2019 Chihuahuan Desert Conference Session 1 – Abstracts and Bios

Session 1 – History and Mammals

Topic: Is anthropogenic influence on the environment of northern Chihuahuan Desert sustainable? 

Presenter: Tom C. Alex

Session Abstract: The basic questions facing conservationists hinge upon the human tendency to exploit with little regard for consequence. The record of human activities in the New World, the appetite for conquest and exploitation, and assault upon the native New World resources brings to question whether humans are capable of wisely occupying, using, and maintaining the desert in a sustainable condition. Under increasing population, the pressure to further exploit the natural resources is increasing exponentially. This presentation draws upon the record of human history to bear upon this question of sustainability.

Thomas C. Alex holds a bachelor’s degree with dual majors in Cultural Anthropology and Fine Arts from Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas obtained in 1978 and has two years graduate level studies in Archeology from the same university. From 1977 through 1979, Tom worked as a Contract Archeologist for archeological surveys in east Texas and Louisiana associated with municipal projects in the cities of Kilgore and Texarkana, and lignite strip mine operations in Marshall, Texas and Natchitoches, Louisiana. In 1978, he was the Archeological Field Supervisor for excavations of the Spanish Colonial site Mission Dolores de los Ais, San Augustine, Texas. Between 1978 and 1979, he was Archeological Research Assistant at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches Texas.  In 1979, Tom was Archeological Field Supervisor for excavations at the Washington Square Mound Site in Nacogdoches, Texas. From 1983 until his retirement in 2014, Tom served for 31 years as the Park Archeologist for the National Park Service at Big Bend National Park. In his retirement, Tom provides cultural heritage consulting services.

Topic: Unraveling the Mysteries of Mountain Lions in Texas

Presenter: Dr. Patricia Moody Harveson

Session Abstract:
Mountain lions are an apex predator that once ranged throughout the US. Their range in now limited to the western US and an isolated population in Florida. While mountain lion sightings can still be found in central and eastern US, Texas is at the eastern edge of their breeding range. Mountain lions in Texas are primarily restricted to western and southern regions with the largest population in west Texas. Past research has occurred on private lands in south Texas and public lands in west Texas. More recently, the Borderlands Research Institute at Sul Ross State University has focused its research on the privately-owned ranches of the Davis Mountains. We captured and monitored 23 mountain lions and collected >25,000 locations from satellite-enabled GPS collars to estimate lion movements, home ranges, habitat use, and dispersal. We also investigated >200 mountain lion kill-sites to document prey selection and diet composition. Our findings give insight into the impacts and persistence of this mysterious animal in the west Texas ecoregion.

Dr. Patricia Moody Harveson is the James A. “Buddy” Davidson Charitable Foundation Endowed Chair for Conservation Biology at Borderlands Research Institute and a Professor in the Department of Natural Resource Management at Sul Ross State University. Patricia teaches and serves as advisor for the Conservation Biology Program. Her research interests are carnivore ecology, systems analysis and modeling, environmental policy, and landscape ecology.  Patricia has been a researcher and educator at Sul Ross for over 12 years.  Her current research is focused on the Trans-Pecos ecoregion and includes mountain lion ecology and predator-prey interactions, kit fox distribution and intraguild interactions, the use of camera traps for long-term monitoring of mammal diversity and distribution through the Carnivore Monitoring Network, and conservation planning using engagement and science for energy development in the Big Bend region.


Topic: El Paso Sierra Club efforts to return the Mexican wolf to the Texas Wild

Presenter: Rick LoBello

Session Abstract:  The last two documented reports of Mexican wolves killed in Texas were made in 1970. One was shot from the Cathedral Mountain Ranch south of Alpine and one was trapped from the Joe Neal Brown Ranch located at the point where Brewster, Pecos, and Terrell counties meet.

Efforts to return the Mexican wolf to the Texas wild have been ongoing since 1982 when the US Fish and Wildlife Service published the first Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan.  In 2006 a Defenders of Wildlife report Places for Wolves: A Blueprint for Restoration and Recovery in the Lower 48 States, Defenders reviewed existing studies of wolf suitability for the continental United States and recommended a number of areas in the southwest including Big Bend National Park.  Over the past 37 years thousands of people have shown their support for a recovery effort in Texas including over 20,000 people in El Paso who over the past two years joined an El Paso Sierra Club letter writing campaign asking Carter Smith, Executive Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife, to help gain support for such a plan.  After sending ten boxes of letters to Smith and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Commissioners, there has been no response. This report describes Mexican wolf recovery advocacy in Texas since the formation of the Mexican Wolf Coalition of Texas in 1990.

