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2010 Conference Lineup and Schedule

The 2010 Texas Bigfoot Conference will be held in Tyler, Texas, October 30, 2010, 8:30 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. To pre-register and pre-pay for the Conference, click here. The conference will be at the Caldwell Auditorium, located at:

300 S. College Ave.
Tyler, TX 75702
(903) 262-2300

The fundraiser banquet dinner will be from 7:00 P.M to 9:00 P.M. with a special presentation by Bob Gimlin, who was with Roger Patterson when the so-called "Patterson-Gimlin footage" was taken in 1967. The dinner will be held at the Tyler Discovery Science Place, located at:

308 N. Broadway Ave.
Tyler, TX 75702
(903) 533-8011

General admission is $15.

The schedule for the 2010 Texas Bigfoot Conference:

Doors open at 08:30.

08:30 – 09:30: Meet and greet

09:30 – 09:40: Brian Brown – Official Greeting, Announcements

09:40 – 10:25: Daryl Colyer – TBRC Investigator

10:30 – 11:15: Alton Higgins – TBRC Investigator, wildlife biologist

11:20 – 12:00: Chad Arment, author

Noon – 1:30: Lunch Break

01:30 – 1:50: Robert Swain – Artist

01:55– 2:35: Jimmy Chilcutt, primate dermatoglyphics specialist

2:40 – 3:15: Daniel Falconer – Artist

3:15 – 3:25: Break

3:25 – 4:10: Kathy Strain – Anthropologist, Author; Bob Strain – veteran researcher

4:15 – 5:00: Jeff Meldrum – Anthropologist, primate anatomist

5:00 – 6:00: Panel discussion, featuring all conference speakers, moderated by Brian Brown

7:00 – 9:00: Banquet with featured speaker Bob Gimlin

The TBRC is funded by membership dues, fundraisers, and the annual Texas Bigfoot Conference, in addition to donations and grants. The TBRC desires to enhance the credibility of bigfoot/sasquatch research and facilitate a greater degree of acceptance by the scientific community and other segments of society of the likelihood of a biological basis behind the sasquatch mystery.

The host hotel for the 2010 Texas Bigfoot Conference is the Tyler Sleep Inn and Suites, located at 5555 South Donnybrook Avenue in Tyler (903-581-8646). For those planning to attend, it is recommended that hotel rooms be reserved well in advance. In order to qualify for the discount price, the hotel needs to know that the person or group is in town for the 2010 Texas Bigfoot Conference. The Sleep Inn and Suites will provide a complimentary hot buffet breakfast and a meeting room for Conference attendees. The overflow hotels are: Comfort Suites (903-534-0999); and Holiday Inn Select (903-561-5800).

Refund Policy: If you are unable to attend the conference after submitting your advance registration, we humbly and regretfully must acknowledge that there is a no refund policy and will be considered donations made to the organization in support of the advance planning and preparation that is being put into this event.

We reserve the right to refuse admittance to anyone.

Rude, disruptive, or confrontational behavior will absolutely not be tolerated and will result in immediate removal from the premises by law enforcement.

For additional information, contact us here.

   

TBRC Trains for Safety and Security

Those participating in sasquatch-related field research are sometimes derisively characterized as reckless hunters ready to shoot at shadowy figures or noises in the night. While the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy regularly organizes field activities involving groups of members, TBRC policy mandates that prior permission must be obtained to bring sidearms, and individuals making the request must be legally-licensed by the state to carry. Safety is of paramount concern.

Weapons of elite forces: the Baby Eagle 9mm of the Israeli Security Forces (who refer to the weapon as the Jericho 941), and the Beretta M9, employed by the US Army and US Air Force, were used by some of the trainees. Photo by Jerry Hestand.

Recently the TBRC took a big step forward with regard to firearm safety in the field and personal security at home and elsewhere. On Saturday, 28 August 2010, one dozen TBRC members, along with a few friends and family members, met at a beautiful ranch in Fayette County, Texas, to participate in an all-day concealed-handgun-license (CHL) course taught by veteran law enforcement officer and county judge Tommy Tipton. He is a state-certified CHL instructor and has taken over 1000 citizens through the class.

Two of the students patiently wait for the course to begin in the spacious ranch house made available to the TBRC. Photo by Jerry Hestand.

The course is mandated by the state to consist of ten to fifteen hours in the classroom, with a qualifying session on the gun range. All applicants must pass a comprehensive written exam covering state laws, gun safety, situational awareness, and effective communication related to de-escalation, as well as pass the shooting portion of the course.

The course, which was attended by a dozen TBRC members and guests, was comprehensive, very well-instructed, and lasted to beyond midnight. Photo by Jerry Hestand.

The Texas CHL requirements are reputed to be the most stringent in the nation. Judge Tipton was thorough and professional, and he conducted the class in an outstanding manner. Following the conclusion of the course around midnight, the trainees still had to be fingerprinted and photographed.

All students must qualify with a sidearm of their choice. Photo by Jerry Hestand.

As Judge Tipton stated during one of the classroom sessions, Texas CHL holders have been investigated and vetted more thoroughly than many police officers; they are truly the cream of the crop as good citizens go.

On the firing range. Photo by Jerry Hestand.

Nineteen members of the TBRC, the recent trainees (upon receipt of their licenses) and those already licensed, will have accepted the greater duties of active and responsible citizenship that accompany the CHL, in addition to the commitment to training and handling firearms skillfully and safely.

