Attacking Aoudad on Behalf of Bighorn

The Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) say aoudad harm desert mule deer, pronghorn and desert bighorn, and habitat, because they (1) eat plants, (2) drink water and (3) do well. In fact:

Aoudad and Bighorn are Complimentary, not Competitive

The articles below reflect the institutions’ longstanding but scientifically unproven beliefs in “invasive species biology,” which support eliminating aoudad, among others, to protect “native” animals, especially Desert Bighorn Sheep, from “competition” of “invasive species.”. TPWD Sheep Program Leader Froylan Hernandez says, “They (aoudad) threaten native species because they compete for food, cover/shelter and space.” Where these species are found together aoudad do comparatively well whereas numbers of deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep decline irregularly according to TPWD surveys.

Hernandez and his colleagues are correct about declines in the numbers of these species. The complete picture is even starker: across far-West Texas, most game animals are in a state of irregular decline. In our Sierra Diablo Mountains, bighorn have declined over 30 percent and hunting has been suspended.

Across the West, bighorn populations are developing diseases. This was a topic of the Bighorn Managers’ Summit Meeting in Colorado, to which the authors refer. Here Texas organizations were tasked to take on aoudad. (CLICK HERE to see what is proposed by TPWD personnel to combat bighorn disease in at least one Western population.)

Are the sheep declines caused by “competition” from aoudad and other so-called “invasive exotic” plants, animals and predators as Hernandez and the invasive species followers generally believe? Or can the declines be traced to failing habitats that are losing their ability to support pronghorn, deer, quail, bighorn and domestic animals like cattle, because the natural systems have been harmed by removing cattle and eradicating plants and animals?

The most important issue in restoration ecology is determining how to stop, and then reverse, this biodiversity loss, which always leads to desertification.

Studies about how to enhance natural processes are essential but scarce. A new book, The Serengeti Rules by Sean B. Carroll, a professor of molecular biology, genetics and medical genetics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, sheds light on grassland restoration. Published by Princeton University Press, it summarizes 60 years of studies of grasslands in East Africa.

Carroll explains that, in order to be healthy, desert grasslands require biodiversity:

  1. An abundant keystone species—always a large grazer—such as wildebeest in Africa or bison in North America (or cattle grazed to imitate bison). Dr. Carroll calls these “1,000,000 lawnmowers”.
  2. A lot of predators of all sizes; and,
  3. A lot of prey species, especially animals under 300 pounds, to sustain those predators.
  4. When any of the three components listed above are removed, the system collapses. But nature is resilient: When missing components are restored and natural functions encouraged, systems can recover at a phenomenal rate.

Most universities, agencies and conservation organizations attack not one, not two, but all three of those components. Since 2008 in far-West Texas it has been a matter of written policy on all state managed land that cattle, elk, donkeys, horses, sheep, goats, aoudad, bison, and essentially any herbivore other than pronghorn, mule deer and desert bighorn sheep will be reduced to “the minimum possible number” (i.e. zero), along with cougar, bobcats, coyotes, foxes and other predators.

Following the advice of so-called experts, all cattle have been removed on nearly one million acres surrounding Circle Ranch. Populations of the native species, especially bighorn, that these measures were intended to help have declined dramatically, since the removals and eradications began in earnest around 2008.

As if that is not bad enough, add to the wholesale removal of keystone grazers, prey and predators the widespread promotion and use of range poisons like Spike® and Roundup®. These kill thousands of plant species, insects and the soil microbes critical to the survival of all plants and animals. Although the agencies, universities and conservation groups that teach and advise in favor of range poisons claim to do so objectively, they accept agrochemical company funding, which renders their claims of independent, objective and critical thinking moot.

As matters stand, it is hard to name a mainstream wildlife or agricultural practice that does not involve killing plants and/or animals to protect desired species from so-called “competition.” With a few notable exceptions, universities including land grant universities and colleges, federal and state agencies, conservation organizations and private wildlife consultants practice, endorse or acquiesce to these attacks on biodiversity.

In far-West Texas TPWD and BRI along with Texas Bighorn Society (TBS) insist that Desert Bighorn Sheep reintroductions must include these costly attacks on nature if the reintroductions are to succeed. This premise which is the subject of the paper and article below, is unsupported by science, contradicted by the living example of healthy ecosystems like the Serengeti, recent developments at Yellowstone National Park, and the experience of restorative ecological managers worldwide, including us at Circle Ranch.

Few, if any, private landowners have more experience with bighorn; have done more for bighorn, or enjoyed greater success with bighorn than we have. Our success rests on constantly protecting and increasing biodiversity, whereas Big Agri-Wildlife constantly reduces biodiversity.

“Competition” is a favorite buzzword of invasive species biology. The term has become embedded in wildlife thinking as part of what amounts to a body of religious beliefs. As used by the authors, “competition” includes harmless things like eating, drinking, or surviving in a hostile environment. This paper’s core assumption is that these natural behaviors of aoudads harm bighorn sheep. No evidence is offered for this assumption, which is presented as self-evident. “Competition” is not defined.

