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Recovering America’s Wildlife Act Would Boost Texas Bat Conservation, Eco-tourism

© Thomas Kunz, Boston University 

Texas happens to be the battiest state in the USA, home to 32 of the nation’s 47 bat species. In a state where everything’s said to be bigger, not only do we have the most kinds of bats, we also boast the world’s largest known bat colony, Bracken Cave Preserve near San Antonio, and the planet’s largest urban bat colony, Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin. Visitors from around the world flock to Texas to see the winged mammals at close to a dozen bat-viewing locations.

Fortunately, public fears of bats as scary vampires, bats flying into people’s hair, and other unfounded phobias fostered by Hollywood have largely abated in recent decades, thanks to persistent public education work by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Bat Conservation International and many others. The upshot today is more and more Texans are realizing how cool bats are, and how valuable they are for crop pollination, insect control and eco-tourism.

Photo courtesy TPWD

To cite one example, university research has shown that bat insect control is worth $1.4 billion annually for agriculture in Texas alone. This value includes reduced crop loss to insect pests, reduced spread of crop diseases, and reduced need for pesticides.

Bat benefits have broad impact, since they are often “keystone species” that are essential to some ecosystems. Without bats’ pollination and seed-dispersing services, local ecosystems could collapse as plants fail to provide food and cover for wildlife species near the base of the food chain.

Yet bats, like more than 1,300 other species of concern in Texas, need our help. Their karst cave habitats are threatened, and some bat populations are declining. White-nose Syndrome (WNS) is a fungal disease that rouses bats from hibernation, causing them to consume their winter fat stores and starve to death. The fungus was detected for the first time in Texas in early 2017 in the Panhandle, and by early 2018 it spread into Central Texas. No bats have died yet in Texas, but the syndrome has killed millions of bats in North America since it was first discovered in 2007.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide invaluable new funding and resources to help boost bat conservation, education and related eco-tourism.

But RAWA won’t pass unless people who care take action! Learn how to speak out for wildlife, including how to write your U.S. congressional rep, on the tool kit page#SpeakOut4Wildlife

SIGN UP FOR UPDATES AND ACTION ALERTS FOR THE RECOVERING AMERICAS WILDLIFE ACT! 

 © J. Scott Altenbach, University of New Mexico - Mexican (Brazilian) Free-tailed Bat

 

Photo courtesy Nyta Brown, TPWD

Reconnecting Texans with Nature: 10% of Recovering America's Wildlife Act Funding Could Transform Outdoor Recreation, Education in Texas

A 2017 national survey that included thousands of Texas adults and children showed an alarming disconnect between our increasingly urban citizenry and the natural world. Yet, the study also detailed how Texans highly value parks, camping, and outdoor adventure, and it showed great promise to reconnect people with nature, if the right resources and opportunities are provided.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) would mean transformative change to address this need, scaling up all kinds of outdoor recreation, education, and volunteer efforts across the state. And it would do so in ways that connect with and help more than 1,300 Texas fish and wildlife species of concern and the woods, waters, prairies and coastline they call home.

Up to 10 percent of the estimated $63 million per year RAWA would bring to Texas could be spent to increase public access to and participation in the outdoors, in partnership with nonprofits, local governments, universities and other partners. This could fuel big new opportunities for wildlife-watching, nature photography, camping, kayaking, hiking, and other nature-based recreation.

Right now many Texans are unaware of the wildlife conservation work done by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and others. Funding to improve the existing networks of Great Texas Wildlife Trails, develop new sites, and better communicate access opportunities for the state’s 4.4 million wildlife viewers will help bridge this gap. RAWA could also scale up Texas Paddling Trails to better serve the more than 1 million paddlers in Texas—the program currently collaborates with local partners to manage 135 river access areas that offer paddling, fishing, and wildlife viewing on more than 600 miles of water trails.

Educating audiences that enjoy the outdoors on the importance of habitat conservation while also reconnecting them with nature through outdoor recreation opportunities will improve human health and well-being in Texas, as well as help cultivate the next generation of conservationists.

