COVID-19-the coronavirus has caused historic lockdowns of access to countries, states and communities around the world.
And while the human risk should be the first priority, there is huge concern for an impact on wildlife. This is the first in a series of podcasts on this topic as we see how the loss of hunting and ecotourism dollars in Africa could spell disaster for rhinos, elephants and many other species.
Please share this message. It needs to get out there.
This podcast is a must listen and so is this series. More to come…
The impact of COVID-19, the coronavirus on humanity, is nothing short of historic.
While the death toll has not and hopefully will not reach the levels of the Spanish flu of 1918, the potential is there, and the grip it has on government, commerce, and private citizens is unprecedented.
That’s why I can’t help but make parallels between COVID-19 and the near-catastrophic decline of wild sheep of the 1800s.
When Lewis & Clark set out on their epic expedition, there were around two million wild sheep in North America. By 1900, there were fewer than 25,000 according to some estimates.
And while it would be easy to blame it on unregulated hunting and market killing which no doubt had some impact, by far the biggest killer was pneumonia.
Coming from domestic sheep, it hit wild herds as they co-mingled in the valleys and mountains during the westward expansion of European settlement. Millions of sheep died, and if it were not for conscientious hunters and fish and game departments around the nation, there would likely be no wild sheep left today.
Listen to Chester Moore discuss this issue and give some inspiration on wild sheep conservation at his new podcast “Higher Calling”.
It’s a story few have heard outside of wild sheep hunting and biologist circles, but now is the time.
The decline of wild sheep is second only to the government-sponsored bison slaughter in the depth of impact on a species in North America.
Humans are now quarantined, and in effect, bighorns are in many areas.
In 2016, Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) officials killed six bighorns because backpackers saw them co-mingling with domestic sheep. The bacterial form of pneumonia can be brought back to the herd and transmitted to lambs.
“When you have the lambs dying, it’s hard to build a population,” said CPW spokesman Joe Lewandowski in The Durango Herald.
“As wildlife managers, we look at populations, not individual animals. In this case, we know an individual animal could spread the disease to the larger herd, and then we have a bigger problem.”
This is not an uncommon practice in wild sheep management.
While translocations, strict herd management, and grazing restrictions have brought sheep numbers continent-wide into the 150-175,000 range, pneumonia is still the most significant threat. Still, there are no specials on Animal Planet or Nat Geo Wild or any other mainstream media outlets. This pandemic has been going on with wild sheep for 150 years, and only the hunting community, fish and game agencies, and biologists seem to care.
The focus should now be on saving people and the economies of the world, but there is space to teach a valuable lesson on wildlife conservation. There has never been a point in recent history where this particular story of wild sheep has such a great chance to touch the hearts of millions of wildlife enthusiasts.
During the downtime from work and school, people are looking for things to occupy their time and inspired, informative media on some of the beautiful animals in North America can help fill some of that void.
That is what this post is all about. I’m doing my best to let people know that when the dust settles on COVID-19 (and me and my family are praying daily that will happen soon), sheep will still have their own pandemic to face.
Concerned conservationists have done a remarkable job building herds throughout North America, but these conservationists are aging quickly, and new blood needs to step up to the plate.
Maybe something good that can come out of this tragedy is that some young person is motivated to get involved with sheep conservation. Perhaps being isolated, afraid of mingling with others and under the potential threat of death itself because of an unseen force will inspire action.
Sheep, of course, have no way to conceptualize these things, but they don’t need to when caring conservationists are in place in fish and game departments, conservation groups, and halls of the legislature.
COVID-19 may be momentarily stealing our freedoms, but it can’t rob the wild and enduring spirit of those thoughtful enough to make a bold stand for bighorns and their thinhorn cousins.
That force is as majestic as the sheep themselves.
Join The Wildlife Journalist® and award-wining conservationist Chester Moore as he discusses the connection between what we are experiencing in this pandemic setting and what nearly wiped out wild sheep in America in the 1800s.
Also hear a a heartfelt story of how Chester and his Dad bonded over hunting scrapbooks and how it pointed him toward a higher calling of wildlife conservation.
Wildlife journalist Chester Moore has been honored for his writings on bighorn sheep hunting and conservation.
