|  TPWD News Releases Dated 2006-05-08                                    |
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[ Note: This item is more than 11 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]
May 8, 2006
2006 Lone Star Land Steward Winners Announced
AUSTIN, Texas -- What do a famous cattle baron, a Confederate burial site, a fourth generation ranching family and a power company have in common? They all play a role in exemplary land stewardship efforts the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is recognizing this year.
On May 24 at the Omni Southpark Hotel in Austin, TPWD will recognize 11 regional land stewards, including nine private ranches in various ecological regions, plus a cooperative category recognizing landowners who band together to help wildlife, and a corporate recipient. The statewide land steward of the year, also recognized with the Leopold Conservation Award for Texas, will be announced at the banquet. In addition to the regional and statewide award winners, for the first time TPWD will also be recognizing a small acreage land steward.
The 11th annual Lone Star Land Steward Awards program recognizes and honors private landowners for their accomplishments in habitat management and wildlife conservation. The program is designed to educate landowners and the public and to encourage participation in habitat conservation. Sponsors include Sand County Foundation, Farm Credit Banks of Texas, LCRA, Alcoa Rockdale, Texas Wildlife Association, and Texas Farm Bureau.
"This year's group of honorees illustrates the diversity of landowners in Texas, each with a unique vision," said Linda Campbell, TPWD Private Lands Program Director. "No matter how much acreage you manage, everybody can do something to improve and enhance their habitat."
Land Steward program objectives are to recognize private landowners for excellence in habitat management and wildlife conservation on their lands, publicize the best examples of sound natural resource management practices, encourage youth education and participation in promoting responsible habitat management and improved ecosystem health, promote long-term conservation of unique natural and cultural resources, promote ecosystem awareness and acknowledge the best conservation practices in the state's 10 ecological regions, enhance relationships between private landowners and Texas natural resource agencies, and illustrate the important role of private landowners in the future of Texas natural resources.
This year's recipients characterize the unique cultural and natural heritage of Texas. Landowners that are preserving historical landmarks while conserving flora and fauna are a common thread. For example, there is evidence that several Confederate burial sites and a tannery rock used in the making of saddles are on the Graff Ranch, the Pineywoods ecoregion award recipient.
The original headquarters of one of the state's largest cattle operations dating back 100 years, the McFaddin Ranch in Jefferson County, is now the Sabine Ranch & Cattle Company, winners of the Gulf Coast Marshes and Prairies ecoregion award.
There are sites where nature has been revived, thanks to the stewardship efforts of these landowners. Such is the case in South Texas, where native plant restoration and research is a key component of the Stockard-Sirianni Ranch. And, on the Begert Limousin Ranch in the Rolling Plains, a fourth generation ranching family's management practices are helping key wildlife species, such as lesser prairie chickens and Texas horned lizards.
Corporate -- Reliant Energy/NRG Texas LP
The Environmental Partners Program initiated at Reliant Energy in the early 1990s laid the groundwork for monetary and in-kind support of multiple environmental projects in Texas. Among the many contributions, Reliant Energy and NRG Texas LP are active participants in the Galveston Bay Estuary Program. Reliant funding has been used to procure critical habitats, assist with environmental education efforts, develop land management programs, and plan for the future growth of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. Reliant Energy has also been a proud partner and participant in the Great Texas Birding Classic and partners at Armand Bayou Nature Center for 10 years. Reliant Energy serves on the Boards of multiple Texas environmental organizations that conserve, restore, and protect the important habitats of the Great State of Texas.
Pineywoods -- Red River County -- Graff Ranch
Ranch owner Stan Graff and operator Jeff Pennington have demonstrated how properties can be managed for multiple resources (cattle, forestry, water, and wildlife). The 4,000-acre ranch was one of the original release sites for the state's eastern wild turkey restoration initiative and continues to support a healthy population. A holistic management philosophy has created ideal habitats for a variety of wildlife and plant communities. Both songbirds and waterfowl are being provided for through construction of bluebird nesting boxes and moist soil wetlands.
Trans Pecos -- Midland County -- Dove Acres Recreational Area
Contained within 155 acres is a shining example of how a property once overrun with invasive species like salt cedar, kochia and Russian thistle can be converted to prime wildlife habitat. Larry G. Cook has created a dove haven by removing much of the invasives and replacing them with small food plots and an extensive water pipeline system. In addition to dove hunting, the property provides a wide range of opportunities that include camping, mountain biking, hiking, dog training, horseback riding, archery, and a rifle/pistol shooting area. The property is also used as an outdoor classroom. In 2004, a local Boy Scout organization built artificial nest cones and placed them along the extensive trail system at Dove Acres to determine nesting use by doves. Wildlife biologists continue to monitor and install additional nesting cones. In addition, Youth Dove Hunts and charity events for Campfire USA have produced over $40,000 in charitable contributions for the Campfire organization.
Gulf Coast Marshes and Prairies -- Jefferson County -- Sabine Ranch & Cattle Co.
