|  TPWD News Releases Dated 2007-04-30                                    |
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[ Note: This item is more than 10 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [AR]
April 30, 2007
Texas Tarpon Research Gets Shot in the Fin
AUSTIN, Texas -- Tarpon reign as the supreme nearshore gamefish from Florida to Panama; that's been the case at least since Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt did battle with "silver kings" in Port Aransas, Texas, in 1937.
Despite the longstanding -- and fervent -- interest anglers have exhibited in the species, surprisingly little is known about tarpon life history and their suspected migrations throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
A partnership announced this month between the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Saltwater-Fisheries Enhancement Association, the University of Texas Marine Science Institute and the University of Miami could help change that.
Together, TPWD and SEA are contributing nearly $100,000 to a study by researchers Scott Holt of UTMSI and Jerry Ault of the University of Miami.
This summer Holt and Ault will undertake the most ambitious Texas tarpon tracking study to date. Using pop-up archival tags, or PATs, these researchers hope to enlist recreational and tournament anglers to tag a total of 20 mature (60-inch or longer) Texas Tarpon.
This research builds on similar studies undertaken by Ault in Florida and Mexico.
"We are trying to establish the migratory routes of the fish; that's the primary objective," Holt said. "Fish we catch in Texas, we expect go back to Mexico in the winter. Jerry has tagged seven or eight fish in the spring, in Mexico, that have come up here in the summer. Our expectation is that they will return to Mexico in the winter. As an ancillary benefit we get information about daily activity -- diving depth, temperatures they prefer."
The PATs collect and archive minute-by-minute data on depth of the animal, water temperature and light level (used to determine the daily location of the tagged fish). The tags are pre-programmed to release from the tagged fish at a specified time and date, usually 3 to 6 months after deployment, and they pop-up to the ocean surface where they transmit their stored data to an ARGOS satellite network passing overhead. The data retrieved by the satellites are then forwarded to research labs for analysis.
"This is a great opportunity to advance our understanding of tarpon along the Texas coast," said Larry McKinney, Ph.D., director of Coastal Fisheries at TPWD. "This effort will generate the type of information we need to manage the fishery for these magnificent fish and help assure their future in our coastal waters."
The TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division also is in the initial stages of developing a web-based Tarpon Observation Network that will reside on the TPWD website. A Beta version of the site should be up-and-running before the end of June, with a full version coming online within 12 months.
The design is simple. Anglers who land, hook, observe or otherwise come into contact with tarpon will be asked to enter various aspects of the observation into the TPWD website input device. Known information (e.g. time, date, location, length, weight, water temperature, etc) will be gathered and entered into the website.
After the data has been verified, the information will be graphically displayed in various formats, such as a map with that particular observation indicated by an icon along with past observations in an easy to use design. Participants will be able to see their observations alongside previous entries.
"Tarpon are a unique species and we don't know as much about them as we'd like. This gives us more information to use in our management practices," said Art Morris, TPWD Coastal Fisheries outreach specialist. "We see tarpon from the mouths of creeks to 20 miles offshore. People net juveniles in bar ditches, and we hear reports of tarpon from all over. This will give us a database to work from that organizes all that information, and because it's web-based researchers from all over the world can use it."
Morris said he got the idea for the web-based, volunteer system after seeing a presentation about eBird (http://ebird.org/content/).
"We are very excited about this program, if successful, the program could be expanded to include other states, Mexico or additional species," said Morris. "Ultimately, the program will help researchers and anglers alike in understanding this unique and popular species."

[ Note: This item is more than 10 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [SB]
[ Additional Contacts: Sarah Bibbs 512-389-4577, sarah.bibbs@tpwd.texas.gov; Tom Harvey 512-389-4453, tom.harvey@tpwd.texas.gov ]
April 30, 2007
Stagecoach, Scenery Make Fanthorp Inn Great Mothers Day Destination
ANDERSON, Texas -- Those searching for a special way to celebrate Mother's Day this year might want to head to Fanthorp Inn State Historic Site's stagecoach event Saturday, May 12.
Stagecoach Days is a monthly occurrence at the Fanthorp Inn, in which visitors are offered the unique opportunity to ride on a bright red, authentic replica 1850s Concord Stagecoach.
Seating nine adults, the stagecoach has room enough for the entire family. The tour starts at Fanthorp Inn and goes to the historic Grimes County Courthouse, lasting approximately 20 minutes. The trip even includes some unpaved roads, so visitors get to experience the feel of an 1850s ride as well.
