|  TPWD News Releases Dated 2004-03-15                                    |
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[ Note: This item is more than 13 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [TH]
March 15, 2004
Valley Residents Pioneer Birding for the Blind
EDINBURG, Texas -- Supported by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department grant funding, a group of visually impaired people in the Lower Rio Grande Valley is breaking new ground in what may seem an unlikely area-competitive birdwatching for the blind.
Volunteers say the birding experience is galvanizing visually impaired participants into a new, more confident outlook on life, a trend they hope will spread across Texas and the nation.
"We don't want to have people feel sorry for us," said Gladie Cruz of Edinburg, a member of a 12-person team of visually impaired birders. "We want to be out there, independent, doing different stuff, learning things like birding. We want to let other people know about this, how it can help them get out of the house, get out of depression and motivate them to try new things."
The idea has taken wing from its genesis at the new World Birding Center site in Edinburg, which has an exhibit with audio bird calls and Braille text. After the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands opened last spring, visually impaired visitors found they could spend a few minutes hearing bird songs at the indoor exhibit, then step outside to listen for the real thing at the lush wetlands.
This spring, the group persuaded coordinators of TPWD's Great Texas Birding Classic to create what is believed to be the world's first birding competition for the visually impaired. The 'Outta-Sight Song Birder Tournament' will take place April 18 on the Texas coast. At least three teams of visually impaired Valley residents will compete, the Rio Grande Kingfishers (to which Cruz belongs), the Tweety Birds, and the White Doves.
Although "blind birding" may sound unusual, the world's best birders often first identify the presence of a bird by its call and then look to see the bird. Birding Classic teams often start at midnight and bird through the night by ear, so identifying birds solely by sound is already an accepted birding practice.
The Kingfishers were encouraged to learn birding by the nonprofit Rensselaerville Institute. The institute supports community volunteers it calls "Sparkplugs" to help schoolchildren, disadvantaged youth, people with visual impairments and other audiences in the Valley learn through nature outings.
The institute received a $30,000 grant from TPWD's Community Outdoor Outreach Program (CO-OP), which helps build relationships with non-traditional constituencies such as urban youth, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities, often through hands-on nature outings. That grant fueled a $2,000 mini-grant to the Kingfishers, along with grants to other groups through the institute's Real Time Community Change program.
But what has happened with the Kingfishers has gone beyond birding and the outdoors, says institute South Texas Director Eric Ellman.
"They're getting out into nature and getting other people out into nature; that was the intent of the CO-OP grant," Ellman said.
"But the changes are far more profound in terms of what's happening to their lives. There are something like 37,000 blind or visually impaired people in the Valley, a group of people that has largely lived in isolation. But now they are getting out into the community and meeting new people, doing new things. They have a meeting this week with the head of the McAllen transit organization to look at how to get more visually impaired people on buses, for example."
Ellman said the blind birders group has been asked to train the local staff of the Texas Commission for the Blind, which is scheduled to spend the entire day with them on March 26 to learn how to incorporate birding and nature outings into commission programs. They are also working with Texas Audubon to create a Tip Sheet about birding for the visually impaired.
"This group, and the birding idea they have pioneered, is becoming a force for positive change in the visually impaired community," Ellman said.
The department also awarded the institute a $36,000 Conservation Action Grant for the institute's Colonias Wildlife Education Initiative to serve children in low-income housing communities along the Rio Grande. Children in the Madero Colonia near Mission are working to turn their community into "Sanctuario Madero," and have asked city officials to declare the Chachalaca the official bird of the colonia.
The institute has also used TPWD funds to support a gifted and talented students program at Leal Elementary near Mission. Teacher Gloria Garcia leads a project where students are studying birds in the field, in the library and on the Internet to prepare for a "mini-classic" bird identification tournament. Her efforts to work with a blind student in her class last school year ultimately inspired the blind birding program that is now spreading in the Valley.
Finally, the institute is using TPWD grant funds for a project involving the children of incarcerated fathers. Working in cooperation with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Brownsville, the kids are starting a virtual birding and nature program involving the Internet. Part of the purpose is for the kids to encourage their fathers to pursue education to be able to get jobs when they get out of jail.
