Deep in the Heart: A Texas Wildlife Story (2022) Movie Script

The top of Texas.
Guadalupe Peak.
It stands above a proud
and diverse state.
Where the Rocky Mountains
and harsh desert
of the American West
converge with the vastness
of the Great Plains.
To where the forests
and swamps of the Deep South
give way to the Blackland
Prairies and Post Oak Savannas.
From the spring-fed rivers
that bless the Hill Country... the tropical brush
of the Rio Grande Valley.
Texas gives life to animals
found nowhere else...
...and attracts migrations
from across the hemisphere.
More headwater springs
to the Gulf of Mexico.
It is a land sculpted by water.
Where nature has selected
for the most adaptable...
...and to those willing
to stake their claim.
This film celebrates
the natural wonders of Texas.
It is a story
about tragedies in our past...
...of recoveries
against all odds...
...and is a call to action
to conserve the wildlife
and wild places in our home.
This is a story
for all who love Texas.
The history of our relationship
with wildlife in Texas... best told on the
High Plains of the Panhandle.
For millennia,
herds of Bison roamed
across Texas by the millions.
Their grazing patterns
shaped our landscapes,
and their meat and hides
nourished the people
who lived here.
They survived ice ages
and mass extinctions.
But their ability to thrive...
...was no match
for westward expansion.
Only three lifetimes ago,
30 million bison roamed the
Great Plains of North America.
So many, they seemed limitless.
They attracted
market hunters West
where an experienced buffalo
hunter could often kill
hundreds a day.
Their hides and tongues
were sold to markets
along the East Coast and Europe.
The meat was left to rot
or was laced with poison
to kill off predators.
Efforts to slow
the killing were ignored...
...for the great Slaughter
destroyed the food source
of Native Americans...
...forcing many
under reservations.
Commercial market hunting
wasn't limited to bison.
Most abundant bird
in North America,
passenger pigeon,
was hunted to extinction.
Wild sheep,
pronghorn, deer, and elk
were killed from all
but the most remote locations.
Waterfowl and shorebirds
were shot by the millions.
Jaguars, grizzlies, and wolves
were killed from Texas.
By the late 1800s,
our wildlife was decimated.
Legend has it that Texas rancher
Molly Goodnight heard
the last bison calves crying out
for their slaughtered mothers.
Of the five million in Texas...
...only five remained.
She saved them
and their numbers grew.
They lived in Palo Duro Canyon
until the 1990s
when they were given
to Texas Parks and Wildlife
and moved
to Caprock Canyon State Park.
These are their descendants.
The survivors of the great
Southern Plains bison herd.
The herd is over 300 strong.
And this is the future.
Learning to be
a bison is hard work.
Especially when you have
to walk on day one.
These wobbly legs will need
to be strengthened.
And it's a good thing
mom's here to help.
They have
an entire prairie to explore.
And neighbors to meet.
Like all communities, there's
always that one neighbor...
...coming out of their hole
with their feathers all ruffled.
There's a diversity
of creatures on these plains.
And this calf needs
to learn how to run in order
to keep up
with the herd one day.
Which will take some practice.
Maybe a little teamwork will
help improve the coordination.
These calves may only be
a few weeks old...
...but the blood
of Texas survivors flows
through their veins.
They were born to run.
These bison won't roam the same
prairies as their ancestors.
But there is room to expand.
There are public lands
across Texas
that can be restored with bison.
Many ranches have
already answered their call.
Bison herds are expanding
across the state.
And they aren't alone.
Following the Great Slaughter
of the late 1800s...
...a series of laws were passed
to recover our wildlife.
Commercial market hunting
was put to an end
and conservation-minded
sportsmen advocated
for hunting limits and seasons.
The creation of forest, parks,
and refuges provided habitat.
And international agreements
protected migratory birds.
The combined efforts
to restore some animals
have been remarkably successful.
And many species
that were killed out of an area
have been reintroduced.
In Texas today,
elk bugle from mountaintops.
Pronghorn grace the prairie.
And desert bighorn have returned
to their mountain homes.
These recoveries are largely due
to people who have dedicated...
...and some who have given their
lives to restore our wildlife.
But there is one specie
that reign supreme on recovery.
The white-tailed deer.
At the end of each winter,
the buck shed their antlers
and begin to grow a new set.
During the velvet stage,
antlers can grow
a quarter inch a day
and under good
rangeland conditions,
the bucks put extra resources
into their antlers' growth.
As summer fades into fall,
their testosterone increases
and they rub the velvet off.
Revealing a fresh new set...
