|  TPWD News Releases Dated 2008-10-17                                    |
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[ Note: This item is more than eight years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ]
[ Additional Contacts: Rob McCorkle (830) 866-3533 or robert.mccorkle@tpwd.texas.gov; Dianne Powell (210) 824-9474 or dpsellmark@aol.com ]
Oct. 17, 2008
Battleship Texas, San Jacinto Monument Reopen
LAPORTE, Texas -- The recently reopened San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site celebrated the beginning of its post-Hurricane Ike-era recently by hosting a reunion of the USS TEXAS Veterans Association this past Saturday. A memorial honoring fallen shipmates was part of the ceremony.
Saturday also marked one week since the reopening of the iconic San Jacinto Monument, which had been closed to the public since Sept. 11, when staff evacuated the site after finalizing preparations in advance of the hurricane that struck the following night. The Category 2 storm knocked out power and water to the historic site, where in 1836 Texas won its independence from Mexico.
The elevator that takes visitors to the observation deck of the 570-foot tall monument, however, remains closed for repairs. The museum exhibits, gift shop and Jesse H. Jones Theatre are welcoming visitors once again.
The U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has scheduled a Nov. 10 swearing-in ceremony for new citizens aboard the Battleship TEXAS in honor of Veterans Day, Tuesday, Nov. 11.
Both currently serving and retired military personnel and their family members will be guests of the San Jacinto Museum of History from Veterans Day through Sunday, Nov. 16. They will receive free admission to view the digital presentation Texas Forever!! The Battle of San Jacinto, tour the Developing Houston: Photographic Treasures from the Cecil Thomson Collection and visit the San Jacinto Museum of History.
Non-military visitors may purchase a combo ticket for entrance to the Texas Forever!! and Developing Houston. Tickets for individual activities and discounts for seniors and tour groups are available.
The San Jacinto Monument and Battleship TEXAS are located at the San Jacinto Battleground SHS that reopened Oct. 11, exactly 30 days from the day the park had to be evacuated because of deadly Hurricane Ike.
Most of the historic site remains accessible to the public. Only the area on the east side of the monument is closed for continued clean-up of debris. Hurricane Ike damage to the 1,200-acre site included downed trees, electrical damage to the monument elevator, structural damage to part of the boardwalk near the Battleship TEXAS, and the demolishment of the Battleship gift shop and concession area. A temporary gift shop has been set up in the Officers' Galley on the battleship. Battleship admissions are being sold from a temporary ticket booth at the gangway.
The San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site is located just minutes from downtown Houston. Take Highway 225 east to Battleground Road north, approximately three miles from the freeway. The Lynchburg Ferry remains closed at this time due to damage from Hurricane Ike.
To learn more about the San Jacinto Museum of History, call (281) 479-2421. For more information on the Battleship TEXAS and battlegrounds, call the park at (281) 479-2431.
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[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [SL]
Oct. 17, 2008
TPWD Projecting Average Quail Season
AUSTIN, Texas -- Late quail production due to dry and hot range conditions has set the stage for an average hunting season, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists.
The statewide quail season runs Oct. 25-Feb. 22. The daily bag limit is 15, with 45 in possession. Legal shooting hours for all non-migratory game birds are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. The bag limit is the maximum number that may be killed during the legal shooting hours in one day.
"For South Texas, production came late and history tells us when you get these late hatches, they tend to be less productive so right out of the box we're going to have less birds," said Robert Perez, TPWD upland game bird program director. "I would encourage hunters to go early in the season, as soon as hunting conditions are favorable for dog work."
About this time a year ago, most of the Texas quail country was lush with vegetation after great late summer rains, but the winter that followed was one of the driest on record.
"The quail season was about average and there were plenty of birds surviving into late winter," Perez noted. "But the lack of moisture, combined with heavy ground cover, may have made it difficult for bobs to find late winter and early spring greens; a very important part of the diet. Hunters reported difficulty finding birds in their usual haunts."
Because quail production is "density dependent" as birds are striving to recover from hard times in recent years, Perez noted hens typically will make as many nesting attempts as conditions allow until they are successful or run out of time.
This year, most of the state experienced a dry summer with above-normal summer temperatures. For these reasons quail production was spotty in some areas as evidenced by reports of differing size classes of chicks observed by biologists during the summer census survey.
