What are some of the major challenges to conservation and biodiversity in Texas? Top issues include habitat loss and fragmentation, limited water for environmental flows, invasive species and climate change.
Changing Demands on Land Resources
Human population growth and resulting land fragmentation, or the division of single ownership properties into two or more parcels, have had profound effects on the Texas landscape. Changing land use and fragmentation alters natural habitats, which can threaten the viability of those habitats and sustainability of wildlife populations. Such changes will increase pressures on natural resources throughout the state, especially near growing metropolitan areas.
Non-native plant and animal species that are introduced either by design or by accident can cause unintended harmful consequences. Non-native species may become invasive, spreading rapidly, displacing native species and threatening community relationships that are necessary to sustain the aquatic environment. Some examples of undesirable or noxious non-native invasive species include salt cedar, Chinese tallow, Chinaberry, Privet, K-R bluestem (also known as Mediterranean bluestem), Japanese honeysuckle, and giant reed. Chinese tallow has invaded woodlands and coastal prairies; left unchecked, the invasion changes these diverse habitats into practical monocultures, reducing diversity and habitat integrity for native plants and animals. Introduced grass species can create monocultures devoid of quality wildlife forage and of limited useful habitat for young ground nesting birds and burrowing small mammals. For some ground dwelling birds like quail, dense turf-type grasses create a barrier to movement; in that way, their habitat is functionally fragmented. Through improved range management techniques, they can be significantly reduced or controlled to benefit water quality and quantity as well as wildlife habitat. Imported red fire ants in eastern Texas have had profound, if not fully understood, adverse impacts on many wildlife species. Eighteen non-native fish species have been documented in Texas as well as a number of snail and bi-valve species. Some have had an extremely negative impact on native fish communities. Further, great effort and financial resources have been expended to control invasive aquatic plants such as water hyacinth, hydrilla and giant salvinia, which have negatively affected native freshwater communities.
Overgrazing and Fire Suppression
Improper grazing and fire suppression have contributed to a drastic alteration of the native landscape. Improper grazing results in soil erosion, decreased diversity in forage and cover for nesting as well as other needs of wildlife. In addition, fire suppression has caused native grasslands, savannahs and open woodlands to become overgrown with thickets of woody species.
Reduced Water Quality
Point source and nonpoint source pollution threaten native fish and wildlife species that rely on clean water. Water that will not support fish and wildlife will not support human needs either. In the next decade, pollutant concentrations in rivers and streams may increase to a point where they have a detrimental effect on aquatic life including low oxygen, harmful algal growth and fish kills.
Reduced Water Quantity
As the population grows and water demands increase, water flow in rivers and streams, or instream flow, may decrease. Decreased or altered water quantity will affect the ecosystems, habitats and wildlife that depend on the natural flow regime of the stream or river. For example, groundwater withdrawals, reservoir operations and water diversions make rivers, streams and springs and the fish and wildlife resource they support exceptionally vulnerable to the effects of drought. All bays and estuaries have great commercial, recreational and conservation benefits. The greatest long-term threat to the health and productivity of bays is diminished freshwater inflows.
Limited Understanding of Complex Natural Systems
Research is a critical component of natural resource conservation. Without reliable knowledge and rigorous scientific inquiry, scientists cannot make informed conservation decisions. For instance, some principles of wildlife ecology, such as the early research of edge effects on wildlife, have since been found to inadequately describe natural systems. The decision making process at TPWD must remain grounded in the best science available to assure that policy development, regulatory action and resource management are accurate and effective.
TPWD encourages private land stewardship, expanded research and monitoring of habitats and species, and exploring partnerships and strategies to mitigate impacts.
The Texas Wildlife Action Plan: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, with input from partners, stakeholders and the public, completed the Texas Wildlife Action Plan in September 2005. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the Plan in early 2006. State Wildlife Action Plans are being created by every state to prevent species from being federally “listed” as threatened or endangered, conserving wildlife and natural places and enhancing our quality of life. The agency and our partners have been implementing elements of the Plan and the Plan will be revised in 2010. Information gathered through action on the conservation priorities will be key to adapting and revising the plan to reflect current conservation needs.
As communities grow, state wildlife plans will help fulfill our responsibility to conserve wildlife and the places they live for future generations. The State Wildlife Plans are not only addressing unmet wildlife conservation needs, they are also leading to a new era of coordinated strategic planning to better identify problems and solutions on a regional and nationwide basis.