Bastrop State Park Wildfire Recovery
Aug. 28, 2012
Media Contact: Tom Harvey, (512) 389-4453, email@example.com
Researchers Cautiously Hopeful About Endangered Houston Toad Post-Wildfire
The rarest resident of Bastrop’s Lost Pines forest was already suffering from years of drought before the devastating September 2011 wildfire, yet wildlife professionals are hopeful that the species will come back, pointing to a broad partner effort to aid the toad, a program to raise toads in captivity despite wild conditions, and perhaps most importantly, supportive landowners willing to protect and restore toad habitat.
The natural range of Houston toad (Bufo Houstonensis) once ran from Gonzales to Milam to Leon and Hilltop Lakes to Houston, although experts says the habitat has been fragmented, leaving little resiliency left in the system. Bastrop’s Lost Pines ecosystem was the last place the Houston toad population was stable, but the numbers of the endangered species have been in decline since the 1990s.
The Lost Pines forest Houston toad population had already been negatively impacted since 2005 by the very forest conditions that led to the Bastrop complex fire: a heavy fuel load and lack of cumulative rainfall.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Natural Resource Specialist Greg Creacy says state park staff detected very few numbers of toads during the first breeding season following the fire, but attributes that result more to the historic drought conditions in the Bastrop area between 2008 and 2011 than to the wildfire. Nonetheless, the wildfire will complicate species recovery efforts due to the dramatic loss of suitable habitat for the Houston toad which prefers to shelter under a forest canopy. Only one breeding pair was documented in the state park this year.
Last Labor Day Weekend’s Bastrop wildfires had a negative impact on 40 percent of the remaining Lost Pines segment, according to Dr. Mike Forstner, a Texas State University biology professor who is one of the nation’s leading Houston toad authorities.
But Forstner says the good news is that “just like the citizens in Bastrop, this native Texan has people lined up trying to help and there is a strategy in place to help the Houston toad rebound.”
By 2006, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its collaborators (U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Bastrop County, the Houston Zoo and Texas State University) had begun collecting and establishing a captive colony of Houston toads at the zoo in anticipation of a future cataclysmic event like the Bastrop wildfire.
Forstner says because pre-planning was in place, it will enable recovery efforts almost unheard of for an endangered species. Some 70 percent of the wild population’s genetics is represented in the Houston Zoo’s captive colony of thousands of the toads. Plans have been approved and are in place to begin releasing tadpoles in 2013 to supplement the existing wild population of Houston toads in the Bastrop area to get them through this rough patch.
“Think of it as the human equivalent of extending unemployment benefits,” Forstner concludes. “We have a partnership in place and strong motivation, as well as the capacity to help not just with the recovery of the toads, but also the forest habitat in coming years.”