The authors say that defenders of aoudad claim they and bighorn occupy completely different ecological niches. This is not what I think. Let us stipulate to the self-evident: Aoudad do well in our declining desert grasslands, and all herbivores eat plants and drink water. Why is that bad? If it is bad and if aoudad compete with bighorn, do bighorn sheep compete with native deer, pronghorn, elk, cattle, cougar, coyotes, foxes and the rest? What are the distinctions? What science justifies these assumptions?

Is biodiversity good or bad? Are multiple species, and multiple individual animals, complementary or competitive? All of these creatures eat the same plants some of the time, and the plants require the animal impact in order to be healthy. Every animal will drink free water when available. So where is the evidence that overlapping diets or water use is harmful in nature?

We know that on the savannas of East Africa as many as 20-30 large herbivores occupy the same ranges, share water and maintain numbers that sound like science fiction in comparison to what is left in North America. The bison, pronghorn, elk and deer herds found by Lewis and Clarke were immense.

Common sense tells you that these animals are complementary. But, if dietary overlap is harmful to pre-existing species, why are we placing a “new” animal— bighorn—alongside pre-existing populations of mule deer and pronghorn that are declining? If drinking water is bad for native species when done by aoudad, why is drinking water not bad for native species when done by bighorn? What are the distinctions? What science justifies these distinctions?

Aoudad Harm Habitat: What are the Authors’ criteria for “biosystem harm?” The criteria need to be measurable and objective, not subjective speculation. They should apply to all species, regardless of whether they are theoretically “native” or “alien.” In the absence of these criteria, how can anyone determine which species to control or exterminate?

Aoudad “Outcompete” Bighorn: Aoudad are one of the few animals that will deliver animal impact to our high, remote areas. Aoudad are a valuable buffer for bighorn predation. Aoudad fit precisely into the size niche set forth by Dr. Carroll. If the aoudad, in any number, are damaging the habitat at Circle Ranch, neither we nor personnel from TPWD can see it, where we have looked together.

We have no idea how predators might control aoudad because everyone is advised to eradicate predators. Mexican wolves and black bear are fought as well.

Human management may be appropriate but completely extirpating aoudad where there are bighorn is insane — defined as “Doing the same thing while expecting different outcomes.” Scientists who propose aoudad eradication should offer scientific proof of the need and the benefit of such drastic action, and I invite them to first visit Circle Ranch to witness what we see in our high, remote areas.

Driving Native Animals Off of Water: Many professionals who suggest removing aoudad justify their advice by charging that aoudad drive bighorn and other animals off of water.

This is a bogus charge, based on Circle Ranch pictures of aoudad and sheep peacefully sharing water—and of other species using that same water or nearby water.We have reviewed 5,000 photos per month for 12-years at 13-camera points. All of this evidence has been offered to BRI and TPWD; thousands of photos are posted on this blog. Those who propose aoudad eradication because aoudad prevent other animals from drinking should share their proof.

The authors imply that aoudad spend too much time around water points. If true, the problem reflects the predator eradications BRI supports. Watch Dr. Carroll’s video which is posted below, to learn how wolves restored the rivers of Yellowstone Park by changing behavior of elk herds near water.

Gossip and Jargon

This study is based on questionable information, interpreted according to invasive species preconceptions. Lacking facts, the study tries to bootstrap gossip, to which the authors give the academically authoritative sounding name “anecdotal evidence.” Anecdotal evidence is a self-contradiction: by the very definition of the science that the authors claim to follow, anecdotes are not evidence.

The paper expresses simple ideas most people already understand using words many may not. Unfortunately, this is commonplace. The false science of invasion biology uses misleading, scientific-sounding buzzwords that are empirically hollow.

Invasion biology often treats rumors and stories that reinforce negative preconceptions as hard evidence. It also interprets actual observations in ways that agree with what is already “known,” and routinely projects human characteristics onto plants and animals. Generally “invaders” are characterized as dirty, sneaky, evil, sexually aggressive beasts that lust after native females, “outcompete” native species and carry disease.

 

If this invasive species poster were used to characterize a human group it would be condemned as ‘hate speech’.

 

I regret any offense my remarks may cause a few good friends, but, the mutual hostility of hunters, cattlemen, wildlife advocates, horse advocates and conservationists shows how many people have drunk the Kool-Aid® of invasion biology.

The Philosophical Origins of Invasion Biology

In discussing invasion biology’s origins, it is not my intention to attribute political affiliations or personal convictions to any person or group.

Ecology as a formal science was born in Germany in the early 1800s. Though visionary in many ways, it was deeply influenced by xenophobic nationalistic beliefs —a pervasive fear of outsiders— that made genetic purity a priority. As a sociopolitical policy prevalent in the 19th Century even in the United States, it favored the interests of established inhabitants of particular ethnicity or religion over those of other groups or immigrants.

