That’s the mission statement of The Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) and although it is a big, inspiring statement, it is also nuanced.
For those into wild sheep, visions of releasing bighorns from areas of abundance to locations that need population boosts immediately come to mind.
Translocation of sheep after all is the heart of bighorn management.
But it’s not the hardest part.
Keeping those sheep on the mountain is the greatest challenge in a world where things are changing rapidly and old threats still exist.
“Disease is still our number one threat,” said Gray Thorn, WSF President & CEO.
“And that’s one of the primary things we will be addressing during our Chapter and Affiliate Summit in Idaho.”
Thornton told me that when I visited WSF headquarters in Bozeman last week.
As a WSF member and a wildlife journalist who closely follows all things sheep, it was great to visit the headquarters.
It’s a beautiful building and of course filled with wild sheep taxidermy including a replica of the world record Rocky Mountain bighorn but it’s certainly not massive.
For an organization that puts millions of dollars on the ground for sheep each year, one might expect huge offices with many employees but that’s not the case.
It’s a handful of people working extremely hard to make an impactful organization even moreso.
“The COVID situation presented many challenges for us as it did for everyone else but we quickly pivoted making the best use of technolgoy and were able to make strides forward,” Thornton said.
This included a virtual expo that saw membership numbers increase and fundaising records fall.
In all, $4,488,500 was raised in three evening auctions from conservation permits according to WSF officials.
“Depending on the permit, eighty-five to one hundred percent of these funds are directed to these fish and wildlife agencies for wild sheep conservation, management, and enhancement programs.”
According to the Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies 74 percent of all agency wild sheep conservation funding comes from an auction or raffle conservation permit.
An example of those funds being used for the group’s mission statement came with a 2021 reintroduction of bighorns into Montana’s Tendoy Mountains.
The sheep were driven overnight to Dell, MT, where they were released at dawn the next morning into the Tendoy Mountain Range according to WSF Communication & Marketing Director Keith Balfourd.
Additionally, efforts have also went toward keeping sheep on the mountain this year with a collaborative water project with the Texas Bighorn Society for desert bighorns and weighing in on domestic sheep grazing policy on public land.
The aforementioned disease issue comes directly from domestic sheep and goats.
There’s something about wild sheep that gets to a person when encountering them.
Whether it’s drawing a dream tag to hunt Stone Sheep in British Columbia or photographing them across various states as I am doing, these animals are truly inspiring.
And it’s good to know there are people like WSF and it’s chapters and affiliates working hard to make sure these great animals have a place on the mountain today and in the future.
As the sun rose over the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park, the silhouettes of American buffalo (bison) dotted the horizon.
Truly wild bison are a rare commodity and seeing them in person is a powerful experience when considering their nearly extinct status 120 years ago.
While slowly driving through this incredible setting, a couple of beautiful pronghorn caught my attention.
I pulled over to take some photos.
Another gentleman had just stopped to do the same and as we adjusted our lenses, his wife shouted from their truck.
Turning around, we found ourselves nearly eye to eye with a massive bull bison.
And he looked angry.
The whites of his eyes showed as he grunted at the distance of about 15 feet which means we were about 1/2 second away from 1,500 pounds of fury.
We gently backed up and then a couple of other bison that just crossed the road caught his attention.
He immediately ran out and slammed into one of them. The other, younger bull struck back but then ran off leaving the big bull on its own.
He then proceeded to roll in the dirt, grunt and buck up and down like a bronco.
Yes, this was the same bison that walked right up to us a few seconds earlier.
Bison hurt more people in Yellowstone than any other animal and in fact a recent attack on a woman sent her to an emergency trip to an Idaho hospital.
People look at them as large cattle from the dairy farm because they are unafraid of people in the park.
It’s called confidence people, not docility.
As I type this at the Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport, I can’t help but smile. It’s a memory from an amazing trip where the Lord blessed me with many opportunities to get boots on the ground conservation information.
Me and my wife Lisa (a teacher of 20 years) are proud to announce Great White University.
We’re calling it “The Apex In Youth Ocean Wildlife Education”.
It will involve Zoom teachings, one-on-one interactive classes, home school classes and events and more centered on ocean wildlife education.
It’s for the young and young at heart.
Our first class is June 14-17 and it’s only $20 for four days of 90 minute teachings, lessons and activities each day and more. It’s called Dangerous Wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico and focuses on sharks, rays, barracuda, moray eels, octopus, box jellyfish and all kinds of Gulf dwelling creatures deemed as “dangerous”.
This will be the first of what we believe will be cutting-edge ocean wildlife teachings. I’ve been working on this for three years and have a format we believe will work even for kids who don’t like school and adults too. This format is all ages because there is no age limit to a love for ocean wildlife.
Our friend Sam did something that inspired us. She sent in a payment for two places and said she wanted to pay for two kids in our Wild Wishes program. Wild Wishes grants wildlife encounters to children with a critical illness or loss of a parent or a sibling. We are calling it our scholarship program. To date we’ve granted 120 of these special encounters.
We can only host 50 for this class to make it work with integrity for everyone and we would like to have 10 of our Wild Wishes kids participate. Two more stepped up to scholarship kids before I posted this so we have six spots left for scholarships.
Would you like to scholarship a kid from our Wild Wishes program? You can do it through our pay link here and simply put “scholarship” in the message prompt. If someone wants to pay for the rest of the scholarships it will be $120.
I have been working on this for three years and I am very excited about bringing it to people. It represents three years of special investigations and a lifetime of seeking out ocean wildlife.