The range qualification was done in groups of five. Each shooter had an observer. Photo by Jerry Hestand.

   

Low Energy Output Documented in Orangutans

altA recent article on the ScienceDaily website discusses the results of a study on the activity level of orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus). It seems that Homo sapiens sapiens is not the only species to have “couch potato” tendencies.

The article, written by Neil Schoenherr, looks at a study conducted by Washington University, located in St. Louis, in which researchers studied the activity levels and energy output of orangutans living in a large indoor/outdoor habitat located at the 230-acre campus of the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa. What they observed was fascinating. The researchers found that these captive orangutans used less energy, relative to body mass, than nearly any other eutherian mammal ever measured. This would include comparisons to sedentary humans. What makes the results even more interesting is that the activity level of the orangutans studied is very similar to that of their cousins living in the wild.

Herman Pontzer, PhD, is the assistant professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University and was the lead author of the study. He is quoted in the article as saying, “It’s like finding a sloth in your family tree. It’s remarkably low energy use.”

Dr. Pontzer and his team studied the daily energy expenditure of these great apes for two weeks and discovered an extremely low rate of energy use not previously observed in primates. The results seem to dovetail nicely with the slow growth and reproductive rates of orangutans. Dr. Pontzer speculated that this low metabolic rate might be an adaptation in response to severe food shortages in the orangutan’s native habitats. It is pointed out that the rain forests of Southeast Asia, Borneo, and Sumatra all go through periods where the availability of ripe fruit—the orangutan staple—drops drastically. The study suggests that orangutans have adapted over time to become the ultimate low-energy specialists, decreasing their level of activity, and thus, the number of calories required to function, to avoid starving during these forest cycles when food is scarce.

Once again, a discovery regarding a known great ape species may make an argument moot that is often proposed by skeptics to refute the existence of the sasquatch. These skeptics have a pretty standard arsenal of talking points which they use to refute the existence of the species. They claim that if the sasquatch were real it would have to spend nearly every waking minute eating in order to sustain its huge bulk. This study should surely give pause to those who subscribe to this theory. If the sasquatch is a type of great ape, it is not outlandish to think that they could share certain characteristics with their orangutan cousins; maybe this ability to slow down metabolism and limit energy output to the bare minimum is one of them. The ability to do so would be very valuable and could explain occasional sightings of the sasquatch in atypical locales, like the arid scrub land of West Texas, where food would be much more difficult to come by than regions where rainfall and vegetation are more plentiful.

Another typical argument used by skeptics is that if the sasquatch were real the species would be seen more often. The findings of Dr. Pontzer and his team might help explain the paucity of sightings as well. If the sasquatch does possess this low energy output trait then they probably are not moving around much at certain times of the year when food is harder to come by. The less an animal moves around, the less likely it is to be seen by humans. Also, it is implied in the study that the low-energy output seen in orangutans helps explain their slow rate of growth and low reproductive rate. If true, and if the sasquatch shares the same trait, then it is reasonable to assume that it has a low reproduction rate as well. This would keep the population of this rare animal low. Obviously, the fewer of them there are the less likely they are to be seen.

It seems the more we learn about the documented species of great apes, the less fantastic the possible existence of the sasquatch becomes.

This article was originally published at the Texas Cryptid Hunter blogsite. It has been modified for the TBRC website.

Read the ScienceDaily article here.

   

The Big Thicket's Guardian Angel

“The perfection in the balance of nature is empirical evidence of the creative genius of God.”

- Geraldine Watson

The Big Thicket National Preserve of Southeast Texas has become world famous for its biological diversity. It has been called the biological crossroads of North America. What many do not realize is that if not for the efforts of one Geraldine Watson, the Big Thicket might well have disappeared long ago.

Read more: The Big Thicket's Guardian Angel

   

2010 Texas Bigfoot Conference Registration Page

General admission seating for the event is $15 and can be paid at the door.

All of the other packages are available by pre-registration only.

Pre-registration fees paid by PayPal will need to be received by October 25 to process by the date of the event.

Use PayPal to register (PayPal transactions have an additional 3% transaction fee).

VIP Package #1 - $80 (+ $2.40 transaction fee)
Reserved seating at the conference, Conference t-shirt (specify size)
This package includes the catered benefit banquet Saturday night at 7:30 P.M. featuring the special presentation by Bob Gimlin.

Size

VIP Package #2 - $60 (+ $1.80 transaction fee)
Reserved seating at the conference
This package includes the catered benefit banquet Saturday night at 7:30 P.M. featuring the special presentation by Bob Gimlin.


Reserved Conference Seating Package - $25 (+ $0.75 transaction fee)


General Admission Package - $15 (+ $0.45 transaction fee)


Catered Benefit Banquet Only - $35 (+ $1.05 transaction fee)


Vendor Tables are $100 (+ $3.00 transaction fee) for non-speakers
Vendors allowed one general admission to conference only, meals extra
All others will need to pay general admission entry



Refund Policy: If you are unable to attend the conference after submitting your advance registration, we humbly and regretfully must acknowledge that there is a no refund policy and will be considered donations made to the organization in support of the advance planning and preparation that is being put into this event.

We reserve the right to refuse admittance to anyone.

Rude or confrontational behavior will not be tolerated.

For additional information, contact us.