Incalculable misery came when political movements, such as the Nazis and others, used these concepts against human groups. We do not tolerate such poisonous thinking in our social and political venues, but have failed to address the parallel beliefs in ecology that were always present in the German-Romantic rejection of Enlightenment and Rationalism as these applied to nature. As a result, biological bigotry survives in restoration ecology. An authoritarian green movement, in alliance with big government, agribusiness and education has spread it across the world as the superstitious basis for what today is a secular religion called “invasion biology.”

Reflecting its nativist, xenophobic philosophical origins, invasion biology rests on the superstitious belief that the world is threatened by thousands of “aggressive alien invaders.” Any living thing that is not “native” is, by definition, “harmful.” While only “natives” are good, if they too are “invasive” or “aggressive,” then “natives” like “aliens” also are “unnatural” and guilty of doing “harm” to “integrity” and “ecosystem health.” Since none of these italicized terms are defined they can neither be tested, nor used to develop operating rules for practices. They are useless in predicting outcomes. But they produce what most government agencies can only dream of: full employment in an ever-growing, perpetual, unwinnable war against countless enemies, identified as they choose and redefined as they wish, resulting in a river of public funding for agrochemical companies, agencies, researchers, conservation organizations and wildlife “managers.”

Forty years ago, the emerging environmental movement formed because of concerns over the effect of poisons, bulldozers, chainsaws and rifles on habitat and wildlife. Today, the most discussed environmental issue after climate change is invasive species. And, in a complete turnaround of focus, the solution offered by a hijacked environmental movement, which has embraced the invasion beliefs, is poison, bulldozers, chainsaws, helicopters and auto-rifles.

“Invasive Aliens” Defined

Let us test invasion biology as it is applied to bighorn sheep introductions and their interactions with aoudad and other proscribed species in far-West Texas. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a prominent international organization dedicated to invasion biology, which is closely associated with the United Nations, offers this definition, which uses “alien” and “exotic” interchangeably:

Alien invasive species means an alien species which becomes established in natural or semi-natural ecosystems or habitat, is an agent of change, and threatens native biological diversity.

Alien species (non-native, non-indigenous, foreign, exotic) means a species, subspecies, or lower taxon occurring outside of its natural range (past or present) and dispersal potential (i.e. outside the range it occupies naturally or could not occupy without direct or indirect introduction or care by humans) and includes any part, gametes, or propagule of such species that might survive and subsequently reproduce.” (This definition is undated; the underlines are mine.)

Based on this definition, and using the same underlined terms, desert bighorn sheep are both an “alien species” and an “alien invasive species” and if we are following one set of scientific standards, they should be eradicated.

Why is this so? Because, desert bighorn were extinct in Texas by 1960. Texas bighorn were said by TPWD to have been of the sub-speciesTexensis.” Replacement stock is of different sub-species, “Nelsoni” with animals gathered from present ranges in Baja California, Nevada, and Utah. Each of these comes from a physically and genetically isolated group, a lower taxon. Each has been moved outside its past and present natural range. None could have come to Texas, or survived to subsequently reproduce in Texas, except by the direct and indirect introduction by humans.

According to TPWD, none could survive without human care which includes artificial water, feed, propagation and elimination of predators including native cougar, foxes, coyotes and bobcat and “competitive” pre-existing populations of cattle, sheep, goats, horses, burros, bison, aoudad, elk and, in some instances, mule deer does, as is the case next door to Circle Ranch at the Sierra Diablo Wildlife Management Area (SDWMA). Sheep introductions are, to put it mildly an agent of change. Obviously sheep introductions as practiced by TPWD threaten native biological diversity.

Same Facts, Opposite Conclusions

While this characterization of bighorn as “aggressive alien invaders,” “competing,” and doing “harm” is consistent with the eradication justifications of several species, identical definitions and identical physiological outcomes of bighorn and “aliens” turn out to be good when caused by bighorn but “harmful” if caused by an “alien.

This viewpoint switch is easy, because when closely examined, “alien, native, aggressive, competition, invader and harm” are empirically hollow buzzwords that are constantly redefined at the whim of those who use inflammatory, arbitrary jargon to promote the war on weeds and wildlife. Those who use these terms (which for emphasis are in italics and surrounded by quotes) should offer, and follow, definitions that allow landowners and managers to apply them in our own practices.

“Natives” Are Also “Invaders”

A core assumption of invasion biology is that evolution, working with the precision of a fine Swiss timepiece, eventually arrives at a “climax” stage of equilibrium where there is a place or niche for every living thing and where everything is in its place.

While proponents of invasion biology maintain that some species are native to an area and some are not, the invasion biologists do not specify the date they believe North America reached its climax, making the animal and plant species present at that moment in time “native.” Their entirely subjective date seems to fall between 1492 – 1700 AD. Their dates should be stated along with the science that justifies them.

This climax stage, which Darwin himself never proposed, has long been disproven but is fundamental to invasion beliefs, which say that systems are so isolated and so stable that an invader can come from “just over the mountain.” Under this thinking, attacks on any number of native species can be—and are—justified.