...of weapons.
The rut, the breeding season,
lasts for only a month...
...which they have spent
all year preparing for.
Most fights are
settled within seconds...
...for the risk of injury
is high and the larger buck
typically exerts
his dominance quickly.
But when opponents
are evenly matched...
...a showdown...
...for breeding rights
and territory is inevitable.
Each doe is in heat
for only 24 hours.
The buck's bloodlines
and territories are at stake.
These incredible dramas
should not be taken for granted.
A century ago,
white-tailed deer had been
killed from most of the state
and only survived
in isolated pockets.
Today, largely due
to regulations
and conservation-minded
there are over five million.
Other species have
not shared the same fate.
In a very few special parts of
the South Texas brush country...
...lives a creature
once thought to be lost.
An animal so rare,
it has become nearly mythical.
An ocelot.
Fewer than 80 are known
to exist in the entire country.
Ocelots were once
found across much of Texas
and into Louisiana and Arkansas.
Much of their habitat
has been lost.
Then they were
historically trapped,
hunted and poisoned
by government predator programs.
Today they exist
in only two small populations,
where they are genetically
isolated and inbred.
A catastrophic fire, hurricane
or disease could wipe them
from the country.
Much is unknown,
for many landowners have
not allowed research
on their property
because they are concerned
that the Endangered Species Act
would impact
their ranching operations.
Texas is 95% privately owned,
and recovering
endangered species
is very difficult
without landowners support.
A growing number
of landowners have embraced
ocelot research and recovery.
They take great pride
in conserving
both a ranching legacy
and a wildlife legacy.
Inside one
of these cattle ranches... camera technology
is revealing
the secretive lives of ocelot...
...and has given us a glimpse
at the next generation.
These precious kittens
have no idea
how crucial they are
for the species.
Their survival depends
on mom's ability... hunt.
She has hidden
her kittens to hunt alone.
A green jay warning others
there's a predator on the prowl.
An armadillo.
She'll have to keep hunting.
But she's not the only predator.
The brush can be
a dangerous place for kittens
without their
mother's protection.
Back to the kittens.
The worst sound
a mother can hear.
She has found
one of her kittens.
Sadly... the other
was never seen again.
She will now put her full effort
into raising the survivor.
Her kitten needs to learn how
to hunt on her own one day...
...which will take practice.
And a little hide-and-seek.
this kitten will establish
her own territory one day
and play a part in the greater
recovery of ocelots.
Scientists, landowners,
and many organizations
are working together
to introduce new genetics,
restore habitats
and will hopefully start
new populations
in their historic range.
Like many wildlife species,
their future can be bright.
But they need our help.
Water... rarely comes
peacefully to Texas.
Cold fronts from the north
can collide violently
with warm air
and moisture from the Gulf.
Tropical jet streams
from the west bring
thunderstorms each summer.
While El Nio
and other weather systems
bring uncertainty
from year to year... northers
blanket the state in winter...
...while summer highs
soar over 100 degrees.
Droughts are a cyclical
part of our weather system.
As are floods.
Nearly all
of our rivers are born here,
and they journey
to the Gulf of Mexico.
But much of the rainfall
seeps into the earth...
...into vast aquifers
that cover 80% of the state.
In the poorest limestone
of the Hill Country...
...the Edwards Plateau
soaks up moisture like a sponge.
Below the surface,
water and time
have sculpted a landscape
as magnificent as the one above.
This karst ecosystem is so vast
and receives enough nutrients
from the outside world...
...that life has evolved
in the absence of light.
Inside this constant
temperature climate...
...nature has selected for
animals who conserve energy...
...and who lose traits
that are no longer necessary.
This is an endangered
Texas blind salamander.
They hunt the darkness
by sensing small disturbances
in the water pressure.
They breathe
through their gills,
which change in size, depending
on the available oxygen.
In this world below our feet...
...familiar creatures
have become nearly alien.
A blind catfish.
There are three species in Texas
and they have been found
2,000 feet below the surface.
They are the size of your palm.
And their metabolism is so slow,
they can survive
four years between meals.
We know little about them.
Yet their habitat is the
foundation for our fresh water.
When the aquifers are full,
water bubbles
to the surface through springs.
As springs combined together,
they create creeks.
As the creeks converge, they
form our Hill Country rivers.
It's water.
From stone.
In a select few rivers
and creeks,
the state fish
of Texas hunts the rapids.
The Guadalupe bass.
Each spring, the males begin
preparations to attract a mate.
Step one is finding a suitable
location for a spawning bed.