"This is certainly something most people today haven't experienced," said Cathy Nolte, park superintendent. "It puts you back in touch with a more basic, simple time, and gives us a greater appreciation for what we have today and what our ancestors went through to settle this country."
In addition to riding the stagecoach, visitors can also tour the Fanthorp Inn.
In 1834, while Texas was still a part of Mexico, English immigrant Henry Fanthorp built his home in the Original Austin Colony that is today Anderson, Texas. His home was built near the road and offered a convenient stop for weary travelers. Not long after his home was built, many rooms were opened up to travelers and long-time boarders.
Nearly 175 years later, guided tours of the double-pen, cedar log dogtrot house offer a glimpse into the lifestyle of an age long past.
"Each room is restored and furnished with furniture representative of the time period when the Inn was functioning," said Nolte.
Live dulcimer music and poetry by Kenny Lewis also help make the event memorable.
"Kenny is wonderful," said Nolte. "He has a fantastic repertoire of poetry. One minute he has you laughing, and the next drying your eyes. He's quite talented."
Nolte said families are welcome to picnic at Fanthorp Inn as well, while they take in the abundant scenery of Grimes Counties' rolling hills and colorful varieties of wildflowers.
"We have many picnic tables set under the trees, so you can pack a lunch, spread out under the shade and enjoy some time together with the family," she said.
May is a particularly special month to attend Stagecoach Days. The City of Anderson hosts a "Stagecoach Stopover" event in conjunction with Fanthorp Inn's activities. Historic courthouse tours, walking tours of the community and historical re-enactments will all be taking place May 12. Food vendors and live music will also be present at the Anderson stopover event.
"It really is a great complement to the stagecoach activities at Fanthorp Inn," said Nolte.
Stagecoach rides will be offered Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fees are $1 for Texas State Parks Pass members, $4 for non-members and $2.50 for children 12 and under. More information can be found through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Web Site, or by calling Fanthorp Inn State Historic Site at (936) 873-2633.
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[ Note: This item is more than 10 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]
April 30, 2007
Wildlife, Landscape Recovering Year After Big Fire
AUSTIN, Texas -- It's been about a year since the biggest wildfire in Texas Panhandle history roared across the prairie. According to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho, wildfires east of Amarillo burned 907,245 acres in late March 2006.
Now, as ranchers, wildlife biologists and university researchers look out on a changed landscape, most experts agree that in the long run, the fires will be good for wildlife and the land, although they were tragic for many people.
* * *
"We were sitting there looking at the sky, and the western horizon just got orange like we were looking at the sunset, and that's when the firefighters said 'Here it comes.'"
Rancher LH Webb has by now told the story of March 12, 2006 many times, the tale of how he tried to save his cattle and nearly lost his life.
That Sunday morning, as the Webb family returned from church to their Seven Cross Ranch, the wind was gusting close to 50 miles per hour, the sky gone gray-brown with airborne prairie topsoil. The Seven Cross comprises about 10,000 acres in Gray County. That day, they had 780 cattle, foraging as best they could in the dry pastures. Months of punishing drought had left the country ripe for wildfire.
At 3 p.m., neighbors called. The fire was coming.
"My wife and I decided we'd load some things we didn't want destroyed--the family Bible, the computer, photos," Webb said. "I told my two little girls to get whatever was special to them, their favorite stuffed animals."
Webb sent his wife and girls to a safer place up the road. He and his son stayed "to see what we could do to save the place. I got the bright idea to go a mile south down a pasture road to open a couple of gates, try to let the cattle escape."
"When we got to the gates, the fire was there, a wall of flame," Webb said. "It was either take the offense and go through it or wait to let it come toward us. I told my son to hold on and pray and we just drove through it. It was zero visibility, the cab filled with smoke. My diesel pickup stalled out three times and finally I phoned a friend, who came to get us. By that time, the fire had blown through and it was just blowing dust and smoke."
Lightning apparently does strike twice in some places. About a year later, a second natural disaster struck the Webb family. On March 28, a powerful tornado tore the roof off both ranch houses, which had survived the fire.
"We made it to the basement," Webb recounts. "Our ears popped, and dirt was coming down through the trap door, the house was shaking. But we were all safe, and we were able to stay in the house that night, with buckets catching the rain."
Nonetheless, Webb says he still loves his way of life and the big sky prairie country, and he sees reason to hope for a better future.
"It's going to take a while for this land to recover, but there have been fires here for centuries before any human beings were on this land, and it's always come back. All these native plants and wildlife, they evolved with fire. It's man--we haven't evolved with fire, we've kept it in check. When it comes, it can be devastating to us in terms of our operations, and psychologically. When I see smoke on the horizon, I pray it's a controlled burn. I've seen how it can wipe out 170 head of cattle and 30 miles of fence in the blink of an eye."