Named for its headquarters in Rensselaerville, New York, the Rensselaerville Institute has been described as the "think tank with muddy boots." Its mission statement includes, "show organizations how to set targets, measure their progress, and change their behavior to achieve quantum leaps in performance" and "enable communities to harness their own resources to improve people's lives in sustainable ways."
For more information about TPWD grants, call (512) 912-7124 or see the department Web site (http://tpwd.texas.gov/grants/).
Would-be Sparkplugs with ideas for potential funding through the Rensselaerville Institute's Real Time Community Change program should contact its McAllen office at (956) 630-4514, or see the institute Web page for general information (http://www.rinstitute.org/).
For information about birding for the visually impaired, contact Gladie Cruz with the Kingfishers at gcruz@tiagris.com or (956) 584-2760.

[ Note: This item is more than 13 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [SL]
March 15, 2004
TPWD Seeks Public Input on Variety of Resource Issues
AUSTIN, Texas -- Gauging stakeholder attitudes and opinions about a variety of proposed changes in hunting and fishing regulations, and related resource issues, is the focus behind a series of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department public hearings continuing across the state during March.
TPWD considers changes to hunting and fishing regulations and related policies each year and entertaining public input about those proposals is a key component in the process. Public comment taken during the open meetings will be considered when agency staff presents final recommendations to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in early April.
A series of 19 public hearings began March 8 and continues through March 24. The public is encouraged to attend and make comment at any of the following remaining meetings. All hearings start at 7 p.m. Comment may also be made online (http://tpwd.texas.gov/) or in writing to TPWD Public Comment, 4200 Smith School Road., Austin, TX 78744.
Following are the remaining hearings and their locations:
--Franklin -- Tuesday, March 23, Robertson County Courthouse.
--Longview -- Thursday, March 25, Gregg County Service Center, 405 East Marshall (Hwy 80).
--Midland -- Monday, March 22, Old Midland County Tax Office, 709 W. Washington St.
--Palestine -- Monday, March 22, Ben E. Keith Building, 2019 W. Oak.
--Rusk -- Wednesday, March 24, Cherokee County Courthouse, 502 N. Main.
--Southlake -- Monday, March 22, Southlake Courthouse, 1400 Main St., Room B, 3rd Floor
Following are just a few of the topics up for discussion during this year's public hearing process.
--A deferral option from hunter education requirements that would allow an individual who purchases a Texas hunting license and is accompanied by a licensed hunter who is at least 17 years of age and already meets hunter education requirements to hunt for the remainder of the license year.
--Another recommendation would double the spring hunting season length for eastern turkeys to 30 days with an April 1 opener. TPWD is also proposing to add two more counties to the eastern spring turkey season beginning in 2005, Hardin and Liberty, and expand the season to encompass all of two others, Montgomery and Tyler counties.
--A change in fishing license options to incorporate the new $5 freshwater fishing stamp. According to the new proposed licensing structure, anglers could choose from several fishing packages depending on the type of fishing -- freshwater or saltwater.
--Another proposal would eliminate the need for "double tagging" deer under certain situations, particularly on some Managed Lands Deer properties and during special public hunts.
--In another recommendation, TPWD is considering modifications to the late youth-only deer season designed to reduce confusion and increase opportunity.
A complete list of proposals is available online at the TPWD Web site and at all public hearings.

[ Note: This item is more than 13 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [TH]
March 15, 2004
Endangered Species Conservation Funds Available
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is seeking proposals from universities, cities and counties, private conservation groups and others interested in acquiring land or conducting conservation planning for endangered species.
This spring, TPWD will accept proposals and then will award grants using federal funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under Section 6 of the federal Endangered Species Act. Any grant proposals submitted by TPWD will compete with other proposals from around the nation; there are no funds earmarked for Texas.
"These grants show a commitment from Congress to help states recover threatened and endangered species," said Mike Berger, TPWD wildlife division director. "In Texas, our focus is always on habitat--on the landscapes and waterways that sustain all wildlife, including rare species. We hope these grants will help private landowners, local communities and other partners conserve those various habitat types."