Rick LoBello works at the El Paso Zoo as Education Curator and as the chair of Zoo’s conservation committee. His passion in life is helping to save endangered species and their related habitats. He has worked in the field of conservation education since 1973 when he started his career as Zoological Curator at the Kansas City Museum of History and Science.  For nearly 25 years he worked as a park ranger and Executive Director at four national parks including Big Bend, Yellowstone, Guadalupe and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks.  Since coming to work at the El Paso Zoo in 2002 his main goal has been to help people in El Paso connect with the animals that live there and to encourage them to take specific actions in their personal lives to help the zoo with its mission of saving endangered species.  He is actively involved with many environmental groups like the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition and the Greater Big Bend Coalition.  He also volunteers with many other groups including the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition. In 2016, he encouraged the coalition to move in the direction of asking President Obama to declare the Castner Range of the Franklin Mountains as a National Monument. Several years earlier he crafted the environmental platform for then Congressional candidate and past Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.  Today his two most important projects are advocating for the reintroduction of the wolf into the Chihuahuan Desert eco-region and helping to establish the long-proposed US Mexico International Park.

Topic: Pronghorn Translocations in the Trans-Pecos: A Summary of Success

Presenter: Dr. Carlos Gonzalez, Contributors: Louis A. Harveson, Jacob C. Locke, Howard Pugh, Borderlands Research Institute for Resource Management, Shawn S. Gray, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Session Abstract: Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) populations in North America were once estimated at nearly 30 million.  However, populations declined to 25,000 individuals in 1924.  Within the Trans-Pecos region of Texas, pronghorn were once as numerous as 17,000 individuals.  However, population declines began to occur in the 1980s with numbers falling below 3,000 in 2012.  Currently, a main contribution  to successful recovery has been large scale translocations.  Since the early 1920s over 30,000 pronghorn have been translocated in 17 states.  In Texas, translocation of surplus pronghorn from the Texas Panhandle to Marfa and Marathon grasslands were conducted in January–February 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018.  We used GPS data from allocated collars on translocated pronghorn from multiple translocations to establish annual and seasonal home range estimates and movements.  To assess cattle grazing effects on vegetation, and carrying capacity estimates vegetation sampling has been done during the cool-dry, warm-dry, and wet seasons.  Vegetation samples were analyzed to assess differences in plant biomass, species diversity, and nutritional composition.  Preliminary results show movement restrictions from anthropogenic causes such as fences and highways, as well as the negative effects of brush encroachment causing rangeland degradation.  Also, we have found differences in pronghorn diets because of seasonal variation of forage availability and cattle grazing impacting production and diversity of pronghorn forage.  The knowledge gained from this study will be used by wildlife biologists and landowners alike to continue to improve management for pronghorn in the Trans-Pecos.

Carlos “Lalo” Gonzalez is the Nau Endowed Assistant Professor in Habitat Research and Management. He was born and raised in Northern Mexico where he was in contact with ranching activities since a young age because of the family heritage. Prior to his position with BRI, he graduated in 2011 with a BS in Wildlife and Range Management from Texas A&M-Kingsville. During his undergraduate career, Lalo was employed by the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute as a research technician, primarily focused in white-tailed deer and habitat interactions. In 2015 he earned his MS degree from Sul Ross State University in Natural Resource Management. The focus of his thesis research was the survival and nesting ecology of scaled quail in the Chihuahuan Desert. After receiving his MS he worked on his PhD in Wildlife and Fisheries Science from Texas A&M University. During this time he focused his dissertation in bighorn sheep restoration in Texas, specifically studying survival, population dynamics, and habitat use and distribution. Lalo is only the second student from Sul Ross State University – Natural Resource Management Department to partake in a cooperative doctoral program with Texas A&M University. During his studies with the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute, he assisted on ecological monitoring of military lands in the Chihuahuan desert conducting baseline biological surveys and ensuring compliance with environmental policies. He has a broad interest in population dynamics modeling, spatial/landscape ecology, and rangeland ecology and management.