Exotic invasive plants have robbed much of the coastal prairies and marshes of native habitats capable of sustaining cattle, agriculture crops and wildlife. Chinese tallowtrees and water hyacinth are the biggest culprits and by eradicating these noxious plants, ranch owners Walter Umphrey and W.E. Wilson, Jr. have brought this 12,000-acre property back to life. The goal of the Sabine Ranch and Cattle Company is to operate a profitable farming, ranching, and hunting operation that, in the process, provides maximum wildlife benefits and protection of the land and native vegetation.. Regular census of mottled ducks, white-tailed deer, waterfowl, alligators, and feral hogs are conducted, and in 2005 the ranch supported the largest concentration of black-bellied tree ducks ever observed in Texas. Neighboring landowners who hunt or lease land to waterfowl hunters are now looking across the fence at the Sabine Ranch and the prospects are good that others will soon follow the management example the Sabine Ranch is providing. The ranch serves as a valuable demonstration area for both the public and private sector.
South Texas -- Frio County -- Stockard-Sirianni Ranch
The list of land management practices being implemented by the W.A. Stockard Family on their 2,900-acre ranch is extensive and impressive. The ranch has been actively involved in a TPWD wildlife management plan since the mid 1990s and the results illustrate what long term habitat improvement can achieve. Among the many practices in place include rotational cattle grazing to maintain healthy plant communities in this fragile ecosystem, prescribed burning and mechanical treatments to manage vegetation, disking of food plots to promote native forb growth, water development and native plant restoration and research.
Rolling Plains -- Hemphill County -- Begert Limousin Ranch
The Begert Family has ranched in the Allison area for more than 60 years and Hiram and Darenda Begert have operated this property for the past 36 years. They are a fourth generation ranching family whose primary goal is to operate a profitable registered cattle operation and to maintain high-quality wildlife habitat with current population levels of key species such as lesser prairie chicken, Texas horned lizard, bobwhite quail, Rio Grande wild turkey and white-tailed deer. Among their accomplishments and endeavors toward stewardship of land and wildlife include, effectively using various grazing tools of rest, rotation, cross-fencing, and water development to improve the overall productivity of their ranch for livestock and wildlife. They have also instituted a restrictive harvest system to perpetuate deer buck quality as a function of antler size, age, and field-dressed body weights. The Begerts are cooperators with Texas Prairie Rivers Region, Inc., to promote nature tourism and land conservation in the eastern Panhandle, and are charter members of the newly-formed Texas Panhandle Prescribed Burn Association and the Prairie Rivers Landowners Association.
Post Oak Savannah -- Goliad County -- Lantana Ridge Ranch
Ranch owners James and Mary Fuller have successfully balanced a working cattle operation, farming and recreational hunting on their 6,400-acre property through a series of comprehensive management efforts. The ranch utilizes a variety of tools such as grazing, prescribed fire and multiple mechanical methods to improve the plant and animal diversity on the area. Habitat management practices have had a positive influence on plant diversity and plant community vigor and health. Historical cattle stocking rates have been decreased and the grazing system implemented on the ranch is centered on using cattle as a tool to create and manage the habitat for wildlife. Land formerly in agriculture row crops has been converted into a 100-acre shallow water wetland for the benefit of waterfowl and other wetland dependent species of wildlife. Lantana Ridge Ranch's commercial lodge operation has always made special efforts in organizing youth hunts and family oriented recreation, including fishing and hunting opportunities. The goal is centered on providing visitors a friendly and comfortable visit, experiencing native animals in their native habitat.
High Plains -- Dallam County -- Adolph Hill Trust
The land known as Adolph Hill Trust has been owned by this family for 50 years and operated by Robert and Ruby Young for the past 28 years. Located in the 'High Lonesome' country on Coldwater Draw in the northwest corner of the Panhandle, this land is home to grassland birds, scaled quail, ring-necked pheasants, mule deer, and pronghorn antelope in an intensively agricultural setting. The Young's care for the land and skillful implementation of conservation practices in collaboration with resource management professionals serves as a model for other landowners in Dallam County who wish to accommodate the needs of wildlife with agricultural production. They have gained respect among professionals and landowners as people truly interested in land enhancement for aesthetics and wildlife while engaged in agricultural enterprises for profit. Some of their land management accomplishments and conservation endeavors include: seeding of more than 3,700 acres of farmland back to permanent cover using a native seed mixture for maximum wildlife habitat benefit; and establishing wildlife watering stations at strategic locations to benefit pronghorns, mule deer and grassland birds.