* * *
"The fire was a very bad thing for ranching operations, fences, structures, people and livestock," said Jeff Bonner, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife biologist in Pampa. "But for wildlife and habitat, it will be good in the long run."
Bonner says fire has a way of rejuvenating almost every plant on the prairie. It increases plant diversity, with a corresponding response from wildlife in terms of abundance and diversity. He cautions this is all rainfall-dependent. The big fires were followed by months of continuing drought before good rains began to fall last autumn.
"But with the moisture we've had in most of the area this past fall through the spring--we've have five inches just in March--this country's really loaded and in the chute to jump out this year," Bonner says.
This spring, rolling prairie hills that looked like the Sahara Desert last March right after the fire show lush green again. The grasses are coming back, and the yucca, and woody plants like wild plum.
The hurt that may take longest to heal is the larger trees, especially big cottonwoods along creeks and rivers that provide important roosting habitat for turkeys.
"The big cottonwood trees were probably the biggest loss," Bonner said. "It's hard to replace a 100 year old cottonwood, not just in terms of wildlife habitat, but in terms of beauty and aesthetics."
Ground-nesting birds like quail and lesser prairie chickens also took a hit.
"The sheer scale and size of the fire and having a hard time finding a place to build a nest afterward hurt lesser prairie chickens," Bonner said. "This wasn't a patchy fire that burned some places and skipped others--birds would have to fly miles outside the burn area to find anywhere to nest. Follow that up with a drought, and you have little or no insects for them to eat."
"The flip side of all that is quail and prairie chickens have survived wildfires before, and they are still there. And now with improved conditions, increased weed production, as well as deferred grazing for ranchers under the Natural Resource Conservation Service, that will do a lot to provide nesting cover in years to come."
Bonner says 62 percent of ranchers in the burn area (including Webb) signed up for two year livestock grazing deferment offered by the NRCS. This will let the land rest and allow grasses to recover. Under the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program, one of several federal farm bill programs for wildlife conservation and environmental protection, ranchers are being paid $5 per acre to rest their pastures.
Larger, more mobile animals like white-tailed deer and pronghorn antelope appeared to have fared better.
"We run a 15 mile Gray County spotlight route where we census deer every year, and the entire area had burned along that route," Bonner said. "One year after the fire, we saw about the same number of deer."
"Pronghorn are real mobile, they have huge home ranges, and are notorious for moving where the groceries are. The best place to find green is in the burn area a year later. All you're seeing there is they moved where the food sources are."
* * *
A team of Texas Tech University scientists has launched a three-year study of how plants and birds are recovering in the burn area. The work is funded in part with a $45,000 TPWD grant, using hunter dollars from upland game bird stamp sales. Researchers include professors in fire, plant and avian ecology.
The team has set up three types of study plots: burn area plots where exclosure fencing keeps grazing livestock out, burn area plots where grazing is allowed, and plots just outside the burn area. In these areas, they are observing and analyzing changes in the soil, plants, and birds.
It's too early to draw definitive conclusions, but already in the first year some trends are emerging.
"What we've seen so far is an increase in grass mortality," said Sandra Rideout-Hanzak, PhD, a university assistant professor of wildland fire science. "And this is sort of surprising because the grasslands adapted to having their tops removed, whether by bison or cattle or fire, and they usually come back again. What we think happened is the combination of extreme fire conditions, followed by no rain for months and by wind blowing away topsoil caused about twice as much mortality in the burned area as in the unburned sections, much more than we expected to see."
Nonetheless, Rideout-Hanzak echoes Webb and Bonner on the long view.
"Long term it probably will be good," she said. "In a few years, when those dead cottonwood trees start to fall, the turkey population will probably decrease. But over 50-to-100 years, that's probably part of normal wildlife fluctuations. With good rainfall, the grasses have the potential for greater yield long-term than they did before the fire. It's a temporary thing the ranchers are dealing with where their grass yields have been reduced, but eventually it'll be back just as good or better as it was before the fire."
* * *
As chance would have it, a coalition of ranchers had just begun to get things rolling with the Texas Panhandle Prescribed Burn Association last spring, when the big fires hit.
"We'd been getting together equipment and grant money for the burn association, and then the wildfire kind of changed all that," said Webb, who still believes strongly in the use of prescribed fire as a land management tool.