When is as Important as Where

TPWD used to say elk are “native” only in the Guadalupe Mountains, and “exotics” in the rest of Texas including the Sierra Diablo Mountains just 18 miles away. We wrote this paper showing that elk are Texas natives (CLICK HERE). Now TPWD personnel say that while elk are natives, they remain “invasives.” And so, under TPWD’s direction and with BRI’s support, elk eradications are expanding all across far-West Texas, as part of private ranch bighorn transplants, even though elk are now, and historically were present all across this past and present range.

The authors say bighorn are being placed in “historic” areas. Why are bighorn still “native” in places they disappeared? Why are horses and burros “invasive exotics” in places they and their ancestors occupied for 50 million years, and which they have reoccupied for 500 years? Why are aoudad “exotics” in areas where they have been naturalized for 60-90 years? Do animals cease to be “native” after disappearing for some period of time? How long must they be present to become “native”? What temporal (when) and spatial (where) scales do the authors employ in these definitions? What is their objective basis for using them?

All “Aliens” Are “Harmful”

Plants and animals have always moved around, in part because of ever changing patterns of world climate. There have been dozens if not hundreds of ice ages: Twelve during the Pleistocene alone. Millions of plants, plus familiar animals like bison, sheep, elk, moose, caribou, deer, wolves, bear and more, evolved on other continents and migrated across the world. (There have been at least eight migrations of bear.) Many came, some disappeared and others reappeared.

Because such migrations are as old as life, systems have evolved to readily accept newcomers and it turns out these enrichments of diversity usually help everything. Humans have changed every place we occupied. Life as we know it would be impossible without the thousands of plants, animals and insects man introduced in North America alone.

“Not so,” say the invasionists. Even though climate is changing, and even though human impact has changed what can live in any given place, the invasionists maintain there should be no changes of plants or animals anywhere. Anything “alien” is by definition “harmful,” so any new organism by definition does “harm.” But is this circular logic borne out with respect to aoudad? Are aoudad in fact doing “harm”? And what exactly are aoudad accused of doing?

What are the objective, ecological criteria of “alien” species? Of “invaders?” These need to be precise so any biologist or landowner can identify “non-native” or “invader” in any ecosystem by evaluating the criteria without being told in advance what the designation is for a specific plant or animal.

It must be possible to confirm this through double-blind experiments, which do not define in advance the plant or animal tested. For example, how do the invasionists distinguish between “native” and “alien” plant monocultures, between expanding “native” and “alien” populations, and the effects of “natives” and “aliens” on the ranges? Those who can’t give these definitions, or develop them, have reached conclusions about the effects of these plants and animals that are entirely subjective using unscientific procedures. Without such objective criteria how do invasionists justify actions against species they call “alien?”

How will they distinguish harmless or helpful characteristics of a new species from “invasion” particularly in the early stages? For example, TPWD wiped out 100 burros that ranged on 500,000 acres of state and national parks with 100 miles of river frontage because the burros supposedly threatened water sources for bighorn whose range they never shared. Elk and aoudad are also targets; yet, none ever existed in sufficient numbers to be a threat to anything.

If we choose to abandon native/alien criteria in favor of invasive/non-invasive criteria or aggressive/non-aggressive criteria, how will these terms be defined?

Considering that population numbers of native animals swing widely, what is the science that we use to justify any effort to impose stability on native populations by suppressing these “exotic” populations?

What protocol do the invasionists propose, or have, for determining the conservation value of new populations that have moved outside of historical ranges? We’re putting sheep in some remote mountains where, according to my research, sheep never existed and killing many animals to do it. This is considered good, whereas a few elk spreading by themselves back to where they always existed are “harmful?” Are all such population moves “invasions?” And if so will they be exterminated without regard to their possible conservation value?

 Other Myths About Aoudad “Harm”

These additional beliefs and the actions to which they give rise are important to this discussion.

Disease: TPWD personnel say that aoudad pose a disease threat to bighorns. While aoudad and bighorn sometimes share genetic markers — indications of possible disease exposure — there are explanations for these markers other than active disease. Where is the evidence that aoudad in targeted herds have these diseases? That declining bighorn numbers was caused by those diseases? That any aoudad ever transmitted any disease to any bighorn?  Nothing indicates such transmissions in the Sierra Diablo herd, the largest, oldest and until massive eradications began in 2008, the healthiest in far-West Texas. At Circle Ranch and the Sierra Diablo Wildlife Management Area (SDWMA) these animals lived together for more 50 years until TPWD employees eradicated the Sierra Diablo aoudad herd, harming all wildlife in the process.

If we were to kill every animal that might carry diseases to which humans or animals are susceptible, we would leave few if any species alive in the desert. And that destruction of biodiversity would lead to the disappearance of bighorn. All wild species have parasites and diseases, which healthy populations tolerate. Harming systems increases wildlife’s susceptibility to these parasites and diseases. The increasing outbreaks of worms and epidemics within populations of quail, pronghorn, mule deer and sheep are symptoms of system decline, not root causes to be treated with the latest silver bullet (the pun is intentional). Scientists who would eradicate aoudad because they infect bighorn should offer their proof.