Edwards Plateau -- Kimble County -- Little Paint Creek Ranch
Little Paint Creek Ranch operates as a limited family partnership by owners Gary and Ollabelle Hall and operator Billy Braswell, focusing on recreational hunting of white-tailed deer and Rio Grande turkey. The ranch includes 10,818 acres of rocky hills and moderately steep draws typical of the western Edwards Plateau. Success is measured through improvement of native ecosystems and providing a quality outdoor experience to family, friends, and invited guests. Known for its crystal clear streams, Little Paint Creek Ranch boasts over 8 miles of natural flowing water, including the south fork of the Llano River. Notable increases in water flow and quality are a result of the sophisticated grazing and brush management programs at Little Paint. A minimum of 10 active springs are currently located throughout the property. The ranch continues to overcome the abuses of the past. Historical overgrazing from a combination of cattle, sheep, and goats, and a wildfire which consumed over 1,500 acres resulted in severe habitat degradation. Today, cattle are lightly stocked and rotated in a grazing system, which includes a six month grazing deferment. For the past 17 years, Little Paint Creek Ranch has provided multiple outreach opportunities for youth, including the Operation Orphan hunting program.
Cross Timbers -- Montague County -- JA Ranch
The 3,426 acre JA Ranch is owned and operated by James K. (Rooter) Brite and has been in his family since 1929. Like many progressive ranchers, Brite relies on native grass production for livestock and habitat for wildlife. He also has reserved wild spaces on the property for wildlife that are off-limits to people and cattle. There is an abundant water supply throughout the ranch with several large lakes and many small ponds that provide water for livestock and wildlife in each pasture. Consequently, numerous waterfowl species are present during the winter months. Prescribed grazing, prescribed burning, riparian buffers, pipeline installation and brush control are some of the land management practices used on the ranch. Stocking rates are adjusted to the conditions of the rangeland to maintain good grass cover and vegetation on the landscape. Old fields that were once used to grow cotton have been replanted to mixes of native grasses. Several fields are planted each year to winter wheat, cereal rye and ryegrass as forage for livestock, white-tailed deer and turkey.
Cooperative -- Lavaca County -- Lavaca County Wildlife Management Association
The Lavaca County Wildlife Management Association began in the fall of 1993 when a concerned group of landowners and hunters near the small community of Ezzell got together in a farm shop. Members of the group were concerned by the declining quality of white-tailed bucks harvested in the area, and were interested in what could be done to address the situation. The group operates on the belief that landowners and hunters working together to manage the wildlife, and more importantly their habitats, on and among their properties would yield a greater good than each landowner or group of hunters working only for themselves. Today, 6 different wildlife co-ops (Rocky Creek WMA, Honey Creek WMA, West Sandy Creek WMA, Vienna WMA, South Central Lavaca County WMA, and Sweet Home WMA) comprise the parent organization of Lavaca County Wildlife Management Association, and encompass 169,267 of the 620,736 acres in Lavaca County. The Association through its member co-ops emphasizes strong neighbor relations as the key to cooperative wildlife management, especially on small tracts of land. Sound habitat management continues to be at the forefront of the WMA's goals. Meetings and field days emphasize principles of habitat management as the foundation for maintaining thriving wildlife populations. Both the status and the quality of the white-tailed deer herd in the county continue to improve, especially with the implementation of the antler restriction regulations. Future emphasis for the co-op is shifting from deer to upland birds, specifically the northern bobwhite and the Rio Grande turkey

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[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [AR]
May 8, 2006
Assessment Raises Concerns About Lower Laguna Specks
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists have completed a new stock assessment of spotted seatrout in Texas. Spotted seatrout along with red drum comprise the two most important species sought by recreational anglers in Texas.
Recreational fisheries generate annually $1.3 billion in economic benefits to the state and support some 13,000 jobs, so the health of those fisheries is important.
More than a year ago as Coastal Fisheries biologists were reviewing the impacts of spotted seatrout fishery regulations on that went into effect September 2003, the need for a more comprehensive look at the spotted seatrout fishery was recognized.
The resulting coastwide spotted seatrout stock assessment and review of coastal fisheries data completed by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists in April delivered mostly good news about the ever-popular gamefish.
Overall, it appears that spotted seatrout stocks in Texas are doing extremely well.
"From 1984 to 2005, the female population doubled, the spawning stock biomass has more than doubled and gillnet catch rates are up," said Larry McKinney, Ph.D., TPWD's director of Coastal Fisheries.
McKinney said the one worrisome note sounded by the report -- the second in-depth look at spotted seatrout populations this decade -- is a clear downward trend in both the size and numbers of spotted seatrout in the Lower Laguna Madre.
"Looking at our gillnet surveys, we are the only bay system on the Texas coast that is not showing a general upward trend in relative abundance," said Randy Blankinship, TPWD Lower Laguna Madre ecosystem leader. "That, along with recent bag seine data on juvenile spotted seatrout that has shown some reduced recruitment, has raised some red flags."
To be fair, the Lower Laguna Madre -- from the southern end of the Land Cut to Brazos Santiago Pass at South Padre Island -- is still a great bay for speckled trout. Catch rates here equal or exceed the best numbers posted by other bay systems, and -- relatively speaking -- there are lots of big fish.
"This is not a fishery in crisis," Blankinship said. "There is no danger of spotted seatrout stocks collapsing; it's more a question of reversing these trends and getting a high quality fishery back to the very high quality fishery we have historically known."
