Horseback Riding Dog Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Within minutes of entering from the west I am greeted by the deep curtains of the Chisos Mountains, highlighting the center of Big Bend. One of only three sky islands in Texas, and the only mountain range in our country completely encompassed by a national park. A lush oasis soaring above the surrounding desert.

The site at Nine Point Draw just fits my two-horse slant gooseneck. Splitting Santiago and the Dead Horse Mountains, from camp you can see Dog Canyon. Named as such, according to How Come It’s Called That, because “years ago, when one of the early settlers was going through that particular canyon, he found a wagon and an ox-team with a dog guarding them. There was no trace of the owner.”


Dog Canyon trail is one way in, one way out. Yet a new canvas appears with every shift of the eye. Approaching the dry wash on horseback, I find a metate covered by brush. Apache perhaps? Comanche stopover on the way to Mexico? My imagination goes wild.


Metal shoes clipping along gravel and river rock, we ride the wash. Walls of vegetation ease their way into rock. Cliffsides and towering boulders stand like giant building blocks. Perhaps a game of Jenga just waiting for the right moment to topple. My gaze ever upward, for once this horse watches his feet.


Nervous here, my horse dances around. Not sure if he’s safe between these high canyon walls. I’m not sure either. Tying him safely, I scramble up the side for a better view. He calls for me.


I rejoin my partner for a rest, a beer and sit listening to the breath of these walls. Soaking it in, wondering what eyes are watching.


As sunset approaches, we return to camp. Leaning forward with each curve in the trail to see what might be waiting around the bend. Following horse tracks from before.


Driving home the jagged peaks of the Chisos stand in opposition to the rolling falls of the Dead Horse Mountains. A fitting embodiment to a name many believe means “ghost” or “spirit.”


The sheer cliffs of the Sierra Larga in Mexico stand just behind, peeking over Dead Horse like a curious child. Exposed by the spotlight of the setting sun.


The air is clean tonight. Whisps of cotton candy stretch across the sky as pockets of sun highlight the desert. Curves, claws, puffs of pink and orange fill the sky. The surrounding mountains fade to silhouette. Ushering in a silence and sense of awe.

This land can put you in your place fast. And I love my place.

To learn about horseback riding at Big Bend National Park and campsites allowing ponies: https://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/bc_horses.htm

Click on “stock use regulations” for a list of campsites in the park allowing horses. Note: Not all campsites in BBN are accessible by more than a small, high clearance trailer and vehicle.

In 1859 and 1860, camel caravans of the US War Department passed through Dog Canyon. Shipped over from North Africa to Texas. Able to go 72 hours without water and surviving on creosote (which no other stock will eat). Read more about the great camel experiment here: https://armyhistory.org/the-u-s-armys-camel-corps-experiment/

Big Bend National Park Superintendent to speak at CDEC Annual Meeting on January 12

The Chisos Mountains from Tornillo Flat in Big Bend National Park, Texas NPS Photo by Erik Walker

The virtual Annual Meeting of the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition (CDEC) will take place at 6:30pm MT on Wednesday, January 12, 2022. The meeting will include installation of new Board Members and all members of the CDEC group on Facebook and other interested individuals are invited to attend on Zoom. To register for the meeting and receive a Zoom invitation and link fill out the form below.

The guest speaker this year will be Bob Krumenaker, superintendent of Big Bend National Park and Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River in west Texas since September 2018. Mr. Krumenaker will speak on the Superintendent’s Perspective on Big Bend National Park: Wilderness, Infrastructure, the Border, and Other Issues. (MORE ON MEETING BELOW)

Registration. Deadline to register is January 11, 2022

Rick LoBello, CDEC co-founder and Chair, Board of Directors and Education Curator at the El Paso Zoo and Botanical Gardens.

The annual meeting will include an annual report on the activities of the organization presented by Rick LoBello and a welcome and induction of new board members.

Guest Speaker will be Bob Krumenaker, superintendent of Big Bend National Park and Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River.

Prior to Big Bend, Bob Krumenaker served for 16 years as the superintendent of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, on Wisconsin’s Lake Superior coast.  He has been with the NPS for more than 39 years. Other assignments have included Deputy Superintendent at Valley Forge National Historical Park (PA), Chief of Natural Resources in NPS regional offices in Santa Fe (NM) and Philadelphia (PA), and Chief of Natural and Cultural Resources at Shenandoah (VA) and Natural Resource Specialist at Isle Royale (MI) National Parks. Bob has also served in an extended assignment as the Acting Superintendent at Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks in Florida. He is a graduate of the Department of the Interior Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program.

