Early Hunter-Conservationist Legacy Lives On

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 brought protected status to dozens of then-dwindling North American animals.

Among the first listings were the red wolf, black-footed ferret and ivory-billed woodpecker.

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The red wolf was one of the first animals Endangered Species Act listings. These animals were part of the captive breeding program at the Texas Zoo in Victoria. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Had the ESA been established in 1900, the American bison would have been listed along with the wild turkey and pronghorn. All of those are game animals now hunted across multiple states with thriving populations.

“It is unprecedented to have so many species come back in such a big way and it has everything to do with the value put on those species and their habitat by hunter-conservationists like our founder Teddy Roosevelt,” said Keith Balfourd with the Boone & Crockett Club.

Since 1900 bison bounced back from 1,000 to 300,000 and wild turkeys went from 30,000 to nearly seven million.

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Bison from Yellowstone were moved onto what is now the National Bison Range. Creating sanctuaries for wildlife was a cornerstone of early hunter-conservationist actions by groups like the Boone & Crockett Club. (USFWS Photo)

Pronghorns which fell below 20,000 animals now number more than a million.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Whitetail would not have been listed as “endangered” but their population stood at only 500,000 throughout the continent. Now it’s 15,000,000.

Elk were down to 40,000 and now there are more than a million.

Contrast that with the ivory-billed woodpecker which is functionally extinct and the red wolf that exists only through a very small captive-bred introduced population in North Carolina and in various zoos and wildlife centers.

Some ESA-listed animals like the bald eagle have had huge success stories but the rise of game populations managed for hunting rarely gets mentioned in the corporate wildlife media.

One of the first actions of dedicated hunter Roosevelt and the Boone & Crockett Club was to push for the creation of Yellowstone National Park as it was one of the last intact ecosystems with abundant game.

“Roosevelt and the early proponents of Yellowstone faced many obstacles including mining, timber and railroad interests. But they prevailed and Yellowstone’s preservation made it possible to restore dwindling species to other areas,” Balfour said.

Elk from Yellowstone were transplanted to areas where they had been eliminated and so were bison.

As newly created game laws created protection for these animals their numbers began to multiply where they had been stocked. This quickly became the template for wildlife restoration in America.

The key reason for the wild turkey’s monumental increase was bringing excess birds from areas of abundance and releasing into zones with no birds. This practice continues today and has also been a cornerstone for the restoration of everything from bighorn sheep to gray wolves.

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Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials release eastern wild turkeys into the Pineywoods region where poaching and habitat loss have impacted their numbers. (Photo Steve Lightfoot/TPWD)

What Roosevelt, the early members of the Boone & Crockett Club and other early conservationists tapped into was that wildlife needed areas of sanctuary. And once you establish this, excess animals can be taken from there to areas of need.

To some it might seem ironic.

Hunters pushed for huge areas to be shut down to hunting and then helped create licensing systems that ensured hunting as restricted and managed by the government. On top of that they added licenses and excise taxes on sporting goods to fund conservation projects.

But these hunters knew without making sacrifices the animals they pursued would have been gone forever.

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Teddy Roosevelt was the founder of the Boone & Crockett Club and one of the early hunter-conservationists that changed wildlife conservation forever.

They were visionaries and the pioneering work they did gave hope that wildlife could continue to thrive in the face of growing human population and industrialization. It is not a perfect system but it works better than anything else on the planet thus far.

Many have had a hand in wildlife conservation in North America but few have had the impact of early hunter-conservationists like Roosevelt and the Boone & Crockett Club.

Their legacy lives on-in the woods, on the mountains and across the fruited plain.

Chester Moore, Jr.

License For Bighorns

The desert bighorn sheep is now officially a celebrity in Texas.

A new conservation license plate features a stunning bighorn image and those who purchase them for $30 get the satisfaction of knowing $22 goes directly to sheep conservation efforts of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).

The new plate design is a first for TPWD.

“Our longtime plate artist, Clemente Guzman, retired, so we decided to use a photograph of a majestic Bighorn Sheep proudly looking into the desert—and perhaps its future,” said Janis Johnson with the TPWD Conservation License Plate program.

“We conducted an online survey with thousands of hunters and conservationists and had them rank several designs for a Bighorn Sheep plate and a Pronghorn plate. The Bighorn Sheep was the overwhelming favorite.”