Biologists say they are not sure exactly why the numbers are headed south -- a severe freeze in 1997, followed by what is now recognized as the drought of record for South Texas probably played roles -- but they do think they can do something to change the downward trend.
That's partly because no matter what nature has thrown at trout populations, angling pressure has continued unabated.
"We know from past work the department has done, and work that has been done in other parts of the nation, that fishing activity matters," Blankinship said. "Through fishery management tools such as bag and size limits we can make progress reversing some of the trends we are currently seeing."
As Coastal Fisheries continues to look at the data and determine what options are best, if any, to return the fishery to the "very high quality" fishery, all management options will be carefully reviewed and considered.
In addition to changes in bag and size limits an option would be to develop a regional management plan for the Lower Laguna Madre.
"Unique ecological aspects of different bodies of water sometimes allow for different management strategies," Blankinship said, noting that inland fisheries biologists often set different harvest regulations for different lakes and reservoirs.
McKinney said that, when TPWD was first granted the authority to make statewide rules (replacing a hodge-podge of regulations set by individual counties) in the 1980s, the aim was for consistency.
"It was important for anglers to be able to understand the rules, and for law enforcement to be able to enforce them," he said. "Today, anglers are better-informed and we have many more ways to disseminate information effectively. Our game wardens also have better tools to enforce regulations. Together, that means that regionalization of our management strategies may now be a viable option."
Whatever management strategies TPWD biologists recommend to help improve the Lower Laguna Madre trout fishery, input from recreational fishermen will be key, they said.
"When our models, our monitoring data, our biologists and our anglers are all saying the same thing it gets my attention," stated McKinney. "Staff have been very focused over the last fourteen months or so in making sure that whatever management action we recommend to the Commission will be based on the best science available and I have every confidence in their efforts."
"We are well aware that there are some strong opinions about spotted seatrout populations and where they are headed," Blankinship said. "And what people are telling us is borne out, to some degree, in our data. Our anglers can be assured that as we move forward in considering management options we will be seeking their input."

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[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [RM]
May 8, 2006
Village Creek State Park Reopens Campsites After Hurricane
LUMBERTON -- Village Creek State Park is again open for business. The East Texas park, which was severely impacted by last fall's Hurricane Rita, began welcoming visitors again on Monday, May 1.
Several other Texas state parks have also been recovering from Rita. Martin Dies, Jr. State Park near Jasper reopened over the Easter weekend. Sea Rim State Park and Sabine Pass State Historic Site on the Gulf Coast remain closed while repairs continue.
About half of Village Creek's facilities, excluding eight water-and-electric campsites, 12 of 15 picnic sites, all 16 walk-in tent campsites, group camping area and three miles of trails, are again accessible to the public, according to Jerry Rashall, park superintendent. He said 17 of 25 water and electric campsites, park headquarters, restrooms with showers, a cabin, dump station, picnic pavilion, playground and canoe launch are back in operation. For the latest information, call the park at (409) 755-7322.
Camping reservations for both Village Creek and Martin Dies Jr. state parks can be made by calling the Customer Service Center in Austin at (512) 389-8900, or can be booked on-line through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Web site.
At Martin Dies Jr., 31 water-and-electric campsites, 19 screened shelters, a mini-cabin and 35 water-only campsites in the Hen House Ridge unit are available for overnight camping.
Much of the money for the repairs thus far has come from the sale of timber salvaged from the park's numerous downed old growth pines and hardwoods.
Martin Dies Jr. superintendent Dan Odom credits the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which allowed the state park to piggyback on an existing Corps timber salvage contract, with helping get the park reopened much sooner than anticipated.
TPWD expects to recoup much of the cost of repairs at hurricane-damaged East Texas state parks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
For more information about Martin Dies Jr. State Park, phone the park at (409) 384-5231.
On the Net:

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[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [TH]
May 8, 2006
Reliant Team Reclaims Birding Classic Weeklong Win
McALLEN, Texas -- A team of veteran birders from Texas and Pennsylvania persevered through lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and constant fretting about the whereabouts of a much younger opposing team to win the coveted weeklong competition category in the 2006 Great Texas Birding Classic.
The 10th Annual Great Texas Birding Classic concluded April 29 at midnight on the lower Texas coast in McAllen, and winners were announced for all categories April 30. (See complete results below.)
The weeklong winners were the Reliant Energy Environmental Partners, comprised of Bill Baker of League City with Reliant Energy, Cecilia Riley of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory in Lake Jackson and Tom Roberts of Pennsylvania, who also works for Reliant Energy. This team successfully defended their weeklong win from last year, but there's a tale of perseverance overcoming adversity here that goes back to the Classic's origins.
You see, Baker's the only person to compete in the Birding Classic weeklong tournament all 10 years. And while he's on top now, he knows how it feels to be on the bottom.
"In 1997, we weren't just last, we were embarrassingly last, we set the standard for last place," Baker said. "So we began to work on our birding skills, evaluating the coastal birding trail maps and learning all the sites, and each year we improved our total. The first year we identified 198 species, and this year we finished with a record 340, beating the contest record we set last year at 332."