   

Jerry Hestand and the Bigfoot Bounty Hunters

Jerry Hestand dropped a 25-pound sack of plaster of paris over his shoulder and set a brisk pace for the Red River. The Bigfoot Bounty Hunters had no problem keeping up on an early spring day. They were a pack of kids on mission: Search for the legendary beast and along the way capture footprints of the many critters inhabiting the rolling hills of North and East Texas.

Biologist and science teacher Jerry Hestand teaches kids in ways that they will not soon forget.

The tasks of the day were to make plaster casts of as many different animals as they could find, retrieve pictures from a camera trap, and replace the camera’s batteries and memory card. The 16 fourth grade students, some parents and younger siblings hiked a mile or so into the field for the operation.

Hestand is a 14-year veteran fourth grade science teacher at Bells Elementary School. And this is not your typical science club. When Hestand uses the words field trip, he’s being literal. These young scientists sport boots and jeans, or camo, and heft buckets of plaster and sacks of sardines (bait not snacks.)

Hestand carried eco-scientist type high-tech gear in a backpack. A giant smile on his face and binoculars draped around his neck, Hestand watched as his students explored the nature as they came upon it. Periodically, one would exclaim “Wow!” “Look!” or “Ehew, yuck!” and an excited group would form around him or her to examine the find.

The more traditional science and math takes place back in the classroom where the students will measure their specimens and calculate the critters’ sizes. They also research what type of animals’ tracks they’ve captured and information about their habitats and habits.

Before loading the outdoor-skids into cars for the trip to the field, Hestand gathers them into his classroom. This is the scene for the ever-necessary lecture on rules of safety in the out of doors.

“What are the rules?” he asked.

“Stay together. Stay within a grownup’s sight. Wear long pants (some didn’t heed this warning and were sorry). Take water and a snack.” “Watch out for poison ivy.”

And he asked them what were they were looking for?

“Animal tracks!” the students yelled.

“And where will we find them?”

“In the mud,” came their reply in unison.

“Any other rules?”

“Don’t climb over any fences.”

They chose companions for the car trip to some land along the Red River, just a little north and east of their school. A private property owner allows Hestand and his young scientists to use his land. On this field trip day, someone forgot to unlock the gate, so the hike in was a lot longer than planned. That might have meant some anxious moments for parents who expected to meet their children an hour or so later.

The event was closer to three hours. Some of the parents who helped with the transport left early to return students who had siblings in track meets or other events themselves — and reassure other parents that everything was fine, just an unavoidable delay. The remaining team seemed relieved when a dad showed up at the end with a truck and empty flatbed trailer to drive them back to the main road.

But first the group fluttered across the landscape, finding tracks, carcasses, ant hills and many prickly plants. They hit the mother lode when they reached the Red River. They found a place where the animals gathered to take a drink where the river slowed but wasn’t stagnant. The wildlife had worn away the plants and provided the perfect mud field. Hestand demonstrated how to mix plaster of paris to the perfect consistency for casting tracks.

They mixed the white slop enthusiastically, so much so that their clothes were decorated with it.

Their excitement obvious by the hopping up and down and nervous chatter, the youngsters contained their enthusiasm enough to keep from stepping on tracks at the edges. By the end of the day, they successfully had cast “beaver, raccoon, possum, turkey and large water birds, probably blue heron,” Hestand reported in an e-mail Monday.

Students on the field trip were far too busy exploring the wonders of nature to submit to any interviews. But their interest was evident.

After their exercise of casting prints by the river, the group hiked east across a field to a ravine that held a tributary creek to the Red River. This was the site of their first camera trap. Hestand and some of the fathers helped students negotiate the steep bank, about 25 feet high, to reach the camera location. Some found it necessary to test their waterproof capability of their field boots in the creek. Others explored “better” routes up the embankment.

Students who had picked up skeletons and poked at carcasses, showed total disgust as they opened the tins of sardines used to bait the camera traps. The bait has drawn families of wild hogs, a large boar and a doe and her fawn in front of the camera’s lens, Hestand said.

Bigfoot Bounty Hunters came about when students found out Hestand had appeared on the television show “Monsterquest” which airs on the Travel and History channels. The series features scientists investigating mythical creatures and tales. Hestand said he has been a Bigfoot investigator since 2001, when he became a member of the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy. His non-fiction interest grew from his love of classic horror tales, in this case “Legend of Boggy Creek” and “Creature from Black Lake.”

When students heard of his television fame, they often asked him about what he had seen on his trips into the woods and swamp lands.

“I told them a few stories during free time and some of them started to look up some of my investigations and contributions to the TBRC,” Hestand said. “Some of them wanted me to take them on an investigation, so I decided to have them meet me after school one afternoon so they could start their own group with my help.”

About 25 students showed up for the first meeting and they’ve gathered every Monday ever since. The students named their group The Bigfoot Bounty Hunters. They had a contest to design a logo, which now appears on T-shirts. The Bounty Hunters set some goals: They want to find an undiscovered animal, be on television, go on campouts and visit different places where Bigfoot sightings have been reported, learn to hike and canoe.

“We want to learn how to use a GPS, use the Internet to research, learn animal sounds and learn how to make a fire,” Hestand said.

Some of the students have accomplished almost all of their goals — and more. On numerous field trips, they have collected dozens of plaster casts of animal prints. They have set up camera traps (digital cameras with night vision lenses that capture images of animals drawn to the area with bait.) They have watched and helped replace batteries and download pictures from the cameras to laptop computers.