A gravel floor with surrounding
protective structure is ideal.
He must choose wisely,
or he won't leave
the bed for over a month.
"Ah, perfect."
The second step is
to clean the gravel floor.
A difficult task with only fins,
but a necessary one.
Females don't find
dirt on the bed attractive.
It's tidy.
But is it enough
to impress a mate?
The females are
searching for males
that will give their eggs
the best chance of survival.
They will be judged
on their spawning beds.
"Gross! Hey,
don't mess with Texas.
Getting better.
Yuck! Hey, this ain't Oklahoma.
Now we're talking."
With up to 10,000 eggs to lay,
finding the right partner
is worth searching for.
Sometimes they've been
preparing a bed just for you.
During this courtship dance,
the female releases her eggs,
which are fertilized
by the male.
Exhausted, she has spent
all her energy on reproduction.
But dad duty has just begun.
For a week straight, he aerates
the eggs with his fins
until one day...
These baby bass
have many predators.
And he will continue to protect
them for the next few weeks.
Eventually, their responsibility
passes on to us.
To ensure
that our rivers stay healthy
and the springs always flow.
Which is becoming
increasingly difficult.
The Texas Hill Country
is developing faster
than any other region.
Per capita, each of us uses
138 gallons of water each day.
To meet this demand,
we are taking water out
of the aquifers
and pumping it to the surface.
When we remove more
water than rainfall can refill,
the water table falls,
and the springs go dry.
During the last century,
one half of the major springs
in Texas have stopped flowing
because the aquifer
was over-pumped.
Our rivers and wildlife
depend on these springs.
As do we.
The people of Austin and
San Antonio have taken action.
When water protection efforts
were placed on city elections,
citizens voted overwhelmingly
in support.
They voted to invest
in water rights,
establish parks,
and fund conservation easements.
They have conserved over 200,000
acres of their watersheds.
Because the future health
of the land is tied to our own.
One of these conserved areas
is also helping to protect... of Earth's most
remarkable wildlife spectacles.
Bracken cave.
This is a maternity colony
of Mexican free-tailed bats.
The females migrate
from Mexico to Texas each year
to feed on insects
during the summer,
and to raise a new pup.
At five weeks old,
the youngsters have already
grown to adult size
and are preparing
to take their first flight.
Airspace is crowded,
for Bracken cave contains
20 million Mexican
free-tailed bats,
and is the largest congregation
of mammals on Earth.
It's a difficult place
to learn how to fly.
As the sun sets
each summer evening,
the colony begins to emerge.
It is time for these young
bats to spread their wings.
Bats experience the world
much differently than we do.
They emit sounds too high
for our ears to hear,
which bounce off objects,
and return as echoes,
giving each bat an auditory map
of their surroundings.
But with so many voices...
...their echolocation
is hindered
and they must
also rely on sight.
The new pups must navigate two
rotations around the batnado...
...rise above the trees
and then fly
to their hunting grounds.
Their gravest danger... collision.
The pups who are able
to free themselves
must rejoin the colony.
But they do not yet have
the strength or the skill
to take off from the ground.
Their only hope is
to climb to a high point
to take off again...
The coachwhip is the fastest
snake in North America.
They are waiting...
...for movement.
Alone, the bats are defenseless
against the snakes.
But others have also fallen.
And when one is sacrificed... provides an opportunity
for the others... to escape.
Flying within the colony,
the young bats find safety...
...for their greatest strength
is in their sheer numbers.
Above the tree line,
they fly as a river.
Each individual hidden
amongst the multitude.
They must blend into the group.
The emergence has
attracted attention.
Red-tailed hawks,
Swainson's hawks,
and peregrine falcons
have come to hunt.
They are looking...
...for prey that stands out.
Some of these bats have
over 15 years of experience.
But the new pups...
...don't yet know the dangers
of flying alone
or on the outskirts.
Individuals fall each night.
But as a colony...
they overwhelm the predators.
The bats of Bracken Cave
support an entire ecosystem.
But their biggest impact
is up to 100 miles away,
where they will consume
over 150 tons
of agricultural pests
every single night.
There are 32 different
species in Texas
and hundreds
of millions of bats.
Some night skies
they fly under...
...are more special than others.
Of all the national parks
in the Lower 48...
...Big Bend has
the darkest skies.
Beneath this heavenly expanse...
...are the signs of hope.
These... are the marks
of a black bear.
Bears were once
killed out of Texas.
But across the border,
in the high mountains of Mexico,
a population thrived.
In the 1980s, bears became
a protected species in Texas.
