|  TPWD News Releases Dated 2007-09-24                                    |
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[ Note: This item is more than nine years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [RM]
Sept. 24, 2007
Caprock Canyons State Park To Unveil New Visitor Center
QUITAQUE, Texas -- Caprock Canyons State Park will celebrate its 25th anniversary and the grand opening of its new $1 million visitor center with a host of activities Oct. 19-20 at the park.
The public is invited to Saturday's celebration that starts at 9 a.m. with a Dutch oven cooking demonstration, driving tours of the park, children's activities and a buffalo hunter living history program. There will be a 2 p.m. ribbon cutting for the visitors center, followed by tours of the new facilities. Planning on the project began in 1999.
Drinks and food, including buffalo burgers, will be available at Saturday's daylong event. On Friday night, the park's friends group is hosting a reception and live auction, starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 and are available at the park or the First National Bank of Quitaque.
The 4,400-square-foot Visitor Center is part of a major park project that also includes a new group meeting pavilion, adjacent bison viewing platform overlooking the Texas State Bison Herd pasture, wayside signage, a parking lot and 24-hour restrooms. Exhibits to be installed later inside and outside the Visitors Center will interpret outstanding park features.
The visitor center also includes a State Park Store, storage space, lobby and registration area and park administrative offices. In addition, the project includes a park map, interpretive panels on bison conservation at the overlook and panels offering in-depth interpretation of park geology, selected park areas and various trails.
"The informative exhibits are being designed to create a concise and cohesive interpretive narrative about the cultural and natural resources of the state park, the Southern Plains Bison Herd and Caprock Canyons Trailway," said park superintendent Deanna Oberheu. "A new sidewalk connects the center to the bison overlook, where we've installed telescopes to spot the Texas State Bison Herd in its native habitat."
Caprock Canyons State Park features more than 14,000 acres of rugged but picturesque redrock canyonlands carved by tributaries of the Red River at the doorstep of the Texas Panhandle's High Plains. Highlights include Lake Theo, 29 miles of trails, scenic campgrounds, a 64-mile trailway along an old railroad right of way that runs from Estelline to South Plains and surviving remnants of the only genetically pure herd of the Southern Plains bison descended from stock once owned by legendary Panhandle ranchers Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight.
Funding for the Visitor Center came from a variety of sources. This includes a significant donation from Buffalo Funds, a mutual fund family managed by Kornitzer Capital Management of Kansas, in partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. Other monies came from Connolly Development Bonds, plus a federal highway grant from the Texas Department of Transportation.
For more information about the celebration, call the park at (806) 455-1492.
On the Net:

[ Note: This item is more than nine years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [SL]
Sept. 24, 2007
Texas Bighorn Sheep Population Continues To Flourish
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists aren't getting tired of counting sheep, desert bighorn sheep to be specific.
Testament to the state's successful restoration of bighorns to their historic range in the rugged mountain country of far West Texas, annual population census surveys continue to climb toward levels not seen in more than 100 years. In August, biologists observed 991 bighorns along the seven Trans Pecos mountain ranges, a modern benchmark and an impressive increase of 169 animals from a year ago.
"It's still kind of hard to believe," said Mike Pittman, who oversees the three state wildlife management areas that form the nucleus of Texas' bighorn sheep program. "We used to bust our tails trying to see 100 sheep in the Sierra Diablo Mountains because that meant we had what we considered a viable population."
This year's survey recorded more than 400 bighorn sheep in the Sierra Diablos, birthplace of the restoration effort more than 60 years ago after more than 11,000 acres were acquired by the state as a sanctuary for the last remaining bighorn.
The desert bighorn sheep was once prominent in the remote mountains of West Texas, with populations of more than 1,500 animals in the late 1800s. Due largely to unregulated hunting, bighorn numbers dwindled to about 500, according to surveys conducted in 1903.
Protective measures for bighorn sheep began as early as 1903 with the enactment of a hunting prohibition; however, changing land use caused numbers to decline to an estimated 35 sheep by 1945. The last reported sighting of a native bighorn sheep occurred in October 1958 on the Sierra Diablo WMA. Biologists believe the last native Texas bighorns were gone by the early 1960s.
With the help of private landowners willing to protect bighorns and their habitat on their ranches, support from the Texas Bighorn Society and hunters, the desert bighorn sheep has made a comeback. Stocking of sheep obtained from other western states during the last two decades and transplanting animals into suitable habitat have nudged the natural recovery process.
"It's been a long, slow progression," said Pittman. "Bighorn sheep do not typically disperse as their populations grow, so expansion into new areas has taken time. But, we're seeing a little movement."
As herds grow, Pittman explained, the social structure evolves and populations become more stable. "There's safety in numbers," he noted. "It helps protect against predation and to ensure reproduction. There's a lot of social interaction; the older ones teach the younger ones how to survive and the dominant ewes show the younger ones things like where the lambing areas are. There's just a lot of learning dynamics that go on."
One threat to the bighorn sheep that hasn't gone away ironically comes from another sheep. The aoudad, or Barbary sheep, is an exotic species imported into Texas from northern Africa coincidentally about the same time the last known native bighorn sheep disappeared.
According to Pittman, aoudads aggressively compete with bighorns, and mule deer for that matter, for precious water and food supplies. They also carry diseases transmissible to bighorn sheep and will attempt to herd away bighorn ewes.
"It's pretty hard country to live in anyway, but having to share it with an exotic ungulate like the aoudad, that makes it tough," said Pittman.
