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Fall 2009          A publication of the Wildlife Division—Getting Texans Involved


They were one of the first things noticed by settlers arriving from the east – these extensive stands of large, old growth pine trees. They are the fuel that drives a major industry – forestry is an important element in east Texas. They are also the vital element of an ecosystem that encompasses the eastern edge of our state – the pineywoods. And this edition of the newsletter they are the focus of our discussion – conservation in the east Texas Pineywoods.

Challenged by Change

By Ricky Maxey

Someone unfamiliar with the Pineywoods Ecoregion of Texas might develop a mental picture of a landscape completely dominated by pine forests, but the Pineywoods landscape is much more diverse than that. The Pineywoods extend into portions of 40 counties along the eastern side of the state where it borders Arkansas and Louisiana. Depending upon which map you use it also either borders or is close to Oklahoma as well. The forests of the southeastern United States reach their western boundaries within this ecoregion and the Post Oak Woodlands and Prairies. The Pineywoods ecoregion of Texas is bounded on the north and west by the Post Oak Woodlands and Prairies, on the west by portions of the Blackland Prairie, and on the south by the Gulf Coast Prairies and Marshes ecoregions. The Pineywoods ecoregion is very rich in biological diversity, particularly within those ecotonal boundaries.

Though there are fairly expansive pine forests, and mixed pine-hardwood forests within this landscape there are other vegetative communities as well. The Pineywoods landscape contains a mosaic of vegetative communities including: dry longleaf pine woodlands, dry pine-oak-hickory woodlands, wet longleaf pine woodlands, dry-mesic mixed pine-hardwood and hardwood-pine forests, mesic slope and terrace forests, minor stream bottom forests, seasonally flooded river floodplain forests, semi-permanently flooded swamps, seeps and bogs, and localized native grasslands. The topography of this landscape is rolling hills dissected by stream corridors and river floodplains in the north, flattening out as it reaches the coast. Uplands are dominated by species such as longleaf pine, shortleaf pine, post oak, red oak, white oak and black hickory. On terraces, lower slopes and bottomlands species such as loblolly pine, American beech, southern magnolia, willow oak, water oak, green ash and water hickory are common. Swamps and wetlands provide habitat for baldcypress, redbay, water tupelo, planertree and common buttonbrush. Native grasslands are dominated by species like little bluestem, big bluestem and Indiangrass.

This beautiful mosaic of vegetative communities changes in character with changes in climate, soil types and land forms. There is constant interplay between temperate and tropical climates in this region of convergence that result in weather related events like flooding, fire, tornadoes and hurricanes. These events, the forces of water, wind and fire, and the physical characteristics of the land itself create a dynamically changing mosaic of vegetative communities across the landscape. Many of the vegetative communities, though are striving to achieve natural succession - changing over time in response to these events, or interruptions, as they have for centuries. Anyone who has worked with me in the field has heard me lament a desire to be able to go back in a time machine and see this landscape before the impacts of European man’s settlement of the region. Though our Pineywoods landscape is still beautiful, I think we had native forest and grassland communities that would rival any in the eastern United States.

The Pineywoods ecoregion has a very colorful history dating back first to the Native Americans. The earliest people of record included the Caddoan Indians who had a village-based society that combined hunting and gathering from the forests, clearing land for agricultural crops and villages, and setting fires to improve travel and hunting conditions. There are a number of towns in the region that were originally Caddoan Indian villages, and are among the oldest towns in America. Accurate accounts of the impacts of these peoples on the landscape are few, and natural vegetative communities across the landscape remained mostly in-tact.

Exploration and settlement by European settlers over the past few centuries have highly impacted and changed the Pineywoods landscape at a regional scale. These waves of settlers started when explorers from Spain travelled the landscape setting up garrisons and missions to facilitate settlement of the region. Since that time, this part of the state was part of six nations: Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, the Confederacy and the United States. The history of settlement of this region goes back as far as any in the United States. These settlers, regardless of nation, were looking for broad expanses of land to establish an agrarian society based primarily on the production of row crops including cotton. Any property that could grow crops was converted to do just that, and entire vegetative communities were altered and removed. Some soils that were too harsh for agricultural crops produced lumber, but the logging of those forests was whole-scale with little regard for reforestation. The fact that vegetative communities were able to survive this period makes a bold statement about the recuperative capabilities of these lands, and the favorable climate for plant growth within the region.

More recent forces of change, since the early 1900’s, have included oil and gas exploration and production, conversion of large tracts of forest lands to pastures for cattle production, inundation of large expanses of bottomland hardwood forests to create reservoirs, and the ever-increasing urban and rural sprawl associated with a growing human population. In addition to the sprawl associated with population growth there is a tremendous amount of landscape being converted into highways, rail lines, manufacturing facilities and other infrastructure.

One force of change that has been associated with the growth of the human population from the initial forays of the Spaniards to the present is the ever increasing number of non-native invasive animal and plant species that have been introduced by humans. Their destructive, severe and costly impact upon native animal and plant species and human infrastructure is a force that will have to be recognized. Some of these species in the Pineywoods include: feral hogs, feral cats, feral dogs, fire ants, raspberry crazy ants, Chinese tallow, Japanese climbing fern, Kudzu, hydrilla, elodea and giant salvinia. Though there has been much effort aimed at control of these pests, their impacts on the landscape continue to increase.

Efforts to conserve and manage the natural resources of the Pineywoods landscape are better focused on multiple-use and sustainability, and great strides are being made to utilize resources while assuring their existence for future generations. Approximately one-third of this landscape was owned by timber companies until recently. Since these companies divested themselves of these lands, most have been acquired by timber investment management organizations and managed for investment funds under the sustainable forestry initiative similar to the previous landowners.

