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Al Brothers Interview, Part 2 of 2

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  •  DT: Mr. Brothers, I was asking you earlier off tape about conservation and preservation and the difference between the two and what you said about... 
  •  AB: Well there is there is a lot of difference between the two. Preservation is when you don't do anything and let nature take its course. And nature can be pretty cruel.  
  •  And, of course, I'm experienced in White Tail Deer and that's basically my my area of expertise so let me give you a prime example.  
  •  The preservationists are going to go in there and say, "We're not we're not going to let man take any deer." And here's what would happen; the population would build up and actually eat themselves out of house and home, destroy the habitat or degrade it to the point where there would be a die off.  
  •  And they would die off to a small number of animals and then they would as the habitat started recuperating they would come back along with it and you'd have this ups and downs, extreme ups and downs in population and habitat quality.  
  •  Where if you go in there, and you can't say that we have a natural setting anymore where the predators and all these other things that effect the deer would it be accidents, disease, predators or parasites would effect them.  
  •  We've changed all that and we we can't unchange it, so you have to go in there and manage it. And to me management is part of a conservation effort, and when we start talking about that we also talk about what we call additive mortality and compensatory mortality.  
  •  And no one's talked to you about this, I want to try to explain it to you. And and and this is a just a given in in management circles.  
  •  Let's take, for instance, gallinaceous birds, which would be quail or turkey as a good example. Each year they have very high reproduction you know. One one pair of quail will say have 18 young ones, a turkey have a lot of young ones. And the reason they have a lot of young ones is because there's a high turnover rate in the population. Alright?  
  •  In compensatory mortality we know in quail populations that a very high percentage of quail are not going to live until next year, they're they're going to be gone before next summer or next breeding season.  
  •  Whatever that percentage is, it could be 60 percent, 70 percent, different people say different things, but anyway there's a big turnover rate in quail whether you hunt them or not.  
  •  So, they try to set the seasons where you go in and you take these birds before a lot of this other loss occurs, and that's called compensatory mortality. But lets say that the seasons or the bag limits are set wrong and you start getting into what we call the brood stock. In other words, what would be left next year? That's called additive mortality. 
  •  And additive mortality you don't want. Now, a good example of that on a large scale is for many years on our water fowl regulations the, the bag limits on the fly aways were set with the idea that most of what would be taken the -- the number you could take and when you could take them into different states would be compensatory mortality and they found out a few years ago that they made a little mistake on the calculations, they were getting additive mortality.  
  •  So, you you can well remember - plus we had other factors, we had we had some of the nesting grounds degraded and we had poor nesting success for various reasons on certain species of ducks, but you could well recall the the very tight regulations on water fowl hunting for a few years but they for the most part, by cutting back we've corrected that problem and you're seeing increased bag limits. 
  •  And that's a prime example of what we call compensatory mortality and additive mortality. And the same thing applies in big game species. They're a renewable resource, they have young each year and you're going to lose a certain amount and instead of losing them to--before you degrade the ha--you you take them about before they degrade the habitat.  
  •  In other words, a White Tail Deer eats approximately five or six pounds of forage a day. Alright?  
  •  If we don't hunt them at all, and really, according -- we're already at saturation on caring capacity. And this year's farm crop or recruitment is going to put us above that, and they're going to eat five pounds a day per animal per day. Let's just say five.  
  •  If we don't hunt them, they're going to eat that until there's nothing left to eat. And then you start losing it.  
  •  First you're going to lose young and old, and then you start losing the others because they're going to eat something until they die. And when they do that they degrade the habitat.  
  •  Why not go in and take this surplus animal since its a renewable resource without hurting the herd, in fact, keep it in good health, take these animals out of the population, or birds, whatever it may be, provide this revenue to the landowner, revenue to the state, revenue to the agency that helps manage them without hurting the resource.  
  •  Why don't we do that? And that's what that's what, mainly, the system is set up for. Without hurting the habitat and, yet, provide recreation, provide a --  
  •  and and really hunting is a big business. And you've got to remember that hunters per se, have funded since the passing of the Pittman Robinson Act and the Dingle Johnson Bill on fishes,  
  •  they're the ones that have funded most of the programs you have in all the states now. And here in Texas, the most monumental flop of all was a non-game stamp.  
  •  Do you recall that? They came out with a non-game stamp and all of these guys that didn't hunt, but they went out and birdwatched and they took pictures, they were photographers, they were supposed to buy that and fund that would help fund the programs toto keep, you know, for Parks and Wildlife toto have these programs and and to fund what needed to be done on these programs.  