Topic: Evaluation of a Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Restoration via Translocation in the Trans-Pecos Ecoregion of Texas

Presenter: Barbara Sugarman.  Contributors: Bonnie J. Warnock, Patricia M. Harveson, Sean P. Graham, Sul Ross State University and Russell L. Martin, Texas Parks and Wildlife

Session Abstract: Prairie dog (Cynomys spp.) populations throughout North America have declined because of sylvatic plague (Yersinia pestis), shooting, poisoning, and habitat conversion. To aid this keystone species, wildlife managers have used translocation to restore prairie dogs to areas of extirpation. In this study, we translocated black-tailed prairie dogs (C. ludovicianus) to a site on private property 60 km from Alpine, TX. We prepared the translocation site by installing nesting boxes, tubes, and retention baskets and trimmed surrounding vegetation to a height of 15 cm or less to prevent the immediate dispersal of the prairie dogs. The prairie dogs were captured from Marathon, TX (n = 156) and from Lubbock, TX (n = 59); all 215 prairie dogs were translocated to the same site. The prairie dog population at the translocation site was regularly monitored post-translocation and predators were removed from the site. Vegetation was measured pre-translocation and post-translocation to assess the ecological impacts of prairie dog reintroduction. Herbivory of honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) at the translocation site was observed. Fecal samples (n = 48) from prairie dogs were taken to measure glucocorticoid levels during different times throughout the translocation process, including the capture of the prairie dogs from Marathon, TX and at 2 week, 4 weeks, and 8-12 weeks post-translocation at the translocation site. This study will help wildlife managers with future translocations of prairie dogs and will aid in the restoration of black-tailed prairie dogs to their extirpated habitat in the Trans-Pecos ecoregion of Texas.

My name is Barbara Sugarman and I am from San Diego, California.  I earned my undergraduate degree studying Forestry at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff (AZ). Since then, I have lived in Fort Collins (CO), Cedar City (UT), and Alpine (TX).  I have always been interested in nature and wildlife since early childhood.  As my education progressed, I fell in love with wildlife management, specifically conservation.  My specific area of interest is in small mammals, although I also enjoy working with other animals. I have worked mostly with the federally threatened Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens), the federally endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), and the American pika (Ochotona princeps). For my master’s thesis project with Borderlands Research Institute and Sul Ross State University, I am researching black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) restoration via translocation in the Trans-Pecos ecoregion. I see myself working as a wildlife biologist for a state or federal wildlife agency after completing my degree. In my personal life, I love to hike with my dog, Champ, and my cat, Zuko. I also love to backpack in the wilderness, ski, and travel with my husband, Patrick.


Topic: Monitoring Mexican long-nosed bats at Emory Cave using pit tags and thermal image technology


Presenter: Loren Ammerman

Session Abstract: Leptonycteris nivalis (Mexican long-nosed bat) is an endangered, migratory, nectarivore that occurs throughout much of Mexico, and is known from only two colonies in the United States. From 2008 to 2018 infrared thermal imaging methods were used annually during the first week of July to record the emergence of L. nivalis from Emory Cave in Big Bend National Park to evaluate trends in colony size. Additionally, to understand how L. nivalis use this cave roost, 313 bats were captured and PIT-tagged in the summer months beginning in 2014. Movements of bats were detected using a Biomark antennae cable at the cave entrance. Census results ranged from a low of 294 to a high of 3238 (average of 2062) individuals and no clear increase or decrease in the size of the colony has been observed. Environmental conditions (e.g. drought, hurricanes) and moon phase during each census varied among years and likely influenced the results. Across all years, the earliest arrival to the cave was 12 April and the latest PIT tag detection was 1 September. Individuals were in the roost area an average of 26 days (excluding individuals only detected a single day in a season), with the maximum time spent in the area by an individual being 43 days.  Each year the bats arrived to the cave gradually over several weeks and population size peaked in late June/early July, then declined as the summer progressed toward the end of August.