The challenge for the Pineywoods as it continues to be subdivided into an increasing number of smaller parcels is to conserve native vegetative communities and the habitats for native animals and plants within a continually altered and fragmented landscape. How do we create significant blocks of habitat with corridors of connectivity across the landscape? There are many creative opportunities for landowners to manage their lands for conservation purposes. Many of these are discussed by Linda Campbell in the Back Porch article. There are similar opportunities available through non-governmental and private sector programs like conservation easements, mitigation banking and carbon sequestration programs; many of which allow the landowners to conserve natural resources while making a profit on their land.

There are numerous places to participate in a wide variety of recreational pursuits, nature study and ecotourism within the region. There are national forests, a national preserve, national wildlife refuges, Army Corps of Engineers properties adjacent to public trust reservoirs, state parks, state wildlife management areas, state forests, numerous community and county conservation lands and parks, and many conservation properties owned by non-governmental entities. There are numerous private landowners who are fully engaged in management of significant private properties for conservation and recreation purposes as well, and this seems to be increasing as the baby boomer generation continues to retire. Many of these landowners and private entrepreneurs are creating opportunities for outdoor recreation, nature study and ecotourism in the private sector as well. In addition, there are numerous public, private and non-governmental conservation organizations that are organized to facilitate educating the public about conservation issues, participating in public land-use planning procedures, and actually funding conservation projects on both private and public lands.

In closing, the Pineywoods of East Texas provides a beautiful landscape for the citizens of Texas to escape from the hectic challenges of daily life, and numerous opportunities to experience a rich heritage of native animal and plant species and a variety of native forest and plant communties that will surely enrich the lives of those who experience them. For those who desire to conserve and restore natural resource values on private lands, there is much opportunity to make significant contributions, and to leave a conservation legacy.

Ricky is the Diversity Biologist in east Texas working out of Karnack

Woodpeckers in a Living Tree?
Recovery Efforts for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker

By Donna Work

East Texas is the western-most range of an endangered bird that has very interesting home building habits and is particular about the condition of its “neighborhood.” The Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW) inhabits areas from East Texas and Southeast Oklahoma across the South to the East Coast. These woodpeckers prefer open, mature pine forests. Each RCW group needs 100 acres or more of continuous, mature pine stands. The acreage needed depends on the condition and quality of habitat available.

Red-Cockaded woodpecker
Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are different from other woodpeckers in that they construct their roosting and nesting cavities in live pine trees. After the cavity is completed, the woodpecker builds resin wells around the cavity entrance area, allowing fresh sap to flow each day and detering their major predator - the rat snake.

These birds live in family groups consisting of a mated male and female and helpers. There is only one breeding pair per group. All members of the group help build cavities, defend the group’s territory, incubate eggs, and feed the young.

Most Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in Texas can be found on National Forest lands. They also reside on forest industry lands, State Forests, and non-industrial private lands. All of the National Forests in Texas have Red-cockaded Woodpeckers that can be viewed by the public, as do the W. G. Jones State Forest south of Conroe and the I. D. Fairchild State Forest between Rusk and Palestine.

A recovery plan for the endangered RCW is underway across the South,involving habitat management, monitoring of populations and translocation (moving from one site to another) of juvenile RCWs where needed. The Recovery Plan for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (www.fws.gov/rcwrecovery/), a document of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, provides guidance and policies in managing for the recovery.

Habitat management practices that benefit the Red-cockaded Woodpecker include: thinning dense pine stands; prescribed burning; leaving hundreds of acres of continuous mature stands; and reduction and control of midstory. Artificial cavities can be installed to provide immediate roosting and nesting cavities for the RCW. Recruitment stands to allow for new groups to form and replacement stands to provide replacement territories for RCWs displaced by some catastrophe can be maintained. Population enhancement comes in the form of translocations and augmentations – moving extra birds from one place to another and pairing up unrelated birds.

These management practices are being used in East Texas, particularly on the National Forests. On lands inhabited by RCWs, biologists monitor habitat and populations year-round, ensuring that there is sufficient habitat and roosting/nesting trees available for the woodpeckers. They monitor RCWs closely before, during and after the breeding season to determine group numbers and population dynamics. In Texas and across the south, translocation cooperatives consisting of biologists from federal and state agencies, timber companies and others meet annually, to develop strategies for moving RCWs between groups.

Cost share programs are available to help landowners in provide sufficient quality habitat for RCWs on private lands, giving these landowners incentive to manage for these birds. Most of the timberland in East Texas is owned by non-industrial landowners. These private lands are important in the recovery of the RCW - providing foraging and nesting habitat. The voluntary Safe Harbor Program of the Regional Habitat Conservation Plan for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker on Private Land in the East Texas Pineywoods encourages landowners to manage their property in ways that produce habitat suitable for RCW without fear of additional responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act. See http://texasforestservice.tamu.edu/main/popup.aspx?id=1372 for information on the Safe Harbor program.

Harvesting of timber is compatible with RCW management, as long as basic habitat requirements are met and maintained. Timber can be harvested in areas with red-cockaded woodpeckers (except during nesting season). Harvesting methods that favor leaving the larger, older pines as well as planning for an on-going supply of older pine trees are acceptable.

Donna is a biologist with the Texas Forest Service out of Lufkin working on the Best Management Practices Project, the Forest Stewardship Program and the Red-cockaded Woodpecker Recovery.

For more information on the red-cockaded woodpecker, go to:

  • http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/landwater/land/habitats/pineywood/endangered_species/rcw_life_history1.phtml
  • http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_w7000_0013_red_cockaded_woodpecker.pdf
  • http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_w7000_0361.pdf

  • Rattlesnake!
    A Profile of the Timber Rattlesnake

    By Keith Aguillard


    Personal Accounts: It was the spring of 2005 when I received a call from a neighbor about a snake in his yard. I later identified the snake as a Timber Rattlesnake. I had lived on my 15 acres property for three years at the time and had noticed Copperheads, Coach Whips, Eastern Hognose, and Texas Rat Snakes, but not rattlesnakes of any kind. The next April, I saw a juvenile Timber Rattlesnake within fifty feet of my residence, and was pleased to know that I had help in controlling the rats and mice. Five days later, another rattlesnake was seen and later that summer, a third. Several were noticed in subsequent years on or near my property.