Sexual behavior: TPWD personnel have told me that aoudad rams have a strong harem instinct and that during the breeding season they will try to separate bighorn ewes and prevent the bighorn rams from breeding them. In 17 years of managing both species on Circle Ranch, we’ve never seen aoudad fighting bighorn for any reason, let alone for ewes, and never had a year where our bighorn ewes didn’t have a lot of lambs. Scientists who would eradicate aoudad because they lust after bighorn should offer their proof.

“Aliens” Hurt Biodiversity

Biodiversity loss is a real problem but its root cause is anthropogenic—human impact—not ‘invasive aliens.” Yet, the constant alarm sounded by invasion biologists selling their “invasive species crisis” is that animals like aoudad, elk, cattle, burros, predators and others “harm” biodiversity. In truth, it is Big Wildlife’s eradications that are the cause.

Biodiversity is not something that will miraculously emerge from its own destruction by chemicals, machines and guns. Scientists who propose reduction or eradication of cougar, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, bison, elk, mule deer does, aoudad, burros, llamas, alpacas, goats, horses, burros, cattle; thousands of plant species and untold billions of soil life organisms with chemicals, should explain how this increases biodiversity.

Any Species Introduced by Humans Is “Harmful”

What science justifies the belief that a plant or animal spread by man does “harm,” whereas a plant or animal spread by another plant or animal does not?

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

All agencies and conservation organizations use public money from a variety of sources to educate Texas youth on safe and ethical hunting. The North American Game Management Model, to which these organizations subscribe, says that hunters should employ the Rules of Fair Chase—giving the quarry a chance to escape and that it is unethical to kill game frivolously or to waste game. These admirable concepts were begun by Theodore Roosevelt and continued by Aldo Leopold and millions of conscientious sport hunters.

As any parent knows, youngsters pay more attention to examples than to advice. Arbitrary, subjective hunting ethics, even those in the name of conservation, are in themselves unethical. Those who ignore Fair Chase, taking aim on aoudad, elk, predators and other species from helicopters with automatic weapons and then abandoning their quarry set a horrible example.

For example, in August 2014, in the Sierra Diablo Mountains, 44 aoudad were shot with auto rifles by TPWD personnel from agency helicopters and left to rot. TPWD’s employees-only heli-hunting club, whose operations are concealed, is a disgrace to an organization tasked to protect wildlife, educate youngsters on ethical hunting and assist landowners like us in managing the public’s wild animals and our habitat.

They may rationalize this as management. They may reason that eradications of vermin justify mass killings. They may say that, since this is a “war,” extreme means to accomplish eradications “as efficiently as possible,” quoting the Texas Bighorn Society on helicopter missions against elk, are justified. Demonizing aoudad and “aliens” may help to ease consciences, but after all the rationalizations, obfuscations, and false pieties including “…this is a difficult but necessary task…” the ugly truth remains that they are just pouring old poison from a new bottle.

With good cause, the voting public is offended. In an era when public support for hunting is waning and organized opposition to hunting and gun ownership is growing, TPWD of all groups should not create situations where their staff, and for that matter all hunters and landowners, can be portrayed as bloodthirsty shooters bent on the extermination of wild animals by unethical means.

The target in this gun sight isn’t an “invasive alien,” but Texas sport hunting, that has been painted with a bull’s-eye by those who promote, practice or avert their eyes from unethical hunting.

Property Rights

Aoudad and elk would be worth thousands of dollars if allowed to mature. Thousands of landowners who will never see a bighorn sheep permit could have valuable animals which would enhance their bottom line, and pleasure in hunting and in wildlife viewing. These animals would also enrich the biodiversity of their animal community, benefiting plants and all native wildlife. It could make their ranches more valuable. The war on aoudad, elk and other wildlife is also an attack on private property and property rights, waged by the agencies, universities and conservation organizations we pay for.

By what reasoning do they justify the destruction of animal populations that belong to the public and roam across hundreds of square miles covering dozens of ranches — whose owners get no vote? In the absence of science, why is the mere presence of aoudad and other animals considered sufficient reason to act against them? What reasons are sufficient? Who will make these decisions? Under what authority are those decisions made? If there are disagreements as to whether a species is harmful how will these be settled? What measures are in place to ensure that harmless species or species that serve useful conservation purposes are not the object of harmful control or eradication measures?

