Endangered Species


The Panhandle Wildlife District covers 2 geographic ecological regions - the High Plains and the Rolling Plains (Find out more about the vegetation of these 2 regions). Together, the High and Rolling Plains comprise the Southern Great Plains of the central United States. Although each region is unique, there are many similarities between the two with respect to the management and conservation of threatened and endangered species.

Locations and Physiographic Characteristics

High Plains

The High Plains Region covers the western panhandle of Texas and extends into areas of eastern New Mexico and northwestern Oklahoma. These flat to gently-sloping plains are normally dry, and except for agricultural conversion, are dominated by native, low-growing grasses. Key vegetation is warm season perennial species such as blue grama, hairy grama, buffalograss, sideoats grama, and (in low, wet areas) western wheatgrass. This area is often referred to as the Shortgrass Prairie because arid conditions greatly limit the stature and diversity of vegetation. The area grades into taller grass to the east, to Trans-Pecos shrub savannah to the south, and more chaparral and pinyon-juniper in areas to the west in New Mexico. The High Plains are largely free of trees or brush; however, honey mesquite and yucca have invaded vast areas of loamy soils, and purple sandsage and sand shinnery oak have spread throughout sandier sites. Playa lakes, saucer-shaped ephemeral wetlands, are numerous (~19,000) and also play an essential role in the ecology and history of this region. Playa soils (“vertisols”) typically shrink and swell through dry-wet hydrologic cycles. Many basins have lost their water storage capacity due to sedimentation caused by agricultural run-off as a result of modern farming practices (“clean farming”). Large expanses of agricultural lands have been reseeded to monocultures of weeping lovegrass and Old World bluestems. Salt cedar (tamarisk) and Russian olive are aggressive exotic plants that are increasing within major riparian systems. Natural disturbances such as grazing, prairie dog digging, historical bison wallowing, and frequent-to-infrequent hot summer fires likely affected grassland diversity (Samson and Knopf 1996). Along the eastern edge of the High Plains lies the Caprock Escarpment, a major landscape feature that serves as the dividing line between the High and Rolling Plains Regions.

Rolling Plains

The Rolling Plains region extends north from the Edwards Plateau to western sections of Oklahoma. The landscape is flat to rolling plains, with natural vegetation consisting of mixed-grass and shortgrass prairie, shinnery oak grasslands, and mesquite savannah grasslands. Mixed-grass prairie is the transition zone between the Cross Timbers Region and tall grass prairies located to the east in Texas and Oklahoma, and the shortgrass prairie located in the western part of the physiographic (ecological) area. Native grasses (sideoats grama, little bluestem, sand bluestem, indiangrass, switchgrass, plains bristlegrass, blue grama, and buffalograss) and forbs are the dominant vegetation. Sand shinnery oak grasslands are located within areas of sandier soils with broad rolling topographic relief. Mottes (clumps) of sand shinnery oak and shinnery-post oak hybrids occur throughout broad expanses of mixed-grass prairie. Mesquite savannah grasslands typically occur on flat to gently-rolling topography within areas of clay and clay loam soils. They are characterized by an open canopy of larger mesquite trees, a mid-story shrub such as lotewood condalia (“lotebush”), half-shrubs and succulents like ephedra, prickly pear, and tasajillo (“pencil cactus” or “turkey pear”), with a herbaceous understory of little bluestem, sideoats grama, and plains bristlegrass and forbs. Drought and topography affect species composition; mesic (i.e., wetter) conditions favor taller grasses and xeric (i.e., drier) conditions favor shorter grasses. Redberry juniper, mesquite, and Eastern red cedar are considered aggressive invader species. Large expanses of agricultural lands have been reseeded to monocultures of weeping lovegrass and Old World bluestems. Salt cedar (tamarisk) and Russian olive are aggressive exotic plants that are increasing within major riparian systems. Disturbances such as grazing, prairie dog digging, historical bison wallowing, and frequent-to-infrequent hot summer fires likely affected grassland diversity (Samson and Knopf 1996).

