W ith summer boating and fishing seasons in full swing, be advised to check out your gear for alien invaders hitching a ride.
Texas remains at the forefront of the effort to curb and even eradicate invasive species that can bring hugely devastating effects on native habitats. Thanks to increased funding from the Legislature and added manpower—a $6.6 million appropriation for 2016-17 and five new employees – the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department has undertaken an unprecedented effort to knock out invasives.
The most notable invader is the zebra mussel, though other water-borne threats include a variety of vegetation that can choke out native plants. As such, it is unlawful to possess or transport prohibited aquatic invasive species, dead or alive, anywhere in the state. Regulations are in place requiring boaters statewide to drain all water from their boat and onboard receptacles before leaving or approaching a public body of fresh water in order to prevent the transfer of invasive species. The regulation applies to all types and sizes of boats, whether powered or not, and carries with it up to a $500 fine if you’re found not in compliance.
In Texas, the detrimental impact of invasive species is massive, costing the state billions of dollars annually. It threatens to undermine a recreational freshwater fishing industry worth more than $4 billion, according to TPWD figures.
Although zebra mussels continue to receive the most attention, invasive vegetation has become a hefty problem in many notable fishing holes. One program is attempting an in-depth framework dubbed Aquatic Invasive Plant Management. The associated projects include management of aquatic invasive plants on public waters to enhance boater access. It includes rapid response to new infestations, and management of riverside invasive plants in target areas to improve water quality and quantity as well as habitat quality.
The framework includes multiple partnerships with universities, river authorities, municipal water districts, nonprofits, and local, state and federal agencies.
The effort is focused on a number of species that shouldn’t be in our waterways. Among the worst invasive vegetation in Texas is giant salvinia, which is usually spread unknowingly by boaters when the plants cling to their boats and trailers. A native of South America, giant salvinia is a free-floating aquatic fern that can double in size in less than a week.
Like the lionfish, which likely was introduced into new areas after being taken out of aquariums, giant salvinia owes some of its spread to man. It began as a popular plant for water gardens and was sold in aquatic nurseries, before being introduced into the wild where it caused so many issues.
Since being first discovered in Texas in the late 1990s, the plant has now been detected in more than a dozen bodies of water. As with other invasives, it doesn’t take much to spread. Only a single plant needs to be transported on a boat trailer from one lake to another to spur a new infestation.
Left unchecked, giant salvinia can form mats up to three feet thick, which prevents light from entering the water. It also damages aquatic ecosystems by outgrowing and replacing native plants that provide food and habitat for native animals.
If you spot giant salvinia or any other vegetation you suspect should not be there while you’re on any of our state’s lakes and rivers this summer, TPWD urges you to call 409-384-9965, or email [email protected]
If possible, take photos and provide a GPS location of your find. Texas Invasives also has an app that has plenty of useful information, as well as a way to include documentation if you see something that’s out of place in our native habitats.
Will Leschper’s work has been recognized by the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the Texas Outdoor Writers Association. His email is [email protected]
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—BY WILL LESCHPER
Three of Texas’s conservation professionals have recently joined the Ducks Unlimited team to ensure wetland restoration and protection along the Texas Coast. Kevin Hartke and Jim Sutherlin have decades of conservation experience in the Lone Star State, and Bay City native Taylor Abshier brings new energy and a broad perspective to private land conservation efforts.
“We are excited to bring three of Texas’s most capable conservationists together on the DU team,” said Todd Merendino, DU manager of conservation programs in Texas.
Hartke joins the DU team from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, where he spent the last 11 years as the waterfowl and wetland habitat specialist for the Texas mid-coast. As such, he handled planning, grant writing and delivery of wetland habitat projects across TPWD’s wildlife management areas and provided management guidance for private landowners. Over the years, Hartke has often worked with DU on conservation projects and programs.
“Kevin has hit the ground running,” Merendino said. “He has extensive knowledge of public lands along the Texas coast and a full understanding of DU’s collaborative conservation model.”
Hartke’s primary duties will be overseeing DU’s public land projects in Texas. Working with a variety of partners and sponsors, he will be in charge of developing, securing funding for and ensuring delivery of wetland restoration projects on state and federally owned properties.
Sutherlin spent 25 years with the TPWD as the project leader for the Upper Coast Wetland Ecosystem Project where he managed the state-owned wildlife management areas in Jefferson, Orange and Chambers counties. He will be working part time for DU to ensure investments made in coastal restoration in the Chenier Plain of Texas are most beneficial for the ecosystem and waterfowl. In coastal Texas, where there’s a resource-based economy, investments in ecosystem restoration are investments in economic development and recovery.
“Jim has been one of our greatest partners,” Merendino said. “We are fortunate to be able to bring his experience to bear on decision makers to ensure that habitat protection and restoration are properly the focus of coastal restoration funding.”
The third new edition to the Texas DU staff is Taylor Abshier. As the Welder Foundation’s conservation educator, Abshier has experience with outreach. With an educational background in wildlife science and business administration, he has a well-rounded understanding of private land management. He will be handling DU’s private land conservation programs, predominantly the Texas Prairie Wetlands Project.
Angler access to Texas rivers continues to improve through a public-private partnership between cooperating landowners and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. Through leases with landowners, angler access has now been expanded along reaches of the Brazos, Colorado, Guadalupe, Llano, Neches, San Marcos and South Llano rivers. Three more leases are set to begin on the Colorado, Nueces and Sabine rivers this summer, according to a news release.
These angler access improvements are funded primarily through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. This federal grant program offers funding to state and tribal governments to encourage public recreation on privately held land.
The North American Bird Conservation Initiative recently published its The State of North America’s Birds 2016, the first comprehensive report assessing the conservation status of all bird species that occur in the continental United States, Canada and Mexico. The report shows major gains for many wetland-dependent bird species indicating that populations of approximately 80 percent of North American wetland birds are in stable or good condition.
During the past two decades, more than $1.4 billion in grants have been awarded to conservation initiatives through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. Overall, the program has resulted in more than $2.9 billion in partner funds for more than 30 million acres of habitat across the North American continent, according to a news release.