Lights Out, Texas!
The Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) at Sul Ross State University and the Big Bend Conservation Alliance are teaming up to spread the word in the Big Bend region about Lights Out Texas. Lights Out Texas is a statewide initiative that asks Texans to turn out or dim non-essential lights to support fall and spring birds during their migration, when hundreds of millions of birds will be passing through the state.

“Bird populations in the United States have been declining rapidly, and it is up to us to do what we can to help,” said Dr. Louis Harveson, who is the Dan Allen Hughes, Jr., BRI Endowed Director and Regents’ Professor of Wildlife Management at Sul Ross State University. “Birds are essential to our planet’s ecology because they provide ecosystem services, act as benchmarks for environmental health, increase livability, act as drivers for local economies through nature tourism, and connect people of all ages and abilities to the natural world.”

Turning off non-essential lights helps prevent bird casualties as birds can become disoriented by bright artificial lights and skyglow, often causing them to collide with buildings or windows. While lights can throw birds off their migration paths, bird fatalities are more directly caused by the amount of energy the birds waste flying around and calling out in confusion. The exhaustion can then leave them vulnerable to other urban threats.

Find out how you can help.

 Water for Wild Birds Publication Now Available
West Texas landowners and residents are encouraged to lend a hand in conserving the birds of the Trans-Pecos. A new publication, Water for Wild Birds: Tools for Arid Landscapes, is now available to help folks provide the resources birds need to thrive in the Chihuahuan Desert.

The project originated with the Davis Mountains Hummingbird Celebration and was guided by Trans-Pecos Bird Conservation Inc. and the Tierra Grande Master Naturalist chapter. Additional support was provided by the Borderlands Research Institute and private funding.

“We’re very appreciative of the funding provided by Apache Corporation to print 1,500 copies that will be available to landowners and others who are interested in bird conservation,” said Cecilia Riley, who is president of Trans-Pecos Bird Conservation Inc. “Thanks to the Borderlands Research Institute, the publication is also available online. Everyone can play a role in bird conservation, and every drop of water that we can provide for birds will help them survive in our arid West Texas environment.”

The publication can be found on the BRI website, and copies of the booklet are also available upon request or can be picked up at the BRI office in Alpine.

 Project Spotlight:
Feral Pigs and Soil Disturbance    
Feral pigs can wreak havoc on soil and plant communities when they forage for roots, tubers, and grubs. These opportunistic omnivores are an exotic invasive that has expanded across much of the United States.
Feral pigs (Sus scrofa) are invasive mammals that cause an estimated $1.5 billion in damages and control costs in the United States annually. In 2018, the Borderlands Research Institute in cooperation with the Kerr Wildlife Management Area initiated a project to determine if feral pig rooting behavior alters rates of soil erosion, how rooting disturbance alters several vital soil components, and how the plant communities on rooted sites compare against unrooted sites in the growing season following the initial rooting disturbance.

Results from this study have shown that feral pigs can disturb soil enough to cause significant increases in soil loss. Furthermore, rooted soils were shown to have altered levels of several soil macronutrients, as well as changes in soil texture and soil pH. Rooted sites exhibited lower plant biodiversity in the growing season following the initial disturbance when compared against undisturbed sites. This study will help improve our understanding of how feral pigs disturb both the soil and vegetation after rooting disturbance, as well as the effect of these disturbances.
Student Spotlight: Josh Coward
Josh Coward grew up in the small central Texas town of Harper, near Fredericksburg. His upbringing was a little more unusual than that of his Hill Country neighbors.

“I don’t know any other way to put it; my parents were hippies,” said Coward. “We lived off the grid way before it was a thing. We grew our own food, had solar panels that worked most of the time and we also had a rainwater collection system.”

His dad introduced him to hunting and fishing for the most basic of reasons, to put food on the table. His family recycled just about everything, and Josh learned to appreciate what it takes to feed a family and keep a roof overhead. His childhood also helped him become more resourceful.