Conservation Issues

Major ecological characteristics of the High Plains and Rolling Plains have been forever changed by use of the plow for agriculture, barbed wire fencing to control grazing animals, and by prevention of natural fires during the past century. Nonetheless, some fragile and unique habitats such as sand shinnery oak-sand sage dunes survive in areas southwest of Lubbock and northeast of Amarillo; and, sub-irrigated wet meadows persist along portions of the Canadian River and other riparian systems east of Pampa, Clarendon, and Childress. These areas are almost exclusively in private stewardship and are rich in biodiversity. However, due to large-scale habitat loss, alteration, or degradation, some species occurring in the High Plains and Rolling Plains are categorized as threatened or endangered. Destruction/degradation of habitat is clearly the number one cause for decline and/or potential extinction of species, not only within these two regions of Texas, but throughout the state.

Approximately 16 million acres of native short and mixed-grass prairie currently exist in the Texas panhandle. These native prairies provide important habitat to a variety of resident and migratory wildlife, many of which are species of concern. Some of the more visible species include black-tailed prairie dogs and pronghorns, while others like the swift fox, mountain plover and lesser prairie-chicken are more secretive and are more difficult to observe.

Short and mixed-grass prairies of the High Plains and Rolling Plains were historically shaped by the forces of climate, grazing, and fire (Gillihan et al. 2001). Because of these forces, grassland wildlife species had continual access to a variety of habitats in different stages of plant growth. In essence, herds of grazing animals could move among the variety of habitats available until a suitable one was found (e.g., more palatable vegetation). As a result, the amount of natural vegetative structure and diversity for all species within these two vast prairie regions was great. Today, modern grazing practitioners strive to insure more even use of livestock forage, including native prairies, through controlled distribution of grazing animals, which results in a landscape that varies little (or less than historically) from one area to another. The diversity (both over time and space) of habitats has been reduced; in short, quantity and quality of habitat for many grassland species has declined.

During the past 100 years, more than half of the native prairies in Texas have been lost to urban development or converted to cropland. Loss of habitat has caused concern about some of the prairie-dependent species like the lesser prairie-chicken, swift fox, mountain plover, black-tailed prairie dog, and pronghorns. Most rare species inhabit privately owned and managed lands in Texas. Incentive programs to assist private landowners in protecting and managing habitats for all wildlife, including rare species, can have a direct and positive impact on their conservation. Therefore, Texas Parks and Wildlife offers the Landowner Incentive Program to provide financial incentives that encourage landowners to help conserve habitats for rare and declining species. The program is flexible and is available to all private landowners wishing to voluntarily improve land health with a focus on rare/declining species. Please contact The LIP program coordinator, or the Panhandle LIP coordinator, or your local TPWD biologist for more information.

Threatened and Endangered Species, and Species of Concern in the Texas Panhandle

There are several Threatened and Endangered (T/E) species and Species of Concern (SOC) in the Texas Panhandle; some are listed in the following table. However, this list is not inclusive and there are many other resources available for those interested in further information. The TPWD Endangered Species listing provides a complete listing State of Texas Threatened and Endangered species for Mammals, Fishes, Reptiles, Amphibians, Plants, Birds, and Invertebrates. If you are interested in obtaining site-specific information on potential impacts to T/E species, SOC, natural communities, and/or special features presently known or potentially occurring in the vicinity of a proposed project, contact the TPWD Panhandle Endangered Species Biologist, or complete a Rare Resources Review Request and submit it to the contact information listed on the form. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is responsible for administering the Federal Endangered Species Act; ECOS Environmental Conservation Online System for endangered species. Contact the TPWD Panhandle Endangered Species Biologist, or the local USFWS biologist for more information.

