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Home | Tag Archives: Borderlands Research Institute (BRI)

Tag Archives: Borderlands Research Institute (BRI)

National Geographic Showcases Film about BRI Mountain Lion Research

Mountain lion research conducted by the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) at Sul Ross State University is featured in a short film produced by Texas filmmaker Ben Masters that is an official selection of National Geographic’s short film showcase.

The film, “Lions of West Texas,” may be viewed on National Geographic’s website by clicking here.

Masters followed in the footsteps of BRI researchers who are studying various aspects of the mountain lions that roam West Texas. Over the course of several months, Masters gathered film footage, interviewed scientists, and created a short film chronicling some of the findings.

“The research data that Borderlands Research Institute is collecting is definitely worthy of National Geographic coverage,” said Masters. “They’re on the cutting edge of wildlife research and are slowly unravelling some of the ecological mysteries that have fascinated Texans for centuries. I look forward to seeing how the data they collect will impact the future of Texas landscape conservation and wildlife management.”

BRI began the research project in 2011 after area landowners began asking questions about mountain lions and their role as apex predators in the Davis Mountains. Over 95% of the funding for the project came from private citizens and foundations.

So far, researchers have captured and collared 25 adult and sub-adult cats in the Davis Mountains of West Texas and Big Bend National Park. The satellite GPS collars document the location of the animals every three hours and the information is transmitted to BRI computers daily.

Research objectives include learning more about predator-prey dynamics, diet composition, and use of lion kill sites by scavengers such as vultures and coyotes. Researchers are also evaluating the most efficient and effective way to determine density and population size. Testing techniques include using various types of cameras and studying the animal’s droppings (scat). Early findings include some encouraging news about mountain lions and feral hogs.

“While looking at prey selection by mountain lions, we were pleased to note that nine percent of all kills that we investigated were feral hog,” said Dr. Patricia Moody Harveson, who is the BRI research scientist leading the study and a Professor of Conservation Biology at Sul Ross University. “Feral hogs are a relatively new invasive species in the Davis Mountains which cause a lot of damage, so it’s good to see that mountain lions are helping to reduce their numbers.”

BRI fields numerous questions from landowners about how often mountain lions kill livestock. The study investigated more than 200 kill sites in the Davis Mountains.

“We suspected that depredation on livestock was low, but were surprised that out of all of the sites we investigated, no livestock were found,” said Harveson. “This doesn’t mean that they are never killed by mountain lions, but it does suggest that in the Davis Mountains, livestock depredation is rare.”

Bert Geary is a BRI research technician working with Harveson on the study. He worked closely with Masters during the field shoots for the film. The film premiered during the recent Wild Texas Film Tour through 13 Texas cities.

“I can really see Ben Masters’ passion about mountain lions shine through in this film,” said Geary. “It was really interesting and exciting to be a part of this documentary and to see how it grew from some rough ideas into the finished film. Being part of the Wild Texas Film tour and getting to talk about mountain lions and answer questions about them with so many differing people has been a great experience.”

In just over a week, “Lions of West Texas” has garnered over one million online views.

“It is truly an honor to help tell their story and spread their research with a film,” said Masters. “I just hope they keep letting me tag along with a camera!”

Borderlands Research Institute Celebrates 10 years of Collaborative Conservation

(Alpine, TX) The Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) at Sul Ross State University is marking ten years of collaborative efforts to conserve one of the most biologically diverse regions of the world: the Chihuahuan Desert in the borderlands of West Texas.

Through research, education, and outreach, BRI has encouraged effective land stewardship throughout the region by providing land managers with the most current scientific information. A steady stream of graduate students has produced new research annually on topics ranging from pronghorn to songbirds.

“Collaboration with our many partners makes our work possible,” said Dr. Louis Harveson, who is the Dan Allen Hughes, Jr., BRI Endowed Director and professor of Wildlife Management at Sul Ross. “With 95 percent of Texas in private hands, our most important partners are the landowners we work with every day. Conservation in Texas begins and ends with private landowners.”

Since BRI’s inception, the institute has graduated more than 60 graduate students, with another 25 currently enrolled. Under the guidance of faculty professors, more than 80 significant research projects have been completed, adding to the body of knowledge that has improved land management practices.

“One of the key things we’ve learned in the last decade is that we need to manage wildlife on a much larger scale,” said Harveson.

“Tracking thousands of radio-collared animals has demonstrated that many species require much larger landscapes than we thought. That means if we want healthy wildlife, we need to work with our neighbors. We all have a responsibility and role to play in conservation.”

Research findings on pronghorn are a case in point. BRI is working with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, landowners and many other partners on a pronghorn restoration project. BRI research insights are driving some of the management decisions.

For example, BRI research data documented that pronghorn frequently make movements in excess of 15 miles within a few days. In addition, one of the more surprising findings is the unwillingness of pronghorn to cross fences.

For decades it was assumed that pronghorn easily negotiated wire fences. It wasn’t until BRI students put GPS collars on the pronghorn and tracked them that scientists and wildlife biologists learned that was not the case. Another study demonstrated the problem could be easily resolved with a simple fence modification.

Since then, TPWD and BRI have spent thousands of hours modifying fences to accommodate pronghorn. In addition, many landowners have voluntarily replaced miles of restrictive fence with pronghorn-friendly fencing.

“In a relatively short amount of time, BRI has grown to be a trusted partner for landowners, ranch managers, conservation organizations, and state and federal agencies,” said Elliott Hayne, BRI Advisory Board Chairman.

“Landowners across the region have allowed BRI students to access more than two million acres of private land for their research projects. Not only has the institute contributed significantly to the body of knowledge about West Texas natural resources, we are also training the next generation of conservation leaders.”

Besides research and education, outreach to land managers is a top priority for BRI. Getting scientific information into the hands of those who can apply it on the landscape improves land management practices across the region. BRI shares knowledge through newsletters, research briefings and landowner workshops.

Every four years, BRI hosts the Trans-Pecos Wildlife Conference, bringing together researchers, wildlife biologists, land managers and landowners to share the latest knowledge about wildlife and their habitat needs.

One of the most noteworthy aspects of BRI’s operation is that it is essentially self-funded through private dollars and grants. The first annual budget in 2007 was only $3,000.

Today BRI is managing almost $3 million in research accounts and has endowments that exceed $3 million.

“It’s a remarkable public-private partnership,” said Dr. Bill Kibler, Sul Ross State University President. “The quality of the research program has attracted support from private donors and foundations that has enabled the program to grow. We are grateful for the support. The Borderlands Research Institute has become the flagship program for the university.”

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