Texas State Parks and the millions of people who visit them would benefit from RAWA investments. Parks provide vital habitat for species in need, as well as settings for outdoor fun and learning about wildlife. This funding could greatly enhance visitor experiences at Texas’s 95 state parks and natural areas, 47 wildlife management areas and eight fish hatcheries, which today comprise 1.4 million acres managed in the public trust for recreation and conservation.

And, since more than 95% of the Texas landscape is privately owned, expanding successful private land leasing programs, such as the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, would improve public access for outdoor recreation on private lands, with the potential to impact millions of acres for species in need.

RAWA could also scale up partnerships with classroom educators and health and physical education instructors to foster lifelong interest in outdoor recreational activities. Studies have shown that getting kids off the couch and out into nature addresses a host of modern ills, from childhood obesity to attention deficit disorder, improving children’s health and academic performance. And it could expand the availability of training and curriculum tools to educators and conservation partners, educating people about the importance of river riparian zones, habitat connectivity, mountain sky islands, wildlife corridors, and other sensitive habitats.

RAWA won’t pass unless people who care take action! Learn how to speak out for wildlife, including how to write your U.S. congressional rep, on the tool kit page. #SpeakOut4Wildlife #RecoverWildlife.

 

 

 Photos courtesy: TPWD

 

Saving the State Fish of Texas!

Another case for Recovering America's Wildlife Act...

Guadalupe Bass Restoration Helps Hill Country Rivers, Fishing and Paddling

After decades of conservation work to save the Guadalupe bass, the official state fish has been largely restored to at least one Texas river, the South Llano. Similar work continues on the Blanco and Pedernales and is about to start on the San Gabriel. The native fish is among more than 1,300 species of concern in Texas that would get help if the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act passes, with big benefits for rivers and water quality, people, and the economy.

Guadalupe bass conservation is about more than just one species of fish. It’s about helping the entire river where the fish lives, the people who live along its banks, and all those who love to come swim, wade, fish, float or paddle. On the South Llano, the Guadalupe bass is the centerpiece of a broader effort involving local communities, riverside landowners, nonprofits and universities, all focused on improving the health of the entire watershed.

And it’s been a way to get more people out enjoying rivers and the outdoors.

Since 1992, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has been stocking Guadalupe bass in Hill Country rivers, trying to restore a balance that was upset when the native fish started interbreeding with imported smallmouth bass stocked in the late 1950s.

In partnership with the Llano River Watershed Alliance, the Texas Tech University Llano River Field Station, area landowners and others, a plan was hatched to restore Guadalupe bass and improve the river’s ecological health. From 2011 to 2017, more than 700,000 genetically-pure Guadalupes were stocked into the South Llano. Today, less than 2 percent of the population now consists of hybrids.

Besides stocking, project partners organized river conservation workshops that engaged 750 landowners and community partners. More than 78,000 acres of ranchlands began stewardship practices to help preserve fish habitats. Restoration projects restored 7,754 acres of spring, stream and riparian habitats, directly benefiting water quality, as well as helping Guadalupe bass and many other aquatic creatures.

River recreation got a big boost as part of the mix. In 2012, TPWD and local community partners launched the South Llano River Paddling Trail, one of dozens of similar paddling trails on rivers, lakes and bays across Texas. Along 6.3 river miles, the trail gives kayakers and canoers safe places to put in and take out of the river, with signs and educational kiosks telling visitors about the Guadalupe bass.

“Our goal is to restore and maintain at least 10 self-sustaining populations of Guadalupe bass throughout its native creeks and rivers,” said Tim Birdsong, Chief of Habitat Conservation for the TPWD Inland Fisheries Division.

“If the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act passes, successful models like the restoration of Guadalupe Bass would spread to many other Texas rivers,” Birdsong added. “And since a portion of RAWA funds can be spent for education and outreach, that opens the way for more paddling trails and other programs to help people enjoy healthy rivers. It would be a huge win-win for watersheds, aquatic species and for everyone in Texas.”

RAWA won’t pass unless people who care take action! Learn how to speak out for wildlife, including how to write your U.S. congressional rep, on the tool kit page. #SpeakOut4Wildlife

Check out this Texas Parks and Wildlife video on Guadalupe Bass conservation!

