West Texas ranchers aid in falcon reintroduction
By TPWD, Aug 13, 2006
VAN HORN, Texas — On July 18, the Peregrine Fund, a non-profit organization based in Boise, Idaho, resumed its efforts to restore the endangered northern aplomado falcon to West Texas skies. With support from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Hawking Association and private ranchers, the Fund will release 28 captive-bred falcons.
The young falcons, about 35 days old, will be placed at “hack sites” on July 18 to become acclimated to their surroundings for several days before being released, a standard practice for falcon reintroduction.
At the release sites, falcons will be placed in protective boxes on top of hack towers and fed for five to seven days. The hack boxes will be opened for the birds to escape in late July or early August.
This will take place on the Moon Ranch, Miller Ranch and Rancho Del Cielo in Jeff Davis County.
"Our release efforts have been so successful in South Texas, with 46 aplomado falcon pairs now established there, that we are now concentrating all our releases in West Texas" said J. Peter Jenny, Peregrine Fund vice president. “The habitat in West Texas is excellent for this species and landowners have been extremely supportive of our reintroduction efforts. The pay off is we are now beginning to see falcon pairs establishing territories in West Texas. We are extremely pleased to have the opportunity to release falcons on private ranches, made possible because of the Safe Harbor Program."
"As ranchers, we’re looking forward to having aplomado falcons back in West Texas,” said Jon Means, partner in the Means Ranch Company, which owns the Moon Ranch. “We’ve been partners in this program since 2002 and it’s been a pleasure working with The Peregrine Fund folks.”
The Means family has been ranching in West Texas for five generations.
The Texas Hawking Association is donating $1,000 to the Fund to support the West Texas aplomado falcon reintroduction project. The 200-member group includes people who train falcons and other birds of prey for hunting. (Falconers must have state and federal permits to practice their art.)
“To be a falconer is to be a conservationist,” said Steve Oleson, Texas Hawking Association president. “As an organization, we want to do our part to help all species flourish. Our first target years ago was getting peregrine falcon numbers back up, and our members helped the Peregrine Fund with that successful effort. Now we’re focusing on a Texas resident, the aplomado falcon. A few peregrines nest in Texas, but most just migrate through. The aplomado is here year-round. It’s not a bird traditionally used in falconry, but we want to have them back as part of natural Texas, just to be able to see them on the wing.”
“The key to this partnership is the private land stewards who are providing the habitat,” said Robert L. Cook, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director. “The work of the nonprofit partners and government biologists here is important, to be sure, but without ranchers willing to host falcon releases and protect habitat to support them, these beautiful birds would not be coming back in our state.”
The release of aplomado falcons is being conducted under a “Safe Harbor” agreement between landowners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and The Peregrine Fund.
The agreement encourages private landowners to participate in the restoration of the endangered bird by exempting additional provisions or liabilities under the Endangered Species Act.
Property owners who maintain a baseline number of aplomado falcons and agree to the release of falcons would be free to use or develop other areas of their property, even if the use results in “incidental take” of a falcon. There are currently more than 2 million acres in Texas enrolled in the aplomado falcon Safe Harbor Program.
The aplomado falcon is the one remaining falcon on the endangered species list and a top priority of The Peregrine Fund.
By the 1950s, it was no longer found in the United States until 1995, when a pair of falcons raised and released by biologists from The Peregrine Fund nested. At the end of 2005, 46 pairs were known to exist in the wild, two of those on the Moon Ranch.
Since July 1, 2002, landowners in 42 western Texas counties have been eligible to sign on to the Safe Harbor Agreement. These include Andrews, Brewster, Cochran, Crane, Crockett, Culberson, Dawson, Dimmit, Duval, Ector, Edwards, El Paso, Frio, Gaines, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Jim Hogg, Kinney, La Salle, Loving, Martin, Maverick, McMullen, Medina, Midland, Pecos, Presidio, Real, Reeves, Starr, Sutton, Terrel, Terry, Upton, Uvalde, Val Verde, Ward, Webb, Yoakum, Winkler, Zapata, and Zavala Counties.