LOOKING AT THE STATE of our wildlife and fisheries it is obvious a deep conservation ethic is alive and well throughout the Texas Outdoor Nation. Here’s a look at where things stand with major resources.
Specks, Reds and Flounder: The Big Three of the Texas Gulf Coast are faring very well at the moment.
Flounder have rebounded tremendously since strict regulations were put in place 10 years ago. There are still ebbs and flows in the population due to water temperature conditions that impact spawning, but the future is bright for the southern flounder.
Trout are doing great as well.
More than half of the state is now on a five fish daily bag limit with the major concern over the last few years being recruitment of trout on the Middle Coast. Numbers are steady and while no recent push has been made to take the Upper Coast into a five fish limit, it would not be a surprise for that to come in a few years.
Redfish are in tremendous shape with anglers in some areas having a hard time catching fish that are not over the slot limit. That’s a big change from a few decades ago when catching a legal-sized redfish was an accomplishment.
Freshwater Fisheries: The freshwater fisheries of Texas have been strong for decades and remain strong.
Some bass lakes like Fork have been on a decline but that is a natural lake cycle. It will be back to former glories just as lakes in the Hill Country that were dry are now full.
Lakes like Sam Rayburn, Toledo Bend and Falcon dominate national bass rankings lists with many other lakes mentioned.
Panfish opportunities remain excellent and interest in catfish is on the rise. Lakes like Grapevine, Lewisville and others are producing some of the best catfish catches in recent history.
Whitetail Deer: Deer numbers are down at around 3.5 million in comparison to 15 years ago when they were over four million, but whitetail numbers are running strong. We have to keep in mind in key deer habitat in the Texas Hill Country much prime habitat is now developed.
Some of the best free-ranging deer are being taken in Northeast Texas and in the Panhandle.
Waterfowl: Goose numbers have been down in Texas for years due to heavy pressure and a lack of agriculture but the last few years have been decent shoots on the Upper Coast and in the Panhandle for snows and specklebellies.
Overall waterfowl habitat is solid in Texas and the success of our seasons has more to do with conditions along the Central Flyway than what is happening in Texas. Native wood duck populations are strong and scientists continue to monitor the mysterious native mottled duck.
Turkey: Texas has the highest turkey population in America with around 500,000 birds, most of those Rio Grandes. There are some Merriam’s in the Trans Pecos and scattered populations of easterns in the Pineywoods.
The state has put a renewed interested on stocking eastern birds and are working on programs to enhance their habitat along with groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation.
The very title of this publication owes itself to the wild creatures of the Lone Star State. From speckled to whitetail deer and wild turkey to crappie, the entire community of hunting and fishing is based on wildlife resources.
And hunters and fishermen have been great stewards of these resources, but many are concerned with declining youth participation there may be few to step up to the challenger of conservation in the future.
Finding a way to get young people to engage in fishing, hunting and other outdoors activities-especially in light of changing demographics and increasing fixation on electronic media is something we all must contend with at some level.
“Since 1990, we have provided classroom subscription programs to teachers of a very special course taught in agriculture departments in Texas high schools. The course—Wildlife, Fisheries, and Ecology Management—started with a bang, almost instantly becoming one of the most popular classes in Ag Science history. Thanks in part to the class also including the mandatory hunter safety certification, it also attracted thousands of non-ag students,” said TF&G Publisher Roy Neves
“At first, teachers used Texas Fish & Game issues as a primary teaching source because they simply had no text books for the new class. As the program evolved, our issues continued to provide them with supplemental material and as a sure-fire method to engage student interest in special projects,” he added.
Neves said now that TF&G digital editions provide a wealth of features not possible in print—such as videos, slide shows and other interactive tools—its issues have become even more useful to teachers.
“An increasing number of schools now provide students with tablets or individual computer access. In the schools that don’t, almost every kid has a smart phone. This technology, and our long-standing partnership with teachers, gives us a powerful connection to tens of thousands of students. This year, we will reach more than 40,000 students in 750 Texas high schools,” he said.
On top of that the digital platform has allowed the very thing that distracts many young people (electronic devices) to be used to inspire them about all things outdoors.
In addition, for the last five years TF&G has sent out a weekly e-newsletter to teachers in the program.
This newsletter contains links to pertinent wildlife and fisheries-based stories at fishgame.com along with a quiz, essay or class activity suggestion for each of those stories.
Teachers frequently use the material for extra credit and also use as a supplement to already planned lessons in the classroom. This impacts thousands of students weekly and gives free aid to teachers strapped for time and budgets for extra educational materials which tend to be quite costly.
“A big reason we do this is to reach the young people of Texas with a pro wildlife conservation message,” Neves said.
Texas Fish & Game’s conservation coverage will run even deeper going into 2019.
TF&G Editor-In-Chief Chester Moore has won more than 100 awards in his career and many of them have been for conservation efforts-some of which have begun right on these pages.
His latest was the Mossy Oak Outdoors Legacy Award for work with children and wildlife in the field of conservation presented at the Texas Outdoor Writer’s Association banquet.
“Me and my wife Lisa have dedicated our lives to working with hurting children and we believe no one understands hurting and endangered wildlife more than these kids. But to get to the place to understand this we have worked many years in wildlife conservation,” Moore said.
One of his favorite projects that is still ongoing was the bear awareness program he started at TF&G.
“I approached Roy and Ardia Neves about the idea of doing an article on bear awareness in Texas since bears are coming back and are a threatened species here. There is the chance of misidentifying them hogs and someone shooting a bear so they allowed me to do a cover story on bears coupled with multiple small stories that all contained an email address to request a .pdf poster about bear awareness,” Moore said.
“We’ve seen this out hundreds of times and it shows how to tell a bear from a hog and also gives the fine schedule for shooting a bear in Texas as well as bear safety. That first article was done 10 years and people are still emailing in for the poster. On top of that I went around to feed stories and gas stations in some of the key areas where bears have been sighted and put up printed versions of the poster and also reached out to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department about getting some brochures. We as a magazine wanted to do something lasting for bears and I think we have accomplished that,” Moore said.
The magazine has also published more articles about different aspects of wildlife and fisheries conservation than any according to Moore.
“Other than conservation specific publications like Tide, we have published more on conservation and continue that through fishgame.com. Awareness is key and the ownership at TF&G have shown great vision in getting the word out on wildlife conservation, not just publishing how to and adventure pieces which we all love,” he said.
A program similar to the bear project was done for mottled ducks to raise awareness to turning in bands and the magazine has partnered and donated to CCA’s STAR tournament scholarship program for decades.
“TF&G has really put its money where its mouth is when it comes to getting youth involved and making sure there are stewards for the now and tomorrow of wildlife,” Moore said.