 

Photos:

South Llano River near Junction, TPWD

Guadalupe Bass, TPWD

 

Saving the Texas State Reptile: A Poster Child for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

Is that a dinosaur? No, it’s real-life, modern-day animal, the Texas horned lizard - our official state reptile. Once common across Texas, this much-loved lone star icon is now one of more 1,300 species of concern in our state. But there is good news for the little “horned toad.” Already, people are working to save it. But it will take the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act to bring the resources needed to save this critter and hundreds like it, plus help our woods and waters, and help people and the economy too.

For more than 10 years, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists, in cooperation with zoos in Fort Worth, Dallas and San Antonio, have been studying how to restore Texas horned lizards to formerly occupied habitats. Reintroduction efforts have happened at state-owned wildlife management areas like Mason Mountain and Muse Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).  At these places, extensive habitat management and restoration have been key, providing “new homes” for the lizard.

 

Photo: Texas horned lizard with radio tracking collar (TPWD)

Researchers been translocating adult lizards, capturing them in the wild in some areas, and then releasing them on the WMAs. Scientists have observed what happens afterward, and this has provided a wealth of valuable data to direct future efforts, but it’s also highlighted some challenges. Many relocated lizards die, many of them killed by predators. Normal annual mortality in wild populations can range from 70-90% and scientists have seen similar results with translocated adult lizards. Also, capturing and translocating sufficient adult numbers to establish self-sustaining populations may prove unsustainable long-term.   

For these reasons, in recent years the focus has shifted to captive breeding Texas horned lizards at partner zoos. The plan is to test the feasibility and success of releasing hatchlings, since this can potentially release hundreds of lizards at one time. Texas horned lizards have large clutch sizes with many eggs and can often produce multiple clutches in one year.

Biologists remain optimistic that continued research and restoration work will ultimately lead to self-sustaining wild populations of Texas horned lizards. Recovering America's Wildlife Act would provide breakthrough funding to make this dream a reality.

 

Photo: Hatchling Texas horned lizards to be released (Jim Gallagher)

 

Photo: Released Texas horned lizards (Jim Gallagher)

 

 

 

 

Critters of the Cross Timbers Ecoregion

By Abigail Diggs, Texas Alliance Community Outreach Intern

"I spent much of my childhood in an oak forest near my home, building treehouses, harvesting pecans, and avoiding copperheads. When I return to the Cross Timbers I find myself walking or biking the very same trails I grew up roaming and am thankful to be reminded of its subtle beauty. My favorite animal to encounter is the classic white-tailed deer!"

Stretching from the southern tip of Kansas to the heart of Central Texas, the Cross Timbers ecosystem functions as a sanctuary for naturalists and a home for an array of treasured wildlife species. This timbered grassland is unique in its bursts of dense forests: an ecological characteristic that sustained Native American populations and perplexed early pioneers. 

Now home to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, the Cross Timbers has undergone a dramatic series of changes from its original state in which bison, prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, mountain lions, black bears, and burrowing owls once imprinted on these grasslands. Many of the mammals listed above have been almost entirely extirpated from the area due to factors such as development and displacement. Present flora and fauna are threatened for these same reasons nearly 165 years later, in addition to the “the ensuing spread of highly invasive eastern red cedars,” as noted by the Nature Conservancy. 

A variety of cherished wildlife, including coyotes, falcons, quail, wild turkeys, bobcats, and white-tailed deer, pepper the Texas portion of the ecosystem and find habitat within the concentrated oak forests and wispy native bluestem grasses. A portion of the ecoregion contains the Central Flyway for bird migration, sustaining songbirds, birds of prey and waterfowl that utilize the region as a breeding ground or resting place. However, many species are struggling for survival in this urbanized environment, as approximately 105 identified mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, fish, invertebrate, and plants are listed as Species of Greatest Conservation Need with various levels of vulnerability. 

The resilience of many iconic wildlife, including the bald eagle, Texas horned lizard, Northern bobwhite quail, northern harrier, and river otter, continue to face challenges in the Cross Timbers, where Texas Parks and Wildlife finds that “there is little public land, few private preserves and a low percentage of private land under wildlife management plans when compared to other Texas ecoregions.”