“Three students went with me on a trip to Fouke, Arkansas (Bigfoot sighting central and the setting of Legend of Boggy Creek.) and traveled the bayou at night,” Hestand wrote recently. "We found two huge alligator carcasses that poachers had probably shot for fun (lesson in ecology). We have started a skull collection and we go to the Internet to identify the animal. So far we have found coyote, deer, cow and horse.

“We are working on a Facebook page and we plan to have an end of year camp out.”

Parents support the effort with seven accompanying one field trip and others designing the T-shirts. One father on the field trip said he is just so happy to see his kids out in the fresh air and excited about learning.

The students are selling their T-shirts and field guides called “Critters of Texas,” pocket-size books picture animals and their footprints. The funds go to buying camera equipment and other implements for their scientific inquiries.

“We are planning to award ‘merit badges’ next year, example: Bone patch for finding and identifying bones,;(a) track badge, casting excellent track and identify animal; report badge, write an interesting report about a subject related to our research including pictures or illustrations,” Hestand wrote in an e-mail.

Hestand said the fourth graders, as they prepare for promotion to fifth grade, were worried they could no longer be Bigfoot Bounty Hunters.

“I assured them the group would be open to students interested in nature and they would continue to be junior investigators as long as they were willing to spend their time learning about the world around them,” Hestand said.

What are the limits to learning when the whole world is your classroom?

Original article in the Sherman Herald Democrat.

 

   

Bigfoot's Big Foot

National Geographic has produced an interesting video piece featuring TBRC Advisor Dr. Jeff Meldrum.

You can watch the video here.

It is unclear whether or not this video is to be part of a more comprehensive program on the subject. At any rate, it is always refreshing to see the subject receive serious treatment.
   

Where the Wild Things Are

The rubber Sasquatch head stared with glassy eyes from atop its pedestal. Beneath its gaze, Bigfoot Conference attendees milled about Tyler’s Caldwell Auditorium. Children peeked at the hairy visage from around parents’ legs. A pale man wearing black cowboy boots crossed his arms as a friend snapped a picture with his cell phone. Three teenage boys gave mocking thumbs-ups. Like the elusive or mythical creature that inspired it, the rubber Bigfoot was indifferent to the awe, curiosity and ridicule it provoked.

This was the vendor’s section of the ninth Texas Bigfoot Conference, held annually in the East Texas Piney Woods. Hosted by the nonprofit Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy, the conference is dedicated to the large ape Gigantopithecus blacki that purportedly crossed from Siberia to North America via the Beringia land bridge during the last Ice Age, 12,000 years ago. The ape’s descendants—usually described as bipedal, hairy and standing 7 to 9 feet tall—are most often sighted in rural forested areas receiving large amounts of rainfall, like the Pacific Northwest. Bigfoot also is said to roam the 65-million acre forestland along the Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana borders.

The conference aimed to separate fact from fiction. Mentions of the 1987 schlock film Harry and the Hendersons—in which John Lithgow takes a bumbling Bigfoot into his Seattle home—were met with tight grins by conservancy members.

“A lot of us like to joke around, but we never play in the field,” said member Mike Street.

Attended by about 500, the conference mixed scientific presentations with folks hoping to make a buck off the creature’s legend. In the auditorium, American Museum of Natural History primate biologist Esteban Sarmiento lectured on great apes he’d studied in Africa, Sumatra and Borneo. National Book Award-­winning naturalist-author Peter Matthiessen described a possible Yeti encounter in Tibet and said academia needs to keep a skeptical, but open, mind on undocumented species.

In the adjoining vendor area, a former standup comedian sold Sasquatch-themed hiking DVDs. Nearby, a Hollywood production designer hawked the Sasqwatch, a timepiece enclosed in a large, brown plastic foot.

“Everyone’s always real nice at the conferences,” Sasqwatch-creator Yolie Moreno said. “I’m just happy that Bob Gimlin is wearing one.”

She nodded to a tan man with a white mustache, turquoise eyes and straw cowboy hat. He sipped from a McDonald’s coffee cup, talking with people. Along with Robert Patterson, Gimlin is famous for the only known filming of a Sasquatch. Shot on 16mm film in 1967, the footage shakily depicts a hairy creature walking upright like a man near a creek in Northern California. A regular feature on the History Channel’s Monster Quest, 78-year-old Gimlin is the Mick Jagger of Bigfoot conferences.

“I took so much ridicule over that for 40 years,” Gimlin said. “For a while I was really sorry that I’d ever been down there to see it. But since I’ve started meeting people at conferences like this one, I’ve enjoyed doing them.”

Another Bigfoot celebrity, Smokey Crabtree, scouted locations and starred as himself in the 1970s Bigfoot feature film The Legend of Boggy Creek, shot in Fouke, Arkansas. The movie’s YouTube trailer is replete with grainy Texarkana forestland footage and a Charlie’s Angels-style soundtrack. Crabtree self-published an account of the production, as well as the story of his real-life encounter with Bigfoot, Smokey and the Fouke Monster … A True Story.

“My son shot him three times with a shotgun,” Crabtree said, adjusting his cowboy hat and bolo. “It didn’t do him no harm at all, though. My son was 60 feet away and using squirrel shot.”

Crabtree pointed to a framed picture of a four-toed, 8-foot-long possible Bigfoot skeleton he discovered decomposing on a bed of Arkansas pine needles. “That’s not human,” he said.

