Wildlife biologist Dana Milani and landowner Bert Geary examine an adult female mountain lion. Geary is one of more than 50 landowners who've granted access to their land to study an animal that has been the historical object of scorn by many Texas ranchers. (Photo by Price Rumbelow)

Wildlife biologist Dana Milani and landowner Bert Geary examine an adult female mountain lion. Geary is one of more than 50 landowners who've granted access to their land to study an animal that has been the historical object of scorn by many Texas ranchers. (Photo by Price Rumbelow)

Tracking Mountain Lions In Texas: Rancher Supported Study Implies Population Is Stable

The mountain lion of Texas is known by many names in the southwest; cougars, panthers, pumas to name three.

In California it’s protected. In Arizona and New Mexico, you can hunt this predator but with strict limitations. In Texas, mountain lions can be hunted at will. Still, preliminary results from a four-year-old study suggest that the Texas mountain lion population is stable and may be growing.

Data from a Texas project tracking mountain lions by satellite imply a population of between 25-40 animals in one of the sky islands in Texas. Sky island refers to a mountain range surrounded by flatlands or in the case of this study, the high desert that’s a 90-minute drive north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The project, privately funded by individuals and non-profit foundations, is an initiative of the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas.

What separates this project is that it’s taking place on private land, an accomplishment in a state where 95 per cent of the land is in private hands. What’s more, most of the test area is owned by ranchers, many of whom have harbored revulsion for the mountain lion.

“You have to understand the values that people have, the history that they (ranchers) have, the culture that they have,” said Louis Harveson, the leader of the research team.

That history is marked by a loathing for the animal, the notion that mountain lions should be killed on sight. Yet Harveson’s managed to get more than 50 ranchers and other landowners to open their gates to his research team.

Harveson assured ranchers that no lions would be brought in from other regions, only that the existing population in the Davis Mountains of west Texas would be studied. He also asked ranchers to consider the animal’s role in maintaining nature’s checks-and-balances.

“Mountain lions are the apex predator, just like sharks and oceans,” said Harveson.

“There’s a food chain that’s in existence,”he explained. “And that apex predator symbolizes wildness. This animal that’s able to kill a deer a week or a large prey item a week, that just says that there’s a good healthy ecosystem intact.”

In four years, Harveson’s team has used leg snares to capture 22 mountain lions, tranquilize them and place satellite and VHF radio beacons on their collars.

James King is a landowner whose family has deep roots in ranching.  He’s allowed the research team on his land to record details of the animals’ diet.

“The kill sites are detectable by the fact that the lions don’t move with these GPS collars,” said King, referring to the GPS location beacons. When the signal remains fixed on a location, it means one of two scenarios are unfolding.

Either the animal has died, or the stationary signal suggests that the lion has stopped at a “kill site,” a place where the animal eats its prey.

Wildlife biologist Dana Milani is a member of the research team. She crosses canyons and sepia-toned mountain ridges every working day.  She documents the lions’ voracious appetite for deer, rabbit, and porcupine. That appetite keeps those lower level species in check.

“You’re always trying to be quiet to stress the animal less,” she said while moving through underbrush.

She says she has been fortunate lately given how elusive the mountain lion is. Milani recently checked and collared two adults, a female and a male. She took samples of blood and tissue for genetic analysis before withdrawing and letting the sedation wear off.

She says without the support of ranchers and other landowners, she could not paint a picture of how lions sometimes help ranchers.

A case-in-point. James King has trouble eliminating feral hogs. That’s an invasive species brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus.

“I shoot a lot of feral hogs. And they’re hard to exterminate. And those lions are out there at night doing that job,” he said with a wide smile.

King says the antipathy toward the mountain lion goes back to the days when sheep and goats were raised in this part of the southwest. Today King says ranchers principally raise cattle. He says he’s encouraged by one development profiled in the study.

“Here in the Davis Mountains we’re not seeing any kills of domestic cattle.”

