Big Bend Ranch State Park
April 8th and 9th, 2011
You hear a lot about the US border with Mexico these days, and most of it is not good, but in April about 100 dedicated bighorn enthusiasts made the long trek to the Big Bend region for a few days of hard work and easy fun building guzzlers for the newest herd of Texas bighorns. In December of 2010 forty-six bighorns were transplanted from the Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area to the remote and rugged mountains along the Rio Grande River in Big Bend Ranch State Park. This transplant had been in the works for many years and per usual the Texas Bighorn Society has been involved all along the way doing what had to be done to help insure that this huge investment of time, money, and most importantly wild sheep was a success. Many decades had passed since this area hosted native bighorn sheep, and much had changed since these ridges had seen the hoof prints of bighorns along their rugged spines and the jagged canyons had heard the echoes of rutting rams butting heads to ensure that the strongest among them passed on their genes to a new generation of Texas bighorns.
The Task at Hand
As part of the preparation of this remote area for its newest inhabitants Texas Parks and Wildlife had asked that TBS help with the construction of three water guzzlers near the release site. Big Bend Ranch State Park is unusual for the Chihuahuan Desert country that is home to our Texas herds in that there is an unusual amount of water available naturally. Of course there is the Rio Grande River which forms the southern boundary of the park, and there are several springs within the park itself, but these water sources come with drawbacks for a newly released herd of bighorns. There is a road along the river that presents the possibility of fatal conflicts with automobiles, and many of the springs are in deep canyons where predation is a significant concern and human traffic can be prevalent during some times of the year. As in other areas of their range, it is always preferable to provide varied options that allow the bighorns to feel safe when drinking and make use of as much of their habitat as is possible.
It has always been the intent of the Texas Bighorn Society to step up to the plate when and where the need arises with regard to our bighorn herd, and this was no exception! The call was put out to our reliable volunteer base, and despite the remote location the turnout was nothing short of amazing. We even had a couple set what was surely a new record for miles traveled to a TBS Work Project when Bob & Cynthia Cassell of Wasilla Alaska pulled in and put on their boots and gloves to pitch in with the construction! It seemed that virtually everyone had a five hundred mile or better trip to get here, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of this crowd at all.
As is always the case, there was a great deal of work behind the scenes leading up to what was an exceptionally smooth and speedy project. At the 2010 TBS Roundup John Hope and Barbara Wilson of Hope Well Services purchased a sponsorship at our auction, and a group of Dallas Safari Club members led by TBS Director Mark Kielwasser and including the Andreolas, Beecherls, Beecrofts, Bonds, Estes, Miertschins, Phillips, Schmidt, and Stout families stepped up to purchase another giving us a big head start on paying the bills! And beginning months in advance the Boones and Holloway’s started putting together supplies and doing the prep work that makes these projects possible. In spite of some rather scary health issues arising at the last minute the Coburn’s made sure we were all fed on the mountain, and put together a small auction during the Saturday membership meeting and dinner that helped us raise important money for what was probably our most expensive work project ever. Of course the actual work of putting these guzzlers together was completed as always by our unpaid army of volunteers that never cease to amaze with their commitment to hard work in difficult circumstances so that the bighorns will have a running start in their new home.
The weather was hot and dry, really dry in fact, and the threat of high winds on Saturday lent a sense of urgency to the project beginning on Thursday as the supplies were ferried to the sites. By Friday morning the weather forecast was for winds up to 60 miles per hour on Saturday, and a concentrated effort was made to get everything as close to finished as possible while we had suitable weather for the helicopters to fly people and supplies between the sites. By the end of the day it was almost all over but the shouting. There were still some tools and equipment to get down off of the mountain, but only a little touch-up work here and there to wind up the construction of three conventional guzzlers in record time. Fortunately the winds held off long enough for us to finish things up, and there was time for everyone to kick back and relax a bit before our traditional Saturday night shin-dig! As it turned out those afternoon naps were important as the celebration carried on into the wee hours of the morning.
One Heck of a Time!
I can’t speak for everyone, but it sure seemed like a good time was had by all, and we would like to extend our sincerest thanks to all the folks who made this possible, especially the Texas Parks and Wildlife crew who once again went well above and beyond to involve us in this important work and help cement the bonds of a partnership that has resulted in a bighorn program that is the envy of the nation!