He and his wife sold copies of his books and spoken-word CD, The Legend of Smokey Crabtree, next to a poster board covered with faded newspaper clippings. They depicted Crabtree’s other grapples with nature: a 200-pound alligator gar from the Red River in 1958, a 575-pound wild boar and a ­37-pound bobcat trapped with grandson Skeeter.

“One of the biggest mistakes was making that movie,” he said. “I used to shoot ducks in my underwear from the back porch. When the movie caught on, 5 million people came beating down my door. I had to give my property away.”

A young hipster couple next to Crabtree promoted their Web site, BelieveItTour.com. Their logo—“As a child you believe. What happens then?”—depicted a cartoon Bigfoot attempting to hitch a ride alongside a white-sheet ghost and a green alien.

Conservancy members do not appreciate having Bigfoot ridiculed.

“There is a stigma attached to saying you’ve seen a Bigfoot or are interested in the subject,” said conservancy President Craig Woolheater. He squinted through rectangular glasses. “People will laugh at you. It’s lumped in with the paranormal—ghosts, witchcraft, UFOs, voodoo. That’s where the Bigfoot books are in the library.”

It takes a certain type of person to earnestly study a creature that’s largely been dismissed by the mainstream scientific community. And, judging by the conference, men seemed more likely than women to possess that perfect mix of curiosity, stuborness and a predilection for elusive hairy primates. “My sweet wife won’t ever come to these things,” said Gimlin, who had sighted the creature along rural back roads. A few spouses worked the ticket booth with the resigned tolerance that might be shown for ­nascar or wrestling.

I understood their feelings. My wife Catherine had agreed to accompany me to the conference. In an Austin boutique, she’d bought a T-shirt depicting a Bigfoot holding an American flag among pine trees. At the last moment, fearing conference attendees might take her shirt as mockery, she decided to wear her jacket and scarf as cover.

“You don’t seem like a believer,” one man told her. “Did somebody drag you here today?”

Like Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts wary of a meathead jock, Bigfoot conference attendees and conservancy members sometimes hesitated to be interviewed. When I told them I was originally from Henderson, just down the road from Tyler, they became more at ease.

“Did you grow up hearing stories?” was a typical question.

I truthfully had to answer no. Most Bigfoot sightings occur around Texarkana and in the Big Thicket. Henderson falls between these two regions. I could think of only one person who, out of boredom, had spent nights searching for Sasquatch without ever discovering even a footprint.

Many conservancy members claim to have sighted the creature. Woolheater said he and his girlfriend saw Bigfoot walking beside a remote highway while driving from New Orleans to Dallas in 1994. Daryl Colyer sighted Bigfoot near the Trinity River in 2004, claiming the creature smelled “like a sweaty horse.” The conservancy maintains the creature has the population size of the jaguarundi (a medium-sized wild cat whose Texas population is estimated at less than 50) and the intelligence of an orangutan, and lives in the forest’s most remote sections.

“In my lifetime, I’d like to see credible evidence of this animal brought to light and public acceptance,” Woolheater said.

Representing a scientific organization that is largely shunned by academia, Colyer spoke indignantly about this treatment during his slideshow, “Bigfoot 101.” He mentioned University of Florida anthropologist David Daegling’s 2004 book, Bigfoot Exposed: An Anthropologist Examines America’s Enduring Legend. Fellow believers in the audience grumbled. Among other debunkings, the book states there is no scientific proof supporting the creature’s existence and that its recent resurgence is mostly because believers share stories over the Internet.

“My question to Daegling is, ‘Who’s been looking?’ ” Colyer told the crowd. “Do we have any teams out there right now heavily funded by a university? TBRC members do the best we can, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to go back home and put food on the table. We need funding. Money talks.”

Until a Bigfoot is killed or captured, believers hope for other evidence. Bill Dranginis sold his “EyeGotcha” surveillance video equipment at a vendor’s table. Cameras covered in metal grates could be fixed to trees. “Hair snares”—triangular-shaped metal tubes whose inner walls were lined with stiff steel brushes—could be baited and hung from branches to snag a section of Bigfoot hide for DNA study. During one presentation, conservancy wildlife biologist Alton Higgins said the group had spent over $50,000 for surveillance equipment in the Piney Woods. So far they had procured many images of black bears playing with hair snares.

“Do you think Bigfoot can smell the batteries in the camera?” a man asked Dranginis.

“That’s a good question,” he replied.

Believers blame the lack of evidence on the creature’s remote habitat, seemingly nocturnal nature, and the fact that most animals crawl into a crevasse or tucked-away spot to die. “We have 40 cameras out now,” Woolheater said, referring to a Texas-Oklahoma-Arkansas-Louisiana forestland roughly the size of Oregon. “Do the math. It’s very unlikely we’ll get a photo.”

As Dranginis explained the “Eyegotcha” method, American Museum of Natural History primate biologist Sarmiento began his afternoon presentation on the world’s great apes. With shoulder-length black hair, Sarmiento resembled Tarzan’s urban cousin. His slides, displaying many great-ape genitalia, resembled a college lecture. He said species were dying out as human populations encroached on their habitats. Neither negating nor confirming Bigfoot’s existence, Sarmiento said the Patterson-Gimlin footage was not of a great ape.

“The depicted creature’s large mammary glands are hairy, whereas those of humans or chimpanzees,” he said, clicking onto a new slide, “are clearly not.”

Squirming in their seats, a middle-aged couple glanced at each other over their young boy’s head.