Needed: A New Understanding of How Wildlife, Including Aoudad and Bighorn, Interacts with Habitat

 “Science is the systematic enquiry into the nature of phenomena, and it cannot progress without serious dedication to the truth.”   … David Theodoropolous, Invasive Species Biology, Critique of a Pseudoscience

 Everyone in this debate claims to follow the North American Wildlife Management Model, which requires basing all actions on sound science. In his book Man, Cattle and Veld, Rhodesian cattleman and naturalist Johann Zeitsman had the following paraphrased observations concerning the lack of restorative rangeland thinking within the academic and agency community, which apply to this discussion:

  • “Studies about how to enhance natural processes are essential but scarce: Most research is interesting but irrelevant, and much research is absolutely useless.
  •  In nature one plus one does not equal two. In nature interactions are non-linear and unpredictable. The reductionist approach is inappropriate: We cannot manage natural systems from a mechanical perspective, as currently attempted.
  •  It is better to know a little about a lot than a lot about a little. Instead, advanced range education is characterized by specialization. More and more is learned about less and less until the student knows a lot about very little. Professional academics eventually know everything about nothing and nothing about the greater whole—the grass-grazer-predator relationship—which is the minimum ranchers can work with.
  •  How many agricultural [and wildlife] scientists (each specializing in nutrition, pastures, physiology, economics or genetics) realize that their specialized knowledge has very limited application in a “whole” consisting of a myriad of nonlinear interactions?
  •  Predators are essential; they change grazing impact from bad-for-range without predators to good-for-range with predators. Intervening in natural processes leads to quick fixes but the price paid in the longer term is very high and unacceptable in terms of environmental damage and related problems.”

In July 2014, Circle Ranch declined to give money for this study because its stated purpose was to confirm that aoudad harm wildlife and habitat. I asked the guiding author, Dr. Ryan O’Shaughnessy, to conduct a study on restorative ecology instead wherein we looked, without pre-conclusions, at how mixed populations of species — including aoudad and cattle —  affect habitats. No such study has been attempted in the Desert Southwest, although several have come from Africa and can be found on this blog. We would offer financial support for a badly needed, science based, unbiased examination of this topic, because as currently taught and practiced, wildlife “management” is the worst thing ever to happen to wildlife.

The absence of holistic thinking within the academic and agency community, while problematical, offers a huge opportunity. Imagine the careers and reputations that could be built by those who advocate for restorative ecological practices that actually work, are affordable and sustainable, that honor nature, that respect our values, and in the process speak up for the animals that cannot speak for themselves.

Note: The articles below originally appeared in Texas Wildlife and Hudspeth County Herald whom we thank for allowing us to reprint them. Prior to publication, this piece was submitted to both the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Borderlands Research Institute. Neither entity acknowledged, corrected or commented on the document.

Here is a 54-minute video by Dr. Carroll in which he explains how wild animals interacting on the savannahs of East Africa maintain healthy wildlife and habitat. Watch it all the way through, twice. Those who can grasp and apply these principles are better wildlife managers than 90 percent of the so-called experts.

Posted by Chris Gill

  1. Following publication, TPWD Sheep Program Leader Froylan Hernandez wrote me about this piece. Our exchange is posted below:

    Dear Froylan,

    I am writing in response to your remarks on this piece.

    #1: Froylan: “They (aoudad) threaten native species because they compete for food, cover/shelter and space.”

    #2: Froylan: “I have never made reference to deer, pronghorn, or bighorn declining. What I have said, specifically about bighorn, is populations can fluctuate among years. Even though, there was a difference in count from other years, some higher and others lower, I WOULD NOT classify the fluctuating differences in bighorn counts as a decline. (PLEASE SEE ATTACHED EMAIL)”

    Based on comments 1 & 2, I have amended the opening paragraph:

    The articles below reflect the institutions’ longstanding but scientifically unproven beliefs in “invasive species biology,” which support eliminating aoudad, among others, to protect “native” animals, especially Desert Bighorn Sheep, from “competition” of “invasive species.”. TPWD Sheep Program Leader Froylan Hernandez says, “They (aoudad) threaten native species because they compete for food, cover/shelter and space.” Where these species are found together aoudad do comparatively well whereas numbers of deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep decline irregularly according to TPWD surveys.

    Hernandez and his colleagues are correct about declines in the numbers of these species. The complete picture is even starker: across far-West Texas, most game animals are in a state of irregular decline. In our Sierra Diablo Mountains, bighorn have declined over 30 percent and hunting has been suspended.

    #3: Froylan: “That statement (30% decline) is misleading. Difference of 30%? What years are you comparing? Please search your email correspondence. I specifically addressed and explained this concern. “

    #4: Froylan: “You are generalizing because bighorns are NEITHER in decline, NOR can pin fluctuations in counts to only plants, animals, or predators. There are MANY variables that influence counts.”

    My answer to 3 & 4 incorporates the e-mail exchange to which you refer:

    Chris Gill: “I have read the population trend to indicate an approximate 30% population decline since 2008, based on observed animals. Is this correct?”

    Froylan: “No, I would not say that is a correct interpretation, nor would I consider it a decline. A more accurate explanation is a 25% population fluctuation. Yes, there has been a 25% decrease in our count from 2008 to 2016, IF you only compare those 2 years. However, once you look at the remaining years in between (2009-2015), the population fluctuations are clear. Those fluctuations range from 2% (2009) to 13% (2011) to 6% just 2 years ago in 2014. Several things that could help explain the fluctuations include, but not limited to, actual mortalities, emigration, low recruitment or reproduction, survey time constraints, observer error (no detection), etc. Therefore, it would be incorrect to say there has been a 30% decrease (25% actual) without acknowledging or accounting for the counts in between.”