  •  It was a monumental flop, people wouldn't buy it. But for those who don't understand the Pittman Robinson Act, basically, what it is and passed many years ago as an excise tax on sporting arms, sporting ammunition and and other things that go toward hunting effort, and that money is collected, put into a central fund by the Federal Government and then redistributed to the states for approved programs through the Fish and Wildlife Service. And its been a very successful program.  
  •  And if carried if you managed for all these species that were of economic value by the people that were willing to pay for it, they have carried all of these other fringe species along for years. It's just the last few years were beginning to see problems in the states and so forth for non-game animals and non-game birds and all.  
  •  Which which they deserve it, but we found out the people that really cry for it are are are pretty ha -- have not been stepping forward to fund it. We've always funded it for them. And that's changing because they now have excess tax on binoculars, photography equipment and and so forth, and and the fisherman, the same way, it's all on fishing equipment.  
  •  And, so it's beginning to, it's beginning to get more into balance the way it should be. If a person is interested in something, he should be willing to help fund fund the preservation of it. Or the management of it. 
  •  DT: You're talking about this balance that you said I was wondering how you can keep the balance on a piece of habitat if things come up that are basically unpredictable, unforeseen, difficult to control, or you have a drought, or you have some sort of a parasite that moves through, wildfire perhaps. How do you respond to those things? 
  •  AB: Well, here's the way you respond, sometimes you can't do a thing about them and you suffer the consequences.  
  •  But the good thing about it is that over time those things will turn around and and you might be able to help it turn around through certain management techniques or management practices. But the good thing about it is most of the species you deal with are are renewable, you know, they have young every year and they have the potential of bouncing back.  
  •  All you need is sometimes they need some help in that, but that's where the management part comes in, to aid them. You can't control the amount of rainfall or the timing of it, in some cases you you have no real control over predators, in some cases disease, but you do have control over some things that may effect recovery from those experiences and that's where management comes in. What are the things you can do and how do you do it? 
  •  DT: David mentioned wildfire as being one of the risks that are the most difficult to control. But I understand that fire is often used as a prescribed burn as a management tool. Do you have any opinions about it? 
  •  AB: A prescribed burn is a very is a very important management tool, but it for everything that has a positive, there's usually some negatives somewhere down the line. What about air pollution with all this burning? 
  •  DT: What would be some of the benefits that would-- 
  •  AB: Prescribed burning has a lot of benefits depending upon what you're talking about. But it has a place, prescribed burning, and there's so many different ways it could be used and so many different benefits that it would take me a long time to enumerate them, but there's a good book on it, in fact, by Texas AandM University, on prescribed burning, they have a very good book out on it, Texas AandM. For those that are interested. 
  •  DT: I understood that prescribed burn is sometimes used to control woody species that are invading what was traditionally grassland savannah. What do you suggest as a good way to do that? 
  •  AB: Depends on what the objectives are. We're right here within 50 miles, or probably I don't think there's another one left in the wild, the the Prairie Chickens we had down here. You know, they're basically gone in the wild, the Atwater Prairie Chicken. And and the reason they're probably gone is changing land use practices. They weren't hunted out, they've been protected for years and years, so they had to be changing land use practices.  
  •  Most prescribed fire in the old days was uncontrolled fire, not prescribed fire. Part of that ecosystem or ecological balance that kept those that species flourishing. It probably was, nobody knows for sure, but when when there have been millions of dollars on researching the Atwater Prairie Chicken and, yet, we failed to save it. The only birds left basically the birds in captivity.  
  •  Now, whether we can restart that species and when you have a species that has a very critical habitat requirements, or critical food habits or something you know the history of the world is is extinction of species. You're always going to have some of it, but for those that we can manage for and save, lets save them. Unless it becomes basically impossible. Now, a a good success story right here close to us too is the whooping crane, but sadly the one that hadn't been a success story is the Atwater Prairie Chicken. 
  •  DT: Were you involved at all in the restoration of some of the wild turkeys? I understood a lot of the ones that... 
  •  AB: Same thing happened to the wild turkeys in Texas that happened to White Tail Deer about is a is a very good sound program by Parks and Wildlife to restock areas that were suitable habitat and its been very successful in the last 15-20 years.  
  •  We've got turkeys in areas of Texas where turkeys hadn't been found in many, many years. We even got the Eastern turkey back in the Eastern part of the state through restocking efforts. Been a very successful program.  
  •  When I was growing up in Gonzales County, in my area of the county, I never saw a turkey, they didn't exist. Now there are turkey everywhere. It was a suitable turkey habitat, but many, many years ago they were either hunted out or hunted down to a, to a population level where they couldn't they couldn't get above all the pressures against them, the predation, disease or everything.  