“We’ve documented over 200 different kills,” said project leader Harveson. “And not a one domestic animal has fallen to mountain lions. And that’s a fact.”

Across the southwest, attitudes toward the predator may be changing.

Private landowners in Arizona have just agreed that a 10-mile corridor traveled by lions will be protected. In California, a new UC Davis study suggests migration corridors be created to avoid lions being hit on the highway.

James King says he’s not an evangelist for mountain lions. But like many of his neighbors, King simply wants information about the animal.

“Let’s give these scientists access so they can help us understand the movement, the population, their whole dynamics so we can be better land managers.”

The leaders of the Texas study say they don’t want to influence policy. They say the just want to gather data so that policymakers and area ranchers can make informed decisions on mountain lion management.



The Brewster County Courthouse in Alpine

The Brewster County Courthouse in Alpine

Brewster County Tax Rollback Election Could Move from December 6 to January 13

Update Friday 10/31: Brewster County Commissioners have called a special meeting to consider postponing the special tax rollback election from December 6 to January 13, 2015.

The public meeting will take place on November 3 at the Brewster County Courthouse at 9 am.

Commissioners will discuss and possibly take action on an agenda item to amend the original order calling for the December 6 election.

The meeting agenda as outlined does not call for public comment on the issue.

The county’s Election Administration Office says during a conference call with the judge’s office and County Attorney J. Steven Houston, it was noted that the original date could pose a conflict between the state’s tax code and election code.

State rules for tax rollback elections call for such an election to be held no earlier than 30 days “after the last date the governing body could have ruled on the validity of the petition.”

Under those rules, governing bodies must also decide whether a petition calling for a rollback election is valid within 20 days of receiving it.

Brewster County Commissioners received the rollback petition on October 14, and approved it as valid on October 28. The last day they could’ve approved or denied it would have been November 3 – making the original December 6th date seemingly within the rules – 33 days after the county’s last chance for approving/denying the petition.

No county officials reached on Friday could offer further details on the potential conflict, and both Houston and County Judge Kathy Killingsworth were not available for comment.

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Jillian Weise. Credit: Donald Vish

Jillian Weise. Credit: Donald Vish

Friday Interview: Lannan Poet-in-Residence Jillian Weise

Jillian Weise, a current Lannan poet-in-residence, was born in Houston, Texas. She is the author of The Amputee’s Guide to Sex (2007), The Colony (2010), and The Book of Goodbyes (2013), which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and the Isabella Gardner Award from BOA Editions. Weise has also contributed to The Atlantic, The New York Times, Tin House, and Verse Daily. She teaches creative writing at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Weise traveled to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina on a Fulbright Fellowship, and spent two years as a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.

On Saturday, November 1st at 6 PM, Weise will read at the Crowley Theater.

Talk At Ten is generally broadcast live at 10 am and repeated at 6:30 pm each weekday.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst delivering his concession speech after losing his re-election bid on May 27, 2014. (Marjorie Kamys Cotera)

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst delivering his concession speech after losing his re-election bid on May 27, 2014. (Marjorie Kamys Cotera)

Dewhurst Asks for Price Tag to Expand Border Operations

Months after Texas beefed up its border security presence in the Rio Grande Valley and deployed the Texas National Guard there in response to a record increase in illegal crossings, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wants to know what it would cost to expand the projects through 2016.

In mid-June, Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio and Gov. Rick Perry authorized a Department of Public Safety surge in the Rio Grande Valley that has an estimated cost of $1.3 million per week. In July, Perry ordered the deployment of up to 1,000 Texas National Guard members to the area, a mission that will cost $38 million through the end of the year.

Dewhurst, who leaves office in January, wrote the guard’s Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols and Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw on Wednesday asking for an estimate of the costs of expanding the operations from the Rio Grande Valley to Laredo; from the Rio Grande Valley to Del Rio; and from the Rio Grande Valley to El Paso.

