From the Pen of Robert L. Cook
In late August this past summer, an old friend and I spent several days in the Trans-Pecos region of far West Texas. At 4,500 feet elevation, Alpine, Texas, sits in a bowl of peaks all of which approach one mile high, and is one of my favorite towns. We traveled north to Ft. Davis for an afternoon and evening at Indian Lodge and the Davis Mountains State Park, all perched a mile or more above sea level. The area has been blessed with the third year of good rainfall, and was, as they say, as green as Ireland. The air was cool and clear, the grass was thick and deep, and the wildflowers were blooming. We observed an abundant crop of mule deer and pronghorn antelope fawns, and were reminded of those who worry that we have too many - or not enough - predators. Not only are the game species making good recovery after almost a decade of drought, but we continue to get reports of an increasing black bear population in the rough, mountainous region of the area, and that the folks who manage land and who live in the area seem to be proud to have the native bear making a recovery.
Although the black bear is "omnivorous" (that means they'll eat just about anything), the bulk of their diet is vegetation - green grass, forbs, berries, acorns, cactus fruit and such. The black bear of the Trans-Pecos joins another large mammalian predator that has also been doing extremely well in the area for several decades, the cougar or mountain lion. In fact, the mountain lion has become so numerous that individual lions sometimes have to be eliminated to protect domestic livestock and big game animals like deer and antelope. Lion populations must be reduced on release sites in the Trans-Pecos to successfully reestablish the desert bighorn sheep, which was totally extirpated from the area almost 60 years ago. Today the bighorn is back and doing well where habitat is conserved and managed, even though it remains a favorite in the diet of the mountain lion.
I was feeling pretty good and somewhat smug about our wildlife success stories in the Trans Pecos as we climbed out over the highway pass in the Davis Mountains past the McDonald Observatory at an elevation of almost 6,800 feet. My old friend commented that none of this could have been accomplished without the partnership, cooperation, and hard work of the landowners in the area, and I nodded in agreement.
Suddenly, right there, not 25 steps off the highway, stood a new problem, the new challenge to an already difficult environment - a feral hog. This one was solid black, mostly head and front quarters, long straight tail with long black hair, and probably over 200 pounds on the hoof. He just stood there and looked at us. The feral hog is now quite common throughout the region and is beginning to cause serious problems for native wildlife of all varieties and ranching operations.
For those who worry one way or the other about bears, or mountain lions in Texas, I recommend the following; quit worrying, they are doing fine. They are not going extinct, they are becoming more common, and they are spreading across the state. If you want to worry, if you want to become involved, which I hope that you will, worry about feral hogs and their impact on native wildlife. Worry about other feral exotic species such as the aoudad sheep, which compete directly with our native species for a limited supply of preferred forage and habitat.
Get outdoors. Get informed. Get involved.