Loren K. Ammerman is Professor of Biology at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas and coauthor of the book Bats of Texas.  She has been working to understand the bat community in Big Bend National Park since 1996 and maintains a database of more than 7600 bat captures to monitor species trends over the last 24 years. She has mentored 29 graduate student thesis projects, advised 24 undergraduate research efforts, published 51 articles in peer-reviewed journals with students and colleagues, and received 23 research grants. Her projects with students range from documenting distributions of species to life history investigations (such as diet analyses, roosting ecology) to population genetics and molecular systematics of mammal species. She teaches courses in diverse topics such as Cell and Molecular Biology and Advanced Genetics as well as Zoology and Natural History of Bats. Ammerman also serves as the Curator of Genetic Resources in the Angelo State Natural History Collection.

Topic: Mule Deer of Chihuahua; densities and habitat use

Presenter: Dr. Cuauhcihuatl Vital García.  Contributors: Olivas-Sánchez Patricia2, Quiñonez-Martínez Miroslava2, Lavín-Murcio Pablo2, Enríquez-Anchondo, Irma2.Departamento de Ciencias Veterinarias, Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez, Cd Juárez Chih.2. Departamento de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez, Cd Juárez Chih.

Session Abstract: Chihuahua state is home of two deer species, white tailed and mule deer. Both species are considered game species and have been extracted both legally and illegally in the recent decades. Recent climate conditions and anthropogenic conditions have affected drastically local populations. Our goal is to monitor mule deer population in Chihuahua State through the study of density and habitat use. We monitored populations at several ranches through both night census and feces census and further performed a retrospective study on personal records of ranchers (2000-2010). Furthermore, we monitored habitat use of six translocated mule deer tracking their movements every month for up to one year.  Regarding active census we found that active management is beneficial for mule deer populations, our results find a higher density at ranches that utilize active techniques to enhance wildlife habitat as compared to others that are not actively protecting wildlife, densities ranged from 0.3-2.9 deer/km2.  Furthermore, our retrospective study showed that mule deer population show a healthy female to male ratio (2:1) suggesting that although population numbers are not ideal, mule deer numbers are healthy and is very possible to bring populations to healthy numbers. Additionally, we observe that male and female density respond different to the severe drought Chihuahua underwent. Overall our results suggest that mule deer populations in Chihuahua are healthy and can thrive with some management actions.

Dr. Vital a native from Mexico City, obtained her B.S. Biology from UTEP and her Ph.D. from Indiana University. She is currently employed at Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juárez in the Veterinary department where she teaches animal behavior, animal welfare and wildlife management both at undergraduate and graduate levels. Her research focus is Chihuahua wildlife, she has worked with mule deer, white tailed deer, bison, prairie dogs, coyotes, kangaroo rats and reptiles among others.

Dr. Vital has more than twenty journal publications on different wildlife topics. She is currently collaborating with different groups on lizard evolution research, urban birds’ conservation, and deer ecology research. She is member of the National Researcher System since 2011 and has mentored 12 undergraduate and 10 graduate theses.


Topic: Borderland Jaguars: Why There Are Jaguars in Mexico, but Only a Few in the U. S.

Presenter: Diana Hadley

Session Abstract: Jaguars are endangered throughout their international range, with Mexico’s population estimated at a minimum of 4000 individuals country-wide.  Close to the US/Mexico international border, the planet’s northernmost breeding jaguar population is protected on reserves and on scattered conservation ranches in Sonora and Chihuahua.  During the nineteenth century, the US jaguar population extended from Florida to California, with verified jaguar records as far north as the Grand Canyon and southern Colorado. During the past three decades, however, only a few jaguars – presumed to be young males exploring for new territory – have been sighted in Arizona and New Mexico. This discussion presents some possible reasons for the disparity between current and historic jaguar occupation in the US and ponders the crucial question: if jaguars were formerly present throughout the southern tier of US states and continue to occupy habitat in northern Mexico similar to that of Arizona and New Mexico, why do they no longer persist in former US habitat?

Four possible reasons come to mind. South of the border in Mexico, habitat is more compatible with jaguar needs; human population density is lower and infrastructure less developed; predator control programs have been less efficient; and land-holding patterns favor wildlife to a greater degree than in the US, with less urban sprawl and more compact villages.  Focusing on the last two points, this talk makes a comparison between the historical predator control practices and the settlement preferences of the two countries.  The talk concludes with recent scientific studies and efforts for binational wildlife conservation and corridor protection. The presentation is amply illustrated with diagrams and beautiful photos.

