Presenter: Jay Robertson
Dr. Reynaldo Patino

Commission Agenda Item No. 2
Research Activities of the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit at Texas Tech University
May 28, 2009

I. Executive Summary: Since 1989, TPWD has been one of four cooperators supporting Wildlife and Fisheries research through the Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit (Unit) at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. The Unit provides training for fish and wildlife biologists, technical assistance to cooperators, and research. Research is the basis of sound science required to make informed conservation decisions. It is important that TPWD continue to support applied research to meet its statutory responsibilities to the people of the state of Texas.

The Texas Cooperative Unit Leader, Dr. Reynaldo Patino, will make a short briefing on the Unit and its past and current research projects of interest to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission with emphasis on the advantages of this cooperative working relationship.

II. Discussion: The Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit (TCFWRU or 'Texas Unit') is one of 39 Fish and/or Wildlife Research Units in 37 states throughout the country. It was established at Texas Tech University by the U.S. Congress in 1989. In addition to Texas Tech, unit cooperators include TPWD, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and The Wildlife Management Institute. An important purpose of the Unit is to produce trained fish and wildlife biologists and sound biological information for management of Texas wildlife.

The Texas Unit is part of the National Cooperative Research Units Program that today resides within the U.S. Geological Survey. The program began in the 1930s after a blue ribbon committee highlighted the decline in many wildlife species (i.e. deer, wild turkeys, antelope, bison, and other species) and called for incentives from public and private interests to enhance wildlife production on private lands. The committee's report emphasized the dearth of trained personnel for solving problems about wildlife conservation and the need for research to develop information for wildlife management. In 1960, Congress passed the Cooperative Units Act (P.L. 86--686) that authorized funding of salaries of unit scientists as a separate line item in the annual federal budget.

The Texas Unit is comprised of three senior scientist positions whose salaries are covered by the U.S. Geological Survey, although at the present time one of these positions is vacant. Texas Tech University provides administrative support and office and research space. TPWD provides funding to the Unit for operations and for the conduct of research on topics of management significance such as reasons for the decline in Texas red-shouldered hawks, influence of human activities on the state threatened white-tailed hawk, survival and reproduction of Lesser Prairie Chickens (a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act) prior to and after construction of wind energy development, reasons for declining breeding migratory birds along the South Texas Gulf Coast, and declining grassland bird response to wild fire. The Unit also conducts research on Golden Algae, and invasive algal species that is responsible for many fish kills that have occurred in inland waters over the last decade; and on common snook, a once popular commercial and recreational marine fish whose populations have declined to very low levels over the last several decades.

A unique and important value of the Unit to Texas and TPWD is its ability to address very specific, short-term information needs while also conducting long-term state-of-the-art research on the biology and ecology of fish and wildlife. This capability exists for two reasons. First, Unit scientists use graduate students to address the timely applied management questions. This allows the federal scientists to devote time to investigate the more complex, longer-term questions surrounding fish and wildlife conservation. Second, the Unit is affiliated with established natural resource experts and disciplines at major universities. Consequently, the Unit program can address many broader research topics concerning living resources than unit scientists could address on their own. These broad research efforts currently include aquatic and terrestrial ecology, fisheries and wildlife management, community ecology, ecophysiology, ecotoxicology, reproductive biology, and fish culture. These research and educational efforts depend upon the technical expertise of unit scientists and their university cooperators.