How to Restore Pronghorn


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How to Restore Pronghorn

  1. 1. Guest commentary « Big Bend Now 4/9/12 3:50 PM Monday, April 9, 2012 contact advertise archives download newspapers SEARCH HOME NEWS Top Stories Arts Community Education Features Sports Multimedia Obituaries Public Notices NOTICIAS EN ESPAÑOL BIG BEND BLOG WEST TEXAS TALK Guest commentary by Alberto Halpern | March 28th, 2012 under Big Bend Blog » Big Bend Blog Highlight How to restore the pronghorn, and other species By CHRISTOPHER GILL I am writing with respect to Mark Glover’s excellent article, Can the Pronghorn be Saved?, published March 8, 2012. It touches on many clues about pronghorn decline and proves again that we usually have all the information we need to make a decision, if only we will organize our data and “connect the dots.” Your most important statement is that pronghorn numbered in the millions when buffalo numbered in the millions. Therein lies the insight needed to address pronghorn decline. Pronghorn as a species are dependant on other large grazers. When the bison and other wild animals disappeared, cattle, sheep, goats, horses and burros replaced them. But for decades, as reflected in the periods of pronghorn decline you document, ranching economics, and the range-and-academic institutional advice have combined to remove livestock. Accepted range theory says that “over-grazing” harms plants and wildlife. While it is true that ranching has sometimes damaged the Western ranges, the disappearance of large grazers in diverse animal communities creates another phenomenon called “over-rest.” This is as deadly as over-grazing: Most range damage has come from over-rest, not over-grazing. If removal of domestic animals promotes rangeland health, then West Texas should be a blooming oasis. I drive between our ranch in Van Horn and El Paso fifty times a year: I have seen perhaps 10 cattle along the Page 1 of 4
  2. 2. Guest commentary « Big Bend Now 4/9/12 3:50 PM interstate in 10 years. I challenge anyone to show that country is improving under total rest. Across the Southwest, destocked grasslands are “desertifying”: shifting to desert. The antidote is simple in concept: We must get animals back on the land, in a way that mimics nature. The mixed bison, pronghorn, elk, deer and sheep herds were not confined to fixed areas, all the time. Large herds grazed intensively and then disappeared for long periods. There is a range science called “Holistic Planned Grazing” which uses domestic animals to do what nomadic herds once did. We use this at Circle Ranch at Van Horn. We have tripled our number of pronghorn during the same period in which the West Texas herds have declined by 80%. We have lots of bighorn, elk, deer and at times 1,000 cattle on 32,000 acres. We kill no predators. This grazing must occur within an attentive management and planning process to be successful. Of course drought is always a factor. But the long-term decline in range conditions across the West has continued through several wet and dry cycles. I am hearing now about climate change being the culprit, even though the climate has not changed (yet). All of our droughts are more intense because the rainfall has become inefficient as a result of the disappearance of plant cover and its replacement by bare ground between dwindling grass plants. Most far-West Texas rain runs off or evaporates immediately. It is also true that pronghorn are susceptible to predation. But pronghorn lived with bigger, faster, meaner and more-numerous predators for millions of years. Range decline and increased bare ground by definition means less cover in which pronghorn fawns can hide from predators. With respect to helping pronghorn by killing predators remember this: The history of wildlife management proves predator eradication always backfires and harms the animals we wish to “protect.” Nature has worked this out better than any wildlife “manager.” It is also true that sheep net fences are a problem for pronghorn. At Circle Ranch we continue to remove as many of these as we can afford in any year. But sheep and goat ranching, the reason for those fences, disappeared 35 years ago. So during this same period of pronghorn decline, those fences have been falling down through neglect, and no new ones have been built. Disappearances of sheep and goats have harmed pronghorn more than these old, falling-down fences. With respect to worms, these are symptoms, not root causes: Starving animals are much more susceptible to parasites and disease than healthy ones. And the harm to plants and soil life from over-rest is probably contributing in ways we do not understand: Perhaps some now-missing plant, or organism, used to suppress worms. Habitat fragmentation is another questionable explanation: We have huge areas of unfragmentated habitat across Texas from which pronghorn have completely disappeared. Examples would be the WMA’s, Parks, the international bio-sphere reserves, and many vast ranches. We should foster cooperative agreements between landowners and yet, as far as I can tell, there is none of that being promoted in far-West Texas by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. With respect to the recent transplant of 200 pronghorn, the facts are worse than you report: Over 80% of these animals were dead within a few months; most survivors are probably dead now. This is no reflection on the good people who tried hard and failed with this transfer. The habitat to which pronghorn are being moved can no longer support pronghorn, which is why they disappeared in the first place! Habitat decline is the root cause, not overhunting, coyotes, cattle, fences, worms or climate change. Pronghorn decline is a symptom of rangeland decline. Page 2 of 4