I knew this was the right time as I just had the honor of breaking the story of a great white shark appearing in Texas waters. There will be much more coming.
A member Order carnivora, black bears are technically omnivores equally at home eating plant material and meat. Their abilities as actual predators however is highly overlooked.
The USDA’s feralhogs.extension.org information site lists numerous potential hog predators. Their take on bear predation was interesting.
The black bear is known to prey on feral hogs of all ages; however, the impact of predation by this bear on feral hog populations is not known. Some researchers have speculated that black bears probably kill few if any feral hogs, especially given that an adult hog would represent a formidable adversary for a black bear. In fact, in the 1920s a feral boar in the Okefenokee Swamp was reported to have killed a black bear in a fight between the two animals. Similar accounts of feral boars killing bears during fights in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas were reported in the 1880s.
They continued by noting that being opportunistic, black bears have been reported to raid nylon net live traps used for feral hog control at high elevations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to obtain any trapped hogs contained within these devices.
This is an interesting notation because there is evidence in some studies that black bears can become specialists at preying on particular species such as research conducted related to black bear-caribou predation in Newfoundland.
Gatlinburg is the Smoky Mountains region where USDA officials have noted them raiding hog traps. Since this area was one of the first to have large hog populations of feral hogs, have hogs there adapted them as a regular part of their diet?
Other animals are certainly on the black bear’s menu.
A study by researchers Quitana and Tatman probing bear predation on elk showed serious impact on young in certain areas.
The primary cause of death for calves across all years was black bear predation (57 of 140 non-anthropogenic mortalities). Predation was the primary cause of death for juveniles during their first 3 weeks of life, resulting in 84 of 92 non-anthropogenic mortalities. During this time, black bears were the primary predator but coyotes and mountain lions were also predators.
The Billings Gazette reported on an interagency study of elk-calf mortality in the Garnet Mountains of Montana.
Over the five years of the study, 221 calves were captured for monitoring. In that group, 41 deaths were documented. Bears accounted for almost 27 percent of elk calf deaths. Malnutrition and disease were the second-largest threat while mountain lions ranked third, blamed for about 17 percent of elk calf deaths.
We’re glad Talbot was in the right place at the right time and was happy to share his video with the world.
I don’t know what side you’re on in this battle but I say, “Go bear!”
With feral hog populations exploding and causing damage to native wildlife and habitat, it’s good to see something take a bite out of them.
Last Tuesday the beautiful, Eastern turkey jake was in Maine.
On Thursday a box labeled National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) was opened by Sean Willis of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).
Out of it, that same young male turkey flew into the forest of Angelina County, TX near Lufkin.
A total of 22 birds, all from Maine, became Texas citizens that day as a long-standing collaboration between TPWD and NWTF met with the Middle Neches Eastern Turkey Cooperative.
“Our Turkey Restoration Co-op, includes a group of seven landowners and consists of approximately 11,000 acres,” said Jay Todd of Core Supply LLC.
“We began our journey for restocking Eastern turkeys back in 2015, when we first put in our application with TPWD. We ended up not passing our habitat evaluation that year, and knew we had some work to do with regard to improving our habitat.”
Over the next four years, the group of landowners worked hard on enhancing habitat for Eastern turkeys.
“Specifically, we increased our usage of prescribed fire, herbicide applications, and row thinnings, and created more permanent openings throughout the entire landscape. Then, once we re-applied in 2019, our efforts were rewarded when TPWD’s Turkey Program Leader Jason Hardin let us know that we had passed.”
“It’s a dream come true for our landowners, and we know the work has only just begun. Now, we have to continue building upon our habitat improvements and trying to control predator populations as best we can in order for these birds to have the best chance at long term reproductive success. A special thanks also goes out to the Vines, Kenley, Loggins and Todd families, and Don Dietz with Forest Resource Consultants, Inc.,” Todd said.
Among the project partners, NWTF holds a unique position.
“NWTF holds an agreement with Delta Cargo. The Texas State Chapter of NWTF reimburses NWTF National office for the fees associated with shipping birds by air,” said NWTF biologist Annie Farrell.
“The Texas State Chapter also assists with funding for disease testing and reimbursing TPWD staff who travel out of state to collect and haul the birds (not this year though. All birds came in via air). NWTF also provides transport boxes to whichever states are trapping for Texas, free of cost.”
NWTF also holds an agreement with TPWD and other separate agreements with the other state agencies that are sending birds. Through those agreements, trap states are able to be “paid” for the turkeys.
“TPWD reimburses NWTF and NWTF holds the turkey replacement funds for state specific reimbursements. Trap states can submit a turkey replacement form to NWTF to make purchases on their behalf,” Farrell said.
TPWD under the leadership of Hardin have created “super stockings” of turkeys with a minimum of 80 birds stocked in a location with a male/female ratio that allows for optimal population expansion.
Sites in Titus and Franklin County are nearing their “super stocking” goals and new areas are under consideration after careful scientific evaluation.
Turkeys are a key indicator of forest health.
This wildlife journalist believes as turkeys go, so do America’s forests. Seeing eastern turkeys return to the Pineywoods and expand their numbers thanks to the cooperation that helped make the Angelina County release possible is inspiring.
It’s all about people stepping up to make a difference for wildlife and the legacy they create for conservation.
“We lost the patriarch of our cooperative this past year, when Mr. Simon W. “Bubba” Henderson III passed away after his long bout with cancer,” Todd said.
“The Henderson family are the owners of the Pine Island Hunting & Fishing Club, where our birds were released, and we know he was looking down upon us today with a big smile on his face.”