Bob has a BS from Brown and a masters from Yale, both in environmental science, a somewhat unconventional academic background for a park superintendent. During his college and grad school days in the east, Bob worked multiple temporary assignments in national parks in the high desert of the Colorado Plateau.  Bob first canoed the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande in 1982, and then secured his first NPS career assignment at Big Thicket National Preserve, in east Texas.  In some ways, returning to Big Bend was like coming full circle in his NPS career.

As a biologist-turned-superintendent, Bob has been responsible for coordination and development of natural resource programs and policy within the NPS at park, regional, and national levels at various times in his career.  As a collateral assignment, Bob was the staff coordinator of the NPS Natural Resource Initiative in 1998-99 which resulted in significant and long-lasting increases to natural resources programs and staffing in the agency which remain in place today.

Bob also served as the president of the George Wright Society, an organization (www.georgewrightsociety.org) dedicated to the protection, preservation, and management of natural and cultural resources of national parks and protected areas around the world.  Well before he was an officer, Bob received that organization’s 1995 Natural Resource Management Award “in recognition of his demonstrated leadership in natural resource management” within the National Park Service. 

Bob was recognized in 2008 as the NPS Midwest Region Superintendent of the Year for Natural Resources, and in 2011 received the Lake Superior Binational Forum Environmental Stewardship Award, both for his climate change work.  He was named a charter member of the NPS Climate Change Response Steering Committee in 2009.



A Different Kind of Beauty

Terlingua, Texas Backroads.  The Big Bend of Texas.  Chihuahuan Desert.

Standing tall in defiance through shades of red and black, rocks surround.  Watching my every move.  Silhouettes of Ocotillo stretch across the sky, thorns hidden in their softness. Riding Terlingua backroads, a yucca stands sentinel along the way.  Wind dips down from the mesa and I tip my hat to save it. 

As birds surf above, a fly buzzes in my ear. The sounds of my horse relax me.  The steady clip clop of his feet, the saddle creaking.  Shifting clouds bring a reprieve from the heat. 

These roads are traveled but unknown.  I am reminded how much there is still to learn, even as of yesterday.

Ambitious and complex, this desert does not mold itself to fit in.  Sometimes dry and brittle, sometimes full and lush.  Sensitive, yet hardened.  A mismatch of misfits, one shape colliding into the next.  Yet undeniably attractive.

Full of resilience and persistence, the plants, animals, and people here survive.  The desert breeds appreciation coupled with authenticity.

I am beautiful here.

We are beautiful here.

Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta UPDATE

Saturday at the Zoo,
Sunday at the Park

Every year the Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta celebrates the natural wonders of the mountainous desert in our big backyard while encouraging people to explore and discover parks and other protected areas. The seventeenth annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta is coming up and for the first time will be held as a two-day event. Day one of the educational and discovery celebration will be held at the El Paso Zoo and Botanical Gardens on Saturday, September 25th from 10:30am to 3:00pm. As you walk through the new Chihuahuan Desert exhibit the Zoo’s education partners will have discovery tables featuring local organizations and conservation programs. On day two on Sunday, September 26th there will be scheduled nature hikes presented by park staff, volunteers and local experts between 9:00am and 3pm at the Tom Mays Unit of Franklin Mountains State Park.

The original event sponsored by the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition (CDEC) in partnership with Franklin Mountains State Park and the City Parks Department began in 2005 and has been growing in popularity throughout the years. In 2020 it was hosted virtually because of the Covid 19 Pandemic. Everyone is looking forward to having the event live again and with an extra day of activities.

Participants can expect animal encounter presentations, educational booths and entertainment at the zoo followed the next day by guided hikes at the Tom Mays unit of the Franklin Mountain State Park. Activities at the zoo will be included as part of the regular entrance fee. Fee information can be found at: http://www.elpasozoo.org.  In order to participate in the guided hikes at the State Park an entrance permit of $5.00 per adult 13 years of age and older is required. You can purchase the permit the day of at the Tom Mays Visitor Center (2900 Tom Mays Park Access Rd) or reserve your permit in advance at texasstateparks.reserveamerica.com. Some of the planned activities are listed below.