Two weeks before this year's Classic, Baker's team member Lalise Mason of Houston went into knee surgery that was supposed to be a simple outpatient procedure, but she developed life threatening blood clots in her lungs and ended up in intensive care for days. Her husband Greg was going to go with the team, but finally decided he needed to stay with her. Lalise has since recovered for the most part, and hopes to bird the Classic next year. But on April 23, Baker had to find another competitor, fast.
"I called Cecilia on Sunday evening and she agreed to do it, and we started the tournament Monday just after midnight," Baker said.
All this to chase birds for 120 hours straight? It begs the question, why do they do it?
"There are two main reasons," Baker said. "First, my company continues to sponsor the tournament for habitat conservation reasons, and we've been doing habitat protection and restoration for 10 years now. Personally, I do it because I enjoy it, it's fun, it's a learning experience, and you meet some of the neatest people from all over the world as you go through the week--not just tournament participants, but people from Germany, Japan, England, Canada, Mexico."
Throughout the week, the Reliant team kept looking over their shoulders for another team, the Nikon Wildbirders, who were decades younger and hungry to reclaim the top title, having won it back to back in 1998 and 1999.
"The Wildbirders are incredible birders," Baker said. "They're young and have a lot of stamina. And at our age, it's like okay, the only way we can beat these guys is to try to work smarter. I will admit that team set the standard for the coastwide Classic several years ago, and they have really pushed everyone else to be better. My hat's off to those guys, they come from out of state to do this--I live here."
In a decade of birding the Texas coast, what's changed?
"You do see things lost through development," Baker said. "But you turn around and also see things preserved, which gives you encouragement. Several sites with grant funding from Classic are now places we visit during the tournament. I think we may be making some gains in wetlands, particularly coastal marsh, but in upland habitats, particularly prairies, we're losing the battle. We've probably lost more than 98 percent of the original Texas coastal prairie, and that's continuing."
The 11th annual Great Texas Birding Classic will take place Saturday, April 21 through Sunday, April 29, 2007. For more information on the Classic and on general birding opportunities along the Texas coast, see the Web sites for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory.
Adult Team Competition
Weeklong Competition
--1st Place, Reliant Energy Environmental Partners, 340 species
--2nd Place, Nikon Wildbirders, 325 species
--3rd Place, ConocoPhillips Cranes, 306 species
Upper Texas Coast Sectional
--1st Place, The Grey Feathers, 139 species
Central Texas Coast Sectional
--1st Place, Texas A&M Wildlifers, 190 species
--2nd Place, Aplomado Falcons, 146 species
Lower Texas Coast Sectional
--1st Place, Swarovski Roadside Hawks, 215 species
--2nd Place, EagleOptics Holy Order of Loggerhead Shrikes, 194 species
--3rd Place, Darwin's Finches, 163 species
--1st Place, Four Rails & a Young Coot, 172 species
College Challenge
--1st Place, Ziess LSU Tiger-Herons, 201 species
--2nd Place, UT Tyler Hamerkops, 181 species
--3rd Place, TX A&M Galveston Whopping Sea Aggies, 167 species
Outta-sight Songbirder Tournament
--1st Place, Conroe's Palomas, 39 species
--2nd Place, The Tweety Birds, 37 species
--3rd Place, Caracaras Face to Face with Nature, 35 species
The Big Sit
--1st Place, Team McRee Ford (Lone Star Bird Award), 111 species
--2nd Place, BASF Bitterns, 108 species
--3rd Place, Port Aransas Spoonbills, 105 species
Youth Divisions
All Coast
--1st Place, Leica/ABA Tropicbirds, 212 species
--2nd Place, Nikon Noddies, 200 species
--3rd Place, Travis Audubon Towhees, 148 species
Upper TX Coast Sectional
--1st Place, Houston Audubon Accipiters, 109 species
--2nd Place, GCBO Snowy Owls, 29 species
--3rd Place, MD Anderson Mighty Blue Jays, 26 species
Central TX Coast Sectional
--1st Place, Port Aransas Laughing Gals, 119 species
--2nd Place, Ravishing Raptors, 92 species
--3rd Place, Gregarious Green Jays, 91 species
Lower TX Coast Sectional
--1st Place, Edinburg Kingfishers, 87 species
--2nd Place, Brownsville Red-crowned Parrots, 70 species
On the Net:

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[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [TH]
May 8, 2006
Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles Return to Texas Coast
NORTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas -- Kemp's Ridley sea turtles are returning to the Texas coast to nest, and scientists are asking beach-goers to report turtle sightings, while also extending an invitation for visitors to witness releases of captive-raised turtle hatchlings crawling toward the sea.
As of May 4, 28 Kemp's Ridley nests had been located on the Texas coast during 2006, including 22 at Padre Island National Seashore, two on South Padre Island, two on Boca Chica Beach, one on Matagorda Island, and one on Galveston Island.
