|  TPWD News Releases Dated 2009-04-03                                    |
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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 ] [TH]
April 3, 2009
Big Bend Ranch Fiesta to Showcase Expanded Public Access May 2
Public Invited, Entrance Fees Waived for Full Day of Activities
April 30, 2009 -- Update: This event has been cancelled because of the escalating health emergency. A media advisory will be issued soon.
PRESIDIO, Texas -- There is more to see and do than ever before at Texas' largest and wildest state park, Big Bend Ranch State Park. The public is invited to learn first-hand about the many wonders of the 300,000-acre during a free, daylong Fiesta on Saturday, May 2 at the park's Sauceda Ranger Station.
Park fees are waived for the "open house," which will feature a free barbecue lunch at noon and a concert at 1:30 p.m. by cowboy singer-songwriter Dennis Jay. Activities being offered include park tours, hikes, guided mountain bike and horseback rides, and informational displays on everything from bats to river recreation. Park rangers, as well as natural and cultural resource specialists, will be on hand to share information about this true wilderness park in the Big Bend country's scenic desert highlands.
The purpose of the Fiesta is to increase awareness of the state park's greatly expanded public use opportunities to provide the opportunity for Texans, especially local citizens, to visit and experience one of the great parks of the West.
Thanks to the labors of park staff and friends, today's adventurers now have access to more than 50 new campsites in the more remote, scenic areas of Big Bend Ranch's backcountry, as well as greater opportunities to hike, bike and ride horses along many miles of newly accessible trails and jeep roads.
Information booths and special Fiesta programs conclude at 4 p.m. Saturday, but the park will remain open for regular activities through Sunday.
Visitors can make arrangements to stay overnight, but should be aware that there are limited tent camping options and indoor accommodations at the Sauceda Ranger Station.
To reserve a campsite during Fiesta weekend, call (432) 358-4444. To learn more about the park, visit the park Web page, which includes links to online video and a new interactive online park map with photos and information about new trails, campsites and other facilities and opportunities. The park's recent El Solitario newsletters, available online in .pdf form, also offer a great, one-stop information resource for visitors.
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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 ] [TH]
April 3, 2009
Prolonged Texas Drought Impacts Wildlife
AUSTIN, Texas -- Despite welcome rains in late March, much of Texas remains parched by prolonged drought of historic proportions, and wildlife die-offs of whooping cranes and deer have been reported. However, experts say native wildlife evolved to bounce back from drought, and a bigger issue is how human water use is changing the equation, and how drought underscores the need for water planning and conservation.
"The current drought affecting all of Texas has reached historic proportions, with the past six months among the driest since the long-term drought of the 1950's and 1917, the driest year on record." That sentence begins the March 11 situation report from the governor's Drought Preparedness Council.
The council report said last December through February was the driest period on record for the east, south central, and upper coast regions. It also noted the entire state was classified as at least "Abnormally Dry" according to the United States Drought Monitor.
Continued dry range conditions could have a negative impact on wild turkey production and hunting prospects for spring turkey season, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists. If parts of Texas remain parched, particularly the south, experts say Rio Grande turkey breeding activity and nesting effort will be greatly reduced or nonexistent. Rio Grande spring turkey hunting season runs April 4-May 17 in the North Zone, with special youth-only weekends March 28-29 and May 23-24. The South Zone season runs March 21-May 3, with youth weekends March 14-15 and May 9-10.
At TPWD's J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area near Port Arthur, drought has delivered the second half of a one-two punch that started with Hurricane Ike last September.
The lack of rainfall means freshwater marshes at Murphree WMA that were inundated by Hurricane Ike are not being flushed of salt water. That lack of flushing is killing plants and damaging soil chemistry. The area's brackish marshes are saltier than usual for this time of year, suffering the same stresses as freshwater marshes.
"Brackish marshes on the WMA and neighboring private ranch land which would normally be at or below 10 parts per thousand salinity are still up in the teens," said Michael Rezsutek, Ph.D, a TPWD wildlife biologist at Murphree WMA.
Rezsutek said little fresh water is available for use by mottled duck broods, and that will likely lead to a very low production of mottled ducks this season. Mottled ducks are the only Texas year-round resident duck, and are prized by hunters and wildlife biologists. They've been declining for the past 30 years due to habitat loss and other factors, so drought effects are adding stress to an already stressed population.
He also said alligators and amphibians are unable to recolonize areas inhabited before Hurricane Ike because of the salt water, and populations of these animals will likely remain depressed for the next several years.
Down the coast at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, drought may have contributed to the worst winter on record for the world's only wild flock of endangered whooping cranes. After an encouraging multi-year comeback in which flock numbers grew each year, this is the first decline since 2001. Only 249 birds will return north to Canada this spring, down from 270 who arrived in Texas last fall.
Refuge expert Tom Stehn attributes whooping crane losses to poor habitat conditions on the middle Texas coast. He said low rainfall in 2008 resulted in saltier bays and fewer blue crabs, the primary food source for wintering whoopers. In addition, whoopers are further stressed when cranes must leave the bays to fly inland seeking fresh water.
In the Edwards Plateau of Central Texas, at spots like Garner State Park, there were reports of non-native axis deer dying from starvation coupled with cold weather earlier this year. TPWD wildlife biologists report range conditions are in poor shape, prickly pear is thin because of the lack of water and feral hogs are looking very thin and drawn down. Native whitetail deer still appear in decent condition but may not last long if the situation continues.