Saturday, September 25 – Presentations at the Zoo Wildlife Amphitheater

Leptonycteris yerbabuenae by J Scott Altenbach

10:30 – 10:45 am – Welcome
11:00 – 11:30 am – El Paso Parks and Recreation- Desert Zumba
12:00 – 12:30 pm – Bat Conservation International Presentation
1:30 – 2:00 pm – Wild Encounters by the El Paso Zoo
2:30 – 3:00 pm – Frontera Land Alliance Presentation

Chihuahuan Desert Exhibit Discovery booths at the Zoo

Bat Conservation International
Bureau of Land Management-Las Cruces District Office
Chamizal National Memorial
Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition
Mexican wolf education by Nancy Bain
Dirt y Girls Compost
Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition
Friends of the Rio Bosque Wetlands
Frontera Land Alliance
Texas Lobo Coalition
Texas Parks and Wildlife
United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Office of Law Enforcement
UTEP Center for Environmental Resource Management
And more….

Sunday, September 26, Chihuahuan Desert Discovery Hikes at Tom Mays Park

Franklin Mountains State Park Superintendent, Dr. Cesar Mendez, leading a nature hike.

In order to participate in events at Franklin Mountains State Park, an entrance permit of $5.00 per adult 13 years of age and older is required. You can purchase this the day of at the Tom Mays Visitor Center (2900 Tom Mays Park Access Rd) or reserve your permit in advance at texasstateparks.reserveamerica.com

9:00 AM – Nature Walk Trail (Easy, 45 min) – Birds
9:00 AM – West Cottonwood Spring (scenic) Trail (Moderate, 2.5 hrs) – Geology
10:00 AM – Upper Sunset Trail (Easy-Moderate, 2 hrs) Hiking Tips/Safety, Trail Etiquette
11:00 AM – Aztec Caves Trail (Easy to Moderate, 1.5 hrs) Recreation, hiking safety, trail etiquette
12:00 PM – Agave Loop Trail (Easy to Moderate, 1.5 hrs) Water and Aquatic Organisms in the Franklins
1:00 PM – Nature Walk Trail (Easy, 45 min) – Bats
1:15 PM – Nature Walk Trail (Easy, 45 min) – Birds
2:00 PM – Prospect Mine Trail (Limited Capacity) (Easy to Moderate, 1 hr) (Limited Capacity) History of the Mine

Discovery Hike Topics may include: Birds, Geology, Outdoor Recreation Opportunities and Safety, Trail Etiquette, Bats, Natural History and more.

For more information – chihuahuandesert.org or 915-212-2823

Photos
Top – Franklin Mountains State Park






Word for the Day: Sky Island

Sometimes I lock the gate. Sometimes I leave it locked. Protecting the space in which I see and hear myself most clearly. Validation coming only from within.  My thoughts an island. 

Madera Canyon Overlook

Not the only “island” in west Texas, however, there are others.  Three others in fact: the Guadalupe, Chisos, and Davis Mountains.  Each an isolated range with peaks between 7,500 and 9,000 feet.  Each an anomaly, creating a cooler, wetter, landscape surrounded by arid lowland Chihuahuan desert.   A remembrance of what things might have looked like in this region over 10,000 years ago.

With just over 33,000 acres, plus another 102,000 in protected easements, the Davis Mountain Preserve is home to many watersheds feeding the surrounding creeks.  It provides shelter for plants and animals that could not survive in the desert below.  A place of dark skies for bear and elk to traverse without human interference.  To live uninterrupted.  Safeguarded by those who care.

Conceived the early 1900’s and realized in the 50’s, The Nature Conservancy is active today in over 70 countries and territories.  In Texas alone, TNC has protected over 1 million acres of land and more than 200 miles of rivers and streams.  This includes the restoration of native grasslands, preservation of habitats and water supplies, even the addition of 67,000 acres into Big Bend National Park – not an easy task.

At the Davis Mountains Preserve, horseback riding the 1.5 miles of Madera Overlook trail is a bit like being in a Disney film.  Birds chirping, wind blowing, rustling leaves, sunlight dappling the ground.  We work our way through the trees and suddenly the forest opens to the most wonderful surprise. We come upon a view. 

Sitting on a perfect rock bench, the sounds of a creek bubbling, a single truck works its way down the old dirt road below. Mount Livermore in the distance.  Butterflies dance around us, I breathe it all in.

This is the good stuff.