Matthiessen, the keynote speaker, is a tall thin man with sunken eyes and gray hair. As late-afternoon attendees sat outside discussing college football or sightings, he leaned against a railing, scribbling on a legal pad. His 1978 National Book Award-winning travelogue, The Snow Leopard, recounts how Matthiessen saw what he believed to be a Yeti in the mountains of Tibet. He had been brought to the Texas Bigfoot Conference by his friend, John Mionczynski, a wildlife biologist who in 1972 encountered Bigfoot in the Big Horn Mountains, which stretch from Wyoming into Montana. Contemplating whether to write a book on the subject, Matthiessen paused to muse on Bigfoot and his worldwide brethren.

“People have a need for story and myth,” Matthiessen said, watching a crowd form around Gimlin. “Most scientists are very skeptical. And they should be. But they shouldn’t have a completely closed mind about it. Remember the coelacanth, a so-called fossil fish? It was believed to be 200,000 years extinct and then turned up 20 years ago off the Madagascar coast. I saw some myself in a tank while visiting the Comoros Islands. So, you know, stranger things have happened than Bigfoot.”

Matthiessen squinted into the humid afternoon sun. Two men with gelled hair, camouflage T-shirts, and fanny packs walked past.

“I’m all for mystery,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a very dull world when there’s no more mystery at all.”

Feeling trampled by Bigfoot, my wife decreed we put an end to the proceedings. After a stop at Starbucks, we sped away from Tyler. Office buildings and chain stores gave way to thick forest and red-dirt back roads. As Catherine unbuttoned her jacket, the T-shirt Bigfoot emerged from its hiding spot to stare at the quarter moon ascending the dashboard.

See the original article at the Texas Observer.

   

Bears Migrating into East Texas at Growing Rate

Mike Ford won’t forget the first black bear he saw near his home in Red River County, about 120 miles east of Dallas. It was the middle of a hot summer day in 2007. Ford, a former SMU quarterback raised in Mesquite, was driving along a dirt road when he noticed a black animal well ahead of his truck.

“I first thought it was a turkey because we’ve got lots of wild turkeys in this area and they’re pretty dark colored,” Ford said. "Then I saw that the animal was too big for a turkey and I figured it was a wild hog but that didn’t look right, either. As I got within about 200 yards, I thought I was seeing a black calf.

“Then it moved and there was no doubt what it was. I’ve seen lots of black bears while I was fishing and hunting in the Rocky Mountains, but I didn’t expect to see one in northeast Texas.”

As wild bears spread into eastern Texas from neighboring Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, more Texas residents can expect bear encounters. Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Ricky Maxey has logged reports of 14 bear sightings in the last year.

That’s a record number but Maxey wonders if it translates to more bears or merely a heightened awareness from the public, which understands the importance of documenting the animals. Most sightings are like Ford’s experience – from a vehicle at a distance.

Outdoor enthusiasts will just have to put up with the bears, protected from Texas hunters. Deer hunting season starts Saturday and with moderate temperatures conducive to increased hiking and camping, more Texans will be in the woods. Curious and intelligent with an insatiable appetite for almost any fruit, vegetable or meat, bears can be highly mischievous.

Nathan Garner, TP&W district wildlife biologist for the Tyler area, said he has two reports that were up close and personal, but both witnesses declined to be interviewed for this story. One encounter occurred not far from the Neches River near the proposed National Wildlife Refuge site in Cherokee County. The other was in the Sulphur River area. Garner said close encounters with East Texas bears are very rare.

Maxey credits habitat conditions for the erratic increase in bear sightings reported to the state agency. When conditions are lush and there’s plenty to eat, bears are less visible. In the 1980s, there were five East Texas bear sightings. That increased to 34 in the 1990s and 49 since the most recent turn of the century.

Since 2000, bear sightings were documented in 23 East Texas counties, and the bruins are showing up more often on remote game cameras used by hunters to monitor deer feeder activity.

“A black bear is essentially a 200-pound raccoon,” Maxey said. “Bears have a tremendous sense of smell, and most of their waking hours are spent following their noses to a food source. The food source is often corn or other bait that hunters use to attract deer.”

Twelve of the counties where bears have been seen in the last nine years border Oklahoma, Arkansas or Louisiana. Five others are one county removed from the border with those neighboring states, lending credence to the theory that bears are migrating into East Texas.

No confrontations between bears and people have been reported, but encounters are most likely during deer season, when hunters spend a lot of time in the woods. Maxey cautions hunters that bears are strictly protected by law.

Since black feral hogs are sometimes mistaken for bears, hunters must be absolutely certain of their target when hog hunting. It would be less expensive to travel to Canada and pay a hunting outfitter than to be convicted of killing a Texas bear.

Maxey said the bears in Red River County are probably young males forced out of Oklahoma by mature males.

Maxey added that the only bear killed by a car in East Texas was a young male run over on Interstate 30 near Mount Vernon in May 1999.

Texas officials have no idea how many bears have drifted into East Texas, but Chris Comer believes the number is small. Comer is an associate wildlife professor at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. For three years, he’s overseen graduate student studies designed to quantify bear numbers and habitat quality.

“We had a graduate student in Red River County who put out more than 350 hair snares to collect hair samples from a bear that brushes up against them,” Comer said. “He only got one hair sample. I suspect the number is much less than 100 bears and possibly no more than 20.”