Legislation introduced in the House of Representatives, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R.4647), could bring over $63 million dollars per year to Texas, to help implement the Texas Conservation Action Plan (TCAP) for this region, and other parts of Texas. The TCAP proposes methods to conserve threatened populations in the context of their native ecosystem, through activities such as the control of invasive species, and an increase in land and water protection. State agencies, conservation organizations, land trusts, and private landowners could greatly expand programs such as habitat restoration, establishment of conservation easements, cost-share programs, and species introductions. In addition, a portion of funds could be used for conservation education and increasing access to wildlife through outdoor recreation. These opportunities, coupled with abundant green space in urban/suburban areas, increase property values, and have vast physical and mental benefits for city residents.

As the region has already fallen victim to a period of stark wildlife loss in the 19th century, it is crucial that today’s species are protected and appreciated for their contribution to the natural world. Fish and wildlife are part of local ecosystems which provide us clean water, air, food, fiber and a wealth of recreational opportunities. The Cross Timbers ecoregion is truly a unique addition to the biodiversity of the Lone Star State, and as it continues to be faced with rising risk of habitat fragmentation, the mission to conserve its remaining old-growth forests, prairies, and river corridors must be of utmost priority. Though we face many challenges in this region,  through public/private partnerships, and increased funding for effective conservation action, we can help to preserve our natural heritage for future generations of Texans. 

Read more about how Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and how you can help.

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Photo courtesy:

Landscape photos, Abigail Diggs

Bison, Rachel Rommel

Bald eagle, TPWD

New Recovering America's Wildlife Act Video!

 

Check out this inspiring new Texas focused video about Recovering America's Wildlife Act...

 

Senate Bill Recognizes Urgent Need for Wildlife Conservation Funding

Two Republicans and two Democrats introduced S. 3223, in the U.S Senate yesterday recommending that Congress authorize $1.3 billion annually from energy and mineral revenues on federal lands and waters for projects to conserve at-risk fish and wildlife species.  

While not identical to the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, H.R. 4647, introduced into the US House of Representatives by Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI), S. 3223 is a step in the right direction for protecting fish and wildlife species before they become endangered.   

H.R. 4647 has gained a widespread, bipartisan co-sponsorship due to its innovative approach to solving America’s wildlife crisis, with the current list of co-sponsors approaching 80 members, including seven Texans. 

Leaders of the energy, outdoor recreation retail, manufacturing, and automotive sectors joined with sportsmen and other conservation groups in proposing the funding mechanism, which provides crucial funding for wildlife without raising taxes or taking funds from other wildlife programs.

Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said S.3223 represents an important step towards to addressing the crisis facing America’s wildlife and he urged the Senate to strengthen it further through the addition of dedicated funding.

“America’s wildlife are in crisis—more than one third of all species are vulnerable or at risk. We’re grateful to Senators Risch and Manchin for introducing a bill that demonstrates that the best way to save America’s 12,000 at-risk species is through collaborative, proactive, on-the-ground conservation efforts," O'Mara said. "This bill is an important step in the right direction and we look forward to working with the Senate to strengthen it further by adding the dedicated funding necessary to save the full diversity of wildlife species through collaborative conservation.”  

The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, commonly referred to as Pittman-Robertson after its sponsors, helped fuel the recovery of pronghorn, elk, bighorn sheep, numerous kinds of waterfowl and ducks, and other game species.  The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would extend those recovery efforts to non-game species. 

Sponsors of S. 3223 include Senators Jim Risch (R-ID), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

 

New Texas Cosponsors!

The cosponsor list for Recovering America's Wildlife Act, H.R.4647, has grown to 68 congress members. We have three new Texas Representatives who have cosponsored-- Kay Granger [R-12], Pete Sessions [R-32] and Henry Cuellar [D-28]!

We now have a total of 5 Texas cosponsors--and are tied in 2nd place for the most by state.

Enthusiasm is growing for this bill, and we are so grateful to all who continue to spread the word and raise awareness for this landmark legislation.

THANK YOU! 

Action Needed for Wildlife

States are currently funded at less than 5% of what's needed to fully implement their wildlife action plans, and fish and wildlife continue to decline across the nation. Over 1,300 at-risk species are in Texas alone. If Recovering America's Wildlife Act passes, Texas would be eligible for more than $63 million annually -- truly a game-changer for Texas fish and wildlife, and their habitats.

