenda Item No. 4
Desert Bighorn Sheep Restoration
June 1999

I. Discussion: Historically, desert bighorn sheep occupied most of the arid mountain ranges in West Texas, although numbers probably were never very high because of the harshness of the environment. A rancher in 1884 estimated the number of bighorns around Van Horn at 1,500 animals. Beginning in the late 19th century, however, numbers began to decline as bighorns were hunted to feed railroad workers and miners in the area, and populations continued to dwindle as much of West Texas became range for domestic livestock. In 1903, the unregulated hunting of bighorns was prohibited, but by 1941, the total number of sheep remaining was estimated at only 140. In 1945, the Legislature created the Sierra Diablo Wildlife Management Area as a sanctuary for the last remaining sheep, but by 1955 the population consisted of approximately 25 animals. The last known sighting of native bighorn sheep in Texas was in 1960. In 1954, the department began cooperative efforts with other entities to restock bighorns in their former range. Sixteen sheep were captured in Arizona and transplanted to the Black Gap WMA, where they were kept in a brood pasture. By 1971, the captive population had reached 68 individuals. The department then began releases in the Sierra Diablo Mountains, resulting in a free-ranging population now estimated at 180 animals. Additional stocking operations using out-of-state sheep were conducted on Elephant Mountain WMA and in the Beach, Baylor, and Delaware Mountains.

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