The recent run of sea turtle sightings signals the arrival of peak turtle nesting season in Texas in May and June. The news for the Ridley is mostly good--more of these turtles continue to nest on Texas beaches than in past years, including some who were reared in captivity and released years ago and are now returning to nest as adults.
However, the Ridley remains on the endangered species list, and its populations are still vulnerable to natural disasters and human development and activity. A network of government and university scientists and volunteers is helping to track sea turtle nesting and support conservation and research efforts.
For the past several years, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has worked with a host of other agencies including the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Gladys Porter Zoo, University of Texas, officials in Mexico and others to restore the Kemp's ridley.
There are several likely reasons for the increased number of turtle nestings on Texas beaches. Recent rapid increases in the Mexico nesting population probably caused the Kemp's ridley to expand their nesting range. In 2001, TPWD put into action new commercial shrimping regulations that restricted the size and number of shrimping trawls per vessel in near-shore waters from the beach to nine nautical miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, an area where sea turtles feed, mate and come to the beach to nest. Another shrimping regulation includes a seven-month seasonal ban on shrimp trawling from lower coast Gulf beaches to five miles offshore. Both regulations were designed to reduce fishing pressure on shrimp near the beach; however, sea turtles were afforded more protection from the regulations as well. Also, the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) by commercial shrimpers is another major reason the Kemp's ridley and other sea turtle populations are rebounding, since the devices allow turtles to escape shrimp trawls.
To protect as many sea turtles as possible, the Padre Island National Seashore incubates most of the sea turtle eggs found along the Texas coast and releases the hatchlings into the Gulf of Mexico. Donna Shaver, Ph.D. and Chief of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore has been working with sea turtles for more than 20 years.
People are encouraged to report sea turtle sightings on Texas beaches by phoning toll free (866) TURTLE5. The public can also witness sea turtle hatchling releases at the national seashore on certain dates mid-June through August. The releases usually take place around 6:45 a.m. and are free to attend--see the national seashore sea turtle Web pages for details. General information about Ridley turtles is also on the TPWD Web site.
On the Net:

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[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [LDH]
[ Additional Contacts: Lake Meridian, Michael S. Baird, (254) 666-5190 or Mukhtar Farooqi, (325) 692-0921; Mill Creek Reservoir, Timothy Bister, (903) 938-1007; Lake Raven, Thomas Hungerford, (817) 732-0761 ]
May 8, 2006
First Operation World Record Results Encouraging
ATHENS, Texas -- Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries biologists were pleasantly surprised recently when they went electrofishing for tagged Budweiser ShareLunker offspring in three research lakes.
They found fish--lots of fish. "The most exciting thing from these preliminary samples is that ShareLunker offspring were collected at high rates," said Inland Fisheries biologist Michael Baird. "This bodes well for the age-4 sample slated to be completed in the spring of 2009."
TPWD fisheries biologists are monitoring the growth rate of stocked Budweiser ShareLunker offspring as compared to resident "wild" fish in the reservoirs. The average ShareLunker offspring was 7.1 inches long and weighed 2.7 ounces. The average wild fish averaged 5.3 inches long and weighed 1.2 ounces.
"Because the ShareLunker offspring were raised at the hatchery, their initial size was larger," pointed out Tim Bister, one of the project biologists. "We'll have to consider this difference when we make growth comparisons in the future."
The fish were sampled from Lake Raven, in Huntsville State Park; Mill Creek Reservoir, in Canton; and Meridian State Park Lake. The valuable Budweiser ShareLunker offspring were produced from female largemouth bass contributed by anglers to the program in 2005 and were spawned and reared at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, home of the ShareLunker program.
Operation World Record is an attempt to produce the next world record largemouth bass through a program of selective breeding using Budweiser ShareLunkers with pure Florida largemouth genes. Research to evaluate the growth rates of these selectively bred fish is ongoing.
The Budweiser ShareLunker program is made possible through support from Anheuser-Busch, Inc. Since 1991, Anheuser-Busch, in partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, has contributed millions of dollars in funding to support conservation causes and fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation programs in Texas.

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[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [TH]
May 8, 2006
Project Wild Trains Texas Teachers in Wildlife Science
AUSTIN, Texas -- The new teacher was anxious. Four of the boys in her class were often rowdy.
But when the third grade class lined up to go outside, a calmer sense of expectant excitement and cooperation took hold. It's one benefit teachers are reporting from Project WILD, a teacher-training program involving wildlife ecology and the natural environment.
Outside, the students played a game in which rabbits had to "freeze" in order to stay safe from coyotes. After playing several rounds and returning to the classroom, the students split into groups and were able to predict what would happen in different scenarios.
"They were so excited to report what their group thought was the 'answer' and also learned that different groups sometimes had different perspectives on the same situation," said Lubbock Independent School District Science Demonstration Teacher Tammy Motley, who is using the Project WILD curriculum to teach the third-grade science class about wildlife behavioral adaptations.