“My family taught me that there is more than one way to deal with people and to solve problems. And if you use your ingenuity and problem-solving skills, you can work your way through just about anything.”

That attitude served him well as he worked his way through college, first earning an Associate of Science degree at Austin Community College in Fredericksburg, then a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Biology at Texas Tech in Lubbock. He worked as a research technician for Quail-Tech Alliance as he finished up his bachelor’s degree, and also worked as a field biologist for Turner Biological Consulting after he graduated. Then a job opportunity presented itself just a few miles away from home, and Josh applied for a wildlife technician position at the Kerr Wildlife Management Area. The position came with an added benefit along with his work duties: Josh would also be building a dataset for a feral pig graduate research project for Borderlands Research Institute at Sul Ross State University.

Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
Continues to Support BUMP 
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo recently awarded BRI $30,000 to continue their support of the Borderlands Undergraduate Mentorship Program (BUMP). Despite canceling the rodeo in 2020 due to COVID-19, the organization still provided grant funds to support Texas youth.

BUMP provides opportunities for undergraduates to work with graduate students on grant-funded projects. The funds are leveraged and matched 1:1 by various research grants to support experiential opportunities for BRI students. Together, graduate and undergraduate students conduct projects ranging from estimating abundance and distribution of Montezuma quail, brush management effects on production and quality of pronghorn forage, and reproductive characteristics of aoudad.

Undergraduate students gain knowledge, experience, and professional connections in the field of Natural Resource Management. In addition to their projects, undergraduate students engage in monthly professional development meetings, gaining essential soft skills including professional communication, effective writing, and how to deliver impactful presentations.

Through BUMP, graduate students also develop important career enhancement tools, including teaching others technical skills, mentorship, and setting goals for their mentees. These skills are important as they enter careers after graduation.
Undergraduate and graduate students gain valuable skills and experiences through the Borderlands Research Institute Undergraduate Mentorship Program, which has received another year of funding from Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
BRI Students Shine at Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society 2021 Meeting
BRI graduate students Daniel Wilcox and Olivia Gray received the Sam Beasom Memorial Scholarship through the Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society this year.
Although the 2021 Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society meeting was held virtually this year, BRI students and the Sul Ross student chapter were well represented. Approximately 20 students, faculty, and staff engaged in the meeting, which was held from Feb 24-26. They participated in virtual workshops, meetings, presentations, and poster sessions. BRI graduate students Daniel Wilcox and Olivia Gray received the Sam Beasom Memorial Scholarship, for $1,000 each.

Although quiz bowl and plant ID competitions were not held this year, the raffle was strongly supported. In total, the Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society raffle broke previous years’ records in earnings, with a total of $23,940.

To contribute to the raffle, the Sul Ross student chapter put together a gift basket including club-specific merchandise, regionally focused wildlife books, and some field research tools. The chapter’s raffle gift basket won third place in the “Battle for Alumni Bucks,” earning a $150 cash award for the Sul Ross student chapter. The winner of the package was Misty Sumner, a retired TPWD biologist who served Culberson, Hudspeth, and El Paso counties.
Did You Know?... 
Feral hogs, also known as wild pigs, have negatively affected landowners across Texas. A 2004 study by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension concluded that these animals cause more than $50 million in damages in Texas every year. One of the reasons for that is their reproductive rates. The wild pig is one of the most prolific large mammals on the planet. More than half of the wild pigs in the U.S. are in Texas, and experts estimate there are close to 3 million wild pigs in the state.

Did you know that the average adult male can weigh 200 pounds, and some can grow to more than 300 pounds? They are opportunistic omnivores, meaning they eat plants, like farm crops, and animals, but also scavenge for food. Their lifespan is between 4-8 years.

As much as landowners want to get rid of feral pigs, it is not an easy task. Experts have found that they are smarter than dolphins, killer whales, elephants, and even dogs. That means they quickly learn how to avoid traps, making this animal hard to catch.

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Borderlands Research Institute | 432.837.8225 | bri@sulross.edu
P.O. Box C-21, SRSU, Alpine, Texas 79832