  •  But the way the Parks and Wildlife normally handles that on restocking deer and turkeys they close the areas they put together first they had to put together a sufficient sized area to cooperate on restocking effort. Then they close the season for x-number of years, usually five.  
  •  And then at the end of five years they census and if if pop - you know, if it's recuperated to a certain degree, they'll allow limited hunting, if not, they keep it closed for a little bit. Turkey restocking and and and big game restocking has been a real success story in the State of Texas for the Parks and Wildlife Department. 
  •  DT: Do you have a favorite place within the State of Texas they enjoy visiting that means something to them? 
  •  AB: Do I have a favorite place? 
  •  DT: Yeah. 
  •  AB: Anywhere I can get away from the crowds of people and be out by myself, out in out in good habitat. It don't matter whether big game area, just so there's some type of wildlife to observe. That could be a lot of different areas in the state. 
  •  DT: I guess that experience of being alone and close to wildlife is getting rarer and I was wondering if you could discuss some of the trends you've seen in land ownership as some of these big tracts have been fragmented or land use being changed, you know, brush going towards farming? 
  •  AB: Well, of course, the biggest change I've seen is the fragmentation. Land ownerships becoming smaller and smaller land ownerships.  
  •  The other big change I've seen is is old traditional land that's been in family from generation to generation is being lost and and you see more and more absentee landowners -- people that had a a different profession that made a money in a different profession other than ranching or farming, buying the land and they're more interested in the in the ecological aspects of it the wildlife values or the recreation values and livestock has no real importance in the equation.  
  •  And that's a, that's a big trend here in Texas, a big trend. People are buying land not for the, for the economic value of the farming and ranching activities, but for the recreational, the aesthetic the aesthetic aspect of it and and some of them are returning it to a very good condition too. Doing an excellent job. 
  •  DT: Have you been involved in any of these recovery efforts? Restoration efforts? 
  •  AB: Oh yes yes yes. Not not from the standpoint of non-hunting activities, like horseback riding, birdwatching, I'm not involved in that. But there is a big movement toward some of those things. 
  •  DT: Can you tell us what your experience in trying to restore places to a good hunting habitat? 
  •  AB: Well the first thing people have to realize is what took years to degrade also takes years to bring back. Most of them want to do it in a year or two and it doesn't work that way. It takes years, depending on on the situation and where the lands situated and how bad it is.  
  •  Some can be brought back in a shorter period of time, naturally, than others, depends on how how far down they are. But, most of my experience with most land, it'll take from five to ten years to bring it back to reasonable good good condition and some of the land I've seen in Edwards Plateau, where you had sheep and goats plus too many deer for many, many years, and you had this browse line and and basically rocks on the ground, it might take 20 years or longer. I mean applying every technique known to bring it back. 
  •  DT: And what are some of the typical techniques you've used? 
  •  AB: Well, get the livestock operation down right, get the cattle numbers right if it's cattle, rotational grazing system, proper stocking rates to allow the land to recover. In some cases, I'll even recommend taking the livestock off for the first year or two and then reintroduce them in much reduced numbers. Water distribution is a big thing, a lot of the country further South or West of here you have a water problem with it, you don't have good water distribution. Habitat enhancement practices, whatever that may be, that includes a lot of things. In some in some cases, if you've got some old field areas at all, cleaning them up and planting certain crops in them. 
  •  DT: Good crops for oats for wildlife? 
  •  AB: It could be anything. It could be seed crops for birds, it could be a a winter crop for wildlife, it could be a summer spring summer crop or it could be both, depending on the situation. 
  •  DT: You mentioned rotational grazing. Do you have any opinions about the intensive grazing that Alan Savory recommended at one time? 
  •  AB: That's, that's extreme -- I'm on, I'm on the moderate part of that. Most people cannot handle it the way it should be handled, intensive grazing, I've never recommended it, I'm I'm more on the moderate side, in between, you can't have grazing all the time, you have to have some type of rotational grazing.  
  •  Are you familiar with the barrel system? The barrel system is four pasture. The barrel system has been popular in some areas and particularly the Edwards Plateau and further Northwest. I prefer multiple pasture, one herd if possible. Or if you happen to have more than one herd, have multiple pastures for each herd. That could be - the minimum for my part is probably four pastures.  
  •  But, here is my here is my basic premise, rule of thumb on that is that I would like to have in your rotational grazing system, the most, most amount or most acreage of land possible, vacant of livestock at any given time in in your grazing system, whatever that may be. Without going to having to move them every X number of days, you know, we're talking about having to move in X number of weeks or maybe X number of months. 
  •  DT: With this new wildlife agriculture exemption, are you suggesting to any of your clients that they just not run livestock at all? 