Project WILD trains teachers to teach Kindergarten through twelfth grade students about wildlife and resource conservation through science, math, social studies, and reading both inside and outside of the classroom.
"The curriculum utilizes fun, engaging activities that often look like games of tag but they are really effective tools at getting students to understand complex topics like wildlife population dynamics," said Cappy Manly with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Manly coordinates Project WILD across Texas, working with educators, volunteer instructors and other partners.
"They begin by squealing and acting silly about it, but before the activity is over they are observing, debating 'quality' and it is not hard to imagine the scientists they may become. The teachers and students get a big kick out of it and learn a lot about data collecting and deer biology," said Thea Platz, who teaches the curriculum at a special 3-day camp for fifth graders in North East Independent School District in San Antonio.
Jill Nugent, a biology lab coordinator who teaches college freshman at the University of North Texas, agreed.
"I love each workshop as each group is so different, but the one thing that is constant is that AHA! moment on the participants' faces--they get it! Project WILD is so much fun, they don't even realize they are learning important and complex environmental science concepts," Nugent said.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Project WILD coordinator organizes a cadre of Project WILD trainers who donate their time to teach educators in their local communities. Curriculum materials are given only to educators who complete a daylong workshop. Both the workshop and the curriculum are free.
"We have nine major universities include Project WILD in their teacher training and science methods classes so that when their students become teachers, they will use it in their classrooms," said Cappy Manly, Texas Project WILD coordinator.
Allan Nelson instructs would-be teachers in the curriculum at Tarleton State University.
"The last time that I taught Project WILD, students said that it was the best activity that we did during the semester and many were thrilled to receive free materials for their future classroom," Nelson said.
Each year in Texas, around 2,600 educators go through the training--making Texas the state with the largest annual number of workshop participants. The educators reach around 50,000 students each year. In addition to schoolteachers, groups like scouts, 4-H, community centers, zoos and aquariums are invited to participate.
More than 54,000 educators have completed a Project WILD workshop since the program came to Texas in 1985. Teachers who participate are able to receive TEA continuing education credit. The curriculum, which teaches young people how to think about wildlife not what to think, is aligned to state standards and aids in TEKS and TAKS preparation.
In 2005, the state evaluated Project WILD using 3rd and 4th grade teachers from the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston. The study considered the effectiveness of instructing classroom teachers about program content and increasing appreciation of wildlife. Program supervisors say results were very positive--teachers were able to correct misconceptions, learned new information about wildlife and intended to use Project WILD more than was required.
"I can use it as a supplement in almost any science class I teach. Its strongest points are that it is concise, requires few materials and yet is thorough in every respect in dealing with concepts of wildlife biology and environmental science. What I really like is that I can accomplish in a class period or two major science activities that would normally take several days using most other curriculum materials," said Bill Ingram, who teaches an Advanced Placement environmental science course at Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School in Fort Worth.
Project WILD can even help teachers learn more about the environment.
Tammy Motley, the Lubbock instructor, was adamantly against hunting deer after watching them on her parents' Iowa farm as a child. Project WILD made her change her mind.
"It made me realize why it is necessary to control the animal populations and that scientists do this in order to protect the animals from overpopulating and starving. As I participated in other activities, it made me much more aware of how human decisions can affect wildlife in so many ways!" she said.
Established in 1983, Project WILD is the nation's longest standing wildlife education program and is distributed nationwide by the Council for Environmental Education through partnerships with state wildlife agencies. CEE is a national non-profit environmental education organization, founded in 1970, and based in Houston, Texas. Project WILD was honored at the White House in 1991 as on of the first recipients of the Gold Medal of Education and Communication in the President's Environment and Conservation Challenge Award program.
For more information about Project WILD, visit the TPWD Web site, where teachers can also find a schedule of workshops around the state.
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[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [TH]
May 8, 2006
Managing Land for Wildlife Workshop May 20 in Houston
HOUSTON -- Texans are reconnecting with the landscape. As people buy property for retirement, some are moving back to the country. Not all of them want to raise livestock and some just want to enjoy the rural lifestyle. For those interested in wildlife, the workshop Managing Your Land For Wildlife: Practical First Steps on May 20 will offer practical guidance.
The workshop is sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Cooperative Extension, and the Katy Prairie Conservancy to help landowners develop management plans for their properties and give them a foundation for wise decision-making. It will be held at Extension's Harris County office at 3033 Bear Creek Drive in Houston off I10 near Highway 6 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat., May 20.
Workshops like this one are now held annually in Houston, and these topics have generated so much interest that this year organizers split the workshop into two separate dates.
In February, 75 participants came to the first Houston area workshop for this year These participants own 17,500 acres of private land in 34 counties across Texas.
"These workshops are not for just the large acreage landowner" said Keith Crenshaw, TPWD urban wildlife biologist in Houston. "Anybody with land or the desire to purchase property later that cares about wildlife and land management should come."
