Yucca shreds the landscape, and the stalks of century plants reach skyward, as far as the eye can see, across prime mule deer and desert bighorn sheep habitat. Steep mountain ridges extend deep into the eastern reaches of the Chihuahuan Desert, the largest of North America's deserts, to create a very unique ecotone.
Home to a suite of North American wildlife more commonly associated with the desert southwest, Black Gap also plays host to a variety of other plants and animals that may surprise you; Flocks of migratory waterfowl, black bears and over a dozen separate species of hummingbirds to name a few. No, this is not some faraway place tucked in west of the Rockies. I am talking about Texas. And this remote Texas Parks and Wildlife managed landscape is open for the public to recreate on. More good news folks; Black Gap Wildlife Management Area is primed for a border expansion. TPWD is closing in on plans to purchase over 20 square miles from the Texas General Land Office (Chron.com), with a large chunk of the money coming from the Pittman-Robertson Fund, basically a tax on guns and ammo purchases. This additional acreage is unique in its own right and presents some EXTREMELY exciting opportunities for hunters, anglers, kayakers, and hikers.
With tons of questions on my mind, I had the extreme pleasure of catching up with Texas Parks and Wildlife's Billy Tarrant, who is a field staffer in charge of Region 1. Billy was extremely generous in discussing the potential transaction as well as some specifics regarding the ecosystem.
(M):You mentioned scaled quail; are there other species of quail in the area?
(B):TPWD staff restored Gambel’s quail on a neighboring ranch several years ago and some birds have been recorded on the potential acquisition property.
(M):Are you able to give current estimates of big horns in the area?
(B):Aerial bighorn surveys were recently completed and survey data is still being compiled, but numbers on the WMA appear to be stable or slightly increasing. Last winter 82 bighorn were captured at Elephant Mountain WMA and relocated to Black Gap to bolster this population. Radio collar data indicates that several of these animals are utilizing country encompassed by the possible acquisition.
(M):In such a remote area, are invasive ungulates or plant species existing in the WMA?
(B):There are a limited number of burros and feral cattle that move back and forth between Mexico and the WMA, and occasionally aoudad are sighted in this area. Giant river cane (Arundo donax) is a problematic invasive species along the river.
(M):Are there any land mgmt practices being utilized by TPWD in order to restore land to native habitat? E.g., the “burning back” of live oak thickets/groves in Powderhorn to help restore native prairie grass habitats.
(B):TPWD Black Gap WMA staff have initiated a significant control project targeting Arundo donax along the Rio Grande, and there are ongoing projects targeting creosote and invasive mesquite in areas that were historically thought to be grassland habitat.
(M):What type of wildlife management, or use in general, has been in practice on this land most recently?
(B): It is important to note that this GLO tract has been leased by the Texas Bighorn Society for several years and managed as part of the Black Gap WMA. However, our ability to utilize Pittman-Robinson funds for active management was significantly impaired since the parcel is not owned by TPWD. If the acquisition occurs, the Department’s ability to manage the property is greatly increased. Some possible management endeavors could include the aforementioned brush control efforts and construction of important wildlife water guzzlers to provide year-round water for wildlife.
(M):How long has acquisition of this unit been a goal, are you able to assign a percentage chance this goes through, and how excited are you?
(B):This acquisition has been a goal of the Department’s for at least a decade or more. We are very excited about this important conservation opportunity. However, I am not comfortable assigning a percentage chance of it occurring.
(M):I'm a fly fishing nut..Any fly fishing opportunities in here that you can think of?
(B):Fishing activities along the Rio Grande are typically for catfish. The portion of the Rio Grande that borders the GLO tract contains exceptional scenic value and has been designated part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The public frequently uses this area for canoeing and kayaking.
(M):Are there populations of waterfowl migrating down the central flyway that utilize this habitat?
(B):There are limited numbers of waterfowl that utilize the Rio Grande during the winter and Black WMA is open to hunters during the early teal season.
I want to personally thank Billy Tarrant for all of his time in responding to my questions. For those interested in hunting or even just sightseeing in the WMA, there is a wealth of knowledge on TPWD's website, which you can access here.
Also, it was mentioned that there are public hunting opportunities in the Black Gap WMA. Public hunts in Texas generally require that you purchase a valid hunting license, a migratory AND federal duck stamp if hunting dove or ducks, respectively, as well as an annual public lands hunt permit. These can all be purchased online here. Once you have purchased your applicable licenses, you can peruse the various public hunts that are available on the TPWD website here. The application deadline for the most popular category, gun deer, is September 15. If you didn't know and just missed it, sorry. My timing sucks; but you will be ready next year!
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I am a passionate outdoorsman with over 25 years of hunting and fishing experience across the state of TX.