Trans-Pecos Wildlife Conference Highlights the Vital Role of Private Landownership in Texas

Dr. Louis A. Harveson, the Dan Allen Hughes, Jr., Endowed Director of Borderlands Research Institute at the 2022 Trans-Pecos Wildlife Conference

The 2022 Trans-Pecos Wildlife Conference held at Sul Ross State University August 4-5 drew about 175 attendees for a full day of speakers and panel discussions and optional half-day field excursion to view habitat restoration techniques.

The conference, co-hosted by the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI), Texas Wildlife Association (TWA), and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has been offered about every four years since its inception in 2002.

Themes of partnership, habitat restoration and holistic land management were repeated throughout the event, with acknowledgment given to the prominent role farmers and ranchers have in making wildlife and habitat conservation a statewide success.

“For those who toil to sustainably manage the land, the challenges are great,” noted Romey Swanson, Director of Conservation Strategy for Audubon Texas.

A big challenge facing the agricultural industry is public perception.

“We hear about overgrazing and people think that livestock is bad. But research has shown that grazing is a tool that can be utilized wisely to benefit the land,” said Carlos “Lalo” Gonzalez, the Nau Endowed Professor of Habitat Research and Management at Borderlands Research Institute.

He highlighted research that showed an increase in available forage for pronghorn when livestock was carefully, rotationally grazed. It’s important for land managers to determine their stocking rate and then make a grazing plan, Gonzalez noted, and there are many organizations ready to work with landowners to help develop those plans.

In addition to conference partners TWA, BRI and TPWD, other organizations including USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rio Grande Joint Venture, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, and the Trans-Pecos Grazing Land Coalition, offer technical assistance, management guidance and other resources for land stewards.

With more opportunities on the horizon than ever before, TWA President Sarah Nunley Biedenharn urged attendees to stay optimistic.

“Ecosystem service markets are coming down the pipeline,” Biedenharn said, and the Trans-Pecos region is ripe for the biodiversity market in development.

“It’s the job of the Borderlands Research Institute and Texas Wildlife Association to stay informed about and to help facilitate those opportunities,” said Dr. Louis Harveson, who is the Dan Allen Hughes, Jr., BRI Endowed Director and professor of Wildlife Management at Sul Ross State University.

Communicating the value of private land is a vital component in gaining broad public support for conservation initiatives. Developing opportunities to get people out of urban centers to experience wildlife and the wilderness firsthand on those lands will help meet that challenge, according to Biedenharn. It takes the participation of landowners willing to make that happen, and TWA and organizations like Texas A&M AgriLife are happy to facilitate the process.

TWA’s youth and adult mentored hunting programs offer introductions to hunting for those with no former experience. Additionally, they offer many other educational and experiential outreach opportunities to get urban dwellers out on the landscape. AgriLife offers programs like Birding the Border   to connect landowners to ecotourism opportunities in the birding community. Programs like these are leading the way in providing an outdoors experience to the state’s 85% urban population.  These experiences foster an appreciation for the beneficial roles private lands play in providing wildlife habitat, clean air and water.

TPWD Wildlife Division Director John Silovsky emphasized, “The native wildlife belongs to all the people of the state of Texas, regardless of fence size.”

To learn more about land stewardship resources, visit our Land Stewardship page here.