Tag Archives: the wildlife journalist

Doubling Down On Mountain Goats

The blessing of have numerous media platforms is the ability to get conservation messages on mountain wildlife out to a diverse group of people.

When a Texas Fish & Game columnist was not able to turn in a column due to an emergency, I used the space to the readership informed on mountain goat conservation and the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance.

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Mountain goats are truly fascinating creatures who deserve more attention from hunters and those who simply enjoy seeing wildlife.

We will be doing more on mountain goats and other mountain wildlife through a series of expeditions as well as continual communication with the top people at the private, state, tribal and federal level of wildlife management.

Read this article in the Nov. 2019 edition of Texas Fish & Game and don’t forget to check out the podcast with Pete Muennich, founder of the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance we posted here a couple of weeks ago.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Hidden Bighorn Threat?

When discussing issues impacting bighorn sheep in the United States, three main issues dominate the conversation.

  1. Domestic Sheep Disease Transference
  2. Predation
  3. Habitat Loss/Degradation

And those should be the three primary concerns but there is a growing threat in the Western United States.

Feral hogs.

Hogs polluted all water sources they use to some level. (Public Domain Photo)

Originally brought over by Spanish explorers in the 1500s, feral hogs have taken a foothold in 31 states and there is no question they will eventually move into all of the Lower 48.

According to an article published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), feral hogs are a major threat to wildlife through water pollution.

“Water polluted from feral swine wallowing can be contaminated with parasites and bacteria such as giardia, salmonella, and pathogenic E. coli that could be transmitted to humans and other animals. This can happen when feral swine use an agricultural water source, such as an irrigation pond…”

They noted since hogs lack sweat glands, wallowing in mud and water is an instinctual behavior necessary for them to maintain a healthy body temperature.

“Unfortunately this behavior has cascading impacts, not only to water quality in individual streams, ponds, and wetlands, but to entire watersheds and ecosystems.”

Looking at a current distribution map, it is easy to see hogs are already established in the entirety of desert bighorn habitat in Texas and California and are also growing in numbers in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon.

In drought years in particular hogs will impact ponds, stock tanks, streams and guzzlers. These of course are crucial to bighorns and other wildlife.

Feral hogs can also carry pseudorabies.

According to USDA officials, pseudorabies is a disease of swine that can also affect cattle, dogs, cats, sheep, and goats.

“Pseudorabies virus (PRV) is a contagious herpesvirus that causes reproductive problems, (abortion, stillbirths), respiratory problems and occasional deaths in breeding and finishing hogs. Infected newborn pigs may exhibit central nervous system clinical signs.”

It is typically spread through direct contact but there are other ways transmission can occur.

“If present on inanimate objects, such as boots, clothing, feed, trucks, and equipment, the virus can also spread from herd to herd and farm to farm.”

Could hogs transfer PRV to domestic sheep that in turn transfer to bighorns?

Maybe.

And that’s a frightening prospect for animals already facing great challenges.

Desert bighorns in particular could be subject to issues with feral hogs during droughts when all water sources in their range are incredibly valuable. Polluted waterholes could be the source of problem for sheep. (Public Domain Photo)

Another potential threat from hogs is predation.

According to officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, “wild hogs may prey on fawns, young lambs, and kid goats.”

There is no question hogs could prey on bighorn lambs, especially desert bighorn lambs in the early days of their life. I have found no concrete evidence of hog/wild sheep predation but it remains a possibility.

I will dig more into hog predation on other ungulates in another post but for now just consider what has been presented here.

No one thought 30 years ago feral hogs would now be hunted in New Jersey and more hogs would be killed by hunters in Texas than whitetails.

Could a growing population of hogs in the western United States put more stress on bighorn populations?

I believe it is a possibility, especially the water pollution and disease aspects.

I’ll let you know more as soon as I do.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Ursus americanus in texas

The tracks were so fresh I expected to see their maker appear at any second.

Nearly as wide as my two hands combined and nearly as long as my foot there was no doubt these were left by a very large black bear.

I kept my camera ready as any encounter would be up close and personal.

In a remote area of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California, I was at a stretch of river where huge boulders lined the shores, creating a rugged maze.

It was wall to wall granite with the ground being a mix of smaller rock and sand.