Diehard hunters and wildlife enthusiasts know bighorns are native to Texas. The mainstream of those user groups however have no idea about Texas rich bighorn legacy and the amazing conservation efforts it took to get them back on the mountains of the Trans-Pecos.

Wild sheep have been a source of interest to me since I clipped out a statistics chart from a TPWD magazine during my childhood and put it in my dream hunt scrapbook.

I did so to serve as a reminder that we should always put in more than we take.

The author's scrapbook page from a 1976 Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine shows a stunning difference in game populations over a good portion of the 20th Century. Bighorns have made a massive comeback since then due to diligent conservation efforts.
The author’s scrapbook page from a 1976 Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine shows a stunning difference in game populations over a good portion of the 20th Century. Bighorns have made a massive comeback since then due to diligent conservation efforts.

That graph showed 100 bighorns in Texas in 1928 and 40 in 1976, just a few years before I made this clipping.

For a six year old who was already knew about the Grand Slam of sheep this was frightening.

Now according to TPWD Desert Bighorn Program Leader Froylan Hernandez there are around, 1,500 which is at historical highs.

Desert bighorn sheep in Texas (Photo Courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)

TPWD’s leadership along with the vision of the Texas Bighorn Society and help from the Wild Sheep Foundation have helped make this a modern-day conservation success story of epic proportions.

But the future is uncertain.

It will take a broader awareness of their presence in the arid Trans Pecos to support things like proper domestic sheep grazing practices so their diseases do not impact the easily infected bighorns.

This license plate along with the media blitz that has introduced it will go a long way and creating a path for bighorns to find their way into the mainstream Texas wildlife consciousness.

New generations must learn of these great animals and be inspired to help them.

Through our Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center me and my wife Lisa work with children in the foster system and those with terminal illness and who have lost a parent or sibling. We give them the wildlife encounter of their dreams through our Wild Wishes program.

The license plate has given me a chance to integrate wild sheep conservation awareness into our programs.

When I showed a group of kids at foster children’s home e a monster set Gobi argali horns I asked them what type of animal they came from.

The author teaches children at a foster home about wild sheep conservation.

A couple said deer, while one said antelope.

Most of the others said it was a ram.

When told that a ram is a male of a particular kind of animal none of them knew it was a sheep.

Several expectedly thought rams were male goats. (This seems to be a common belief-even among adults.)

When I told them we had wild rams in Texas in the form of the desert bighorn sheep they lit up. And they thought it was even cooler that we will have a special conservation license plate to help them.

That’s just a tiny example of the kind of conversations the new license plate will generate.

Impactful conservation takes awareness, money and creativity and all of those are present in this project.

In the long run the bighorns of Texas will benefit greatly from this small step toward the mainstream.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Wild Sheep foundation-Gray Thornton (PodCAST)

Did you know bighorn sheep are slowly moving back into Oklahoma?

Yep, Oklahoma.

How cool is that?

Have you ever heard of Asia’s Marco Polo Sheep-a massive mountain dweller that lives exclusively in elevations of 12-15,000 feet?

Oh and by the way , the rams sport horns upwards of 60 inches in length.

Learn about this and much, much more in the podcast of my radio program “Moore Outdoors” (May 25 edition) as I interview Gray Thornton, President & CEO of The Wild Sheep Foundation.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Wild sheep have a deep personal meaning in my life dating back to early childhood when I would sit with my Dad and cut out photos of wildlife from Sports Afield, Field & Stream and Outdoor Life and place them in a scrapbook.

Wild sheep and wild turkeys were my favorites.

This photo of a Stone sheep is one of many wild sheep photos in the author’s recently rediscovered childhood scrapbook. Since he cant this photo out of a Sports Afield Stone sheep have been his favorite wild sheep.

Dad passed away of natural causes on a hunting trip with me five years ago but the memories of sitting in his lap and clipping out those photos will never fade.

A recent discovery of one of these scrapbooks in a storage vault brought back a flood of emotions and reminded me that a love of wild sheep has been with me my whole life. Check out the podcast which is from one of the best radio broadcasts in “Moore Outdoors” 20 year history.

Listen to learn about wild sheep of the world and to be inspired by their amazing conservation story.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Pursuing The Higher Calling Of Mountain Wildlife