For the upcoming May 20 workshop, topics include: writing a wildlife management plan, evaluating your property for wildlife, techniques to survey wildlife, qualifications for wildlife tax exemption, and a testimonial on managing for cattle and wildlife. This one-day workshop comes complete with an in-the-field activity to put workshop concepts into practice. Three general applicator's license Continuing Education Units from the Texas Department of Agriculture are available for those interested.
The registration fee for the workshop is $20, payable to the Katy Prairie Conservancy, which covers lunch and all materials. Checks should be mailed to the TPWD urban wildlife office at 14320 Garrett Road, Houston, TX 77044.
For details contact the TPWD urban wildlife office at (281) 456-7029 or the Katy Prairie Conservancy Office at (713) 523-6135. Basic information is also on the Web calendars for TPWD and Texas Cooperative Extension.
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[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [SL]
[ Additional Contacts: Clay Church, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, (817) 886-1310 ]
May 8, 2006
Drawdown Set To Combat Exotic Aquatics at Steinhagen
FORT WORTH, Texas -- In an effort to combat nuisance levels of non-native aquatic vegetation at B. A. Steinhagen Lake in Jasper and Tyler Counties, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, in coordination with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, plans a summer drawdown of the lake.
The normal elevation for the lake is 82.5' above mean sea level. The schedule for the summer 2006 drawdown is as follows:
--May 10-20, draw lake down to elevation 76' above msl.
--May 20-July 31, lake will remain at elevation 76' above msl.
--Aug. 1-Sept. 15, draw lake down below elevation 60' above msl.
--Sept. 15-30, begin bringing lake back up to full pool.
This schedule is dependant on a number of factors, most notably weather (the drawdown will take place during the peak of the 2006 hurricane season), and is subject to modification.
B. A. Steinhagen Lake is a shallow 10,000 acre multi-purpose reservoir on the Neches and Angelina Rivers, impounded in 1951. It captures nutrient-rich run-off from East Texas and has slowly silted in over the years, becoming infested with exotic vegetation such as water hyacinth, hydrilla, and common salvinia, to such a point that recreation and hydro-electric generation have become greatly hampered during most of the summer and fall.
Winter drawdowns of the lake to control vegetation have been used in the past decade with limited success. During these, the lake was lowered to an elevation 76' above msl in hopes of getting a killing freeze on the exposed vegetation. The elevation of 76' above msl is the lowest elevation where hydro-electric generation can take place, but results of past drawdowns indicate it was not low enough, and hard freezes were difficult to plan for. Aquatic herbicide has been used for years to keep access points and boat lanes open, but controlling the lake-wide problem with herbicide is neither cost effective nor environmentally sound.
As a result, the Corps, in cooperation with the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Division offices of TPWD, the Lower Neches Valley Authority, and the Southwestern Power Administration, has decided to employ an intense summer drawdown in an effort to strand the vegetation on dry land and desiccate it in the East Texas sun. This procedure replicates past conditions at the lake, before the impoundment of Sam Rayburn Reservoir and the addition of the R. D. Willis Powerhouse at Town Bluff. The lake would historically reach extremely low elevations during the late summer, often below 60' above msl, because of low flows on the Neches and Angelina Rivers and water demands of downstream users.
This drastic elevation change, especially the low levels during summer, inhibited growth of nuisance aquatic vegetation. A more stable lake level was possible as a result of the dependable river flow on the Angelina after impoundment of Sam Rayburn in 1965. The need to keep Steinhagen at a steady high elevation to allow the powerhouse to run efficiently allowed for the nuisance aquatic vegetation to flourish and eventually take over during the last two decades. Reduction of this high level of non-native vegetation should improve recreational opportunities, wildlife habitat (especially waterfowl), fish production and hydro-electric generation.
As water levels drop, potential hazards can be exposed or get closer to the surface. Boaters are urged to exercise caution and be vigilant in watching for these dangers. Never travel at high speeds in areas you are unfamiliar with and always wear an approved personal flotation device. If possible, never boat alone and always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. Visitors should be aware that all boat ramps on the lake will be unusable during the drawdown, and the two state ramps on the Angelina River (Bevilport and the SH 63 bridge) will be difficult, at best.
Low lake levels may expose archeological or historical properties and artifacts; however, the Corps cautions that destruction or disturbance of archeological properties, including removal of artifacts, from federal lands, are subject to criminal charges and civil penalties under the Archeological Resources Protection Act. Similarly, the removal or destruction of any artifact or historic property is subject to a citation and fine under Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations. The Corps asks that lake visitors leave artifacts where found and report the location to the lake office.
The use of metal detectors is prohibited except on designated beaches at Town Bluff. Visitors should also know that driving any type of vehicle, including all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles, along the shoreline or exposed lake bed is prohibited and the owner/driver can receive a citation and fine.
For further information, call the Town Bluff Project office at (409) 429-3491 or TPWD at (409) 384-6894 (Wildlife office) or 409-384-5231 (Martin Dies, Jr. State Park).
For more information call Clay Church, Public Affairs, at 817-886-1310 or visit the Fort Worth District website.
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