Desert Evening at Big Bend, by Louis Vest
© Louis Vest (LandScope Texas Banner)

Texas Conservation Action Plan

By the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

Texas is an extremely diverse state with ten distinct ecoregions ranging from desert in the western portion of the state to the dense forests of the east. The area of the State of Texas is greater than 250,000 square miles, or about one-twelfth that of the entire United States. The state is second only to California in terms of its biodiversity, having the highest number of birds and reptiles and the second-highest number of plants and mammals in the United States. There are 22 major river basins in the state that all eventually flow into the nine major bays and estuaries along the Texas coast. The Gulf of Mexico lines 367 miles of the Texas coast and provides important habitat for a variety of fish, invertebrates, birds and mammals.

Management

Texas has over one million acres of public land to manage, and in many cases to restore, within 51 wildlife management areas and about 80 state parks. Still, more than 94% of Texas land is privately owned, making it critical for private landowners to be partners in all aspects of conservation from land acquisition to land management and restoration. From local area governments and landowners to state agencies to conservation organizations, the only viable option Texas habitats and species have is for these diverse interests to work as partners to conserve wildlife and vital habitat before they become rarer and more costly to protect.

Wildlife Highlights

Texas has tens of thousands of species that fall under the loose-fitting title “nongame,” and has the third-largest rate of endemism in the country. One example of a Texas native is the Louisiana black bear, which is on the verge of making a comeback in east Texas. This species, along with several others, relies on the east Texas woods for survival.

Another species attempting to reestablish itself in Texas is the ocelot. Historical records indicate that the ocelot once occurred throughout south Texas, the southern Plateau, and along the Coastal Plain. Today, its range is limited to the south Texas brush country and lower Rio Grande valley. Only about 30 to 35 ocelots live in the shrublands remaining at or near the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge near Brownsville, Texas. In 1995 it was estimated that 80 to 120 individuals lived in Texas. Like the Louisiana black bear, the ocelot shares its critical habitat with numerous other species that rely on the remaining south Texas brushlands for survival.

Primary Challenges to Conserving Wildlife in Texas

With diversity and size come great challenges. Texas’ challenges are rooted in the bureaucracy of monitoring a large state as well as the specific conservation actions that must be enacted to ensure the stability and improvement of habitat for native species. As Texas land is primarily owned by private individuals, it is critical that programs aimed at conservation on private lands be maximized in order to effectively implement conservation. Programs such as the Landowner Incentive Plan, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program act as effective tools for planning and implementing the goals of the Texas Conservation Action Plan with regard to conservation on private lands.

Working Together for Texas’ Wildlife

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department started the stakeholder process with a Wildlife Diversity Conference in San Marcos. Approximately 150 professional biologists attended and spoke at the conference. The conference also served as a vehicle for the development of species-based working groups that were used to gather information and debate issues associated with habitat and species as well as discuss the Action Plan itself. The working groups spent six months developing information for the Action Plan, then spent the next six months developing the final draft version.

Once the draft was complete, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department took the strategy to the public through two vital and interacting operations. The draft version of the strategy was maintained on the TPWD website in multiple pieces for easy download. The draft was available to both the public and professionals. In addition, feedback forms were also available that were easy to fill out and return via e-mail.

In addition to web-based comment, TPWD created a program that was transported to eleven major venues throughout Texas. The locations were mostly AZA-accredited zoos and aquaria, along with one TPWD-owned historic site and a children’s museum. The public was invited by means of press releases news articles, television interviews and radio interviews. Overall, three weeks were spent touring the state and taking this presentation to constituents and stakeholders. The website was also used to collect information from the tour by using the comment forms.

The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies represents all of North America’s fish and wildlife agencies, promotes sound management and conservation, and speaks with a unified voice on important fish and wildlife issues.

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