As flood waters from Harvey recede and those affected begin to sort through the damage left in the wake of the storm, biologists with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department say encounters with various wildlife are to be expected.
“People should be aware that snakes and other wildlife, including skunks and raccoons, may approach or enter yards and houses seeking cover or higher ground,” said John Davis, TPWD Wildlife Diversity program director. “Over time, displaced wildlife will return to their usual habitats.”
Common sense precautions should be practiced; be aware that snakes and other animals may seek shelter in debris piles and caution should be used during cleanup efforts. Houston is home to diverse wildlife that go into people’s homes and yards 365 days a year regardless of rain, wind, and flood, so displaced alligators, snakes, bats, deer, and snapping turtles are something that Houstonians are used to seeing.
“A snake in the yard is not a cause for panic,” he says. “They don’t want to be there, either, and if left alone will usually leave on their own. You’re more likely to come upon a skunk, a mound of fire ants or a wasp nest in a brush pile than a venomous snake. If you do have an encounter with a problem snake, seek help from local animal control or licensed snake removal experts.”
During floods, alligators may disperse into areas where they aren’t normally observed, according to Jonathan Warner, TPWD Alligator Program Leader. He offers the following advice for encounters with alligators:
“Alligators are wary of people but keep your distance,” said Warner. “Never approach, harass or feed an alligator. When water levels recede, the alligator will likely disappear as well.”
Gators are critical to the health and balance of aquatic ecosystems in southeast Texas. They’re also a protected game species.
Davis said it may be some time before short term and long term impacts to wildlife as a result of the storm can be assessed, but stress that wildlife populations are fairly resilient. “These species evolved with hurricanes and floods, so they will recover.”
While emergency rescue operations are active, wildlife experts are urging the public to focus on helping people and reporting dangerous conditions of our neighborhoods rather than reporting displaced wildlife. Dispatch teams and hotlines are being used to coordinate emergency first responders. Wildlife, in the meantime, are equipped by nature to take care of themselves in most situations.
Tips and precautions about encounters with wildlife are available at tpwd.texas.gov.
Grahame Jones, a 24-year law enforcement veteran, has been selected as director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Law Enforcement Division. He will pin on his colonel’s badge Sept. 1.
Jones, previously Chief of Special Operations, succeeds Col. Craig Hunter, who retires at the end of this month.
“Grahame’s career in law enforcement as a State Game Warden with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is a distinguished one,” said TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith. “He is a consummate professional, a visionary leader, supremely dedicated to TPWD’s mission, work, and people, and a respected leader among state and federal law enforcement agencies, private landowner groups, and fish and wildlife conservation partners. I have no doubt that Grahame will make a significant positive impact leading the critical conservation law enforcement work of our game wardens and our agency across Texas.”
As TPWD Law Enforcement Division director, Col. Jones will oversee a force of 551 highly trained state game wardens that provides law enforcement “off the pavement” across Texas, and 128 dedicated non-commissioned support staff. Though state game wardens focus primarily on conservation laws, they are fully commissioned peace officers authorized to enforce all state statutes.
During Jones’ career with TPWD, he has served as a field game warden in East Texas, a Sergeant Investigator in Environmental Crimes, a Captain and Major in Internal Affairs, and the Chief of Special Operations.
Jones grew up in Houston, fishing the Galveston Bay complex and hunting ducks and geese on the Katy prairie. He has been actively involved with conservation efforts through the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and served on the CCA State Board prior to going to work for TPWD. Jones received a Bachelor of Science from Stephen F. Austin State University and attended the National FBI Academy in Quantico, VA. Jones and his wife, Julie, have two daughters, Gabbie and Jali.
“The way we protect our natural resources, the way we provide water safety and public safety, and the way we respond to disasters has evolved over the last 120 years,” Jones offered. “On the other hand, the dedication, passion, and commitment exemplified by Texas Game Wardens and non-commissioned staff in protecting our natural resources and in serving our fellow Texans has remained a constant. That long-standing legacy of duty is something all Texans can all be proud of.”
Col. Hunter retires with 40-plus years of law enforcement service. “He has been a devoted and tireless leader within the department, as well as the state’s law enforcement community as a whole. As the TPWD Colonel, Craig has expertly led our game wardens through some of the most challenging situations and times confronting the Texas outdoors. From responding to massive floods and fires to breaking up sophisticated commercial fish and wildlife poaching rings to enhancing our law enforcement presence along the state’s borders and waterways, Colonel Hunter has left a big footprint across Texas’ lands and waters.