Still, the desert bighorn has shown resilience that validates its reputation among big game species. Because they have such keen survival instincts, particularly sharp eyesight and the ability to traverse the most rugged remote areas, bighorn sheep are considered one of the toughest animals to hunt in North America.
As surplus rams are identified by wildlife biologists during population surveys, a select few hunting permits become available. "When a ram is seven to 10 years of age, we start to see changes in his behavior," Pittman noted. "He becomes more reclusive from the herd and his physical appearance may be deteriorating. We know that he's already contributed to the herd for several years. That's what we consider a surplus animal."
This year, 13 harvestable surplus rams were identified by biologists, also a new record high. Ten of the permits were issued to private landowners and three hunts will occur on TPWD managed lands.
As the Texas bighorn sheep population grows and matures, so have the quality of the harvested rams. Last January, a new state record bighorn measuring 184 points on the Boone and Crockett Club scoring system was taken in the Beach Mountains.
Since 1988, when TPWD reinstated hunting for desert bighorns on an extremely conservative basis, 83 permits have been issued, of which 50 have gone to private landowners and 33 for public hunts, auctions and drawings. More than half of the rams harvested in Texas have qualified for the Boone and Crockett Club's big game record book. Pittman explained that not all harvestable rams score well enough to make the record books; a broken horn, for example, would lead to a lower score.
"Regardless of the score, I don't think we've ever had an unhappy hunter," said Pittman. "They're always tickled to death to harvest a Texas sheep regardless what it scores. They understand the significance of having a surplus ram available because it means the bighorns are doing well."
The Texas Bighorn Society offers online visitors a chance to observe these animals in the wild via a satellite Web camera and a weather monitoring system near one of the watering holes constructed atop Elephant Mountain WMA.
In addition to the conservation work by Texas Bighorn Society members, hunter funded initiatives such as the Big Time Texas Hunts, sheep permit auctions, hunting license buyers, and the Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration federal aid program have provided money for ongoing TPWD bighorn sheep research and management efforts.
On the Net:

[ Note: This item is more than nine years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ]
[ Additional Contacts: Tom Harvey, TPWD, (512) 389-4453, tom.harvey@tpwd.texas.gov; Jeff Patterson, Weatherby Foundation, (402) 437-6410, jeffp@sramarketing.com ]
Sept. 24, 2007
Weatherby Award Acknowledges Texas Spurs Nationwide Wildlife Expos
AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas Parks and Wildlife Expo has become a national model for educational efforts to promote wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation, a role which will be recognized at the expo volunteer barbeque on Saturday evening, Oct. 6 by board members from Weatherby Foundation International (WFI).
Within the past decade, a half dozen U.S. states have sent representatives to observe and learn from the Texas event, including Wyoming, Alabama, and Oklahoma. Several states have since started their own annual expos, bringing the total for 2007 to 16 nationwide.
"We are grateful to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for its work to help pioneer the expo concept as an educational event for youth and families," said Craig Boddington, WFI board president. "Texas' dedication, together with similar efforts in Wyoming, has been a guiding force in our resolve to foster the growth of expos nationwide."
Begun in 1992 as a tribute to the role of hunters in wildlife conservation, the Texas event has expanded over the years to include fishing, state parks, camping, birding, history, paddling, mountain biking and many other elements. This year's event takes place Oct. 6-7, when once again TPWD's Austin headquarters will be transformed into the site of America's largest, free, family-oriented festival of the great outdoors. Last year, more than 35,000 visitors enjoyed Texas Parks and Wildlife Expo.
"A main reason Texas is the poster child for this effort is we integrate so many diverse elements," said Ernie Gammage, TPWD Urban Outdoors Program director and Expo coordinator. "It's not just a shooting show or a parks show or a wildlife or history show; it's all that. The genius of our Expo is you get kids interested in kayaking out here, and they end up shooting. Vice versa, kids who come out to catch a fish may find an interest in Texas history, or birding, or any number of other things."
Gammage says there are now expo-like festivals held across Texas every year now. One recent example is the Grapevine Main Street Days Outdoor Adventure in 2005. "Basically, for the 22nd year of this annual event, the Grapevine folks completely recast it as an outdoor adventure experience," Gammage said.
On Oct. 6 at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Expo evening barbeque, foundation Vice Presidents Sean Duffy and Jim Blankenbaker will present a plaque recognizing TPWD for promoting the expo concept.
"Our mission is to educate the non-hunting public on the beneficial role of ethical sports hunting and its contribution to wildlife conservation," Boddington said, "and helping expos grow has proven to be both a fitting and practical way to do this." He gave this summary of WFI's current expo program activities:
--In 2008 the Foundation will provide grants and organizational support to outdoor expos scheduled in 18 states.
--As of 2007, more than a one-half million people, primarily youth and families, will have attended expos for which the foundation has helped organize and sponsor.
--By 2012 projections are that more than 30 states will hold outdoor expos with over one-half million participants designed to educate youth and families.
--To ensure expo growth nationwide the foundation has developed a comprehensive planning guide and funds an active workshop program. These are directed by , who retired in 2003 as education supervisor for Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and manager of the Wyoming Expo. Lockman co-authored the expo planning guide and has been instrumental in the success of WFI's expo program.
Weatherby Foundation International was established in 1988 in memory of Roy E. Weatherby, founder of Weatherby, Inc. More information about the foundation and its support of outdoor expo programs is on the Foundation Web site. Or, call the foundation at (307) 635-3865. The foundation is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.
On the Net:
Weatherby Foundation: http://www.weatherby-foundation.org
Texas Parks and Wildlife Expo: http://tpwd.texas.gov/expo