Texas has gotten about six inches of rain since January, putting the state in the most severe one-year drought on record.
It doesn’t take a wildlife biologist to realize the impact of the drought Texas is experiencing this summer, and Big Country residents have watched everything progressively dry up the past few months.
However, there is some good news. According to Ben Neely, assistant fisheries biologist for the Abilene office of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Abilene is faring better than some other Texas towns.
“We’ve gotten just a little bit more rain,” he said of the Big Country, compared to the Panhandle region. “Just a little bit more and that’s all it boils down to.”
The drought has brought some obvious changes within the state: San Angelo’s O.C. Fisher Reservoir has turned blood red, wildlife has been left for dead, and vegetation has dried
up throughout the region.
However, there are a few things that ecosystems are doing to cope during a drought that may go unnoticed to most people, starting with what’s happening below the surface in the state’s bodies of water.
Lake Brownwood and Lake Leon have not entirely diminished, but water levels have certainly fallen enough to raise concerns for the fish that live there.
“They do have what they need to live,” Neely said of fish in the Big Country, “just not as fulfilling a life as if they (the lakes) were full.”
Fish require different types of habitats beneath the water’s surface, he said. As water levels decrease, those habitats become more scarce, including habitats needed for activities like spawning or ambushing smaller fish as they swim by.
“When the water level is lower, more fish compete for those spots,” he said, “which means more fish are out of their normal range of operations.”
Although fish may be a little less comfortable, they’re definitely still surviving.
“They won’t be as fat, and we won’t see as many of them,” Neely said, “but they’ll be there.”
Texans have seen a drought of historic proportions this summer, and although some are hopeful rain is just around the corner, others believe we’re only seeing the beginning of the dry spell of the century.
According to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center, La Niña, the weather pattern that is to blame for the lack of rain, could be back soon, which would extend the drought into 2012.
Taylor County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources Robert Pritz said it’s difficult to draw conclusions about what an extended drought would do to the region.
“We need rain as soon as possible to stimulate growth going into winter,” he said. “If we don’t get some rain by late fall, early winter, it’s going to be difficult to sustain wildlife through the winter because we won’t have any reserves going in.”
Wildlife is resilient, Pritz said, but there comes a point that water is necessary for survival. Abilene has yet to reach that point, but wildlife in the Panhandle region has suffered significantly. According to The Associated Press, the region’s ecosystem is in dire need of moisture. The struggle begins with few plants growing in drought conditions.
Without plants, there are fewer insects, which leads to low seed production, which leads to smaller animals not getting enough food to live and reproduce.
At that point, predators relying on small animals as a food source go hungry.
Pritz said Abilene has fortunately not experienced that degree of suffering.
“I haven’t seen where there’s been a complete loss of ecosystem diversity,” he said. “In those systems in the Panhandle, they have less diversity because of the habitats within the high plains.”
The diversity in habitats in the Big Country results in an ecosystem that is able to buffer some of the challenges of drought more so than others, he said.
Source: Reporter News