    Over the years, rats and mice have destroyed more of my personal property than I care to recall. The greatest account was September 2006, when I discovered that rats had chewed into the fire wall of my vehicle and built a nest under the hood. This was all done in the five days since I had last moved the vehicle. It was apparent that I need every natural predator of the rodent on my property to keep numbers in check. The Timber Rattlesnake was the perfect ally!

    Range and Habitat: Eastern US from Maine south to the Florida Panhandle and west to Wisconsin, including the eastern one third of the state in Texas.

    Preferred habitat is rugged terrain in deciduous forests including piney woods and river bottomlands of the southeastern US.

    Hunting Behavior and Diet: Their most important food item is rodents, with an occasional bird, reptile, or amphibian also being taken. A stealth hunter lying in wait near a rodent run or log, the snake immobilizes its prey with venom which later aids in digestion. Diurnal in early spring and late fall, the snake is almost exclusively nocturnal during hot summer months.

    Identification: Typically a heavy bodied snake with a base color of fleshy to pinkish-gray hues accented by dark chevron shaped cross bands which break up toward the head to form a row of darks spots down the back and sides. The last few inches of the tail is solid black ending with the rattles. A very distinct rust-colored stripe runs along the entire ridge of the backbone. The scales are strongly keeled, giving the snake a rough appearance. Three to five feet in length is the average, and the snake can be very thick in circumference, especially older males.

    Although classified as the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) of the eastern US, some folks identify the southern population as a subspecies called the Canebreak Rattlesnake (C. h. atricaudatus).

    Reproduction: Eggs are fertilized and incubated within the abdomen of the female for about six months and the young emerge in a membranous sac in late summer. Young are 8-12 inches long, a lighter version of the adult, with a single rattle segment called a button. Days after birth they shed their skin and have a new rattle. Young are fully equipped with fangs and venom.

    This snake reaches sexually maturity 3 to 4 years later, and the females breed on average every third year. Reproduction rates are rather slow when compared to species that reproduce annually.

    Temperament: Timber Rattlesnakes are reclusive by nature. In my encounters with the snake, I have found it to be very docile, timid, and non-confrontational when compared to Copperheads, Cottonmouths, and the squatty pigmy rattlesnake. The snake’s first attempt at defense is to remain absolutely motionless. If that doesn’t work, it might try the rattle warning, but is more likely to try to escape. Unfortunately, it is an easy snake to get the first jump on, making it an easy target for predators including the coyote, bobcat, fox, raccoon, feral cat, snake-eating snakes, birds of prey and human persecutors.

    Status: State-listed as threatened in Texas. Most states within the range if the Timber Rattlesnake have some protective listing. More protection is needed to be effective in curtailing further population decline.

    Pollution, habitat loss and fragmentation are the main threats facing the Timber Rattlesnake. Along with this, indiscriminate persecution due to historical myths, black market pet trade, and lack of education – especially the role of all snakes in the ecosystem – contribute to the decline of the species.

    All snakes are our allies in controlling rodents. Please help protect Timber Rattlesnakes - your ally, not your enemy. The Timber Rattlesnake is a handsome a snake, working while you rest, helping to control your pest population. Quietly it slips away if confronted, and asks for nothing in return but to be left undisturbed to hunt for food, reproduce and maintain a comfortable environment. You can create habitat for your snakes by maintaining brush piles, rock piles, preserving animal burrows, or even creating you own manmade borrows which may be used as hibernation den sites.

    Avoid a snake bite: Never pick up or handle a snake. Look into flowerbeds, clumps of weeds and thick brush before putting you hand or foot there. Use a flashlight when moving about after dark. When you encounter a snake, detour and allow the snake to move undisturbed. Always move away slowly, since snakes have poor eyesight and quick movements may trigger a strike. Remember, a snake’s first defense is to retreat. Allow that to happen.

    Sightings: Its ability to blend into its surroundings, its habitat preference to deep forests, and nocturnal behavior make sightings of this snake uncommon. Increasing fragmentation of the forests and ensuing development are resulting in more sightings being reported in the urban-wildland interface, usually resulting in loss of the snake.

    I have encountered the snake in the east Texas Pineywoods, from Montgomery County to the Sabine River, as well as Southwestern Louisiana. Some of my encounters included road kills, as well as those shot and left by hunters, hikers, cyclists, etc. In interviewing outdoor enthusiasts, I have come to realize that sightings are not totally uncommon given ideal habitat and geographic location. Mr. Buddy Hollis, Naturalist for the Newton County Chamber of Commerce, has seen a dozen in Newton County in the last ten years. In late March of 2004, he saw four different rattlesnakes sunning on the gravely road near the Azalea Canyons. He has had half a dozen sightings in Martin Dies State Park, two near the Canyon Lands in Tyler County and one in Hardin County across the creek from Village Creek State Park. Mr. Chris Lena with TPWD has encountered half a dozen, three in Martin Dies State Park where he worked previously and three in Panola County on private property.

    People working in the timber cruising and harvest business often encounter Timber Rattlesnakes - too often with devastating outcome to the snake.

    Keith is a wildlife biologist working out of Fred Texas.

    Did You Know?

    In the 1950’s rats devastated the bird population of the Queen Charlotte Islands.

    Rattlesnakes use their rattles to warn a potential predator of their presence. They are also mimicked by other snakes that shake there tail in the dry leaves to imitate the rattlesnake warning.

    Rattlesnake venom is not for self defense. It is designed to immobilize prey. Roughly half of all venomous snake bites are dry, with no venom entering the victim.

    Snakes typically will not ambush you, but rather will either retreat or warn you. Venomous spiders, scorpions, ants, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and lightening strikes give you little or no warning to retreat or protect yourself.

    Reportedly, the venom of a Black Widow spider is 15 times more toxic than the venom of the prairie rattlesnake.

    Only one or two people die each year from venomous snakes in Texas. By comparison, auto accident deaths are number one in the US, Texas is ranked 7th in the US for lightening strike deaths and injuries with 34 deaths in the last nine years, Texas had 61 boating fatatlities in 2008, and Texas had 107 reported deaths due to ATV accidents in 2005-2007, with a third of the victims being 16 years of age and younger.

    The pineywoods of east Texas are home to 11 bat species

    Some bats make their home in hollow trees

    The east Texas Pineywoods is home to more than 20 species of orchid, some of which can be found nowhere else in the world

    Some Texas woodpeckers do make their home in living trees? These woodpeckers also use sap from these trees as a primary defense against predators

    TPWD biologists are currently assisting more than 6000 private landowners with management plans impacting more than 22 million acres of habitat for Texas wildlife.

    “It’s Time To Check The Nets”
    Research and Conservation of Rafinesque Big-eared Bats in East Texas

    By Christopher E. Comer

    "It’s time to check the nets” says Leigh Stuemke, Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU) graduate student and bat researcher. Dutifully, the four biologists present hitch up our chest waders, turn on our headlamps and stomp off into the East Texas night. Mylea Bayless from Bat Conservation International (BCI) in Austin is the first to arrive with her spotlight at the stagnant pond about 75 meters from the truck. “Nothing in this net”, she calls from out of the darkness. I play my headlamp over the 6-foot-tall, 12-foot-wide stretch of fine nylon mesh in front of me. A tiny furry ball is visible struggling in the net about a foot from the water’s surface. “Hey, we got one. Looks like a Seminole bat”. I am referring to Lasiurus seminolus, one of the more common bats resident in this densely forested part of the state. Then we can hear the excitement in Leigh’s voice, “We’ve got a CORA! No two CORAs”. She is referring to our target species, the far less common Corynorhinus rafinesquii or Rafinesque’s big-eared bat. Fifteen minutes later we meet back at the vehicle with Laurie Lomas, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist responsible for the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge where we are working, to examine our catch.

    Rafinesque’s big-eared bats are both uncommon and difficult to catch, so it is rare to handle more than one caught in mist nets on one evening. We are cheating a bit—a group of 50 or more bats roosts regularly in a nearby abandoned home. Before the night is over, we have captured 11 CORAs and one southeastern bat (Myotis austroriparius), a secondary target species. Though they did not appear to appreciate the honor, these bats were the first subjects for a research project examining the ecology of these poorly understood mammals in East Texas.

    Of the 11 bat species native to the Pineywoods, the Rafinesque’s big-eared bat and, to a lesser extent, the Southeastern bat are most vulnerable to long-term population declines. These species’ are closely associated with mature bottomland hardwood forest because of their habit of establishing maternity roosts in large, hollow trees - especially black gum and tupelos (Nyssa sylvatica and Nyssa aquatica). Forest biologists estimate that over 75% of the original bottomland hardwood forest in the southeast has been lost or degraded due to timber harvest, urbanization, reservoir construction, and conversion to pastures or other agricultural uses. Because of this loss of habitat, perceived declines in abundance, and a general lack of knowledge about its ecology, the Rafinesque’s big-eared bat is protected in most southeastern states, including Texas where it is listed as threatened.

    Adding to concerns about this species is our poor understanding of their ecology, habitat requirements, and distribution within their range. Thankfully, biologists have recognized the need for more information, and research projects are currently underway in several states. One of the most comprehensive is ongoing at SFASU using funds from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Along with others from across the region, the bats from Liberty County were fitted with radio transmitters allowing us to track them to their roost sites and learn about their ecology and movements. We are also surveying promising areas of bottomland hardwoods in East Texas for these bats. One is acoustic monitoring, a technique which uses specialized equipment to identify the unique echolocation calls bats make to navigate and locate insect prey in the dark. Another survey method is simply sticking our heads into hollow trees and searching for bats. Data suggest sparse but stable populations of both bat species in east Texas.

    In response to concerns about the long-term future of these bottomland hardwood bats, BCI and the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network are currently preparing a comprehensive conservation and management plan for Rafinesque’s big-eared bats and southeastern myotis. The most important conservation measure for these and many other East Texas species is conservation and wise management of large tracts of bottomland hardwood forest. The bottoms associated with the major rivers of the region, particularly the Angelina, Neches, Sabine, and Trinity Rivers as well as the Cypress Basin, are critical to the future of Rafinesque’s big-eared bats. In areas where there are few large trees suitable for roosts or these trees have been lost, the bats will roost in manmade structures such as houses, bridges, and culverts. Of 20 known roosts in the state, half are in structures of some kind. Several are in old homes or buildings that are abandoned and deteriorating. These roosts need to be preserved through strengthening the existing structures or providing alternative roost sites. BCI has developed a successful tower design for these bats, with several currently in use across the southeast, including at the Trinity River NWR.

    Bottomland hardwood forests of East Texas support a unique and diverse wildlife community that has declined significantly in the last 100 years. In addition to bats, wildlife of these bottomlands include other rare or declining mammals such as Louisiana black bears, prothonotary and Swainson’s warblers, timber (canebrake) rattlesnakes and others. Persistence of these species is reliant upon wise use and conservation of these resources. Next time you are fortunate enough to spend a summer evening in one of our remaining bottomland forests, keep your eye out for bats.

    Dr. Comer is a professor at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches where he oversees research on the Rafinesque Big-eared Bat.

    New Staff
    at The Austin Offices

    By Wendy Gordon

    WAs many know, this year saw the retirement of Dr Andy Price and Mike Quinn from Texas Parks and Wildlife. It is our pleasure to introduce two new team mates who will fill their roles.

    Dr. Andrew Gluesenkamp has had a lifelong fascination with reptiles and amphibians. He attended the University of California at Davis where he participated in surveys of rare and threatened amphibians in the San Joaquin Valley, worked as curatorial assistant in the Zoology Museum, and conducted independent field work on reptiles and amphibians in Belize and Ecuador. He graduated with a BS in Zoology. He pursued a graduate degree in Zoology at the University of Texas at Austin during which time he also discovered caving and biospeleology. His dissertation focused on the relationship between development and morphology in bufonid frogs. In recent years, he has worked as a biological consultant specializing in karst issues, university lecturer, and skeletal preparator for the Texas Memorial Museum. In addition, he has conducted numerous grant-funded projects on rare and endangered salamanders in central Texas.

    Michael D. Warriner holds a B.S. in Biology from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and an M.S. in Biology from Emporia State University. For the past eight years, he has served as invertebrate zoologist for the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. Prior to that, he conducted research on forest entomology at Mississippi State University and insect nutritional ecology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

    Wendy is leader of the Non-Game and Rare Species Program working out of Austin.

    Conserving Fleming Prairies
    and the Missouri Coneflower in the Pineywoods

    By Jason Singhurst

    The Pineywoods of east Texas is blessed with an amazing diversity of habitats - several that are rare or declining. Fleming Prairies are a globally rare prairie type restricted to very western Louisiana and southeast Texas. The Wildlife Diversity Program at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is very interested in working with private landowners in southeast Texas to conserve these botanically rich prairie jewels. These calcareous prairies follow a narrow band of geology called the Fleming Formation (see Map 1.), which starts west of Huntsville, Texas and follows an arc just south of Livingston and through Jasper to just below Toledo Bend Reservoir near Burkeville, Texas on the Texas and Louisiana state line. The soils are deep clays and these prairies are often on high uplands and the heads of creeks - often dissected by naturally eroded gullies and calcareous (‘calciphile’) hardwood forests. The flora of these calcareous clay soil prairies are generally strongly differentiated from that of almost all of the mostly sandy acidic soil communities of southeast Texas. Very few Texans have encountered this rare prairie type due to limited access as most sites are located on timber company lands. Along Hwy 92, just north of Hwy 190 at Town Bluff, Texas a large right of way Fleming Prairie site is a great place to see prairie species such as Texas gramma (Bouteloua rigidiseta), side oats gramma (Bouteloua curtipendula), compact prairie clover (Dalea compacta), purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea), purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia), fox glove (Penstemon cobea), prairie gentian (Eustoma exaltatum), Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani), marbleseed (Onosmodium bejariense), false guara (Stenosiphon linifolius), Indian plantain (Arnoglossum plantagineum), blazing star (Liatris mucronata), and the Missouri coneflower (Rudbeckia missouriensis) - all atypical plant species of the Pineywoods.

    The Missouri coneflower (Fig. 1) is primarily a Midwest plant species where it occurs in Arkansas, Illinois, Oklahoma. It reaches its southern limits in Fleming Prairies of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. Missouri coneflower is a striking member of the sunflower family and is often abundant in early summer (June-July. Observing Missouri coneflower at peak flowering in a Fleming Prairie is a breath taking experience that all plant enthusiasts should enjoy. The compact prairie clover is primarily a Texas species with only peripherally occurring in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Populations of the Texas ladies tresses orchid (Spiranthes brevilabris), an extremely rare orchid in the southeastern United States has been located in two Fleming Prairies in Texas. This is the only spring flowering (March-April) ladies tresses orchid that maintains an ovate leaf that lies prostrate to the ground during flowering. Berlandier’s groundplum milkvetch (Astragalus crassicarpus var. berlandieri) is an endemic legume only found on eroded gully soils of these prairies.

    Dr. Larry Brown (Botanist) with the Spring Branch Science Center in Houston and Eric Keith (Botanist) with Raven Environmental Consulting in Huntsville, Texas have conducted several surveys of the flora of Fleming Prairies and obtained an extensive knowledge of this prairie flora. Campbell Timber, Hancock Forest Management, and Weyerhasuer Timber own some great examples of Fleming Prairies in southeast Texas. These timber companies have been working with TPWD to map these prairies, inventory the flora, and suggest management recommendations in order to restore the prairies that have been invaded by shrubs and trees. All three timber companies have proactively worked towards conserving some portion of their prairies. The largest prairie complex the Chester Prairie (approximately 1700 acres) in Tyler County is a conservation area owned by Campbell and has been recently burned (winter 2009) to restore the prairie flora. Hancock Forest Management has set the approximately 100 acre Colmesneil Prairie in Tyler County aside as a distinctive site within their landholdings. The Oakhurst Prairie in San Jancinto County owned by Weyerhasuer is being cooperatively managed with prescribed burns, with funding provide by the Land Incentive Program (LIP).

    TPWD plans on continued relationships with the private timber corporations in east Texas to conserve the remaining Fleming Prairies. TPWD is willing to assist with botanical surveys and management suggestions on any private land that contains a Fleming Prairie.

    Feel free to contact ason Singhurst (Botanist/Plant Ecologist) by e-mail at jason.singhurst@tpwd.state.tx.us for questions or potential surveys of Fleming Prairies in southeastern Texas.

    Map. 1. Fleming Prairies occur along the Fleming Geologic Formation in southeast Texas (University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology).

    Jason is a botanist / plant ecologist working out of the Austin office at TPWD.

    Eagles on the Trinity River

    By Chris Gregory

    Once a rare sight on the Trinity River, bald eagles are now spotted regularly by landowners, hunters, fishermen and even motorists along the waterway.

    Eagle populations had diminished to such low numbers, mainly as a result of the widespread use of DDT, that the eagle was placed on the endangered species list in 1973. At that time, Texas had only a handful of known nesting sites located near the lower stretches of rivers along the middle coast. It wasn’t until the mid 1980’s that a nest was discovered in the Trinity River basin. For the next twenty years, TPWD biologists would investigate all reported new nests and survey all known nest sites to monitor the production of young.

    Nests were usually checked from a small airplane, but sometimes biologists would check nests from the ground or from a boat. Survey flights would be conducted in February and April when most young eagles were big enough to be left alone in the nest but not yet ready to fly. In general, eggs are laid in December, hatched in January and the young eagles, raised by both parents, learn to fly 10 -12 weeks later. Eagles usually raise one or two eaglets. Occasionally a nest will raise three young.

    The Trinity River Basin starts northwest of Fort Worth, flows through the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and winds its way south to eventually empty into Trinity Bay east of Houston. Labeled as one of the great rivers of Texas, the Trinity flows some 550 river miles and serves as the watershed to approximately 11.5 million acres. It traverses five of the ten ecological regions of the state, running mostly in the Post Oak and Pineywoods ecoregions. The Trinity was also known as ‘The River of Waste’ as heavy loads of pollutants were commonly dumped into the river well into the 1970’s. The Trinity Basin currently provides water to roughly five and a half million people.

    In 1987, only 1 eagle nest was known along the entire basin – that nest, down in the southern end of the pineywoods, produced 2 young. By 1992, the pineywoods section of the Trinity had 6 active nests that produced 5 young. Over the next five years nesting populations continued their gradual increase in the pineywoods to 10 active nests that produced 14 young. The pineywoods section produced 24 young out of 17 active nests in 2002 and the eagles had expanded into the post oak section of the Trinity to raise 5 young from 3 active nests. A few years later at the conclusion of the survey the entire Trinity River Basin had over 20 active nests producing more than 30 young per year.

    Eagle populations had expanded in other Texas river basins and across the entire southeast so that by 2007 recovery goals had been met and the eagle was removed from the federal endangered species list. It remains a threatened species under the Texas Endangered Species listing.

    During that same twenty year stretch of time, folks were gradually changing their views and treatment of the watershed. Cities and landowners have worked with government agencies and conservation organizations in a widespread ongoing effort to reduce pollutants into the river and restore land use practices that improve the health of the entire Trinity River system. The growing presence of eagles in that system is a pretty good indicator these efforts are working.

    Chris is a wildlife biologist out of the Livingston Texas office.

    What’s That Creepy Thing in My Deer?

    By Gary Calkins

    The last months of most deer seasons bring a large number of calls from hunters concerned about consuming the deer they killed late in the season. When they process the deer, they are seeing large maggot like worms in the neck of the animal. Let’s alleviate some of those lingering worries so that none of that meat goes to waste.

    Most of the deer in east Texas are carrying some of these parasites, commonly called a nasal bot or pharyngeal bot. This bot is actually a maggot that develops in a living host Most people see and know of maggots developing on dead tissue. These bots are not actually eating the host, in this case the deer, but are living off secretions inside the deer.

    The biology of these creatures gets pretty involved unless you are an entomologist, but a little life history may help. What we see when we process deer is the third instar larva of a family of flies. There are several subfamilies and genera, so trying to guess which fly is the culprit is nearly impossible.

    The female fly carries the first instar stage of her young until she finds the right host on which to deposit them. Some are pretty picky and will only deposit their young on a specific animal. White tail deer are selected by several of the fly species. When the female fly deposits her young on the face of a deer, the first instar larvae climb, or wiggle to the mouth, nose or eyes of the deer. From there they enter the deer and migrate into the nose, throat, or sinuses.

    Inside the host, they continue to develop into what we find when process deer. This larva is fully developed and is ready to be sneezed, coughed, or otherwise forcibly evicted by the deer. Back in the real world, these ugly looking critters will develop into the adult form of the fly.

    All of this nasty detail to get to one point; the larva are only living in the deer as a temporary dwelling and soup kitchen. They do not get into the flesh until we open the wind pipe during our processing activities. Then we find them all over. They look nasty, but do not taint the meat in any way.

    But what do they do to the deer? A living deer is necessary for them to go through their development. That being the case, it would hurt their survival chances if they harmed the deer. It does not appear that there are any lasting effects to the deer unless there is an abundance that invade a host. The larvae seem to have a control against that: if there are too many in close proximity, the larvae stop developing.

    I can’t imagine it feels very pleasing to be the deer with all of that activity in the sinuses, but it isn’t doing any damage. It shouldn’t cause any concern to the hunter to finish processing that venison and enjoy the bounty that east Texas has to offer. As always, if you have any further questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact your local Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Biologist or Technician.

    Gary is District 6 leader out of the Jasper office.

    A Stroll Through East Texas

    By Anita Howlett

    A leisurely stroll through the forests and savannah’s of East Texas truly is a very rewarding experience. Varied in topographic and geologic attributes, some areas boast plant communities and species biodiversity that rival world famous biopreserves. While admiring towering southern yellow pine species (loblolly, slash, shortleaf and longleaf), stately American beeches, and enormous southern magnolias, take time to look on the forest floor. There, if you have timed your forest stroll just right, you may encounter some of nature’s most beautiful and alluring plants: orchids. Each one unique in habitat requirements and insect pollinators, orchid gems can be found on undisturbed lands throughout the world. East Texas is home to over 20 species, and orchid representatives grow here in just about every plant community. Some grow only on wet and seeping, shady slopes in association with baygall plant communities. The yellow fringed orchid (Platanthera ciliaris), perhaps one of the best known members of its genus, prefers these acidic slopes. Large butterflies of the swallowtail family appear as the main perpetrator in this orchid’s pollination scheme. A visually similar species by the name of Chapman’s fringed orchid (Platanthera chapmanii ), although not uncommon in Florida, is considered quite rare in East Texas, and is on many orchid watchers’ checklists. Whorled pogonias (Isotria verticillata) prefer the shade provided by towering trees, and often seek the cool and moist environment near streams. Pollinated by a variety of bees, this rare beauty can be found growing right alongside royal and cinnamon ferns.

    Pine barren bog orchids prefer competition free, full sun with “wet feet” situations. These orchids share their habitat with carnivorous pale pitcher plants (Sarracenia alata), bog buttons (Lachnocaulon spp.) and longleaf pine (Pinus taeda), among others. The characteristic acidic bog habitats appear to be dry, but below the soil a constant stream of water washes away nutrients needed by most plants, and only the toughest and most adapted of plants can eke out a living here. The snowy orchid (Platanthera nivea) and pink- and sometimes even white-colored grass pinks (Calopogon tuberosus) appear readily every spring, and are eagerly visited by pollinating bees of all sorts. Fires greatly benefit this habitat and if this brush consuming tool is removed, it also eliminates the tender plants found growing on the ground.