Statewide surveys were initiated in 1978 to monitor quail populations. This index uses randomly selected, 20-mile roadside survey lines to determine annual quail population trends by ecological region. This trend information helps determine relative quail populations among the regions of Texas.
Comparisons can be made between the mean (average) number of quail observed per route this year and the long term mean (LTM) for quail seen within an ecological region. The quail survey was not designed to predict relative abundance for any area smaller than the ecological region.
Below is a summary of quail production around the state, based on annual census surveys conducted by TPWD and what hunters can expect to find this season.
Rolling Plains
This region was not as dry this past winter as some other areas of the state and scattered spring and summer rains resulted in some early production but the bulk of the reproductive effort appears to have been later in the summer. Field reports indicate differing size classes of chicks with plenty of late hatching.
Survey results and field staff observations predict a slightly below-average to average year. Due to the variation in weather conditions across this region it's a good idea to scout ahead to be sure hunting areas are holding birds.
The average number of bobwhites observed per route was 18.7 compared to 21 last year. This is slightly below the LTM of 22.5. Despite perceived low carry-over through the winter, enough young birds have been produced to offer good bobwhite hunter opportunity, especially in areas under proper range management. Public hunting opportunities can be found at the Matador and the Gene Howe Wildlife Management Areas.
The survival rate for adult quail appears to have been good to excellent during the mild winter in 2007-08, according to Danny Swepston, TPWD wildlife district leader in Amarillo. The spring of 2008 was generally hot and dry through the major nesting and brooding rearing months, however recent reports for pheasants, quail and turkeys from staff and landowners are encouraging. Swepston predicts a fair to good season for these birds.
South Texas Plains
For South Texas, surveys predict a below-average year, but at the time biologists ran these routes the bulk of hatching had no yet occurred. There will likely be a whole lot of small birds at the beginning of the season and plenty of hunter opportunity.
Unfortunately spring rains were lacking over most of the range, which delayed nesting attempts by those birds that survived the winter. Quail are very adaptable when it comes to timing of the nesting season and can wait until the rains come, even if it's late in the summer. And that's exactly what happened in South Texas. July rains spurred pairing and nesting and September field reports indicate broods of small chicks.
"We had an extremely dry year, with some rains last September, but less than we normally receive, and then essentially little or no rain until this past July. During July, we received about eight inches the first half of the month, and then received up to a foot of rainfall with Hurricane Dolly," said Stephen Benn, area manager at the Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area. "The good news is that we were coming off an extremely wet 2007, so habitat was in excellent condition going into the drought period, and has, of course, rebounded."
The average number of bobwhites observed per route was 6.6 compared to 7 last year. This is well below the LTM of 19.4 and is predictive of a below-average hunting season. However, this is likely an underestimate due to late hatching. The Chaparral and the Daughtrey Wildlife Management Areas provide public quail hunting opportunities.
The Trans-Pecos ecological region of Texas has experienced above-average populations of scaled (blue) quail for the past five years. Unfortunately, this year's survey shows a dramatic decrease in birds observed. Low numbers have also been confirmed by field reports. Spring-summer breeding conditions were not favorable for scaled quail. Reports from the western edge of the Edwards Plateau (the Stockton Plateau) indicate slightly better production.
"Most of the Trans-Pecos suffered an extended drought that lasted through last winter, spring, and half of this summer," said Tim Bone, TPWD wildlife biologist in Alpine. "Only since July have good, wide-spread rains come to the Trans-Pecos. Currently range conditions over most of the district are very good."
The average number of scaled quail observed per route was 6.7 compared to 28 last year. This is well below the LTM of 18. Public hunter opportunities can be found at Elephant Mountain and Black Gap Wildlife Management Areas.
Gulf Prairies
TPWD surveys indicate bobwhite numbers in the Gulf Prairies are up considerably from last year. Hunters should focus on the central and lower coast in native prairie habitats.
"The dry spring actually benefits quail and turkey in most of my country," offered David Forrester, TPWD wildlife district biologist in LaGrange. "This spring saw good turkey production and quail production seemed to be good also. Those places with good quail numbers and habitat should have good hunting opportunities."