East Texas black bears were common in the 1800s and Comer said a bear was reportedly killed in Sabine County near the Louisiana border as recently as 1964. Bears were hunted for meat, their fat was used as cooking grease and their hides were tanned. The large animals were also viewed as threats to settlers’ livestock and crops.

The Big Thicket of southeast Texas was the region’s last stronghold for bears. Still largely undeveloped, the Big Thicket is a vast expanse of bottomland hardwood forest north of Beaumont.

In Hardin County, “Uncle Bud” Bracken was considered the bear hunting champ, with 305 hides accumulated during his career in the 19th century. Two hunters in Liberty County reported killing 182 bears from 1883-1885. All their hunting occurred in a 10-mile radius of the Trinity River drainage. Another prominent Big Thicket bear hunter was Ben Lilley, who reportedly killed 118 of the animals in 1906.

Because of shrinking East Texas habitat, black bears will never return to those numbers, but the animals are thriving in southeastern Oklahoma. Joe Hemphill has been monitoring bears for Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for 20 years, and he conservatively estimates as many as 800 bears in the four-county area across the Texas border from Red River County.

Oklahoma had its first modern bear season in October with a strict quota of 20 bears. Archery hunters bagged 16 bruins during the initial 23 days of hunting. Then the season was expanded to muzzle-loading firearms. The biggest bear reported by an archery hunter weighed 345 pounds after it was dressed and quartered. Its live weight was more than 400 pounds.

Hemphill received more than 40 nuisance bear reports last summer. He managed to trap and relocate three of the problem bears.

“Most of the nuisance bears are young males,” he said, “but we’re trapping more nuisance females, and that seems to indicate an expanding bear population. People want to make pets out of these bears, and that’s a bad idea. Bears are powerful animals, and they can be very dangerous when they lose their fear of people.”

Part of the Red River County ranch that Mike Ford owns has been in his family for more than 100 years.

“It’s exciting to think that the bears were here when my family first owned this land and now they’re coming back,” Ford said. “The landowners that I’ve talked with are excited about it. They appreciate all the native animals, whether they’re turkeys or bears.”


BLACK BEARS AT A GLANCE

What: A large omnivorous mammal once native to most of Texas.

Size: Adult bears are five to six feet long and weigh 150 to 400 pounds.

Diet: Bears eat just about anything, including leaves, nuts, berries, roots, fruits, tubers, insects and meat. About 90 percent of their diet is vegetarian.

Habitat: Bears can survive from the deserts of the Trans-Pecos region to the deep forests of the Piney Woods. They den in hollow trees, brush piles, thickets, rock crevices or caves.

Personality: Intelligent, shy and secretive. Most bears work hard to avoid contact with humans. Mothers with cubs are protective of their offspring.

Reproduction: Females mature at 3 to 5 years. On average, they give birth to two cubs every other year.

Life expectancy: About 15 to 18 years.

Home range: About 20,000 acres for a male, 5,000 acres for a female.

Speed: A bear can run as fast as 35 mph for short bursts.

Texas status: Threatened. Bears are protected by state law. The fine for killing a bear is as high as $10,000 plus restitution fees.

Population trend: Bears are moving back into Texas from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mexico

IF YOU ENCOUNTER A BEAR

• Talk in a calm manner while backing slowly away. Do not make direct eye contact.

• Do not run. This may trigger a bear’s chase instincts.

• If a bear approaches you, stand your ground, raise your arms, backpack or jacket to appear larger. Yell at the bear.

• If attacked, fight the bear aggressively to let the animal know you are not easy prey. Do not play dead.

PREVENTING BEAR CONFRONTATIONS

• Never feed bears. Feeding teaches the bears to expect food from humans and is essentially a death sentence for the animal and potentially dangerous for any humans the habituated bear encounters.

• Keep your camp clean with food stored away from tent or trailer.

• Hunters should discard remains of processed game far away from the campsite.

• Hang automatic game feeders beyond the reach of bears.

• Deer corn in piles or open feeders attract more bears.

• Switch from corn to soybeans for wildlife bait to attract fewer bears.

BEAR INFORMATION ON THE INTERNET

www.bebearaware.org

www.bbcc.org

www.fws.gov/endangered/

www.tpwd.state.tx.us

TO REPORT AN EAST TEXAS BEAR SIGHTING

Call 903-679-9821 or 409-384-6894 or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

EAST TEXAS COUNTIES WITH DOCUMENTED BEAR SIGHTINGS SINCE 2000

Angelina, Bowie, Cass, Cherokee, Franklin, Grayson, Hardin, Jasper, Jefferson, Lamar, Marion, Montgomery, Morris, Newton, Orange, Panola, Polk, Red River, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby, Wood.

Original article featured in The Dallas Morning News.

   

Legend With Legs

They came from across the country to share experiences and become informed on the latest scientific clues that may prove that their belief in the so-called Bigfoot is not so implausible. The need to validate the existence of Bigfoot or Sasquatch has been an ongoing effort since the 1950s and it was thriving Saturday in Tyler.

For the first time, the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy’s Bigfoot Conference met in Tyler, after outgrowing former venues. An estimated 500 people lingered around D.K. Caldwell Auditorium to hear sociologists, biologists and TBRC organizers speak about scientific research on the infamous hairy creature.

Daryl Colyer, vice chairman of TBRC, said he’s turned his childhood interest in Bigfoot into a full-time hobby.