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Each day, dozens of trucks hook up to the Gulf Coast-run fracking fluid disposal well site near Gonzales, Texas. (Jennifer Whitney)

Each day, dozens of trucks hook up to the Gulf Coast-run fracking fluid disposal well site near Gonzales, Texas. (Jennifer Whitney)

Responding to Quakes, Texas Passes Disposal Well Rules

Texas regulators on Tuesday tightened rules for wells that dispose of oilfield waste, a response to the spate of earthquakes that have rattled North Texas.

The three-member Texas Railroad Commission voted unanimously to adopt the rules, which require companies to submit additional information – including historic records of earthquakes in a region– when applying to drill a disposal well. The proposal also clarifies that the commission can slow or halt injections of fracking waste into a problematic well and require companies to disclose the volume and pressure of their injections more frequently.

The commissioners – all Republicans – said the vote showed how well Texans can respond to issues without federal intervention.

Commissioner Barry Smitherman called the vote a “textbook example” of how the commission identifies an issue and “moves quickly and proactively to address it.”

“We don’t need Washington,” he said.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency last month said it supported the proposed rules.

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TimeCar facility in Marfa, October 2014 (Tom Michael/KRTS)

TimeCar facility in Marfa, October 2014 (Tom Michael/KRTS)

Time Car Rental Service in Marfa Will Close

One of the only rental car and car share services for hundreds of miles in West Texas says it will close.

Time Car announced in a press release it will shut down its Marfa location at the Marfa Contemporary art gallery – an extension of the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center.

The company’s president Benny Jacobs says with Time Car leaving, the gallery will be able to use the extra space for arts education programs.

The company has been in Marfa since 2011 and still owns a number of other locations in Oklahoma City.

The new HQ for Marfa Public Radio, between Ballroom Marfa and Marfa Studio of Arts (Travis Bubenik)

The new HQ for Marfa Public Radio, between Ballroom Marfa and Marfa Studio of Arts (Travis Bubenik)

We Did It! YOU Did It!

We’re so proud and happy to announce that this year’s Fall Fund Drive was a huge success – thanks to you! 

Thanks to your tax-deductible contributions to this listener-supported station, we met our $50,000 goal for the week! This has in fact been our largest fall fundraising drive since we launched the station!

Y’all really stepped up to the plate for this extremely important fund drive.

The money we raised this week is going straight back into paying for NPR programming, continuing to develop our local and regional news coverage, and most importantly this year – to building and upgrading our “new home on the range” – the new home of Marfa Public Radio and West Texas Public Radio!

Remember if you haven’t already donated you still can! Just call us at 432-729-4578, toll-free at 800-903-KRTS, or just click here!

A very special thanks to our dedicated members who offered up match challenges during the drive – we’re happy to report we met all of them!

Congratulations to Faith Gay of Marfa, who won the iPad drawing. Her name was randomly selected on Monday following the Fund Drive.

Special thanks as well to our local business supporters who offered special premiums for this year’s drive:

Big Bend Coffee Roasters
Holland Hotel
Maiya’s Restaurant
Americana Salon

Hotel Paisano and Jett’s Grill
Plaine Frama/Tumbleweed Laundry
Kathy Bork’s Little Tin House in Alpine
Taste & See Bakery
Marfa Brand Soap 
Food Shark
Marfa Maid Goat Dairy


A River In Peril: Documenting Damage On The Rio Grande

The notion that the Rio Grande is losing water is not new.

But one man wants to advance the conversation about watershed loss beyond platitudes.

He thinks prospective attempts to rescue this vital watershed are stymied by a lack of information, that the general public doesn’t consider the Rio Grande’s fate with the same intensity as it does other major rivers such as the Colorado River.

Colin McDonald calls it a long shot, but he wants to change that perception.
The lanky 33-year-old is on a trip funded by a fellowship from the University of Colorado.

There are parts of the riverbed that are dry to the point some writers have dubbed it ‘rio sand.’

