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Partnership Ensures Future of East Texas Wetland
AUSTIN, Texas — As demands for water these days severely taxes supplies in many cases, it is good news for conservation when long-term provisions are made for wildlife which has to depend on people for much of its allotment.
Thanks to a cooperative arrangement between the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Lower Neches Valley Authority, with infrastructure support from Ducks Unlimited, a critical wetland site on the Alazan Bayou Wildlife Management Area in East Texas could remain viable for over a quarter of a century. The agreement provides up to 10,000-acre-feet of water annually for moist soil management use on the WMA.
“It’s a pretty bold move for LNVA to authorize Parks and Wildlife to use that water to help manage habitat,” said Mike Berger, TPWD wildlife division director. “It sends a strong message about water for wildlife and we applaud the efforts of our partners at LNVA for stepping up to help us support the critical needs of critters.”
Acquired by TPWD in 1991 with help from DU, Alazan Bayou WMA covers 1,973 acres and is one of the largest remaining tracts of bottomland forests along the Angelina River floodplain. And, while much of the area is inundated during the winter, some of the bottomlands on the site that had previously been converted to agriculture remain high and dry. Through the construction of water control structures and a water distribution system, wildlife managers set the foundation to recreate a moist soil environment that waterfowl, wading birds and other species need. Unfortunately, the natural flow of water runoff that biologists were relying upon to fill the wetland cells was eliminated a few years ago with improvements to the county road adjacent to the area.
No water, no wetland.
“We went to TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) and asked for water rights on Alazan and all of the senior water rights were tied up in the Neches River Basin,” explains Gary Calkins, TPWD district wildlife biologist in Jasper. “We couldn’t get any water for the management area, so we couldn’t operate those wetland cells.”
Following TCEQ’s advice to approach the local river authority, the most senior water right holder in the basin, Calkins presented the opportunity to the LNVA. In September 2004, the LNVA Board voted unanimously to support this worthwhile project for the upper reach of the Neches Basin by offering to provide, at no cost, up to 10,000 acre-feet a year to nourish the Alazan wetlands for the next 20 years. “LNVA is pleased to be a partner with TPWD and Ducks Unlimited in promoting important projects, such as Alazan Bayou, by providing environmental flows to sustain our Texas wetlands,” said Cheryl Olesen, President of the Board of Directors for LNVA.
The Alazan Bayou WMA has been identified by the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture as a critical wetland complex consisting of riverine habitats, oxbow lakes, and several other bottomland community types that provide suitable waterfowl habitat. Much of the area floods annually during winter and traditionally attracts large numbers of wintering mallards and wood ducks, as well as numerous shorebirds and migrating neotropicals.
In addition to being a popular waterfowl hunting area within the TPWD public hunting lands system, Alazan Bayou WMA is gaining a reputation among birdwatchers.
“These wetland cells will be open to public hunting starting this fall,” said Bill Adams, a wildlife biologist with TPWD who oversees management of several WMAs in the Pineywoods region, including Alazan Bayou. “But, they also provide habitat for shorebirds that are already using the area. Our goal this summer if we have the opportunity is to conduct some prescribed burns to remove unwanted woody vegetation, which would allow us to maintain the quality of these wetlands.”
TPWD will use a portable pump to draw water from nearby Moral Creek on the Angelina River for use in the wetland cells. The pump was purchased and donated by Ducks Unlimited.
“Ducks Unlimited cannot accomplish its mission of waterfowl habitat conservation without partnerships,” said Keith McKnight, DU regional biologist in Tyler. “In the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department we have an old and trusted partner that shares our vision of quality wetland habitat, and has the staff and land base to accomplish great things on the ground. We continue to work with and depend upon TPWD and our other agency and private partners to make a real difference for ducks and geese across the continent and right here in Texas.”
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