    Chris Gill’s answer to 3 & 4:

    Your attempts to minimize these trends raise questions about your objectivity. Your language, reasoning and statistical methodology are mistaken:
    • As I use these terms, ‘decreasing numbers’ of bighorn and ‘decline’ of bighorn means the same thing.
    • Incremental changes within a long-term trend will be smaller the shorter the period, when compared with the cumulative – or overall – change.

    You and TPWD say there are 25% fewer sheep in far-West Texas since 2008. Add to that the specific Sierra Diablo decline, which you reported to me last year, which the far-West Texas number masks, and the Sierra Diablo decline is more like 35%. I rounded it down to 30%. 2008 is when TPWD’s aoudad and invasive species eradications began in earnest. Before 2008 sheep numbers grew steadily and strongly — as they still would but for your eradications.

    Share your facts: Please furnish the Sierra Diablo sheep population numbers, by year, for the last 20 years.

    Even though I question:

    • Your survey methods,
    • The accuracy of the reports, and,
    • Whether the data has any practical use,

    Your own data says what it says, so, I stand by this statement.

    #5: You dispute that 1-million acres around Circle Ranch have had cattle removed.

    Froylan: “Not sure what properties you are referring to. I know for a fact, several of your neighbors still run cattle on their property, and have for years.

    Chris Gill answer to #5:

    The reality is far worse than what I said. Virtually the entire Desert Southwest has been destocked to some extent, much of it completely. In our own immediate area, while some old timers hang on, they are the exceptions that prove the rule. Share the facts that prove the ranges around Circle Ranch are not destocked. How many cattle are on:
    • The Bezos Ranch (600,000 acres)?
    • All the TPWD parks, WMAs and ranches combined (zero)?
    • The National Parks (zero)?
    • Lands adjoining IH10 in the 100-miles between Allamore (Exit 129) and El Paso (I have counted perhaps 100-head total in 500-trips made over 17 years).

    #6: Populations of the native species, especially bighorn, which these measures were intended to help have declined dramatically, since the removals and eradications began in earnest around 2008.

    Froylan: “Incorrect statement”.

    Chris Gill’s answer to #6:

    Please furnish, the facts on which you rely:

    • Population counts for pronghorn, mule deer and bighorn in far-West Texas for every year over the last 20 years.
    • The same statistics for the Sierra Diablos.

    These will confirm that populations of everything are down. If your facts disprove this I will say so.

    #7: Few, if any, private landowners have more experience with bighorn; have done more for bighorn, or enjoyed greater success with bighorn than we have.

    Froylan: “I completely disagree with this statement. It is incorrect. There are several landowner, as well as land mangers/agents, who have been involved with bighorn sheep for several generations.”

    Chris Gill’s answer to #7:

    We have 100-sheep at any time. We have received 15 permits since 1999. The number is disproportionately higher than the total permits issued based on the percent of sheep habitat we have on Circle relative to the entire range. Few if any private landowners can say this. I stand by the statement unless you show I am mistaken.

    Please furnish the facts on which you rely:

    • The names of those private landowners in far-West Texas who have as much experience with bighorn as ourselves.
    • The names of those private landowners in far-West Texas who have more experience with bighorn than ourselves.
    • The statistics on the sheep populations of their far-West Texas ranches, by year, since 2000.
    • The numbers of permits issued to each, by year, since 1999.

    #8: Froylan questions Chris Gill’s statement: “If the aoudad, in any number, are damaging the habitat at Circle Ranch, neither we nor personnel from TPWD can see it, where we have looked together.”

    Froylan: “Please name the TPWD personnel that have investigated this issue together with you.”

    Chris Gill’s answer to #8:

    I am always happy to furnish you and the public my data. Their names are: Misty Sumner, Philip Dickerson, Annalise Scoggin, Mike Janis, and Mike Sullins. Their report of this investigation is posted at this address:

    http://circleranchtx.com/tpwd-habitat-survey-at-circle-ranch/

    This was to have been a multi-year habitat study. When TPWD’s initial assumption – overuse of habitat – was not validated, Phil Dickerson lost interest. But the multi-year study is actually a very good idea: We should compare Circle Ranch and the Sierra Diablo WMA to see how the two compare after many years on different paths. I have suggested this several times, without acknowledgment or response from anyone at TPWD and/or BRI, including the authors and you personally.

    Froylan, I have written a thoughtful critique of your agency’s invasive species eradications that is filled with legitimate questions: Your ‘answer’ does not respond to a single one.

    Personal opinions based on undisclosed facts and fake science do not meet the standards of the scientific methods you claim to follow, and the public is entitled to expect. I again, respectfully, request answers that respond to my questions.

    Sincerely,

    Chris Gill
    Circle Ranch
    Van Horn, Texas

    Reply

  2. Brandt Buchanan March 20, 2017 at 9:55 pm

    They out to release the number of Desert Bighorn, Pronghorn and Mule Deer that have fallen victim to Capture Myopathy A.K.A. “Broken-heart syndrome” as a result of their “translocation efforts.” I’d bet the public would not be happy knowing these “field trips” are killing hundreds of the species which they claim to be protecting. I’ve never been given credit for a animal delivered dead on the trailer, why should they?