He won first place for the “Outdoors Column ” category in the Texas Outdoor Writers Association Excellence in Craft awards for his bighorn sheep story entitled “New Life For New Mexico’s Bighorns”. The story appeared at Higher Calling and in the Wild Sheep Foundation’s Mountain Minutes newsletter.
He also received a second place award in the “Feature” category for his “Desert Homecoming” story in Sports Afield that detailed the comeback of Texas’ desert bighorn herd.
“I’ve been doing a lot on wild sheep, trying to get the word out on their conservation needs and the absolute triumph that hunter-based conservation has been for all wild sheep in North America. It’s a real honor to be recognized for these writings.”
Moore is a staunch supporter of sheep and mountain wildlife conservation is a member of The Wild Sheep Foundation, Texas Bighorn Society and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society as well as the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance. He is also a member of The Houston Safari Club Foundation and National Wild Turkey Federation.
Additionally, in January at the National Wild Turkey Federation-Texas state convention Moore was awarded the “Advocatus Magni” award for his work as an advocate for wild turkey conservation.
“This is such a tremendous honor,” Moore said.
“Wild turkeys are a passion of mine and I believe if we get turkey conservation right all forest species will benefit. Even wild sheep benefit from certain turkey enhancement projects like controlled burning. To get an award like this is truly inspiring.”
One night on our trip we set out to try out our new night vision goggles and to record night wildlife sounds in the stunningly beautiful mountains in the Trinity Alps. When I tell you this was in the middle of nowhere it might be hard for you to imagine just how far unless you’ve been to that part of the world.
We pulled up a few minutes after the sunset and planned to stay through the night.
As Dad started taking out the equipment, I walked over to a good viewing spot to look down into the valley with the night vision goggles.
The moon was full so visibility was high.
If anything came into the clearings below we should get a glimpse, I thought.
Then I saw it.
A beam of light shot up toward our position.
“Dad, did you see that?” I asked as I pulled off the goggles.
“A light beam just shone toward us,” I replied.
“I didn’t see it, he said.”
Neither did I now that the goggles were off.
I put them back on, and a few seconds later I could see the light beam moving up toward us. I took them off and couldn’t see the light.
Immediately I knew that someone was below, traveling with night vision and using an infrared light only visible with night vision technology.
The drug activity warning hit me and I readied to retreat. I knew whoever was down there was not listening for bugling elk like we were.
Just as I shouted for Dad to throw the gear back in the SUV, headlights of a vehicle came on about 3/4 mile ahead of us.
We were on one side of a logging road that cut across a mountain.
This was on the other side of the mountain road. Someone had been signaled.
We shoved our gear into the SUV and sped out of there, but by the time we hit the road so did the truck from the other side. They were headed straight for us. At one point I was going 80 down the mountain, and they were just a few feet away—literally an arm’s length from hitting us.
I knew that was their goal.
After what seemed like forever we got to the base of the mountain on one of the main roads going toward Willow Creek. As soon as we turned back toward that little city, they turned back up the mountain.
Had I not went with my gut feeling, we might have been killed or at least gotten into a very tense situation.
Well, being chased down a mountain is pretty tense, isn’t it?
Over the years I have learned a few things about staying safe in the woods from people with bad intentions. Please share this with others.
It could save their lives.
#Bad Vibes: If you feel bad about going into an area don’t go. I am a follower of Christ. I believe sometimes this is the Holy Spirit telling me to stay away. You may not believe that, but just call it a “gut feeling” and go with it.
#Never Alone: As much as I love to be in the distant forest alone with my camera—don’t you do it. Always bring someone along. Preferably someone who is experienced in the woods. You are far more likely to get hurt by evil people if you are alone.
#Pack Heat: If it’s legal where you are then use your Second Amendment right, and carry a firearm. Make sure you are trained in its use and be prepared to do what is necessary.
Better you defend yourself against a maniac than become a statistic. Also, carry a large knife with you. In close quarters it could save your life.
#Study the Area: The Internet is a great tool for studying areas. If you find out an area is a high drug trafficker area for, for example; avoid it like the plague.
I have several areas I no longer frequent because of this issue.
#Stay Calm: If you do encounter people in the woods who seem uneasy or a bit shifty, stay calm. Getting angry or showing fear is a good way to trigger someone who has violent tendencies.