Reader Al Weaver captured this photo of a black bear near Bay City, TX on the coast over a decade ago. Did this bear travel from the Davis Mountains or some other Trans-Pecos location down to the coast? Or did it cross from Louisiana where a small but growing bear population lives.

The tracks that ended at a huge flat outcropping led me  close to the river. The view was stunning  and I took time to savor the moment but my quarry remained elusive.

An hour later I found myself a few hundred  yards above this location.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught slight movement.

Through the binoculars what looked at first like a bush turned out to be a black bear standing as if something had caught its attention too.

I am not sure if it was the same bear whose tracks I had followed.

Perhaps it had caught scent I left behind but one thing is for sure. The chill that ran down my spine at that moment reminded me of why I pursue wildlife and  on this occasion wildlife might have very well been pursuing me.

After all, I was in this majestic animal’s domain.

Ursus americanus is the most abundant bear on the planet with an estimated 600,000 scattered throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. They are a true wildlife conservation success story but not all is well.

Parts of their historic range are devoid of bear while some others are starting to see the first sign in decades.

My home state of Texas is a prime example.

Ursula americanus eremicus, the Mexican black bear, is protected from harvest in Mexico and over the last two decades they have been spilling into Texas from the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains.

Most of the population is centered around Big Bend National Park but there are verified bear sightings and road kills near Alpine and also as far east as Kerr County.

In fact, bear sightings in the Texas Hill Country have increased dramatically in recent years. One even paid fisheries biologists at the Heart of the Hills Hatchery near Ingram a visit-an area that hasn’t regularly had bear sightings in well over 100 years.

To read the full story that originally appeared in Texas Fish & Game click here.

Bison on the mountain

The unmistakable silhouette of a bull bison (Bison bison) caught my attention.

Enshrouded in a rainy mist, the curving horns, broad shoulders and massive hump were a perfect picture of nature’s strength.

This bison was feeding at an elevation of 10,000 feet. This particular bison had the darkest coat of any the author has ever seen. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Seeing bison, here in Yellowstone National Park was not surprising. After all it is the epicenter of their remaining wild range.

Seeing one near a mountain’s peak at nearly 10,000 feet elevation however was not expected.

I ventured on this particular range in search of bighorn sheep and instead found bison and in this case a rather large one.

The story of the bison in North America is a well-documented example of tragedy and triumph.

A government-subsidized push to slaughter them to remove the lifeblood of the plain’s tribes pushed through the 1800s like a freight train.

With deadly proficiency they decimated the herd from 30 million to an estimated 325.

The author found this lone bull taking a drink from the Gibbon River.

My generation’s view of bison and their habitat mainly comes from the iconic film Dances with Wolves.

Besides introducing the Lakota word for bison”Tatanka” into the vernacular it also gave us the idea that American buffalo are a creature of the flat lands.

The Academy award-winning movie was filmed on plains in South Dakota and Wyoming.

After my Yellowstone encounter, I began looking at locations of wild bison herds and found many are in mountainous areas.

There is the Yellowstone herd that ventures into the high country and bison in the Henry Mountains and Book Cliffs in Utah and other adjoining ranges.

Native Americans used to drive the animals off of cliffs to kill them for food and other provision. Historians call these areas “buffalo jumps”.

The highest known site is at 11,000 feet in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains.

I never did find a bighorn on the trip but I had an incredible time seeing bison on the mountain and also in the valley below.

Before my time at Yellowstone was up, I saw a large herd of bison in the Lamar Valley. They were 3/4 of a mile away but I decided to shoot photos with my 400 mm lens anyway.

There are more bison in this photo than existed at one point in the 1800s.

After a few shots, i decided to take out my Leupold 10X 42 binoculars and count the herd.

I counted 386.

That was more bison than existed in the United States at one point in the 1800s.

It was an emotional moment as it hit me we almost lost these great animals and that visionary hunter-conservationists like Teddy Roosevelt and the Boone & Crockett Club helped save Yellowstone by making it a national park and the bison contained within.

I am grateful we now have as many as 500,000 bison throughout North America and am inspired by plans to put wild herds back into their former range.

Thank God for the bison on the plains and on the mountains.

Chester Moore, Jr.

(NOTE: I will be attending Bison On the Edge, a conference in Santa Fe, NM Oct. 28-Nov. 2. It is hosted by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Pueblo of Pojoaque and will focus on bison restoration among other topics. Be on the lookout for reports from the event here at Higher Calling.)