In the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas, last summer TPWD wildlife biologists observed a considerable drop in the pronghorn antelope population in portions of Jeff Davis and Presidio Counties, although overall Trans-Pecos pronghorn populations remain only slightly below the 30-year average. The specific causes are not known, but biologists believe there were several compounding factors, including how much of the affected area received no measurable rainfall from November 2007 to June 2008.
Meanwhile, this year a team of scientists is continuing work that will eventually guide decisions about how water pumping from the Edwards Aquifer in Central Texas should be restricted during critical drought periods. The science team is part of the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program or RIP, a coalition of organizations working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recover endangered species threatened by low spring and river flows. The RIP approach has been successfully used in other parts of the country to work out complex water use and endangered species issues. The EA RIP was created by the same 2007 legislation that raised the aquifer pumping cap during normal times, and as part of that agreement to increase the cap lawmakers required the RIP to be completed by the end of 2012. TPWD has four scientists on the team, examining flow needs of aquatic creatures and plants from Comal Springs all the way down the Guadalupe River to San Antonio Bay.
Finally, wildlife experts say individual citizens can do a lot to help manage problems caused by drought, including using drought-tolerant native plants for spring gardening. TPWD's Texas Wildscapes habitat program for homeowners, businesses and small-acreage landowners has a wealth of information online about landscaping approaches that can save money, require less maintenance and use less water.
On the Net:

[ 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: Carol Jones, GCBO, (979) 480-0999, cjones@gcbo.org; Tom Harvey, TPWD, (512) 389-4453, tom.harvey@tpwd.texas.gov ]
April 3, 2009
13th Annual Great Texas Birding Classic Aids Declining Songbirds
Fun Event Beckons Birders, But Highlights New Reports of Birds in Decline
LAKE JACKSON, Texas -- Corporate-sponsored teams from across the USA that include some of the nation's birding elite will once again take part in what organizers call the world's longest, wildest birding competition along the entire Texas coast April 26-May 3. The Great Texas Birding Classic raises funds to protect bird habitat and promotes the fun and excitement of one of nature's great spectacles, but it also highlights a growing concern: the decline of migratory songbirds.
To date, the GTBC has contributed $651,000 to avian habitat conservation along the Texas Gulf coast through Conservation Grants funded through team sponsorships and donations. Prior to each year's competition, various organizations submit conservation project proposals to seek funding through grants awarded by the winning teams. This work focuses on habitat loss caused by human development, the biggest problem facing wildlife in Texas and around the world.
Conservation scientists say the grants could not come at a more urgent time. Last week, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior released the first ever "U.S. State of the Birds" report. This shows nearly a third of the nation's 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species, and other threats. It also shows half of all coastally migrating shorebirds have declined; for example, red knots have declined by an alarming 82 percent, and clapper, yellow, black and king rails are either federally endangered or of high concern. The Interior report reveals troubling declines of bird populations over the past 40 years in all ecosystems -- grasslands, wetlands, forests and prairie.
"The U.S. State of the Birds Report is a warning signal of the failing health of our environment," said Carter Smith, Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "At the same time, there is heartening evidence that strategic land management and conservation action can reverse declines of birds as evidenced from the increase of hunted migratory waterfowl and other success stories such as the bald eagle and wild turkey."
An initial motive for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to create the Great Texas Birding Classic was to raise money to arrest the decline of migratory song birds along the Texas coast by funding habitat conservation projects. The Gulf Coast Bird Observatory became the lead partner operating the competition in 2005, working with local communities along the Texas coast.
"There has been a long term, steady decline in many bird species that pass through or reside some part of the year here in Texas" said John Arvin, GCBO research coordinator. "Anything that slows that process is a good thing. Birding Classic conservation grants have made a positive difference for birds at habitat hot spots along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail."
For millions of birds that migrate between North, South and Central America, the Texas coast provide critical stopover habitat, although many natural areas have been lost to human development. The worst losses hit areas most important for birds and wildlife, such as wetlands.
The study "Texas Coastal Wetlands; Status and Trends, Mid-1950s to Early 1990s" was produced jointly by TPWD and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Aerial photos and other sources show the 12.8 million-acre study area contained about 4.1 million acres of wetlands in 1955 and less than 3.9 million acres in 1992, a net loss of about 210,000 acres. The greatest losses were of freshwater emergent and forested wetlands, with significant but relatively smaller losses of saltwater wetlands. One of the most sobering trends is the loss of forested wetlands, including hardwood bottomlands along rivers and streams, one of Texas' most important wildlife habitat types in terms of the density and diversity of species it supports -- these declined by 96,000 acres, a 10.9 percent decrease.
For birds, birders and coastal communities, the habitat hot spots which remain are vital -- recreationally, environmentally and economically. Research in spring 1992 showed 6,000 birdwatchers visited High Island east of Galveston within a six-week period, spending $2.5 million on lodging and travel-related activities. Total economic impact over a two-month period was estimated at $4-to-$6 million.
The 13th annual birding classic will be celebrated at the contest awards brunch in Corpus Christi on Sunday, May 3. Tickets are available to the Brunch for $20 per person and may be purchased in advance from GCBO at (979) 480-0999 or from the Corpus Christi Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 678-6232. More information is on the birding classic Web site.
The Gulf Coast Bird Observatory is a 501(c) 3 organization dedicated to conserving coastal habitat for birds through science and international partnerships.
On the Net: