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TPWD News,, 512-389-8030

April 24, 2006

Cross Plains Kids Endure Wildfires, Rally to Win Horned Lizard Essay Contest

CROSS PLAINS, Texas - The children at Cross Plains Elementary School managed to win this year’s Hometown Horned Toads Essay Contest in spite of a great tragedy in their hometown. They began their research and interviews shortly before Christmas break, but during the holiday period wildfires destroyed numerous homes and businesses, including the home of their teacher, Connie Ricci.

In spite of this tremendous loss they were able to bring together their research and write papers that won the team category in Grades 3-5 and finished as runner-up in the team category in Grade 6-8. Ricci said that she and her students “feel doubly blessed that we managed to be successful in this endeavor at a particularly difficult time.”

Once common across the state, numbers of Texas horned lizards have declined in recent decades. This prompted a creative group of state wildlife biologists to launch the student essay contest as one way to spread awareness of the official state reptile’s plight, plus collect information that may help reverse the lizard’s decline.

Participating students not only increase their knowledge of the horned lizard, but they help the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department gather information on when and how horned lizard populations began to diminish in these children’s hometowns. Students conduct interviews with family, friends and local residents to find out personal stories, facts, and memories of the horned lizard in the local region.

The essays flowing in over the past five years have offered an array of explanations as to when and why the horned lizards are disappearing. The most common accounts state the horned lizard began declining in the 1970s and 80s due to urbanization, the introduction of the red fire ants, and pesticide use.

“Student interviews are extremely valuable because they not only provide information which can be used to help these reptiles recover, but they are often the only record of the horned lizard’s presence in a specified area,” said Lee Ann Linam, a TPWD biologist in Austin who helps coordinate the essay contest. ”Researchers are then able to use this information for a more thorough analysis and understanding of the trends concerning the lizard population decline. With this improved understanding, steps can be taken to protect the lizard and conserve the habitat that is the key to its continued survival.”

Essays are judged on various levels, including background research, a description of the study area, analysis of the interviews and research, organization, and most importantly, the number, thoroughness and creativity of the interviews. Essays are judged by outside volunteers and TPWD employees. Team winners are rewarded with a field trip of their choice to a TPWD wildlife management area, and individual winners receive prize packs, which include items to stimulate and assist the children’s interest in nature. This year the winners will receive digital cameras, field guides, binoculars, and nature exploration kits.

The winners of the 2006 essay contest are:

Grades 3-5 Individual:

Grades 3-5 Team: Cheyenne Cowan, Katharine Goode, Joe Holland, Riley Lawrence-Cross Plains Elementary

Grades 6-8 Individual:

Grades 6-8 Team: Adam DeLoach, Gaby Dillard, Faith Dillard, Kayla Fisher, Katelyn Inkster, Kate Kainer, Renee Lavigne, Teddi Pinson, Audrea Sprinkle- Host Organization of South Texas

Grades 9-12 Individual:

The Hometown Horned Toads Essay Contest was created as an extension of a program called Texas Horned Lizard Watch. This program consists of volunteers who monitor the horned lizard and compile scientific data concerning the reptiles’ condition for TPWD. This program’s research has produced much information pertaining to the horned lizard’s distribution, and the identification of its habitat for the state of Texas.

Winning essays will be posted on the TPWD Web site. For more information about how to join Texas Horned lizard Watch for the 2006 monitoring season, visit the program Web page or call 1-800-792-1112.

On the Net:

TH 2006-04-24

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