T/E Species and Species of Concern
Common Name Scientific Name Description Listing Status
American Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus anatum Potential migrant; nests in west Texas DL, SE
Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus Found primarily near coasts, rivers and large lakes; nests in tall trees or on cliffs near water; communally roosts, especially in winter; hunts live prey; scavenges and pirates food from other birds LT-PDL, ST
Ferruginous Hawk Buteo regalis Habitat includes open areas, primarily prairies and plains; nests in tall trees along streams or on steep slopes, cliff ledges, river cut-banks, power-line towers SOC-F
Lesser Prairie Chicken Tympanuchus pallidicinctus Habitat includes arid grasslands, generally interspersed with shrubs; primarily found in Lipscomb, Roberts, Hemphill, Wheeler, Gray, Donley, Collingsworth, Bailey, Cochran, Yoakum, Terry, Gaines and Andrews counties
NRCS WHMI leaflet
Mountain Plover Charadrius montanus Breeding season habitat includes nests on high plains or shortgrass prairie, or on ground in shallow depression; nonbreeding habitats include shortgrass plains and bare dirt (plowed) fields; primarily insectivorous; often associated with large prairie dog towns
NRCS WHMI leaflet
Western Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia hypugaea Habitats include open grasslands, especially prairie and plains areas; nests and roosts in abandoned burrows; primarily associated with prairie dog towns SOC-F
Whooping Crane Grus americana Potential migrant LE, SE
Interior Least Tern Sterna antillarum athalassos This subspecies is listed as endangered only when inland (more than 50 miles from a coastline); nests along sand and gravel bars within braided streams and rivers; eats small fish and crustaceans; when breeding, forages within a few hundred feet of the colony; primarily associated with Canadian River and Prairie Dogs Town Fork Red River habitats in Briscoe, Hall, Childress Armstrong, Randall, Hemphill, Roberts, Hutchinson counties
TPWD Ecologically Significant River and Stream Segments
Black-footed Ferret Mustela nigripes Considered extirpated in Texas; potential inhabitant of prairie dog towns
The Mammals of Texas - Black-footed Ferret
Black-tailed Prairie Dog Cynomys ludovicianus Inhabits dry, flat, short and mixed-grass grasslands, with low relatively sparse vegetation, including areas overgrazed by cattle; live in large family groups
Wildlife Diversity Permits
Cave Myotis Bat Myotis velifer Colonial and cave-dwelling; also roosts in rock crevices, old buildings, carports, under bridges, and even in abandoned Cliff Swallow nests; roosts in clusters of up to thousands of individuals; hibernates in gypsum caves of the Panhandle during winter; opportunistic insectivore
Bat Conservation International
Swift Fox Vulpes velox velox Restricted to current and historic shortgrass prairie; western and northern portions of the Panhandle SOC-F
Palo Duro Mouse Peromyscus truei comanche Restricted to rocky, juniper-mesquite covered slopes of steep-walled canyons on the eastern edge of the Llano Estacado (primarily Palo Duro Canyon); juniper woodlands in canyon country of the panhandle; primarily nocturnal.
The Mammals of Texas - Palo Duro Mouse
Texas Kangaroo Rat Dipodomys elator Mesquite not required, but mostly in association with scattered mesquite shrubs and sparse short grasses in areas underlain by firm clay soils; along fencerows adjacent to cultivated fields or roads; burrows into soil with openings usually at base of mesquite or shrub; active throughout the year; nocturnal, feeds on grass seeds, insects and annual and perennial forbs; young born in underground nest chamber
The Mammals of Texas - Texas Kangaroo Rat
Sand Dune Lizard Sceloporus arenicolus Confined to active sand dunes; dwarf shin-oak sandhills with sagebrush and yucca; opportunistic insectivore; burrows in sand or plant litter to escape predators; known distribution in Texas limited to Andrews, Crane, Ward and Winkler counties C
Texas Horned Lizard Phrynosoma cornutum Occurs in open, arid, and semi-arid regions with sparse vegetation, including grass, cactus, scattered brush, or scrubby trees; soil may vary in texture from sandy to rocky, but because horned lizards dig for hibernation, nesting and insulation, they are often found in loose sand or loamy soils; burrows into soil, enters rodent burrows, or hides under rocks when inactive; breeds March-September
Website for TPWD Wildlife Fact Sheet – Texas Horned Lizard

** Listing Status Abbreviations:

References and Suggested Reading

Gillihan, S. W., D. J. Hanni, S. W. Hutchings, T. Toombs, and T. VerCauteren. 2001. Sharing your land with shortgrass prairie birds. Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, Brightton, Colorado, USA. 35 pp.

Samson, F. B., and F. L. Knopf. 1996. Prairie conservation: preserving North America’s most endangered ecosystem. Island Press, Washington D.C., USA. 339 pp.

Schmidly, D. J. 2002. Texas natural history: a century of change. Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock, Texas, USA. 534 pp.

Seyffert, K. D. 2001. Birds of the Texas Panhandle: their status, distribution and history. Texas A&M University Press, College Station, Texas, USA. 501 pp.