For fiscal year 2003, TPWD received approval for grants that included close to $5 million for Balcones Canyonlands Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) land acquisition in Travis County, $3.5 million for Bexar County Karst Invertebrate Habitat Preserve in Bexar County, $516,000 for Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District HCP planning assistance in South Central Texas, $200,000 for a Karst Invertebrate (cave dwelling species) project in Williamson County and $239,325 for the Peterson Ranch in Kendall County for land acquisition to recover the golden-cheeked warbler.
These are 3:1 matching grants that require applicants to provide at least 25 percent of total project costs from non-federal funding sources.
Project proposals must concern a fish or wildlife species (or a suite of species) that is on the federal threatened or endangered species lists or that are candidates for federal listing.
There are three grants categories:
--Recovery Land Acquisition Grants -- for acquisition of habitat for endangered and threatened species in support of approved recovery plans. Acquisition of habitat to secure long-term protection is often an essential element of a comprehensive recovery effort for a listed species.
--Habitat Conservation Planning Assistance Grants -- to help develop Habitat Conservation Plans through the support of baseline surveys and inventories, document preparation, outreach, and similar planning activities.
--HCP Land Acquisition Grants -- to acquire land associated with approved HCPs. Grants do not fund the mitigation required of someone with an HCP permit; instead, they support acquisitions by state or local governments that complement HCP actions.
The deadline to submit a grant proposal is April 16. TPWD anticipates awarding grants in late spring.
For grant proposal guidelines, go to the Section 6 grants Web page (http://tpwd.texas.gov/grants/section_6_proposals/competitive.phtml). Or, contact
Craig Farquhar in the TPWD Wildlife Diversity Branch at 3000 South Interstate 35, Ste. 100, Austin, TX 78704, craig.farquhar@tpwd.texas.gov, (512) 912-7018.

[ Note: This item is more than 13 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [TH]
March 15, 2004
Partners Work To Conserve Rare Texas Plant
AUSTIN, Texas -- The bracted twistflower (Streptanthus bracteatus) is a beautiful and rare mustard that exists only on the Edwards Plateau of Central Texas. For three years, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the City of Austin, Travis County, the Lower Colorado River Authority, and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center have worked to conserve this globally rare plant growing in the Austin area.
A recent outcome of this strong partnership was a voluntary memorandum of agreement for which a signing ceremony was held March 10 at the capitol in Austin. The ceremony recognized private landowners, non-profit organizations, state and federal agencies, and wildflower enthusiasts for their dedication to preserving Texas' heritage represented by this small but important and rare plant.
For the last couple of years, a group of volunteers organized by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and botanists from several organizations have searched public land in Travis County to gather information that might lead to a brighter future for the bracted twistflower. This volunteer program remains active and organizers continue to look for local landowners that would like to join in the search. This is especially important since the flower occurs largely on private land.
During the last 150 years, the twistflower has been observed in seven counties, but more recently is restricted to Bexar, Medina, Travis, and Uvalde counties. This annual plant has delicate pink flowers and usually grows no taller than 3 feet. It is usually found on rocky limestone slopes and terraces in juniper-oak woodlands. When flowering during April and May, it is difficult to see amid the over-wintering brown shrubs. Leaves on the upper part of the plant wrap around the stem like those of local common mustards and have smooth margins. Leaves on the lower stem are on long stalks and are often deeply incised, like those of a dandelion. To make it easier for the wildflower enthusiast to recognize in spring, look for the four flowering pink petals.
For more local information, contact the USFWS Austin Ecological Services Field Office at (512) 490-0057.

[ Note: This item is more than 13 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [TH]
March 15, 2004
Landowner Recognized for Efforts To Conserve Rare Toad
AUSTIN, Texas -- Government wildlife agencies and nonprofit conservation groups recently recognized Robert K. Long, Sr. and his family for their dedication to conserving a rare amphibian species that resides in central Texas.