  3. 3. Guest commentary « Big Bend Now 4/9/12 3:50 PM Unless we change our basic range practices, why expect different outcomes? For seventy years the range and academic bureaucracies have had their chance to prove that destocking the ranges works: The outcomes for many species including quail, pronghorn, mule deer and others speak for themselves. This range science holds that “over-grazing” is responsible for all aspects of range decline including brush incursion; in fact, over-rest is doing most of the damage. The idea that ranges must be protected from large numbers of animals also leads to the eradication programs which are so damaging to all wildlife and habitat. Texas examples include current burro eradications at Big Bend Ranch State Park, and of native elk, bison, large predators, all “exotics” like aoudad, other wild animals and all domestic animals on public lands managed by TPWD. Elsewhere, oryx are being eradicated in New Mexico and wild horses across the West. Ranchers are being whittled off the land by BLM stocking rate reductions: This will lead to the eventual destruction of our precious Western ranching culture. The removals reflect the agencies’ core assumption that animals harm land. As land degrades the medicine (removals) is administered in ever-larger doses, proving the adage, “When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” In my world, failure forces change. Not so in government and academia, which routinely “double-down” on practices proven to have disastrous consequences. It is not just a Washington phenomenon: It is happening right here on the rangelands of far-West Texas. We should be restoring bio-diversity using the animals available, and protecting what is left of the wild animal community. To quote Aldo Leopold, “The first precaution of intelligent wildlife tinkering is to preserve every cog and wheel.” Thousands of practitioners of planned grazing across the world are proving on millions of acres that domestic animals and wildlife, when grazed together under attentive management and planning offer the best and only sustainable method of restoring ranges to a condition wherein they can support many wild species including pronghorn. I offer two constructive steps to deal with this dilemma, one local, another national: This coming July 13 & 14, Holistic Management International (HMI) of Albuquerque, NM, in cooperation with the San Antonio and West Texas Chapter of Quail Forever, and WEST, a coalition of West Texas wildlife enthusiasts, will present a two-day class, Cows and Quail, in which we will demonstrate and teach how to use cattle and wildlife to restore plants and habitat for both. This two-day class will be based at Van Horn and conducted at Circle Ranch. Tuition will be $250. Attendees will leave the class with a grazing plan for their ranch that will show them how to address and reverse habitat decline in an affordable, effective, and sustainable manner using the tools of animal impact from wildlife and cattle, which pay for themselves. Information on this can be received by calling Peggy Cole at 505-842-5252. I urge every person who wants to actually get something done on pronghorn and other wildlife decline to attend this class. At a national level, we must call for a Congressional Inquiry into the range practices used across Texas and the West. There is only one range science being taught and used; it originated in the land grant universities. Texas, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Colorado, Nevada, California, Oklahoma, etc. use it as do the BLM, Forest Service, NRCS, BIA, TPWD, etc.: i.e. everyone, everywhere. At this hearing the authorities should not be allowed to control the evidence and testimony given on these practices. The bureaucracies sincerely consider themselves the Voice of Authority, and dismiss those of us who challenge them as uninformed and emotional. There can be nothing more important for ourselves and our communities than such a fundamental review. For more information visit Page 3 of 4
  4. 4. Guest commentary « Big Bend Now 4/9/12 3:50 PM ••••• Christopher Gill is the owner of the Circle Ranch in Sierra Diablo Mountains. Tags: Chrisopher Gill, Guest Commentary, pronhorn Share | Story filed under: Big Bend Blog Leave a Reply You must be logged in to post a comment. about advertise archives contact download newspapers home subscribe Page 4 of 4