Diana Hadley is the former operator of a family cattle ranch on the Mexican border in Hidalgo County, NM.  She has degrees in archaeology and history from the University of Arizona and Washington University. She retired from the University of Arizona, where she served as Associate Curator of Ethnohistory and Director of the Office of Ethnohistorical Research at the Arizona State Museum. She specializes in the history of land use and ecological change and has published government reports, edited volumes of Spanish colonial documents, and articles on the history of the US/Mexico borderlands. While living on an active cattle ranch her interest in wildlife management and in finding resolutions to predator issues led to conservation work in Mexico and to the establishment of the Northern Jaguar Reserve, where the surrounding ranches cooperate with the reserve in wildlife conservation through the groundbreaking Viviendo con Felinos program.


Topic: Voices of the Chihuahuan Desert:  History, Culture, and our Relationship with our Home

Presenter: Gus Sanchez

Session Abstract: Throughout history, people from different cultures have lived in the Chihuahuan Desert.  While some cultural groups have successfully lived here for thousands of years, the long-term success of our present approach to living here in the Chihuahuan Desert is still being determined.  One of the most basic characteristics of a successful culture is the incorporation of activities and traditions that allow the people to survive in the environment in a sustainable manner.  The relationship between the people and their environment holds lessons of long-term survival that are relevant today.  This presentation will focus on the relationship between the historical cultures of the Chihuahuan Desert and the lessons learned by past cultures of the Chihuahuan Desert, and how we can apply them today.


Topic: Agave Flower Visitation by Pallid Bats in the Big Bend Region of Texas

Presenter: Virginia Jaquish. Contributor: Loren K. Ammerman, Angelo State University

Session Abstract: Pallid bats, Antrozous pallidus, though primarily gleaning predators, are known to consume nectar of cardón cacti, Pachycereus pringlei, and act as effective pollinators of this species in the Sonoran Desert.  It is unknown whether a similar nectar feeding behavior may be occurring in the Chihuahuan Desert of southwest Texas, where several researchers have captured pallid bats covered in pollen. We collected pollen samples from pallid bats in Brewster County, Texas each month between April and August 2018. A total of 77 pallid bats were captured. Clear tape was used to collect pollen density samples from 67 pallid bats and fuchsin gel cubes were used to collect samples for pollen identification from 60 pallid bats. Of the 67 bats sampled with tape, 56 had substantial pollen densities on their wings. Pollen-covered pallid bats were captured in every month sampled; however, mean pollen densities in June were significantly lower than pollen densities in April and July. The pollen collected in all samples was identified as Agave pollen. Two Agave species occur in this region of Texas, Agave havardiana and Agave lechuguilla. A linear discriminant analysis (LDA) was used to distinguish pollen of A. havardiana and A. lechuguilla using measurements from reference collection pollen. The LDA classified 701 of 723 of the pollen grains as A. lechuguilla based on posterior probabilities of >0.5. Additional evidence from infrared video footage collected in August of 2018, indicates that pallid bats are becoming covered in A. lechuguilla pollen as a result of nectarivory.

Virginia G. Jaquish was born and raised in Ohio and mostly grew up in Granville, Ohio. She attended college at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Zoology. After graduation, Virginia spent a year in the AmeriCorps New Jersey Watershed Ambassadors program and was stationed at the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association in Pennington, New Jersey. She then decided to live abroad and spent a year in Hanoi, Vietnam teaching English as a second language to children and teenagers. Virginia explored Vietnam by motorbike and travelled in Cambodia and Thailand. After returning to the United States, she worked as a biological technician for an environmental consulting firm for 4 years. During this time, she worked on a variety of bat-related projects in a total of 12 states and developed a love of bats. Virginia decided to continue her education at Angelo State University (ASU) after meeting Dr. Loren Ammerman at the North American Society for Bat Research in 2017. While pursuing her master’s degree, she conducted research in Big Bend National Park, worked as a bat wrangler for a wildlife film about pallid bats, attended conferences in the U. S. and Mexico, and went on an amazing research trip to Baja California, Mexico. Virginia is currently working as an adjunct instructor at ASU teaching Human Biology for non-majors.