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SOUTH TEXAS: A Major Habitat Shift from Prairie to Woodland occurred sometime between 1750 and 1910

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“Long ago when herds were sparse, when the turf of curly mesquite grass was dense, and when Indian fires periodically swept the ranges, the brush was kept in check. But since the coming of the ranchero the brush has been winning possession of the soil for a thousand miles up and down the Rio Bravo and the more fertile the soil the more rapid has been its spread. A quote by J. Frank Dobie

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It knows how to make war according to the Napoleonic code; i.e., to make offense. It knows too how to make a war of defense. During the past fifty years terrible drouths have decimated noble live oaks, a tree that thrives west of the Nueces but does not reach the Rio Grande except towards its mouth; no drouth has ever killed out a chaparral thicket. The drier the spring, the heavier the mesquite bean crop will be in late summer. A quote by J. Frank Dobie

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July 1, 1996


Region of Hemispheric Importance

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The Last Great Habitat

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Large Ranches Dedicated Stewards of the Land

•  Less fragmentation •  Relatively undisturbed 9


Game Species

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Hunting = Habitat

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Hunting helps to preserve habitat for all species, including those that are not hunted‌

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They are protecting and conserving the public’s wildlife‌

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A Unique Landscape

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Area Lower RGVNWR Everglades

Plant Species 1,100

Animal Species 700

1,033

633

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Western South Texas Plains

17 inches

Gulf Coast Prairie and Marshes

35 inches

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Diversity of Vegetation • 1,558 species of vascular • 281 species of woody plants •  Perching, nesting, roost sites •  Wildlife food (insects, fruits, and berries) •  Protection cover for wildlife • Numerous Flowering Plants •  Nectar for hummingbirds, bees and butterflies •  Aesthetics

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Primary Funnel for Migratory Birds

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Migrants •  80% of 332 migratory species pass through the Coastal Bend •  39 species are found in oak mottes •  18 warblers •  300,000 broad-winged hawks 22


Waterbirds

•  80% of redhead ducks winter in the Laguna Madre •  55% of piping plovers 23


Birds of Prey

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Reptiles and Amphibians

Snakes, Alligators, Lizards, Turtles, Tortoises, Frogs, Toads, Salamanders, Newts, and Sirens 25


Top 10 States of the U.S. with the Greatest Number of Butterfly Species Number of Species

State or

Region 717 423

North America (north of Mexico) Texas 326 Arizona 318 New Mexico 293 Lower Rio Grande Valley 266 Colorado 250 California 215 Utah 210 Wyoming 207 Nevada 197 Nebraska 187 Montana 26

Data compiled from Stanford and Opler's 1993 "Atlas of Western USA Butterflies, Including Adjacent Parts of Canada and Mexico."


Native Terrestrial Biodiversity Ecosystem s Herps

Plants

Birds Mammal

Sonoran Desert >3,500500 130120 South Texas >2,000 450 80136 Everglades >1,000 347 >40 Sky Island (SE Arizona)>2,00026590 75 Yellowstone >1,265311 58 9 Smokey Mtn. Nat. Park2,500 20060 90 Hawaii >90070 20

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New Attitudes… • New stocking rates • Water developments • Managing habitat • Remodeling ranch buildings

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Land Values Increase

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The Threats‌.

Empty Land Syndrome 32


• Space port • Bombing ranges • Highway expansion • Land condemnation

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Policy and Taxes

• Endangered Species Act can be a negative incentive • Estate taxes cause break-up of family ranches • Land is often sold and developed into ranchettes 34


The Ranchette Tragedy‌

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Conversion of native habitat to monoculture

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December 6, 2012

What has changed?


Article by Forrest Smith, Director, South Texas Natives and Texas Native Seeds


1.  Early Development •  • 

Bare soil from 1950’s drought and prevent soil erosion Forage for cattle

2.  Recent Expansion 3. The Deadly List •  •  •  •  • 

Old world bluestems Guinea Grass Lehmann Lovegrass Tanglehead Buffelgrass


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4. Probable causes and unintended consequences •  Disturbance Regimes -  -  -  - 

More fire (aggressive managers) More wildfire More mechanical disturbance (aggressive managers) Fewer cattle

•  Disturbance Vectors -  - 

Pipelines, roads, pads Windfarms


5. Remedy •  Greater knowledge of applying fire to the landscape •  Cattle managed correctly •  Astute and educated landowners about fire, restoration, mechanical disturbance vectors •  Native seed sources to meet a landscape of impacts •  Environmentally friendly state agencies and energy companies


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Impact on Prairies and Prairie Wetlands


•  > 300 species of migratory birds •  Corpus Christi Hawk watch •  Laguna Madre Redheads •  Corpus Christi - birdiest city in US


1,095

807

734

1,738

1,570

356 582

880

789

476


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•  Drought x Disturbance Interaction (San Pedro Ranch example)

•  Drought at the Wrong Time


Weather King Ranch March-June Rainfall Patterns…   Currently in a 18 year spring rain drought cycle   1962 through 1982 wettest cycle (1991-1995 wettest 4 years)   Average deficit in the 1950’s was 3.3” while the current droughts’ deficit is 5.1”   In the last 18 years, there have been 0 consecutive years of above average spring rainfall 1905-1939 60% 40%

3.8” 4.2

“Normal”

1940-1964 83%

3.3”

50’s Drought

1965-1982 68%

1983-1995

75%

5.5”

Heyday

1996-2012

Bust & Boom

5.1”

Current Drought

Inches Above and Below Average (9”) 72


“In town and cities, the endless succession of sunny days is convenient, even pleasant, but out on the land it’s a creeping malaise, dragging at the wild residents of South Texas, sucking their vitality away by degrees so imperceptible that the victims are hard to recognize when alive and when they die, they are cleaned up by caracaras, vultures and coyotes. This slow motion disaster has defined most of the last decade and a half. Drought offers a lesson in limits. The size of our wild coveys depends on the quantity and timing of rain which the land turns into forbs, insects and seeds. How many quail we have depends on how much moisture we get, and in spite of our vast knowledge of natural systems and the undeniable power of our technology, there’s not much we can do to affect that equation except wait…..and pray for rain.” -Fred Bryant


- Anonymous


The Last Great Habitat Revisited