McDonald wants to gather information that he hopes might frame a substantive discussion on the near term future of a river that provides water to millions of people in the U.S. and Mexico.

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Become a Community Correspondent, learn new skills and make new friends.

Become a Community Correspondent, learn new skills and make new friends.

Become a Marfa Public Radio Community Correspondent

Never miss a city council meeting? Always finding interesting stories in the Big Bend? Go to a lot of community events or concerts? If you’re interested in sharing your knowledge and experience with Marfa Public Radio listeners, become one of our volunteer Community Correspondents.

We’re looking for engaged citizens from across the Big Bend. A Community Correspondent assists Marfa Public Radio with news gathering and producing stories from the community you live in.
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Joe Holley

Wed. Oct 29 Interview: Author Joe Holley Discusses His Latest Book

On this episode of Talk at Ten, we speak with author and Texas native Joe Holley about his new book, The Purse Bearer: A Novel of Love, Lust and Texas Politics – a book about “the almost always politically incorrect world of 1980s campaigning in Texas.”

Holley is currently the politics editor and “Native Texan” columnist for the Houston Chronicle and author of two other books, My Mother’s Keeper and Slingin’ Sam: The Life and Times of the Greatest Quarterback Ever to Play the Game.

Talk At Ten is generally broadcast live at 10 am and repeated at 6:30 pm each weekday.
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David Greene

Tue. Oct 28 Interview: David Greene Discusses “Midnight in Siberia”

NPR’s Morning Edition host David Greene joins us on the phone to discuss the release of his book, Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia.

The discussion is a deeper look at his journey from Moscow to Vladivostok via the Trans-Siberian Railway – the journey that inspired Greene’s Russia by Rail series during his time as NPR’s political correspondent in Moscow.

Talk At Ten is generally broadcast live at 10 am and repeated at 6:30 pm each weekday.
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Dr. Matthew Shetrone

Mon. Oct 27 Interview: KRTS Astronomy Series: Matthew Shetrone

On the last Monday of each month, KRTS’s Talk at Ten features a conversation with an astronomer from The McDonald Observatory. For this episode, host K. Yoland and reporter Ian Lewis spoke with Dr. Matthew Shetrone at the Otto Struve telescope at the McDonald Observatory.

Shetrone is a research scientist and the resident astronomer for the Hobby Eberly Telescope, and is also heavily involved in the APO Galactic Evolution Experiment, or APOGEE, which seeks to study the evolution of our Milky Way galaxy by observing hundreds of thousands of stars in the galaxy.

We asked him about this ambitious project and to explain how this survey of thousands of stars can tell us more about the history of the Milky Way and its future.

Talk At Ten is generally broadcast live at 10 am and repeated at 6:30 pm each weekday.
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Becker Iconoclast Wine

Wine-making in Texas

The Rambling Boy: Stories About Texas is a weekly look at regional history, hosted by Lonn Taylor. Lonn discusses wine-making in Texas, and settles the debate about whether Texas is in the South or the West: his answer may surprise you.

The Rambling Boy is broadcast Mondays after the 10 am newscast and again after the 7 pm newscast.
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Rancher Mac White (center) joins intern Mia Warren (left) and Marfa businesswoman/KRTS Volunteer Saarin Keck (right)

Last Day of the Fall Fund Drive!

What a week! We’ve heard an incredible outpouring of support this week during the Fall Fund Drive, from our corner of the Big Bend and the Trans-Pecos to the big cities across the state and literally from across the world – shout out to our Australian listener!

Special thanks to our generous donors who offered up match challenges this morning – KRTS Board Member Tim Crowley and the Marfa International School.

We’re extremely close to our $50,000 goal today and we just need a few more members to chip into the drive to meet it!

We hope you’ll feel the sense of pride you deserve this week, knowing your contributions are going right back into our local and regional news coverage, along with the construction of our “new home on the range!”

If you haven’t yet got that pledge in, call us at 432-729-4578 toll-free at 800-903-KRTS (5787) or just click here!

And thanks!

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