From the overlook we make our way down, past the visitor center to the Tor Peak Equestrian trail, another 3.2 miles roundtrip.  Grasses sway in the breeze, an orchestra working in tandem.  Views of rolling hills, mountains playing peek-a-boo through the gaps.  My horse, Dex, climbs… jerking me forward with every step.

Midway, I break for lunch among pinecones and needles.  Moss covered rocks scattered about like speckled eggs of every shape and size.  Trees of alligator bark.  We are not the only wildlife here.  Two bucks watched from afar, I enjoy the unveiling of it all.

They don’t allow many people in this preserve.  Reservations are limited and required.  Gates typically locked. The animals feel safe here. 

I feel safe here.

Driving home, I think about how important it is that we protect these special places.  Those untarnished in the world around us, those needing polish, and those in us.  So easy to do for others, yet so difficult to do for ourselves.  Difficult even to accept sometimes. 

And I am reminded not to turn from this world.  To hold on with arms wide open and lean in.  Investing in myself, my peace of mind, and my surroundings.  My world.

Open by reservation only, the Davis Mountains Preserve boasts close to 30 miles of horse trails with peaks up to 8,300 feet and incredible views.  To support or get involved with The Nature Conservancy or Davis Mountains Preserve:  https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/davis-mountains-preserve/

To get involved with The Nature Conservancy of Texas: https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/texas/

Defensa De La Sierra volunteer update

Defensa De La Sierra de Cuidad Juarez is a group in Juarez that wants to make a difference to stop the uncontrolled destruction of wildlife habitat in Mexico.   Earlier this year we told you about group leader Ray Aguilar who has provided this update.

by Ray Aguilar

Ciudad Juárez is a place that needs a lot of environmental attention and the current situation is very alarming.  Our group called the Defensa de la Sierra de Juárez (DSJZ) is committed to rescuing the Sierra de Juárez mountain range west of Ciudad Juárez where there are serious problems of contamination, irregular settlements, over exploitation of resources, illegal extraction of flora and fauna and displacement of wildlife.

DSJZ seeks to recover habitat for wildlife by helping to restore the habitat into a pleasant place.  We are currently working on a recovery project at the Mirador Hidalgo, located in the Periférico Camino Real in the Sierra de Juárez.  We believe that this area is a high priority place for people to get closer to the Sierra de Juárez and learn more about it.  Encouraging people to connect to nature can also help lower crime rates.  The areas we are working in can become places for recreation and leisure in support of sustainable tourism for Juárez and El Paso.

Recently two projects have been started in conjunction with organizations from the city such as Juárez Limpio AC, Colectivo Ciclista Fixiebeat, Aprendamos Ciencia, Rotaract Integra Juárez, Senderistas de Ciudad Juárez and the Ecology Directorate of the municipality of Juárez.  We have planted more than 30 native trees such as mesquite and Palo Verde.  We have also collected a large amount of litter.

We plan to continue these efforts in order to meet our goals and make people aware of how important the Sierra de Juárez is for the community of Juárez and El Paso.

A new website is in development and anyone who wants to help can contact the group by email at Sierradeciudadjuarez@gmail.com or text at 011 52 656 214 4109.

Post navigation

Bringing the prairie dog back to El Paso

Hello, I am Jacob Croft, a scientist trained in biology working with the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition. Over the past year I have been working on a project to bring back the black-tailed prairie dog to the El Paso region. Over the past 4 months I have been in contact with many different local, state, and federal organizations trying to find ways to bring back prairie dogs. This has always led to the conversation of why, why the prairie dog, why El Paso and why should we do it now. This is a question that has multiple answers, and therefore it should be important to all of us living in the region. Let us begin with the reason why they are gone and the reason why we should bring them back. First off, we, the human species are the reason why they are gone. In the early 1800s and early 1900s there were three major colonies living in our area. Unfortunately a nation-wide propaganda campaign about needing to poison the prairie dogs or hunt them to give cattle more range to room resulted in mass poisonings throughout the US. During this campaign prairie dogs were extirpated from our region and across 98% of the country.

Jacob Croft holding a dove while volunteering with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

This leads to the next question. If we removed them there could not have been too much of an impact. Not so, we are clearly seeing today that the prairie dog throughout the US is a keystone species. A keystone species is one where other organisms depend on it for key resources in their ecosystem. In fact, prairie dogs have over 100 other species in the ecosystem that depend on them. Prairie dogs affect plant behaviors and modifications of terrain and old burrows provides homes for other species. They also are an important food source for many apex predators like raptors and endangered black-footed ferrets.