    In less than a handful of sites, the interestingly named shadow witch (Ponthevia racemosa) hangs precariously on steep and shady calcareous ravines. Davis Hill salt dome, owned by Texas Parks and Wildlife, is the best place to find the shadow witch, though the going is tough since Hurricane Ike, with many downed trees hindering the casual visitor’s footing. Water spider orchids (Habenaria repens), as the name suggests, grow right along stream banks and into acidic ponds. They are not the most uncommon of East Texas’ orchids, and can be locally abundant where permanent and still water conditions exist. Consider yourself privileged if you should ever view a Navasota ladies tresses (Spiranthes parksii) in the wild. This rare beauty received celebrity status back in 1982, when it was the only orchid family member to receive both federal and Texas state endangered species listing. The bureaucratic energy and perseverance required alone for federally listed status should give the reader a glimpse of the extreme rarity of this species. Personally, I have not been fortunate to see one in the wild, and I am happy to report several rare orchid conservation projects are in the works to help conserve this and other rare and uncommon species. One wonders what could possibly cause all these beautiful wildflowers’ rarity. Many plants face threats of habitat fragmentation, disturbance, overgrowth by both native and exotic species, and sheer habitat destruction through deforestation. Declining numbers of insect pollinators add to the not-so-sunny future. Collectors and poachers armed with trowels and shovels often choose the most uncommon and rare species, wanting to claim a rarity for themselves, or placing them on the auction block. (Wild collected orchids seldom acclimate to ‘captivity’, though, as ex situ growing attempts cannot possibly replace wild growing conditions. All of our native orchids require and live in harmony with symbiont soil dwelling fungi, and the intricacy of this symbiosis is, at best, difficult to replicate) Their elusive nature and picky method of site selection might be the orchid’s best defense against extirpation. National and private preserve managers reluctantly reveal known orchid sites, fearing the information may get into the wrong person’s hands.

    Scientists, researchers, and orchid and native plant aficionados have noticed a sharp decline in wild populations, and several conservation projects are now in place to help ensure the plants survival for future generations to see. The southern ladies slipper orchid (Cypripedium kentuckiensis), the largest flowering specimen and increasingly rare member of ladies slippers, enjoys the attention of several organizations, whose missions include reproducing and raising seedlings to eventually be relocated into National Forests. Through artificial pollination, seed stock collections and in-vitro rearing, Stephen F. Austin University Department of Biology in Nacogdoches is busily growing over 300 seedlings. The Central Louisiana Orchid Society (CLOS) and Houston Orchid Society (HOS) both have Cypripedium Restoration Committees that have collectively grown out over 800 small plants, while the HOS is currently “parent” to around 120 small plants. The projected goal is for volunteers to re-introduce these plants into specific sites within protected lands in east Texas in the spring of 2010. The Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), a national non-profit conservation organization, has partnered with a network of 36 botanical institutions, including Harris County Precinct 4’s Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Gardens, to create and maintain a National Collection of Endangered Plants via plants and stored seed material. Mercer Arboretum works to collect seed pod material of the southern ladies slipper, Navasota ladies tresses, and Chapman’s fringed orchids, and is instrumental in the preservation of southern rein orchids (Platanthera flava var. flava).

    But east Texas orchid preservation doesn’t stop at the state border. The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden contributes by propagating rare and endangered plant species and banking seeds, spores and tissues in long-term liquid nitrogen storage in the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW’s) “Frozen Garden”. Researchers in the Plant Research Division of CREW work to develop protocols for propagating rare plants through tissue culture, and for cryopreserving seeds, spores, and tissues of endangered plants for long-term storage in liquid nitrogen. Plants produced at CREW have been reintroduced into the wild in collaboration with a number of partners, including other botanical gardens, governmental agencies and NGO’s (snippet from www.cincinnatizoo.org ). Remember reading earlier about fungal relationships making growing conditions difficult? Orchid seeds are near microscopic in size, and are transported by wind. If they fail to land in an ideal spot of soil where the myccorhizal fungus occurs, the tiny seeds seldom sprout. In many cases the seed also does not handle the sub-zero temperatures used in several seed banking techniques. Researchers from the Royal Botanic Gardens’ Millenium Seed Bank Project in Kew, England are testing and devising protocols for long term storage of orchid seed along with their required fungal associates.

    Perhaps the heaviest responsibility weighs on the shoulders of those who protect the land where the orchids still occur. Seed saving and ex situ growing alone will only create living tombs if the natural habitat is no longer suited for the plants to naturally grow there. Public and private preserve managers strive to protect the flora and fauna under their care. The continued survival of rare orchids and other plants and animals in the same predicament of an uncertain future depends on taxpayers allowing the tools necessary for the total habitat management system that is needed. So get involved and let your voice be heard. Tell the people in charge you care about our (still) wild places and how they are cared for! To quote fellow master naturalist Teri MacArthur, ”Conservation without action is Conversation!” If I have whetted your appetite to experience the allure of native orchids growing in the wild for yourself, then please make time to visit one of the many preserves, State Parks and National Forests in East Texas. One does not need to travel far to view them, and a keen eye, some research pertaining to bloom times and habitats, perhaps a good pair of walking shoes, and a bit of luck, are all that’s needed for great for orchid watching. So, take a stroll through the woods sometime; who knows what other rare creature you might encounter! Submitted by Anita Schiller Howlett, naturalist Anita is based at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, a Harris County Precinct 4 nature preserve. Jones Park is located near the confluence of the scenic San Jacinto River and Spring Creek, near the busy Houston suburb of Humble. The 300+ acre preserve of floodplain forests is open to visitors for day use, and is home to at least 6 species of naturally occurring orchids. www.hcp4.net/jones

    Places to Visit: Pitcher Plant Trail, Big Thicket National Preserve: easy viewing of bog orchids via boardwalks that lead right into the boggy longleaf pine savannahs, bringing visitors within feet of this rare plant community. http://www.nps.gov/archive/bith/trails.htm

    The Watson Rare Plants Preserve recently received federal non-profit status, has perhaps the most diverse collection of rare forest plants native to East Texas. It also is not far from the Big Thicket National Preserve’s Visitor Center, and they can give you directions on how to get to the Watson Preserve.

