Ben Masters highlights pronghorn restoration efforts in West Texas in his latest short film, produced in cooperation with YETI.
Ben Masters is the director of the video below, which focuses on pronghorn restoration efforts in West Texas. Together with YETI, Masters helped create a visually appealing and extremely important short film.
The project set out to relocate wild, free range pronghorn from the Texas panhandle to West Texas, where pronghorn numbers have decreased rapidly over the last century. Masters was there to capture it all, and to find a way to tell the story.
Take a look at the video, then read our interview with Masters below.
Picking Ben’s brain about the pronghorn restoration efforts was fascinating, and his experience resonated as he portrayed the whole pronghorn revival process.
What would you tell someone who isn’t familiar with the pronghorn and its heritage in the western United States? Why are they important?
I’ve pretty much devoted my life to conservation. If you make it a point to manage for pronghorn you’re treating habitat for everything else. When you lose that animal, it’s an indication that something isn’t right. Since the early 1900s, they’ve rebounded from approximately 15,000 to 500,000. It wasn’t until Teddy Roosevelt, the Boone and Crocket Club, and other conservationists that everybody rallied together to market hunting regulations to supply habitat.
What is the biggest threat facing Pronghorn right now in West Texas?
The population dropped from 20,000 in 1980 to 3,000 in West Texas because of factors such as a parasitic worms, drought, fires, and fences that aren’t pronghorn friendly. Pronghorn go under fences, and farmers were putting in sheep and goat fences. A culmination of things made the population crash.
Is it the same across other states that contain pronghorn?
The biggest threat across the U.S. is habitat fragmentation–people putting fences around their 20 acres. If people don’t take into account these animals, there will be isolated corridors because people don’t take into account their migratory routes.
Are pronghorn being relocated?
In the Texas Panhandle – far north Texas has a healthy pronghorn population that did not have a population crash – biologists and landowners got together and gave the vision of bringing in pronghorn. The result was to fix fences and create buffer zones to prevent sheep from interacting with pronghorn. The process takes three days from capturing them to releasing them. Some receive GPS collars for research on survival, what they eat, and mortality rates.
Will there be any negative effects of relocating pronghorn to other regions?
Mortality, because animals are being tackled and have no idea that people are on their side. There was a 15 percent mortality when they first started relocating the animals, but now it’s less than five percent. It’s expensive to relocate the animals as well.
How many will be relocated?
The collective project started five years ago doing 10-15 per year, but they have been doing 100 each year the last couple of years. During the process of this video, 112 were being relocated. This is not unique. Bighorn sheep, mule deer, and pronghorn projects have been doing this for a while now.
How can hunters and conservationists ensure the survival of pronghorn?
It’s all about habitat. You’re not going to have wildlife without habitat. If they don’t have something to eat or if they don’t have shelter, they won’t survive. It’s also a financial investment as well. If I theoretically sell three hunts a year and get $20,000, that money can pay for reintroduction or maintenance of pronghorn on my 30,000 acres. It is easier if an animal has a financial value. A lot of it is donating. The pronghorn revival was largely funded by Texas Parks and Wildlife donations. Money came from the Pittman-Robertson Act, which is an excise taxes on firearms and ammunition sales. Pronghorn are uniquely American; it’s the only animal that sheds their horn. It’s totally unique. They don’t get as much credit and love and mule deer or bighorn sheep
Can you talk about the making of the short film? Were there any particularly memorable moments during its production?
One moment when I was filming all the pronghorn, and I asked the biologist if I could get in a trailer with them. I felt kind of bad for them, but watching them step out and reenter a freaking amazing landscape that will now have pronghorn for the foreseeable future… It was a really cool feeling. The feeling of are they going to make it? The fact of just seeing them get out. It was a cool feeling of hope.
Ideally, we as hunters and landowners can do our part in protecting and managing these animals, as well as sharing the story of the pronghorn restoration efforts with fellow conservationists.
All Images via Ben Masters