Desert Bighorn Sheep at Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, Far-West Texas

Big Bend National Park and the area around it is home to bighorn, elk, mule deer, pronghorn and their predators.

Posted by Chris Gill

Ranching, wildlife management, finance, oil & gas, real estate development and management.

  1. It is not smart behavior. Why to chase the sheep by helicopter? Take a picture to count them and leave alone. It is ecologically correct.

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    1. Yes, there are problems with this survey method. Especially this one: In the surveys, so-called ‘exotic’ animals are being shot from the machines. This terrifies wildlife and makes the the surveys less accurate. It also is deeply offensive to a large part of the public and this erodes support for wildlife agencies, hunters and associated issues like gun ownership.

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  2. Chris there are problems with every survey method used but the helicopter gives the best unbiased information in as short a time period as possible. You say this terrifies wildlife, yes, it does scare them no different if it were a mountain lion chasing them or a golden eagle chasing a lamb…part of the methodology and it may be a weakness in some eyes, is the random flushing for surveying purposes. If they aren’t moving they likely aren’t being seen as most observers are looking for movement. Remember this was video footage and more time was taken in the process of creating this video for people to see and share. Under normal circumstances animals are not chased they are counted, classified by sex and age group, occasionally photographed and the helicopter moves on. I didn’t see any firearm in the helicopter at the early part of the film to shoot “exotic” animals as you say. Not arguing whether it occurs or not but it didn’t appear to have taken place during the filming of this footage. You have to account for every method used from economics, time, man power, accuracy of the method, terrain, etc. and for desert sheep, helicopter surveys are the best we have at the present time.

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    1. Dear Ruben,

      What I have said for years is that shooting wild animals with automatic weapons, while game-counting makes game-counting less accurate. The decades-long, widespread use of helicopters as platforms for auto rifles to eradicate so-called exotics, predators and other animals, has taught wildlife to be afraid of helicopters. Survey flights – including TPWD’s – routinely involve gunning. It is one thing to budge animals for counting, another to make them flee in terror for their lives, as we observe at Circle Ranch. This stresses pregnant ewes, does, lambs and fawns in very bad ways.

      But many others hide, suppressing the count which reduces the accuracy.

      Such gunning continues during these surveys. Reporting to our owners regarding remarks made by TPWD sheep program leaders in Alpine, Texas, on August 31, 2018, I wrote:” TPWD estimates that it is observing 60% of actual populations. Permit numbers are based on actual observations, not estimated populations. There was a discussion of the reliability of helicopter surveys. Froylan said that aerial gunning from helicopters have been criticized because it takes away time from observations, but that he thinks it does not harm accuracy. I politely made the point that gunning animals from helicopters terrifies all wildlife, which suppresses the count; Froylan disagrees.”

      In addition, the public is understandably offended by helicopter gunning, more so since the animals are left to rot. Doing this creates a PR problem for those of us who advocate Fair Chase hunting, gun ownership – and the agencies themselves. For over 120 years, wildlife agencies have gotten substantial public funding to eradicate predators and more recently “exotic” “invasive species”. Considering the damage done by these efforts, taxpayer funding should cease.

      You and I debated these issues while you were with Texas Parks and Wildlife. My position remains that we should be protecting biodiversity, and, helping nature heal the damage people have done. Here is a 21-minute video that explains: http://circleranchtx.com/drought-busters-101/

      Many thanks for writing; it is always good to hear from you.

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