And we waited...
for their return.
In 1987, a female
dispersed from Mexico...
...crossed the Rio Grande,
and made her home
in Big Bend National Park.
Her pioneering instincts flow
through the veins
of our bears today...
...and their offspring.
This mama bear has taught
her eight-month-old cubs
how to find food
with each passing season.
In the fall, that means acorns.
It's slim pickings
on the forest floor,
but... up above,
there's a bounty.
And these cubs,
they have a size advantage.
The very best acorns are
those the big bears can't reach.
The higher the climb,
the sweeter the reward.
Life is good
in Big Bend National Park.
A century ago, these bears
would have been hunted down.
Today... they can
rest peacefully.
But the Chisos Mountains in
Big Bend are relatively small,
and they are already
filled to capacity.
Like their pioneer ancestors,
bears are dispersing
from the national park.
They are seeking
new mountain ranges in Texas.
A place to call home, where
their ancestors once roamed.
But their path to recovery
is far from certain.
There are thousands
of traps across Texas.
Set for our top predator.
The mountain lion.
Once found across the state,
populations now only exist
in the remote canyons
and deep brush
of South and West Texas.
Their territories are massive,
often over 100 square miles.
On average, they kill
every seven to ten days.
Their prey can be
several times their size.
And well-armed.
Some animals take shelter
in the cliffs.
Or move as a herd to have
more eyes on the lookout.
But water is scarce
in the desert.
And prey must drink.
They must be wary...
...for they too...
...are prey.
On rare occasions, mountain
lions will kill livestock.
And some hunters don't want
another predator on the land.
But unlike other states,
where only problem cats
are removed
and mountain lions are either
protected or closely managed... Texas,
they can be trapped, snared,
and hunted year-round
with no harvest limits
and no science-based management.
They can even
be captured in cages
and sold in canned hunts.
In a West Texas
study following 16 cats,
one was shot
and all of the remaining
15 were killed in traps.
It is not required
to check the traps.
When caught,
it can take days to die
from dehydration and exposure.
Every step
they take is a gamble.
And they are
almost guaranteed... lose.
This trap was dismantled
by our camera team.
But there are
thousands across Texas
that are armed right now.
Mountain lion traps
do not discriminate...
...and can catch those...
...just searching
for a new home.
The treatment of our mountain
lions is from a bygone era.
In other states,
they are either protected
or managed as a game animal
with controlled hunting
seasons and harvest limits.
Texas can do the same.
There is no better proof
of our ability
to change and live
alongside the natural world...
...than in the Big Thicket
and Piney Woods of East Texas.
One hundred years ago,
this abandoned structure
was a sawmill...
...where the old growth forests
were cut apart and turned
into lumber.
There are hundreds
of sawmills like this.
By the early 1900s,
nearly all of the East Texas
forest had been cut down.
As the last trees fell
and the top soil washed away,
small groups
of bold Texans resolved
to bring these forests back.
They shared a dream
of a restored ecosystem
and were often met
with ridicule and scorn.
Yet they persisted.
And their vision took root.
Over the course of decades,
they slowly inspired landowners,
timber companies and our state
and federal governments
to combine efforts
and bring the forests back.
This... is their legacy.
Over a million acres of
restored forest and preserves.
They have given us
the greatest gift
a generation can leave behind.
A landscape healthier
than they inherited...
...teeming with life.
The forests of East Texas
average over four feet
of rainfall a year.
So much that the rivers
and creeks simply
can't hold it all in.
As water spills over the banks,
it fills
the oxbow lakes and sloughs.
Like a sponge, these wetlands
absorb the overflow and
act as nature's flood control.
These are the conditions
that our largest freshwater
fish have been waiting for.
This... is an alligator gar.
A female.
She is the size of an adult
human and can live just as long.
She has left
the safety of the river
and is following the floods.
These wetlands will provide
the best opportunity
for her offspring.
In a place free
from other river predators.
She releases pheromones
as she travels
for her suitors to follow.
And they have proven attractive.
With scales
like a suit of armor,
she leads him further
into the shallows.
She has likely waited five
to ten years for the right
conditions to spawn.
And she will release
over 100,000 eggs
which the males
fight to fertilize.
Her eggs will hatch
in only two days
and the baby gar will
be swept back into the river
as the floodwaters recede.
It is a life strategy
so successful,
that alligator gar have
lived here for 70 million years.
Our waterways are home
to nearly 200 native Texas fish.
Over a dozen are
found nowhere else.
They have evolved
for natural water flow,
which has been disrupted.