    Big Creek Scenic Area, Sam Houston National Forest. Noted for its vegetative diversity and scenic qualities, situated along the Lone Star Hiking Trail http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/texas/recreation/sam_houston/samhouston_gen_info.shtml

    Roy E. Larsen Sandylands Sanctuary, one of The Nature Conservancy-Texas’ preserves, is full of the region’s best. This sanctuary is home to four globally endangered species and 12 species uncommon to southeast Texas, including the federally endangered Texas trailing phlox. www.nature.org

    Suggested Reading: Joe and Ann Orto Liggio’s Wild Orchids of Texas

    The Back Porch

    Back Porch
    Resource Conservation on Private Lands in Texas

    By Linda Campbell

    Over 94 percent of Texas land is privately-owned or managed. The ability of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to manage and conserve the state’s natural and cultural heritage is tied directly to the strength of our partnership with private landowners. TPWD and other agencies and organizations interested in private lands management face increasing challenges associated with continued break-up of family lands and fragmentation of habitat. These influences coupled with emerging issues associated with wind energy and water place increased pressure on the state’s natural resources and biological diversity.

    Since the 1930’s, TPWD biologists have provided habitat management assistance to landowners. Biologists provide guidance and recommendations to landowners and managers who want to include wildlife considerations in land use decisions. The goal is to help landowners achieve their wildlife targets by assessing the wildlife potential of their land and recommending actions to improve the land for wildlife (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/landowner). TPWD provides information on ways to manage wildlife resources consistent with other land use goals, ensure plant and animal diversity, provide aesthetic and economic benefits, and conserve soil, water and related natural resources. As of August 31, 2009, TPWD biologists are assisting over 6,000 landowners in implementing wildlife management plans on over 22 million acres. TPWD works closely with other agencies that provide resource management assistance to landowners, such as USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), an agency that has been providing on-site planning and implementation assistance since its creation in 1935 (http://www.tx.nrcs.usda.gov/).

    Increasing demand for landowner assistance has increased the workload of field staff. Financial and regulatory incentives for landowners have been successful in accomplishing on-the-ground conservation. TPWD continues to work with other agencies and organizations to provide additional incentives for conservation of wildlife and habitats. As the demographics and land ownership patterns of Texas change, the challenge for TPWD and our partners will be to meet the increased demand for services.

    Over the past 15 years, the conservation community has witnessed the success of incentive-based programs for landowners. TPWD has implemented programs designed to engage landowners interested in habitat enhancement. The Landowner Incentive Program (LIP) was the first incentive-based program for rare species. It was adopted at the national level in 2002 (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/lip). Most rare species inhabit privately-owned and managed lands in Texas. Incentive programs to assist private landowners in managing rare species can have a direct impact on their conservation. The goal is to provide financial and technical assistance to landowners to conserve rare species and support the Texas Wildlife Action Plan (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/twap). The LIP program is flexible and open to all private landowners who have a desire to manage for species of concern on their land.

    The Managed Lands Deer Program (MLDP) is designed to appeal to landowners interested in quality deer management. The program allows landowners involved in a TPWD-approved management program to have the state’s most flexible seasons and increased harvest opportunities for white-tailed and mule deer (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/permits/land/wildlife_management/mldp/). The MLDP program is incentive-based and habitat focused.

    The greatest threats to wildlife in Texas are habitat loss and fragmentation (http://www.texaslandtrends.org/index.aspx). Land fragmentation influences present real challenges for resource conservation. One solution to these challenges comes through landowners working together to conserve and enhance their land for wildlife. Wildlife Management Associations are landowner-driven groups formed to improve wildlife habitats and associated wildlife populations. Over 250 associations are operating in Texas today and the number is growing (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/wildlifeassn).

    Partnerships are increasingly important in achieving conservation on private lands. TPWD actively works with partners such as The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, Ducks Unlimited, Quail Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Texas Wildlife Association, Audubon, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NRCS to leverage funds and technical assistance on projects that accomplish conservation objectives. In addition, there is growing interest in long term conservation tools such as conservation easements. Favorable national legislation and educational efforts have contributed to over 500,000 acres of land under conservation easements. There are currently over 45 land trusts in Texas who hold conservation easements (http://www.texaslandtrustcouncil.org/).

    The greatest source of cost share funding for private lands conservation is the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (Farm Bill) (www.tpwd.state.tx.us/farmbill). TPWD and partners have established seven wildlife emphasis areas directing Environmental Quality Incentive Program funding to longleaf pine forestland and grassland restoration and habitat management benefiting shrub and grassland dependent species. These Farm Bill EQIP contracts address tree planting, fence modification, prescribed burning, tree, brush and grazing management and habitat improvement. In FY2008, these seven wildlife emphasis areas received almost $1.4 million dollars in landowner cost share that allowed the restoration or enhancement of 134,880 acres of grass, shrub and forestland ecosystems benefiting wildlife and contributing to healthy watersheds. Since the beginning of this collaborative partnership Texas landowners have received $10,080,549 in cost share to improve 506,427 acres.

    Efforts to reach out to private land managers have paid off in the numbers of landowners actively managing for sustainable wildlife populations. TPWD biologists continue to provide one-on-one assistance while seeking innovative ways of working with landowners and conservation partners to maintain and enhance wildlife habitats and recreational opportunity. To find a TPWD biologist near you, visit http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/biologist .

    Linda is the director of the Private Lands and Public Hunting programs working out of the Austin office.

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