January 25, 2017
January 25, 2017

WMA Whitetail Research

D eer hunting operations making use of the Managed Lands Deer Permit system will be able to continue hunting through February, while most average deer hunters have already stowed their gear weeks ago.

Although you may know that the MLDP program is a key research tool in the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s arsenal each fall and winter, did you know that there are deer research efforts going on year-round? In fact, the state’s Wildlife Management Area framework ranks right up there among TPWD’s habitat conservation and restoration efforts.

One of the crown jewels is the Kerr WMA, home to the Donnie E. Harmel White-tailed Deer Research Facility. The 16-acre facility consists of breeding and rearing pens, and a series of alleys and chutes to facilitate care in the handling of research animals.

No additional deer have been added after the fall of 1974 when the facility was constructed, and the herd has been maintained as a closed, pedigreed herd ever since. Research includes numerous studies of nutrition and genetics, as well as heritable characteristics tied to antler development. The pens have also been used to facilitate many pilot projects, breeding experiments, demonstration efforts and as a focal point for landowner field days.

Donnie Frels, area manager for the Kerr WMA, said Wildlife Management Areas are valuable to conservation efforts for numerous reasons.

“The Wildlife Management Area system was initially set up within the Wildlife Division at Texas Parks & Wildlife to provide an opportunity for research in every ecological region of the state,” he told TF&G. “The whole system was established as a way to meet research and development needs of the best management practices for each distinct ecoregion (South Texas, Central Texas, etc. That way you would then be able to take the best management practices for each region and make them applicable to landowners and land managers. Because each region has distinct habitats, you wouldn’t want to take a practice that you would use in East Texas and try to apply it to the South Texas region.

“The first WMAs were purchased in the 1940s and 1950s, including Kerr WMA, which is our 6,500-acre research and management site for the Edwards Plateau region,” Frels said. “The area as a whole provides an experiment station for TPWD biologists and others from resource agencies and colleges and universities to conduct wildlife research under very controlled conditions. A major part of that research is focused on habitat management, which ties back into why we have a research and development site in each ecological region of the state.”

Frels noted that high fences, which have become the norm across Texas, first materialized at the Kerr WMA, but not for the reasons they’re built today.

“Although research is a big part of what we do at the Kerr WMA,” Frels said, “we also have to control animal numbers, whether you’re talking about deer or exotics. In Central Texas, deer and exotics have a major impact on the ecological landscape. We have some of the highest deer densities in the world in this part of the state, which is one prime reason why the Kerr WMA was the first to use high fences as a management tool in the 1960s.

“Biologists discovered that trying to control deer numbers by only using public hunts was nearly impossible with such a large population of deer. Those high fences weren’t put up to keep deer in, but rather to keep deer out and maintain controls on research.”

The Kerr WMA also is at the forefront of habitat alteration research, focusing on practices that include rotational grazing, prescribed burning and cedar control.

“We find that those habitat management practices are applicable across the landscape regardless whether you’re talking about big deer, endangered species response or calf weaning weights,” Frels said.

In addition to all that research, selective harvest remains a tried and true wildlife management practice, and the Kerr WMA does feature a number of hunts that are open through drawings as part of the public hunting system.

Email Will Leschper at

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More Habitat for Birds

Waterfowl and whooping cranes will find improved habitat this winter on the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge in Anahuac. Ducks Unlimited and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recently completed a wetland restoration and enhancement project on the 300-acre Middleton Unit. Axalta Coating Systems was the lead corporate sponsor for the project.

Working with U.S. Fish & Wildlife, DU added water control infrastructure to facilitate better habitat management and promote waterfowl use on this public-access refuge outside of Houston. There are areas on the refuge open to public waterfowl hunting, including part of the Middleton Unit.

Axalta Coating Systems, a leading global supplier of liquid and powder coatings, and Ducks Unlimited, the world leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation, announced a five-year partnership in 2015. This project is one of the many cooperative ventures across North America that Axalta supports.

Ducks Unlimited’s Rescue Our Wetlands campaign is a continental, seven-year, $2 billion effort aimed at changing the face of conservation in North America. Rescue Our Wetlands is the largest wetlands and waterfowl conservation campaign in history. It focuses on the habitat most important to waterfowl, including the coastal prairies and marshes of Texas and Louisiana.


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