We have lost one half
of our wetlands in Texas,
which act
as nature's flood control.
They are often replaced
by concrete,
which increases
the flooding downstream.
To mitigate flooding,
over 7000 dams
have been constructed...
...which also irrigate crops,
generate electricity,
and supply our cities.
The reservoirs dams create
are exposed to the sun.
During the drought of 2011,
more water was lost
to evaporation
than was used by all
of our cities combined.
The impact
to our watersheds is so great
that hundreds of miles
of our rivers no longer flow.
And one half of our native
fish species are imperiled.
We depend on the same water.
And we are making progress.
In the last 30 years,
the average water use per Texan
has been cut by a quarter.
Landscaping with native plants,
improving irrigation technology,
storing water underground,
and increasing efficiency
has potential to save much more.
Scientists are finding ways
to release water from dams
that allow
our native fish to spawn.
And some dams that are no longer
useful can be taken down.
Conserving water is crucial...
...for flowing rivers
are the arteries of Texas...
...and the lifeblood
of our bays and estuaries.
Our coastline is unique
due to a distinctive geography.
Texas is protected by barrier
islands and peninsulas.
When salt water from the Gulf
passes through them,
it combines with the fresh water
and nutrients from our rivers...
...creating an underwater
prairie of grass
that attracts life
from across the hemisphere.
The migrations that come through
our coastline are so vast
that the second highest
passage rate
of migratory birds on Earth,
was recorded
right here in Texas.
These coastal marshes are
also home to a master of ambush.
Islands along the coast
provide crucial habitat
for colonial waterbirds
to build nests
and raise their chicks.
As the youngsters grow,
they begin to explore
their surroundings...
...creating an opportunity
for those with patience.
Below the surface,
the mixture
of fresh and salt water
creates a nursery for the Gulf.
Like many coastal species,
redfish are born
as eggs in the ocean
and swept into the bays
by incoming tides.
As juveniles,
they hunt these shallows
until they grow large
enough for life at sea.
In September
of their third year,
a biological urge
triggers them to congregate,
and to begin their migration.
Driven by instinct
and following the tides,
they are swimming to the ocean
to live out their adult lives.
With them, flow nutrients
from across Texas.
Transported by our rivers,
the gift of fresh water
reaches the Gulf of Mexico.
For the first
few leagues offshore,
sediment clouds the water.
But with distance and depth,
the Gulf reveals her true color.
This deep blue world
seems far from our own,
yet nutrients
from our bays and estuaries
fuel much of the plankton...
...which are the building
blocks of life in the Gulf.
In a few very special places,
salt domes have risen
from the seafloor
and combined with tropical
currents from the south.
Here, this plankton fuels
the Texas Caribbean...
...the Flower Garden
Banks National Marine Sanctuary.
Each of these corals is
composed of millions of polyps.
Each polyp feeds
on the plankton.
It is an oasis of life... a desert of blue.
We are still unraveling
the mysteries that abound here.
What we've learned thus far... nearly beyond imagination.
Shortly after the sunset,
during the week
after the full moon in August,
one of nature's most
remarkable events unfolds.
The corals...
...are spawning.
We do not know
how they communicate,
but in unison,
millions of coral polyps
release and fertilize
their offspring.
This seemingly alien world
exists far from our daily
Yet it is connected
in ways that we are just
beginning to understand.
In the next 30 years,
our population is projected
to increase from 30 million
to 50 million Texans.
Urban areas are expanding,
landscapes are subdividing
as ranches split
with the generations.
And energy demand is
consuming millions of acres.
Climate change will
bring more severe droughts,
weather variability,
and hurricanes.
Some of our rivers
are entirely consumed
and no longer flow
to the sea during drought years.
We've lost a quarter of
our birds in the last 50 years.
And there are 69 species
that are state endangered
and 148 that are threatened.
Their future is our choice.
And there is reason for hope.
From the Piney Woods
to the Trans-Pecos,
there is living proof
that we have
the ability to recover
and live alongside wildlife.
There is proof
that our votes can conserve
landscapes and water,
that our backyards
can be habitat
for incredible migrations,
and that endangered species
can thrive on working ranches.
Every single Texas
river has advocates.
And every ecoregion has
land owners and organizations
working to improve the habitat.
Thousands of Texans have
dedicated their lives, careers,
and money
to restore our wildlife
and preserve our wild places.
Yet there is
still so much to be done.
There has never been
a greater need or opportunity... conserve
our unique ecosystem.
And there's
never been a people...
...who love their home... much as Texans.