Cross Timbers/Edwards Plateau
The Cross Timbers and Edwards Plateau are below their respective LTM's. Although there are certainly areas within each region where some quail hunting opportunity remains, this survey is not designed to detect changes in localized populations, especially in fragmented landscapes.
Access to hunting on TPWD managed public land is available with the purchase of a $48 Annual Public Hunting Permit, which can be bought wherever hunting licenses are sold, online or by calling toll free (800) 895-4248. There is a $5 convenience fee for online and phone purchases.
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[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [SL]
Oct. 17, 2008
TPWD, Partners Expanding Bighorn Sheep Restoration Efforts
AUSTIN, Texas -- Expanded conservation efforts are in the offing for the desert bighorn sheep, an iconic symbol of wilderness in West Texas, with plans to extend bighorn restocking efforts into Big Bend Ranch State Park and elsewhere in the region as part of a comprehensive Desert Bighorn Sheep Restoration Plan.
One benefit of the broad-based initiative to restore the native ecology in key areas of the Trans Pecos region is that, by providing suitable habitat and travel corridors for desert bighorn sheep, many other native wildlife species will also benefit.
Bighorn sheep vanished from Texas more than 50 years ago due to habitat loss, disease and competition from exotic animals like aoudad sheep and unregulated hunting. But, thanks to broad support, desert bighorns have recovered to population levels unseen since the late 1800s.
Although the restoration efforts to date have been a tremendous success with viable populations totaling nearly 1,200 animals along seven mountain ranges in the Trans Pecos, desert bighorn restoration in Texas is not complete.
A bi-national effort between the United States and Mexico outlined in a comprehensive Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Desert Bighorn Sheep Restoration Plan will now focus on expanding the restoration of desert bighorns on suitable habitat at a landscape level, encompassing another West Texas icon -- Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Based on archaeological evidence, desert bighorn sheep once occupied most of the rugged Chihuahuan Desert. This region, which includes Big Bend Ranch State Park, includes suitable habitat within the bighorn's historic range.
"Our immediate focus is on Big Bend Ranch State Park," said Calvin Richardson, bighorn sheep program leader at TPWD. "Big Bend Ranch State Park and the surrounding area have substantial quality habitat for desert sheep, particularly when including the rugged mountain ranges in Canon de Santa Elena Protected Area immediately to the south in Mexico."
As with recovery at other sites, the reintroduction of bighorns here won't be easy and will not occur overnight.
With the help of partners in Mexico, including Cemex Corp., and Texas partners like the Texas Bighorn Society, Wild Sheep Foundation, Dallas Safari Club, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, and private landowners; the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will be working to address some challenges over the next few years and prepare Big Bend Ranch State Park and surrounding areas for eventual restoration of desert bighorns.
The objective for Big Bend Ranch State Park, identified in TPWD's Bighorn Sheep Restoration Plan, is for a population of 100 bighorns by 2025. A population of that size is considered to be the minimum for long-term survival.
"Bringing back bighorn sheep is a great idea and we support the concept," said James King, chairman of the Big Bend Ranch State Park Advisory Committee and former West Texas regional director with the Nature Conservancy of Texas. "It is a missing component of the Chihuahuan Desert and there is plenty of suitable habitat available."
Before bighorn sheep can flourish on Big Bend Ranch State Park, department officials say steps must be taken to pave the way. Outlined in the bighorn restoration plan are a suite of strategies in advance of and during reintroduction efforts, including:
--Reduce numbers of exotic and feral animals in the park that threaten establishment of bighorns because of potential disease, social dominance and competition for forage and water. Remove exotic aoudad sheep as one first step.
--Limit bighorn losses to predation.
--Develop accessible and properly located water sources for bighorns.
--Provide education and information to park users and other stakeholders about bighorn relocation.
--Identify bighorn surpluses for translocation and possible augmentation.
--Maximize bighorn translocation effectiveness by creating a "soft release" enclosure at the park.
--Minimize disturbance to the establishing bighorn sheep population by coordinating user group activities at the park.
--Manage establishing bighorn at the park cooperatively with adjacent private landowners and partners in Mexico.
--Evaluate the effectiveness of the bighorn restoration at the park through monitoring.
