Elk are among North America’s largest mammals. Five feet tall at the shoulder and weighing close to 1,000 pounds, in 1492 elk were the most widely-distributed hoofed animal on this continent. Because of far-sighted restoration efforts begun by Theodore Roosevelt, elk are again prized game animals across the American West.
Not so in Texas where, in a special-interest action passed without debate, the legislature in 1997 declared them a non-game (exotic) animal. Acting on this over the past eight years, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has resolved, in an undisclosed policy, to shoot out elk on all properties managed by themselves. Their management plans and internal memoranda say they intend to reduce numbers as-close-to-zero as possible under the theory that elk are not native and might someday pose a threat to desert bighorn sheep, another native currently making a comeback in far-West Texas. Circle Ranch takes great issue with this elk-elimination policy.
At the center of the elk crisis is the scientific question of whether elk were indigenous in Texas outside the Guadalupe Mountains. Parks & Wildlife says no and we say yes, and point to the numerous Indian cave paintings of elk found across far-West Texas, to early Texas wildlife paintings hanging in the Smithsonian Institute, to reports of elk by pre-1900 travelers, and to elk bones and other remains found across the state during the last century. And to the fact that elk already roamed the Sierra Diablo mountains when we bought Circle Ranch. In fact, elk, bighorn and mule deer are often found together throughout the mountain west, and can be seen thriving together at Circle Ranch.
We documented the conversations, provided data and research obtained under an open records request from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, and are showcasing all of it with this blog.
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