Another reason to bring the prairie dog back is how they impact soil and ground water enrichment. Our desert soils are not forgiving to many plants and are often dry. So how does a prairie dog burrowing into the ground help nutrients? It’s pretty simple, they bring food into their homes to store, they defecate in these burrows and when they eventually die in the burrows, the nutrient enrichment cycle continues. The introduction of all these materials helps to provide nutrients for plants helping to increase the richness of plant communities for generations to come.

Prairie dogs also provide deep burrows which helps ground water penetrate deeper into the ground rather than having rainwater get lost through evaporation in the topsoil.

Now I know that that was a lot to take in, so let us look at what we have done thus far to bring back prairie dogs!

The first thing was to get the project idea on the radar screen of El Paso. I had moved here in December of 2020 and knew I wanted to work in the field of conservation. This quest eventually led me to the zoo and to meet my mentor and fellow Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition member Rick LoBello. Through his guidance and advice I found the passion to take on this big project and that led me to learning about prairie dogs and become an expert on them. While my education in college had given me a good understanding of how ecosystems work, I had to learn specifically what the prairie dogs like, what vegetation needs they have, what soil requirements they have as well as how they interact with each other. This led to reading many papers about prairie dogs and getting in contact with other organizations like the Prairie Dog Coalition and the Humane Society, both of which are based out of Boulder, Colorado. We have a Humane Society in El Paso, but this one in Colorado, has a special individual, Dr. Lindsey Krank, who has been working with prairie dogs for years and has run successful translocation programs.  Through her mentorship I was able to get a good idea of how to complete a translocation, what budget would roughly be needed and how to get in contact with people who have completed successful programs in desert environments. This was all positive information I have gained and helped me get the ball rolling. I have also been meeting with other people in the El Paso region who have provided great insight and led me to begin seeking a prairie dog reintroduction site. After combing through many papers about prairie dog towns in Texas and historical towns in El Paso, I have found that there has been records of them on the north side and west side of the Franklin Mountains. These locations where historic prairie dog towns had been are now altered by man made structures making the areas less probable for returning prairie dogs. Visiting these locations did on the other hand give me ideas on where to look for similar habitats.

The most successful conversations I have had come from meetings with the Bureau of Land Management in New Mexico and new talks with Ft. Bliss representatives about the use of Castner Range. One thing is for certain, this is a process that will not happen overnight, but is one that could only bring benefits to the community of El Paso and all the native species that call this place home.

Prairie dog at the El Paso Zoo and Botanical Gardens.

For more information Contact Us

Photos
Top: Brian Garrett, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Others: Courtesy Jacob Croft

Discover the joy of volunteering

A growing number of people are volunteering with the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition (CDEC). Most are serving on the board of directors, but there are also opportunities to volunteer for specific tasks. Here are a variety of ways you can get involved in support of our mission in educating people about the fascinating Chihuahuan Desert. For more information Contact Us.

–Plan and launch a CDEC Conservation Fund fundraiser 

–Lead a guest blog program at chihuahuandesert.org


–Plan and coordinate an interactive program at the El Paso Zoo and Botanical Gardens for our nature club 

–Plan and coordinate a social media campaign for one month or more 

–Plan and coordinate a photo contest 


–Collaborate with the Zoo by helping to promote the wild about art program

–Help to plan a nature bookshop run by volunteers at the Zoo 

–Coordinate the next Chihuahuan Desert Conference 

–Coordinate a Chihuahuan Desert Conference Network 

For more information Contact Us.

Nature conservation effort underway in Juarez

Ray Aguilar exploring the Samalayuca Dune Fields area south of Juarez.

by Rick LoBello

Earlier this year after reading a number of Facebook posts on the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition group page, I met Ray Aguilar and  his friend Nestor Acosta from Juarez on Zoom.   Ray and his friends are working to protect the Sierra de Juarez mountain range and other desert mountain areas in northern Chihuahua, Mexico.  

Very few people are aware of the biodiversity of the Sierra de Juarez overlooking the city which according to Ray is very vulnerable to urbanization.  The mountain range is located within the same Rio Grande Valley as the Franklin Mountains in El Paso and the Organ Mountains in Las Cruces.  Unfortunately, expanding developments in the city combined with the impact of the border wall are a major impediment to wildlife corridors that historically connected the mountain ranges.