    Reply

    1. Yes as this blog has observed, the agencies have poor animal husbandry skills. Their methods are very rough on the animals. Those of us who would go broke if we terrorized our animals in such ways have developed low stress handling methods which would work with sheep and other species, and, cost less.

      Reply

  3. Brandt Buchanan March 26, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    I’ve read HB 904 nearly 10 times and I’m still not sure what this means for Aoudad and Elk in Texas. What’s inspired Rep. Pancho Nevarez to make these changes?

    By:Nevarez H.B.No.904

    A BILL TO BE ENTITLED AN ACT
    relating to the classification of exotic and nongame animals.
    BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
    SECTION 1.Section 43.103(3), Parks and Wildlife Code, is amended to read as follows:
    (3)”Exotic animals” includes exotic livestock and
    exotic fowl as defined by Section 161.001(a), Agriculture Code,
    wild animals that are nonindigenous to Texas, and aoudad sheep[,
    and elk].
    SECTION 2. Section 62.015(a), Parks and Wildlife Code, is
    amended to read as follows:
    (a)In this section, “exotic animal” means exotic livestock
    or exotic fowl as defined by Section 161.001(a), Agriculture Code,
    or aoudad sheep[, or elk].

    Reply

    1. Brandt Buchanan March 26, 2017 at 5:33 pm

      The changes weren’t highlighted in the comment above but the bill is in the link below.
      http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/85R/billtext/pdf/HB00904I.pdf#navpanes=0

      Reply

      1. Hello Brandt: The problem was special interests including agencies protecting their turf. I can only repeat:

        Elk are a Texas native which , before Europeans, roamed our state from north to south and east to west. For years a group of us have attempted to remove the “exotic” classification which has led to so much perversity in the treatment of this animal.

        In the last legislature, despite the sponsorship of State Representative Poncho Nevarez and State Senator Jose Rodriguez, our efforts for a simple, limited purpose – to remove the scientific misclassification – again failed. By the time our bill was expanded to include the combined requirements of the exotic deer industry, TPWD and the Texas Animal Health Commission, we had a document so complex that it could not pass legislative drafting review.

        Reply

    2. Elk are a Texas native which , before Europeans, roamed our state from north to south and east to west. For years a group of us have attempted to remove the “exotic” classification which has led to so much perversity in the treatment of this animal.

      In the last legislature, despite the sponsorship of State Representative Poncho Nevarez and State Senator Jose Rodriguez, our efforts for a simple, limited purpose – to remove the scientific misclassification – again failed. By the time our bill was expanded to include the combined requirements of the exotic deer industry, TPWD and the Texas Animal Health Commission, we had a document so complex that it could not pass legislative drafting review.

      Reply

  4. Another nice comment posted today:

    I love your site! I think your perspective on grassland restoration and biodiversity is the future of wildlife management. I’m going back to school this fall to study biology with a focus on arid grassland restoration, and I intend to eventually further the research on the processes and theories you practice. Your site site has been an enlightening resource for me. Thanks for the info- Eric

    Reply

  5. This comment on TPWD’s aoudad and burro eradications:

    Thank you for the article. I really enjoyed it. I am a lion hunter and have worked with the desert sheep in many areas. I have argued the eradication theory many times. I have never seen any indication that the aoudad, burros or any other species interfere with the sheep. On the contrary the aoudad provide a buffer from the lions in the form of an alternate food source. If you shoot all of the aoudad and the only thing left on the menu for the lions are bighorn sheep then I guess bighorn it is. And the burros were on the river my whole life in small numbers. I never saw them hurt anything. They were a nice sight in a country with so little wildlife. Now there are none. Anyway, thanks for the factual & informative article.

    …Andy

    To which I replied:

    Thanks Andy. These comments align with our experience. It is really sad that those tasked to protect wildlife have become the biggest danger to wildlife. Maybe folks like us can turn that around.

    Reply

  6. Another comment:

    Thanks for your efforts. Only through factual information do future generations gain the knowledge to better conserve and preserve our wildlife and the diverse habitat that is capable of sustaining the trio of wildlife, livestock and exotic imports. The exotic imports, whether they be in the form of wild burros left from a time long past or the Barbary sheep of relatively recent import, did not ask to be where they are and do not deserve to be aimlessly slaughtered for no other reason than lack of knowledge. I am an avid outdoorsman and sportsman and support sport hunting completely but these practices of eradication are wrong. I, as well, have found no basis of truth to the claims against the so called invasive species. But, I’m not a biologist. I’m just a man that has spent most of his life observing them while I was working in the areas they inhabit.

    Again, thank you for your efforts.

    My response:

    I believe many of the agency and private managers feel as you do. However they are powerless to change the collective thinking, and afraid to try: Smart, good people collectively doing ignorant, destructive things. And you are correct about the ethics of these actions which include auto weapons from helicopters, rat poisons statewide, and the animals left to rot.

    Reply

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