A permit to hunt a desert bighorn ram at Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area was auctioned for $70,000 last week at the annual meeting of the Wild Sheep Foundation. In recent years such permits have brought more — the last two auctioned for $77,000 and $85,000.
Regardless of price, permit sales still raise important funding for sheep research, management and restoration. Also at this year’s meeting, longtime department employee Clay Brewer was inducted into the foundation’s Wild Sheep Biologist Hall of Fame.
Brewer was instrumental in Texas bighorn sheep restoration for some 15 years, including most recently as bighorn sheep program leader, during which time he helped forge key alliances between TPWD, private landowners and support groups like the Texas Bighorn Society. In 2006, Brewer left the sheep restoration effort he loved to move up in the organization and become Wildlife Division regional director out of Brownwood.
Through all these efforts, Texas bighorn restoration efforts are succeeding. A record 991 sheep were observed last August, with the statewide population estimated at 1,200-plus. And in the recent season, a record 13 bighorn sheep hunting permits were allocated. Sheep are expanding from stronghold zones such as Sierra Diablo, Elephant Mountain and Black Gap WMAs into new areas, such as Big Bend National Park.
“It’s not all about hunting,” said Mike Pittman, Wildlife Division project leader for Trans-Pecos WMAs. “Folks in the national park now have the chance to see desert bighorn sheep for the first time in many decades.”