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.

For more on the story, CLICK HERE:

  • I applaud your pro elk efforts. TPWD is wrong in treating elk as an invading species when it is a native species as you have thoroughly documented. I hate to say this, but if they continue to attempt to eradicate elk, TPWD should be facing a lawsuit.

    • Dear David,

      I appreciate this comment and yes of course you are correct, there should be some way to intervene to block this.

      This is why I believe that these federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, serve a valuable purpose notwithstanding the tremendous costs and the disruptions which they have imposed. The sad fact is that, in Texas, there is no judicial remedy to out-of-control wildlife bureaucracies.

      A system which was set up to protect wildlife and habitat routinely does things that harm both. This is not because individuals within this system are evil or stupid. It is because the system as been taken over by a coalition of Big Agriculture, and its cronies in elected government, the universities and agencies.

      The key to helping elk is to break the system apart.

      Thanks again.

  • I’d have to say that the only real way Elk and Bighorn sheep would compete much would be – IF – they were on overpopulated mis-managed graze. I don’t believe they truly graze the same areas or species for the most part… Like regular “domestic” sheep and Cattle. They graze, if in “Natural” circumstance, on different species and much prefer grazing at different heights; so not competitive but complimentary.

    The problem with “most” fish and game departments that I’ve seen across the west is that their majority interest seems political and not biological. Like their imposition of the WRONG species of Wolf on Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. If they’d just put in the Mexican gray rather than the Canadian beast, the problems up there with the devastation of the Elk herds would be minimal… but politics controls bureaucracies so wisdom has no space.

    … but what the hell do I know? I’m just a wore out old puss gut mountain cowboy.

    • Dear Brian,

      I can’t speak for your area but at our ranch there is no harm done to Desert Big Horn by elk or vice versa. I agree they don’t even get in the same areas.

      And anyway let the predators take care of the problem. I am not familiar with the effect of the gray wolf on elk but if they reduce numbers then they are proving this point.

      Everybody has the bogus invasive species on the brain. The problem is internal agendas as you observe. There is big money and lots of jobs in these eradications.

      Thank you for writing.

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