"It's still going to go," he said of the burn association, but notes that "the work's kind of been done for this decade, and then some. The wildfire pretty well cleaned house."
Webb emphasized the differences between prescribed burns and uncontrolled wildfire.
"You need fuel for a controlled burn, and you want higher soil moisture so things will stay controlled. This was too wide spread, nearly a million acres. If you can just burn a section, the wildlife can spread out elsewhere. And even a controlled burn's not good if you don't get rainfall soon after. But prescribed fire's a good thing, and I'm still an advocate of it; it's a great tool."
About fires, tornadoes and most other things, in spite of the adversity nature seems to want to throw at him, Webb remains upbeat and positive.
"You've got to count your blessings," he said. "I think I'm really lucky. I walked away from the largest fire in Panhandle history and an EF3 tornado. It's all in God's hands, anyway."

[ Note: This item is more than 10 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [AR]
April 30, 2007
Gulf Shrimp Season To Close May 15
AUSTIN, Texas -- The Gulf of Mexico commercial shrimp season for both state and federal waters will close 30 minutes after sunset on Tuesday, May 15, until an as-yet unspecified time in July.
The closing date is based on samples collected by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Coastal Fisheries division using trawl, bag seine and other information gathered from the shrimping industry.
Data regarding TPWD brown shrimp bag seine catch rates, mean lengths of shrimp in April 2007, percent of samples containing shrimp and periods of maximum nocturnal ebb tidal flow indicate a May 15 closing date is appropriate. Typically, once the shrimp reach about 3-1/2 inches long, they begin their migration back to the Gulf of Mexico.
"The closure is designed to allow these small shrimp to grow to a larger, more valuable size before they are vulnerable to harvest," said Larry McKinney, Ph.D., TPWD's Coastal Fisheries division director. "The goal is to achieve optimum benefits for the shrimping industry while providing proper management to protect the shrimp."
The Texas closure applies to Gulf waters from the coast out to 9 nautical miles. The National Marine Fisheries Service has announced that federal waters out to 200 nautical miles also will be closed to conform to the Texas closure.
While the statutory opening date for the Gulf season is July 15, the Coastal Fisheries division will be sampling shrimp populations to determine the optimum opening date for both the shrimp and the shrimpers. No announcement will be made concerning the re-opening until June data are collected.

[ Note: This item is more than 10 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [RM]
April 30, 2007
Time To Pick Up Free Guide to Texas State Parks
AUSTIN, Texas -- With the publication of the fourth edition of the Texas State Park Guide, lovers of the outdoors and Texas' unique heritage have one more reason to plan an outing in coming months to one of more than 100 state recreational parks and historic sites.
The free, 112-page booklet is available at any Texas state park, most other Texas Parks and Wildlife Department sites and field offices, all Texas Travel Information Centers and many local convention and visitors bureaus and chambers of commerce.
For the first time, the guide can be ordered online by visiting the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Web site. Already, online visitors have placed more than 6,500 orders to have the guide mailed to them. The guide can be viewed online in Spanish, as well as English.
"The new state park guide is a convenient tool that's informative and better illustrated than ever," said Texas State Parks director Walt Dabney. "It's a very usable, ready reference that at a glance tells you all you need to know about what makes our parks so special. And, it's a handy size, so you can keep it in your vehicle or RV."
The 2007 edition provides an overview of the breadth of activities offered throughout the diverse park system and a brief recounting of how the state park system came into existence more than 80 years ago. New chapters recommend "getaway" trips to sites that are close to Texas' four major metro areas and to "far-flung" state parks in the state's more remote areas that are well worth a longer trip.
The booklet's State Parks Directory divides the state into the seven tourism areas, such as the Panhandle Plains and Gulf Coast regions. Each section includes an easy-to-read locator map, vignettes about each state park found within the region and symbol legend indicating facilities and activities found at each site.
Once again, the Texas State Park Guide is anchored by a centerfold state park locator map, while a three-page grid index at the back of the booklet details facilities and activities for each of the more than 100 state parks, historic sites and state natural areas. Another page is dedicated to explaining state park user fees and park passes, and how to make state park reservations by phone or online.
Last year, according to the TPWD marketing staff, a quantitative survey of more than 11,000 Texas state park visitors confirmed that 61 percent of visitors who had the guide said it had influenced their decision to visit a Texas state park or historic site, while -- more significantly --82 percent indicated they planned to use the guide to plan future trips.
Funds to underwrite the publishing of Texas State Park Guide were provided by Toyota and from advertising revenue. This is the fourth year the automaker has provided funding to help make the guide available free to the public.
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