The Long family has partnered with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Environmental Defense to create, enhance, and restore habitat on the family's 540-acre ranch to benefit the endangered Houston toad (Bufo houstonensis). A ceremony recognizing the partnership was held March 10 at the Long family's property, the L & L Ranch, in Bastrop County.
Environmental Defense has worked closely with the Long Family and other partners during the past year to develop a Safe Harbor Agreement that outlines specific management actions designed to benefit the Houston toad. Safe Harbor Agreements are voluntary arrangements designed to benefit endangered species while providing landowners assurances that they will not incur additional restrictions on their property if they act to help the species.
Conservation measures outlined in the agreement include activities to facilitate the Houston toad's reproductive success, improve the quality of foraging and other habitat areas, and enhance movement between foraging and breeding areas for the toad on the ranch. These management actions and the partnerships involved with this effort represent a great effort to conserve this species.
The Houston toad was listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act on Oct. 13, 1970. An endangered species is one that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
The Houston toad varies in color from light brown to reddish to gray. The underside is usually pale with small, dark spots. It was historically known to occur in 12 Texas counties, but is now believed to only reside in about nine counties.
The most robust of the remaining Houston toad populations occurs in Bastrop County, where it is associated with the "Lost Pines" ecosystem that is characterized by pine and/or oak woodlands and deep sandy soils. The presence of water is another important habitat component for the Houston toad. Breeding occurs in shallow, rain-fed puddles and pools that persist long enough for the eggs laid to hatch into tadpoles and metamorphose into toadlets. Houston toads are known to burrow into sand or hide under rocks, logs, and leaf litter during harsh weather conditions, which makes determining the distribution of this species outside the breeding season extremely difficult.

[ Note: This item is more than 13 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ]
March 15, 2004
TPWD Game Warden Field Notes
The following are excerpts from recent Texas Parks and Wildlife Department law enforcement reports.
"Something Isn't Right Here" -- March 1, an Ellis County Game Warden encountered four men who were fishing near the dam at Lake Waxahachie. The warden observed five fishing poles that were broken and had no fishing line, but the individuals had fish on board and filet fish in bags. Upon further investigation, the warden located 150 feet of gill net in their possession. One suspect admitted to using the net to catch the fish. Arrests were made and various charges are pending.

[ Note: This item is more than 13 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [KE]
March 15, 2004
Stay Tuned
Information from Texas Parks and Wildlife is available on radio and television, as well as the newsstand.
Passport to Texas, TPWD's radio series of weekday, 90-second stories is broadcast on about 100 Texas stations. Airing the week of March 15-19, a tiny fish is making big waves in the scientific community. Plus, we'll tell you how to get your gardens ready for butterflies.
For more information, visit the Web (http://www.passporttotexas.org/).
Video News
TPWD provides video news reports that run in newscasts on numerous Texas stations, as well as on cable and satellite outlets around the nation. This month's stories include: A World War II veteran is healing some old wounds at the Admiral Nimitz State Historic Site-National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg; women are learning about the outdoors through the 'Becoming An Outdoors-Woman' workshop; a fisherman's dream comes true when he catches the world's largest Blue Catfish on a rod and reel; and 'wildscaping' your yard not only cuts down on your water bill, it also gives wildlife a place to live.
"Texas Parks & Wildlife" is a weekly half-hour television series seen on PBS affiliates around the state. Stories airing the week of March 14-21 are: men of the Civilian Conservation Corp reunite; take the train at the Texas State Railroad State Park; shotgun cleaning; and Seminole Canyon rock art.
For more information about this week's programs and where they can be viewed, visit the Web (http://tpwd.texas.gov/tv).
Magazine In the March issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine, mountain biker Dan Oko challenges the desert conditions of Franklin Mountains State Park and seasoned hunter Steven R. LaMascus rekindles his love of hunting by going after spring turkeys. Saltwater fishing writer Larry Bozka casts for reds and seatrout in Copano Bay and Mary-Love Bigony reviews the comeback of Kemp's ridley turtle on the Texas coast.
Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine is always available on newsstands throughout the state and by subscription for $19.95 a year. To subscribe, call (800) 937-9393 or order on line (http://www.tpwmagazine.com/).