Are Elk Native to Texas–Historical and Archaeological Evidence for the Natural Occurence of Elk in Texas


This paper began as an effort to persuade Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to cease its efforts to eradicate elk on the state lands which it manages in far-West Texas. Our assumption was that TPWD was acting out of a sincere misunderstanding of science, which could be corrected.


As of October 2017, TPWD says that even though elk are native, they are “invasive”, thus, its eradications will continue. These are not mandated by law. They are followed pursuant to TPWD’s internal policy.


Given the declared intention to continue attacks on this native species by TPWD—the very state agency tasked with protecting Texas’ wildlife—it is past time for the Texas Bighorn Society, the Texas Wildlife Association, the Borderlands Research Institute (domiciled in the same university that has published this peer-reviewed paper) and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to speak up for far-West Texas elk. Collectively and individually, these groups should insist elk be managed according to the North American Wildlife Conservation Model, which each entity pledged to follow. Current elk policy violates six of the model’s seven tenets.


Protectors of wildlife – especially elk – are indebted to Dr. Richardson Gill, without whose scholarship, technical analysis, and stubborn persistence in the face of institutional resistance, these historic and scientific facts about Texas’ elk would not have seen the light of academic publication.

NOTE: This paper is being used with permission of the Journal of Big Bend Studies and Sul Ross State University.  We thank the University, the Journal, and especially its Director, Andy Cloud, for publishing the paper and granting us permission to post it.  The specific attribution is:

Gill, Richardson B., Christopher Gill, Reeda Peel, and Javier Vásquez
2016 Are Elk Native to Texas? Historical and Archaeological Evidence for the Natural Occurence of Elk in Texas. Journal of Big Bend Studies. Alpine, TX: Center for Big Bend Studies, Sul Ross State University.

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  • As someone who grew up in SE New Mexico, I hunted, hiked and camped all over the Guadalupes, Organs, Roblados, and White Mountains. I always found it odd that muleys and elk were rare just over the Texas state line. It seemed obvious that this was from lack of habitat stemming from private ranches and no reintroduction/management at the end of the market hunting days. The claim that SW Texas isn’t natural and historical elk habitat is absurd. The state line doesn’t hold mystical powers preventing elk from crossing it. All I can think is follow the money. Who is benefitting from the current policies and wants them to remain?

    • Dear Matt,

      Yes it goes against all common sense.

      Everywhere we look we see agencies harming the objectives for which they were created. Consider health care, education, border control, trade relations, food safety, which agency tasked with these responsibilities does a good job? In this context, why should NPS, F&WS, BLM be different, and why should TPWD’s elk policy come as a surprise?

      And yet most voters trust the agencies, and are scared stiff of speaking out against them. An inattentive and gullible public has allowed this and only the public, starting with people like you and me can change it. So please speak up and get others to do so as well.

      Thanks for writing.

  • James Davis wrote this in the blog’s “feedback” section. I have posted it with his permission:

    My search for why we are not restoring elk to Texas brought me to your research and website. As an avid Texas elk hunter—for over 35 years—I watch as other states get their help in restoring elk. A large part of that is done by Texas hunters through our memberships in Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF). Can we as a group find a way to get things done here in Texas? I am willing to help.

    I also have a grizzly bear fight story for you if we get the chance.

    To which I responded:

    Hello James,

    Let me start by saying that Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) has done many wonderful things for elk and elk hunters, but here is the ‘rest of the story’ where RMEF and Texas’ elk are concerned. Advancing private lands hunting—a property rights issue—and calling out agencies to benefit private owners is not what RMEF does. RMEF is public-lands oriented for the simple reason that most Western lands are public.

    Its efforts have been to expand public hunting on public lands. Good relations with agencies are essential to this. Expanding public access and hunting has also put it in conflict with private landowners over access. Texas is a private property state. State and federal public lands that elk inhabit in far-West Texas are state and national parks, and wildlife management areas. All these are closed to public hunting. Private landowners are the financial beneficiaries of elk recovery. In order to support Texas’s elk, RMEF would need to openly disagree with agencies starting with TPWD, and make a basic shift towards private landowners.

    RMEF sidesteps the Texas elk restoration issue by saying that they will support Texas’ elk if: (1) the state ever changes the law which says that elk are “exotic” and (2) TPWD ever changes its policy to eradicate all elk on state-managed lands, based on this law. I have that in writing from RMEF’s president.

    This is a cop-out. The Texas law, and TPWD’s policy will not change without advocacy from wildlife conservation groups starting with RMEF. Everybody knows “exotic” and “invasive” are scientifically-bogus elk indictments. But they won’t speak up.

    RMEF’s single largest contingent and funding source is Texas’ elk supporters. RMEF’s Texans are being used as a cash cow by a bureaucracy which is integrated with the federal and state agencies, with whom they will not break ranks. Our universities, so-called wildlife conservation organizations and wildlife agencies are also in some version of this: hunkered down in the tall grass instead of speaking up for Texas’ elk. Obviously, as I have explained, they have reasons they consider sufficient for doing this, but as to the elk themselves, their internal agendas lead to positions and outcomes contrary to their stated purposes.

    Texas members of RMEF could insist on elk advocacy from RMEF. I do what I can with research and the blog. But, others like you must join me in speaking for native Texas elk that cannot speak for themselves. But RMEF local Texas chapter leaders are excluded from advancement and denied support if they take on the central leadership’s position.

    In summary, everyone knows it’s wrong; most everyone is afraid to say so.

    Thanks for writing.

  • Hello. I am a founding board member of the newly established non-profit Texas Lobo Coalition (TLC). We are dedicated to the restoration of the Mexican Gray Wolf to Texas. We are seeking people and organizations whom we can mutually support and benefit. We have a vested interest in restoring elk to Texas, since they are a historical and natural prey source for gray wolves. Has any movement been made on this topic? Has an organization committed to re-designating elk as “native” to Texas been formed or considered? Perhaps we could come together and make this an official initiative of TLC’s. I would love to chat about it if this is something Texas readers are interested in pursuing. God bless.

  • Do the elk have predators where they are being killed? If not, maybe it’s a question of an over-population that is consuming more vegetation than the capacity of the ecosystem to provide habitat for other creatures. Elk were reintroduced to Point Reyes National Seashore where they have no predators. Now animal rights advocates are suing to prevent the herd from being culled so that it doesn’t outstrip available resources. The comment from folks advocating for reintroduction of wolves suggests that might be the case. In the case of PRNS, reintroduction of elk predators is not an option because it is heavily residential, almost suburban. Ungulates should not be reintroduced where they have no predators, IMO.

    • • Yes there are predators. Cougar is the biggest. There are no wolves or bear to speak of.
      • The elk eradication issue has nothing to do with excess numbers. It is invasive species thinking which seeks to eradicate all elk on state-managed lands in far-West Texas.
      • In order to be healthy, systems need (1) keystone grazers to stimulate plant growth, (2) many prey species and (3) many predators. Take out prey and the predators starve and disappear. Take out the predators and the prey overpopulate, destroy habitat, and then implode through starvation and disease. Take out the keystone grazers, prey or predators and the habitat degrades and cannot support prey or predators.
      • Don’t know about subdivisions, but human hunting and human impact are essential to wildlife and habitat health because, for millions of years, hunting by humans and other predators have shaped the world’s habitats and animal communities into what we think of as “natural.”

      Thanks for commenting.

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