"Our first priority is to restore the native ecology," said Carter Smith, TPWD executive director. "Despite the dramatic success with the desert bighorn program in West Texas, particularly in recent years, TPWD and our partners must be persistent in management and vigilant regarding one of the greatest threats to bighorn sheep -- disease."
Because bighorns are highly susceptible to some diseases, contact with domestic sheep or goats or certain exotics, like aoudads, can potentially wipe out an entire population. From the perspective of a bighorn sheep, West Texas is a very different environment than it was 300-400 years ago, with more barriers, more disturbance, and sources of disease that were historically absent. More information is online about Big Bend Ranch State Park and the bighorn restoration effort.
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[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [TH]
Oct. 17, 2008
Texas Master Naturalists to Receive President's Service Award
AUSTIN, Texas -- Five Texans will receive the President's Volunteer Service Award Oct. 25 for donating more than 5,000 hours of service to the Texas Master Naturalist Program, a partnership effort between Texas AgriLife Extension and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The 2008 awards nearly double the number of volunteers who have previously reached the milestone in the 10-year-old program.
The five Certified Master Naturalists to be honored for reaching the goal of 5,000 volunteer hours are Steve Houser of Wylie, Jim Varnum of Farmers Branch, Sara Beckelman of Irving, Phill Huxford of Brazoria and Tracie Teague, also of Brazoria. The volunteers will receive their awards in ceremonies Oct. 25 during the TMN Statewide Annual Meeting at Mo-Ranch in Hunt, Texas.
The President's Council on Service and Civic Participation created the President's Volunteer Service Award program in 2003 as a way to thank and honor Americans who, by their demonstrated commitment and example, inspire others to engage in volunteer service.
The Texas Master Naturalist Program state office is the certifying organization for TMN volunteers to receive the president's council award when volunteers reach the 5,000-hour service milestone.
The Texas Master Naturalist mission is to develop a corps of well-informed volunteers that provide education, outreach and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities for the State of Texas.
"The Texas Master Naturalist program was created to help the two agencies meet their natural resource conservation, education and research missions as the population of Texas continues to increase and become more urban," said TMN Program Coordinator Michelle Haggerty. "Master Naturalist volunteers are making huge impacts in the state of Texas by providing over 160,000 hours of service annually valued at $2.8 million last year. That was time spent reaching more than 100,000 youth, adults and private landowners; making an impact on nearly 80,000 acres of land, developing or maintaining some 760 miles of interpretive trails all while also partnering with some 300 additional partners in their chapters' communities to make the change happen."
More information on the Texas Master Naturalist program is on the organization's Web site. Interested parties may also contact the Texas Master Naturalist Program Coordinators; Michelle Haggerty at 830-896-2504 or Sonny Arnold at 979-458-1099
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[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [TH]
Oct. 17, 2008
Memorial Fund Created for Fallen Game Warden George H. Whatley
AUSTIN, Texas -- A memorial fund has been set-up for the family of Texas Game Warden George H. Whatley. Whatley, a 45-year-old native of Atlanta, Texas, died in Fort Stockton Friday, Oct. 10, after participating in a training exercise.
Whatley was a 2007 graduate of the Texas Game Warden Academy and was stationed in Van Horn. He is survived by his wife, Kelly, and two sons: Sam, 14; and Seth, 13.
Whatley was laid to rest with full law enforcement honors Wed., Oct. 15 at Savannah Cemetery in Marion County.
Donations may be made to the George Whatley Family Fund at Domino Federal Credit Union, 901 West Main Street, Atlanta, TX, 75551.

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[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [TH]
Oct. 17, 2008
Hurst Murder Trial Begins Oct. 20 in Wharton
AUSTIN, Texas -- The capital murder trial of the man accused of killing Game Warden Justin Hurst in 2007 begins 9 a.m., Monday, Oct. 20 in Wharton, southwest of Houston.
The jury trial is expected to last several weeks. Wharton County District Attorney Josh McCown and Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler are trying the case, which is being heard by Judge Randy Clapp in the 329th District Court.
The courtroom is at 103 South Fulton in Wharton. News inquiries may be directed to Legal Assistant Becky Ivy at (979) 532-8051. Ivy requests that reporters try to call after 4:30 p.m.