  •  AB: At some point in time, they will have to. Its you're going back to your preservationist ideals and it doesn't work well that way. You need some to to stimulate plants to stir the soil, you need some grazing activity on it. In other words, you can get too much grass. Not enough opening and it can be too thick. At some point in time you have to have some grazing on on the land to to really keep it good. And and the plants diversity of plant species.  
  •  So your your grass, if you let it grown long enough, it'll choke out all your forb growth. It'll decrease forb growth and forbs an important part of the ecosystem too. A plant community. 
  •  DT: I've heard that in some parts, especially in the public land in the West, that they're recommending bringing back the buffalo. 
  •  AB: Well, buffalo is a grazing animal also, just like livestock. 
  •  DT: Yep...the word I've heard is that some of these buffalo are seen as being more benign then cattle and I'm curious if you have an opinion. 
  •  AB: Well, they they're going to eat a certain amount of forage per day just like a cow. They are a lot harder to rotate in pastures or move around. In fact, in some instances they move around where they want to move around to. They have a real problem in some with them just going over fences and going where they want to. So, I can't see that buffalo have a real advantage. If anything, I'd say buffalo would be a disadvantage because you don't have the necessary control over them if you needed that control like you would domestic livestock. 
  •  DT: We should probably start trying to wrap this up so you can get back to your life. I wanted to ask you though, what you think some of the bigger conservation challenges are for managing wildlife and habitat? Or perhaps in other areas that are environmentally related. 
  •  AB: Well, its just like anything else, the biggest challenge is the all the pressures from industry from increased population, from urbanization, all of those things are going to effect it and how were going to mitigate those and how were going to manage for them is our biggest challenges, including including the break up of land into smaller and smaller ownerships. And when it comes to public land, all the diverse interests that are competing for how that should be managed. Its going to be the biggest challenges for the Forest Service, for the Bureau of Land Management and for the private landowner. 
  •  DT: If some of these tracts get fragmented, I know that some small tracts are being managed as a group and co-ops. What do you think about that? 
  •  AB: I'm I'm a very large proponent of co-op- cooperative agreements. I've been on a board of directors of our local co-op in Goliad County and I'm still active in it, I'm a lifetime member of it, I've promoted co-ops, I've given a lot of talks in the other counties about co-ops and how to start them and, what benefits can be derived for them and what some of the obstacles that are having an effect on them are and I'm I think it sat this point in time, in my thinking for the small land ownerships, they'd better start thinking in terms of cooperative agreements if they want anything for the future. 
  •  DT: Do you have other kinds of advice for how you can confront some of these conservation problems? 
  •  AB: Ask me that again, I didn't understand all of that. 
  •  DT: Do you have other advice, like perhaps setting up co-ops that would be useful for people who were confronting wildlife problems? 
  •  AB: Yeah, my biggest advice to anyone- first, if you own land in an area where the land ownership pattern tends towards small land ownerships, and you're interested in wildlife that ranges over more than one land ownership, you'd better start either join an existing cooperative or be thinking of how you can form a cooperative, and not only paying just lip service to it, be actively involved in trying to get as much contiguous land into it as possible and developing a good program.  
  •  The technical assistance, the expertise, the advice, expert advice, the expertise to manage it once its in a program is out there from the Parks and Wildlife, from Texas AandM extension service, there's a lots of help available. But its got to be locally local leadership, local work. You've got to do it for yourself, nobody's going to doing it for you.  
  •  And you'd better be looking long term at the, at the prospects or the advantages of it. It's not - it's something that you better be thinking in terms of what your children and grandchildren have because of what you have today won't be there without those type of cooperative agreements for your children and grandchildren. You better be looking at the long term implications of of being having a co-op cooperative agreement.  
  •  DT: And what is the word that you might give your children and grandchildren about your interest in wildlife and how they might share it? 
  •  AB: Hopefully, they'll keep the land I've put together in the family and they'll add to it. It's already set up for them, all they have to do is take care of it and add to it if possible. Instead of breaking it smaller lets hope they can make it bigger. 
  •  DT: Well thank you very much, I really appreciate your time. 
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Title:Al Brothers Interview, Part 2 of 2
Country:United States
CreatorBrothers, Al (interviewee)
Todd, David (interviewer)
Weisman, David (cameraman)
Spalding, Gary (light and sound technician)
Goldsmith, Lacy (transcriber)
Johnson, Robin (transcriber)
Source:Conservation History Association of Texas, Texas Legacy Project Records
PublisherDolph Briscoe Center for American History
Rights:Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
Original Format:Mini-DV



The rich media version of this video was created by Walker Sampson. His work was made possible by the School of Information, University of Texas at Austin and the Institute for Museum & Library Services.