#Travel Plan: Leave your spouse or close friends a travel plan and let them know the points you plan to explore. Give them a time frame. Let them know to call for help if you have not returned by a certain time or day.
#Strategic Parking: Always park your vehicle facing out of the area as you check out. In a tight spot, you don’t want to have to back up and turn around during a retreat. Also park in a spot in a clear area that you can see from a distance. If someone is waiting on you or has moved into the spot, it will give you a chance to assess the situation and prepare.
#Don’t Try to be a Hero: If you see strangers poaching in the woods at night for example, don’t be a hero and try to stop them. They are armed and probably will use their weapons on you if you try to stop them. Call and report activity to local game wardens and get out as quickly as possible.
#Buy And Carry A Beacon: I carry a Spot-X beacon that will alert all rescue personnel at the touch of a button. Don’t rely just on a cell phone. Get a beacon of some kind too.
#Talk To Locals: Not all information is on social media. Talking to locals in a gun shop or sporting goods store can give you good intel on the local region.
Seeking wildlife in the mountains and forest is one of the most exciting things a person can do, but it has its share of dangers. Keep these tips in mind and you should be available to avoid any serious trouble.
After studying a map, I was probably 10 miles or so from the actual Murder Mountain documented in the series but deep in a county with many missing people, murders and mayhem.
Do you have any harrowing stories of running into dangerous people in the woods? If so, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Well, Texas used to have the Rio Grande cutthroat,” she said.
The only trout I was aware of living on the Gulf Coast-speckled, sand, and Gulf trout, and they are not true trout anyway.
They are members of Sciaenidae, not the Salmonidae family.
Then it hit me. In the early years of my career as a wildlife journalist, I remembered coming across a study on this issue, but in the first half of a career spent more in saltwater than streams, it was not a priority.
Now it was.
A 1991 study by Gary C. Barrett and Gary C. Matlock called “Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout In Texas” provides conclusive evidence this species of trout once dwelled in certain areas in western Texas.
Historic records provide evidence that Rio Grande cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki virginalis) were indigenous to some Texas streams. This information includes railroad survey reports and several accounts in a major sporting publication of the late 1800s, including a drawing with color description. Published accounts continued through the mid-1900s, after which man’s activities made these streams unsuitable for trout survival.
The study notes that because of the locations of the populations, the trout would have to have lived and reproduced in Texas, which would make them true natives.
These locations, including the Devil’s River, Lampia Creek, and San Felipe Creek, were spring-fed streams of relatively high flow before human settlement.
Rio Grande cutthroat are stunningly beautiful fish that currently live in New Mexico and southern Colorado.
While they no longer live in Texas, is it possible they could come back with concerted conservation efforts?
The species was part of a discussion on native stream species restoration at a Texas Parks & Wildlife Department hearing in 2014, and there is support for recovery among fly fishers who are aware of the species Texas past.
This story came about through a conversation about the Western Native Trout Initiative, which is a public-private Fish Habitat Partnership that works collaboratively across 12 western states to conserve (protect, restore, and recover) 21 native trout and char species.
Sometimes it merely takes talking with someone to change perspective on an issue and open one’s eyes to the amazing wonders of nature.
I’ve caught thousands of speckled, sand, and Gulf trout in Texas waters, rainbows in Arkansas and browns in New York but to catch a Rio Grande cutthroat in their native waters…that would be a whole new experience.
Look for more on native trout, including the Rio Grande cutthroat in the coming weeks and months.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a killer-no doubt.
It has caused the death of thousands of whitetail, mule deer, elk and other deer in numerous states and at least two Canadian provinces.
Yet there is some skepticism over what precautions should be taken to prevent its spread.
Several states have considered bans on natural urine-based scents common in deer and elk hunting across America.
Many hunters consider them vital to their hunting success during the rut period when sex-based scents can lure help lure big bucks and bulls into shooting range.
Last week I spoke with Sam Burgeson, the President of Wildlife Research Center and he said his company along with Tink’s are using a special test to detect any possible CWD risk before the product leaves the factory.
He said a commercial laboratory began testing deer urine for the scent companies in 2019, enabling two of the industry’s largest manufacturers to test 100 percent of their natural deer urine products before releasing them to the marketplace.
The laboratory company CWD Evolution has expanded and is testing products for commercial scent manufacturers. Products that have been tested will be authorized to include the “RT-QuIC Tested“ logo.