“I’ve heard a lot of legends and stories from family when I was growing up,” he said. “When I got older it was all folklore but I decided to research it for myself before making an opinion about it.”

Colyer said his encounter with a Bigfoot-type creature occurred in Liberty County just off the Trinity River. He said while he and his wife were walking a trail at dusk, they spotted a hairy, reddish brown figure with a musky smell crossing the trail.

“I was in shock, in total awe,” he said. “From there, legend became a reality. I don’t care if people don’t believe me. That’s what I saw.”

“It is strange and it is bizarre. It’s difficult for most people to believe. But we need to be aware of the facts. It can exist. We know that Gigantopithecus blacki once existed. So it’s not that far of a stretch.”

Researchers say Gigantopithecus blacki is an extinct genus of ape that lived hundreds of thousands of years ago in China and other parts of Asia.

“It was a species. We assume it’s extinct, but this may be what people are seeing,” Colyer said. “It’s tough for people to wrap their minds around it.”

FIGHTING STEREOTYPES

Attendees at the conference came from various backgrounds and ages. Baylor University sociologist Carson Mencken told the audience that while the typical casual Bigfoot believer has been someone from a low socioeconomic group, a minority and/or has a nonprofessional vocation, there are plenty of educated professionals who are interested in researching the creature. He said the Bigfoot believer as a backwoods eccentric is a product of media hype.

“The media likes interesting stories. They are more interested in finding strange people with tin foil on their heads. We want to dispel those stereotypes.”

He added, “It’s not just gullible people that didn’t go to school. We have people of all walks of life doing research on Bigfoot.”

Lance Hightower, of Tulsa, Okla., is an example of the not-so-typical Bigfoot enthusiast. He attended the conference for the first time with his 11-year-old son, Sterling.

“I fell into a weird category,” he said. “I’m a minority, I’m self-employed, a professional and I’m a doctor.”

Hightower said he’s been drawn to Bigfoot lore since he was a young boy. He said he came to the conference to be among other “like-minded people” who are serious about the subject.

“Since I was (Sterling’s) age I’ve always been fascinated with Bigfoot,” he said. “It really wasn’t until a brother of mine had an encounter that it began to resurface my interest.”

Hightower said his brother and a friend had a close encounter with a large ape-like figure while relaxing at a riverbank. He said the creature chased them as they fled in their truck.

“He waited two years to tell me that story and he’s told it to me five or six times since then and the story’s never changed,” Hightower said.

Hightower said his Christian faith does not keep him from believing Bigfoot exists.

“God made everything. Why can’t he still make a creature like this that we’ve never seen?”

An avid outdoorsman, Hightower said he hopes to one day spot Bigfoot as he continues his own research.

A FORMER SKEPTIC

Bob Gimlin, the man who partnered with Roger Patterson to record the first sighting of Bigfoot, was at the conference. He signed autographs and took photos with admirers.

TELLING TALES: Bob Gimlin, of Yakima, Wash., (center) holds a book with a photo from a bigfoot sighting in northern California at the 2009 Texas Bigfoot Conference at Caldwell Auditorium in Tyler on Saturday. He was with Roger Patterson when a 1967 film many have seen caught a supposed bigfoot mid-stride. (Staff Photos By Herb Nygren Jr.)
 

“I came down here because I feel people are interested in coming to these conferences and I want to enlighten thing about my experience,” he said.

Patterson recorded the infamous video of a supposed Bigfoot on Oct. 20, 1967. Gimlin said rights were sold to different companies in 1972 and since then, the famous image of an ape-like creature in mid-stride has surfaced around the world. He said he has made no money from it. Gimlin recounted that day at a creek in northern California.

“I was pretty much a skeptic at the time,” he said. “We were hoping to see one but didn’t think we’d see one. Some people claim it was fake, that it was a man wearing a suit. It’s been hashed out for 42 years.”

Gimlin said he was frightened by the creature that’s estimated to be about 7-4 and weighed between 500 and 800 pounds.

“My heart was jumping up and down inside my body,” he said. “When you see something that’s nearly 8 feet tall covered with hair and is not supposed to exist, it makes you pretty scared.”

He added, “I know it was real. This is America, where you can have whatever thought you want and say what you think.”

WHAT NEXT?

Colyer said scientists claim there are 10 million species yet to be discovered and 10,000 to 20,000 new species are discovered every year. He said five new primates have been classified in this decade. Bigfoot believers say if science proves the creature exists, it would be time for government-funded research that might lend a clue into the history of human beings.

“That’s when the real fun begins,” Colyer said. “Maybe anthropology books would have to be rewritten.”

Most accounts of a Bigfoot sighting indicate that the creature is not violent and is often frightened by humans. Believers say they do not want to hurt or capture the animal.

“I think you appreciate it. You protect it,” Hightower said.

Sean Whitley, of Dallas, produced a documentary called “Southern Fried Bigfoot.” It was filmed in parts of East Texas and draws attention to suspected sightings in the South as some believe Bigfoot only appears in the northwest. His film debuted on the Documentary Channel in the spring.

“I keep and open mind. I don’t believe or disbelieve,” he said. “I leave it up to the audience to make their minds up.”

Attendees participated in a survey and submitted results halfway through the conference. One result indicated that 70 percent of those participating thought that Bigfoot’s existence would be confirmed within the next 10 years.

An artist’s depiction of a life-size Bigfoot head watches over the lobby Saturday afternoon.

Original article in the Tyler Morning Telegraph.

   

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