Spadefoot toad.

For the most part the Sierra de Juarez has been abandoned by the Mexican government and today people drop their trash around the area, illegally remove plants and animals that are often sold, drive off road vehicles all over while companies destroy natural resources as they develop the area and use the mountains as one giant dumping ground. 

Sierra de Juarez

Ray and his group called Defensa De La Sierra de Cuidad Juarez hope to change all that.   He often posts pictures of the area’s biodiversity and helps to call attention to other conservation issues threatening the desert mountain region in the Samalayuca Dune Fields area and the Sierra Presidio.

Defensa De La Sierra de Cuidad Juarez wants to distribute as much information as possible on why this region is important to the area while encouraging the government to take all necessary steps to stop the uncontrolled destruction of wildlife habitat.  A new website is in development and anyone who wants to help can contact the group by email at Sierradeciudadjuarez@gmail.com or text at 011 52 656 214 4109.

Ray Aguilar
Spadefoot Toad – Jasper Nance, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Cover and bottom – Simon Foot, Wikimedia Creative Commons

Sierra de Juarez overlooking the US Mexico border and the city of Juarez in the background and El Paso.

Desert Bighorn Sheep Update

These rare specters are still surviving, perhaps even thriving, since their release in 2018 into the lowlands of the Sacramento Mountains near Alamogordo, New Mexico (90 miles north of El Paso). Forty desert bighorn sheep were released by the New Mexico Game and Fish to reintroduce this native species back into its original habitat. Since then, there have been several additional adults and juveniles seen in the Alamogordo herd, many without collars or markings, indicating recruitment or a growing population in the area. I recently spotted a population of about 12 individuals on US Highway 82 between mile markers 3 and 5 headed to Cloudcroft, NM. Competition and disease from other sheep species as well as over-hunting contributed to the accelerated loss of this unique indigenous species in the area.

The males have large curved horns that can be over three feet long, weigh over 30 pounds with a base circumference of a foot. These horns are used for defense both against predators and for mating-privileges with females. The females’ horns do not curve and are also used in defense and foraging. Their stocky bodies are covered with a tan to a light coffee-colored fur, accentuated with a distinct white rump. When observing the Alamogordo population, I noticed their coloration blended them into the landscape with remarkable precision, but that white hind patch made them easier to locate. My thanks goes out to one of our local game warden that alerted me to their rare presence at this location.

Their unique hooves’ construction provides the elasticity and buoyancy to scale the side of cliffs that seem to have no footholds at all, at least from a human perspective. They seem to defy gravity in their graceful ascents up sheer cliff faces without even a second thought of the possibility of falling. I can see how this adaptation has given them the advantage to avoid their natural predators such as mountain lions and coyotes. Having spent many years in the harsh heat of the desert during the summers conducting my own research on turtles, I can’t help but think that this ability to scale mountains may also help with their access to water, shade, cooler elevations and deft navigation of the harsh terrain. Other adaptations to their desert environment include being able to get some of their water from plants and enduring short stints of dehydration.

The U.S. populations had been declining and even were extirpated or locally extinct in areas from Texas to Utah until the 1960’s when conservation measures such as captive breeding programs and translocations helped bring the populations back into existence. In Texas reintroduction efforts were also made in the Sierra Diablo Mountains, Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area and Black Gap Wildlife Management Area. The numbers have been restored enough that limited hunting licenses are now offered. The money raised from these tags go back into conservation efforts specifically for the desert bighorn sheep.

Most individuals are released with GPS tracking collars, so wildlife biologists are able to determine their movements, herd behaviors and survival rates. Scientists also study population trends using visual counts using binoculars or aerial surveys by helicopter. Other types of data are collected from tracks, scat or droppings, and identifying areas where animals bed-down. Genetic information is collected from either capturing the animals and collecting blood samples or can be extracted from the scat, hair or carcasses. This article is dedicated to three Texas Parks and Wildlife Department employees who lost their life in a 2020 helicopter accident while contributing to these conservation efforts. I personally thank you, Dr. Bob, for sharing your expertise when the wildlife needed your help. You have left a lasting legacy.

Article by Dr. Jen Smith
Jsmith77@nmsu.edu

Photos by Morgan Williams Smith
morgan.dee.williams@gmail.com