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Texas wild-rice now protected in segment of San Marcos River
AUSTIN — If you feel a tickle on your toes while tubing in the San Marcos River, it may be Texas wild-rice, an endangered species found nowhere else in the world.
Thursday the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission designated a segment of the river from the Spring Lake Dam to the San Marcos wastewater treatment plant as a State Scientific Area to prohibit uprooting of Texas wild-rice in that stretch of the stream. When the river is low, recreational users may see physical barriers around vulnerable stands of wild-rice to help people avoid the plant while enjoying the river.
“Designation of the State Scientific Area provides the tools to ensure Texas wild-rice can continue to recover while allowing the public to continue recreational activities," said Cindy Loeffler, TPWD Water Resources Branch Chief.
Texas wild-rice (Zizania texana) is found only in the upper two miles of the San Marcos in central Texas. The plant’s leaves can sprout up to 45 inches by ¼ to 1 inch wide with black or brown rice seeds. Texas wild-rice grows in patches in the river and provides habitat to fish and smaller wildlife. This federally endangered aquatic grass depends on the flow of the San Marcos Springs and spends most of its life underwater, coming out only to flower.
Historically, Texas wild-rice was abundant in the San Marcos River, but its range is now reduced to an area extending from just below Spring Lake dam downstream to the City of San Marcos wastewater treatment plant. Reduced spring flow, increased siltation and pollution have all contributed to a decrease in plant population. High recreational use of the river and its banks has also impacted Texas wild-rice. Wading can damage or uproot plants, especially during low flow conditions.
Uprooting Texas wild-rice from the State Scientific Area is a Class C Parks and Wildlife Code misdemeanor which carries a $25-$500 fine. This is usually done by people looking to remove the species mistakenly thinking it a weed, or by tubers or swimmers holding on to the plant for stability in the river current.
The State Scientific Area designation for this river segment is a major step for the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP), a group of diverse stakeholders working to restore and recover federally-listed threatened and endangered species that depend on the Edwards Aquifer for their aquatic habitat.
“Just the act of establishing a state scientific area and the signs noting that location will go a long way toward educating river users,” said Dianne Wassenich, program manager for the San Marcos River Foundation (SMRF). “The scientific area will not interfere with tubing and boating activities, because we know we can allow recreation to pass by without harming the rice.”
The EARIP was created to manage the diverse interests of users pulling from the Edwards Aquifer and to create a workable plan to protect native endangered species which rely on the aquifer and its flows in the Comal and San Marcos Springs. In 2006, the Texas Legislature approved the program to serve as a new approach to resolving longstanding disputes regarding endangered species protection and Edwards Aquifer water use. Members of EARIP include interest groups such as the SMRF, water utilities, cities, groundwater conservation districts, agricultural users, industrial users, environmental organizations, individuals, river authorities and state and federal agencies.
These stakeholders were brought together to create a long-term recovery plan to protect spring flows, especially during extreme drought periods and to create conservation measures to satisfy the legal requirements of protecting the area’s endangered species. Key components of these measures include habitat restoration, exotic species management and recreation management.
Establishment of the San Marcos River State Scientific Area is one of the first conservation measures to be implemented by the collective.
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