“We have made major investments as a company to ensure that our products are safe” said Sam Burgeson, President of Wildlife Research Center.
“It is frustrating that government regulators are either ignoring these advances or are unaware that these technologies are readily available. Our industry has not stuck our heads in the sand on this issue but have rolled up our sleeves and taken action to address the very real CWD concerns.”
Burgeson said urine producers participating in the Archery Trade Association’s Deer Protection Program are using best practices to ensure CWD stays out of their herds, and several states have adopted regulations that allow urine sourced from these facilities to be used by hunters.
“Louisiana has adopted regulations that require RT-QuIC testing, and it is hopeful that other states will follow their lead rather than pursuing blanket bans that prohibit traditional hunting methods and would hurt responsible hunting product companies,” he said.
Burgeson said states proposing bans are getting their recommendations from a document created by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in 2018 that recommends a series of best management practices for dealing with CWD.
He said it did not include recommendations from the deer scent industry.
CWD is real. CWD is a problem. But CWD in many ways is mysterious.
There is still much speculation about its long-term impact, potential reach and even how it can spread.
It is currently causing changes in the way wildlife managed.
Texas recently adopted a policy of no longer translocating mule deer which are sometimes moved from the Panhandle to Trans Pecos or from one part of those two regions. They don’t want to risk CWD transmission.
Montana recetnly completed a survey that showed 86 positives in a test that included 86 whiteails, 53 mule deer, two moose and an elk. That state is seeking more ways to detect and curtail CWD.
It is good to see members of the hunting industry taking positive steps to stop its spread and further encroachment on the hunting lifestyle.
Consider this a strike against CWD and a positive strike against a force that is as complex and controversial.
Remote areas are often the most peaceful but due to the isolation can be extremely dangerous.
My goal is to educate people on what can happen in these areas and how to be prepared so that all deep woods hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing trips are safe.
That will require bringing to light some uncomfortable facts. And it will also involve creating a system of proactive safety.
I see these human-related threats falling into four categories.
*Idiot Hunters: These are those rare , unethical, clueless hunters who should not be in the woods (and give the rest of us a bad name). Every years stories of people shooting someone because they heard something coming through the bushes. This is probably statistically the most dangerous human threat because of the widespread nature of hunters in America.
*Poachers: Encountering a poacher in the woods can be dangerous if they assume you will turn them in or if you make the mistake of confronting them instead of law enforcement handling the duties. It’s not as dangerous as it is in Africa where organized crime and even terror cells are involved in high stakes rhino and elephant poaching but it is a potential threat.
*Drug Trade: Finding meth labs and pot farms is not good. People do not want their operations found out and will go to any length to stop someone from squealing.
*Predators: This is the highest level. This is coming across someone hunting humans whether to rape, kill or terrorize.
There is no way to tell if the Bundy inscription at the beginning of the story was actually made by that monster but think about what would happen if you had stumbled upon him carving into a tree with knife in hand.
Would you be ready to defend yourself? Would you even be suspect of this person?
There are lots of questions that need answering and we will do that here and on my other media platforms throughout 2020.
The Wildlife Journalist® and Higher Calling blog publisher Chester Moore was awarded the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF) “Advocatus Magni Award” for being an outstanding advocate of wild turkey conservation and hunting.
Moore received the award at the NWTF Texas banquet in College Station, TX and said it a true honor to be recognized by such a prestigious organization and for something he believes in wholeheartedly.
“As turkeys go, so do America’s forests. If we get turkey conservation right then everything from whitetail deer to gopher tortoises and wild sheep benefit,” he said.
In 2019 Moore embarked on a quest to raise awareness to turkey conservation and began by photographing the Grand Slam of turkeys around the nation in one year.
“There’s much more to come. This award inspires me to do even more and explore things like the link between turkeys and sheep in their shared range. It’s going to be a great year,” he said.
The highlight will be taking a group of teen’s from Moore’s Wild Wishes® program into Colorado on a search for wild sheep, turkeys and elk in the mountains.
These Higher Calling Wild Wishes Expeditions will take these young people who have a critical illness or loss of a parent or sibling on a special conservation mission trip to raise awareness to sheep, turkey and elk habitat and conservation issues.