So many would benefit -- conservation organizations, oil & gas, land trusts, sportsman groups, universities, the outdoor recreation and nature tourism industry, conservation educators, and private landowners -- and all Texans through the services nature provides us. Recovering America's Wildlife Act is good for wildlife, good for business, and good for Texans.

A recent op-ed in the Lufkin Daily News urged local Members of Congress to cosponsor Recovering America's Wildlife Act. They note: "The Pineywoods of East Texas is a beautiful place to live. Maybe we take it for granted, being surrounded day in and day out by such majestic pine forests and tranquil rivers and lakes, but we are truly blessed to live among such gorgeous natural surroundings. Supporting the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will help keep it that way."

The exciting news is that bipartisan support for Recovering America's Wildlife Act continues to grow. H.R.4647 now has 61 cosponsors, 28 Republicans and 33 Democrats.

But we need more Texas cosponsors! Please call or email your Member of Congress.

Boosting Texas Tourism

As we continue our blog series, Broad Base of Support, this week, we highlight how Texas communities and local businesses benefit through a booming nature tourism industry, which would be further supported and sustained through passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, H.R.4647!

Family canoeing at Caddo Lake  Photo courtesty: TPWD

Nature tourism on the rise

More than half of all Texans engage in some sort of outdoor activity each year. These activities frequently involve overnight travel, retail sales of equipment and clothing, and purchasing food, fuel, and supplies. Nature-based tourism is the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry. A previous study from the City of Corpus Christi illustrates the importance of nature tourism to many communities. It now accounts for 47 percent of all visitor-trips, and spending by nature-oriented visitor represents more than 50 percent of overall visitor spending. The total economic impact of nature tourism in the Corpus Christi area alone is estimated at $987 million in business revenues, $549 million in value-added activity, and 12,914 jobs.

Birders flock to Texas

Everything is bigger in Texas - and birding is no exception! An incredible 648 species can be found in the Lone Star State. Texas is home to some very popular, and globally important bird areas. Birders "flock" to ecoregions throughout Texas to catch a glimpse of our many feathered friends. They come to see neo-tropical migrants as they cruise along flyways to their winter and summer destinations, and come to see many of our charismatic, resident bird species.

                                  Painted bunting  Photo courtesy: TPWD

Studies estimate that over a million Texans and out-of-state visitors participate in wildlife watching or photography each year. Locally endemic (meaning they are only found in Texas) or rare species of bird, like our states’ Species of Greatest Conservation Need, can also be big tourist draw. For example, the yellow-green vireo, a bird local to the Rio Grande Valley, is estimated to have generated more than $100,000 in local spending in a single year. Outside of larger cities like Corpus Christi, tourists take birding boat tours that operate out of outlying coastal communities. They visit seaside towns to have the opportunity to see species like the endangered Whooping cranes, forage in lush marshes and estuaries. When tourists visit these communities, they pay park entrance fees, stay in hotels, dine at restaurants, purchase groceries and recreational supplies, fill up their gas tanks, and shop for local art and crafts.

Whooping crane  Photo courtesy: Ryan Haggerty USFWS, Wikicommons

Supporting tourism through the Recovering Americas Wildlife Act

It’s clear that nature-based tourism represents a growing and vitally important part of our economy. Supporting healthy wildlife populations ensures nature based tourism opportunities are sustainable into the future. Not only do healthy fish and wildlife populations support tourism in local communities through direct impacts mentioned here, they are also key components of interconnected, resilient ecosystems that support our health and well-being. These systems provide food, fiber, clean water, clean air and many other sources of outdoor recreation to Texans, like hunting and fishing.

Stabilizing these species now will provide a wide range of conservation benefits for the future. Passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will mean eligibility for more than $63 million per year in federal funds to implement the Texas Conservation Action Plan, which is designed to keep at-risk Texas fish and wildlife populations off the threatened and endangered species list through active conservation efforts. An active approach to species protection avoids the high cost of endangered species recovery, increases recreational opportunities, provides ecological benefits, and will boost tourism throughout the state. Coupled with a 25% non-federal match, this funding translates into new jobs, additional recreational opportunities, increased habitat restoration and conservation, and more tourist dollars, for the benefit of Texas fish and wildlife, the business community, and future Texans!

Visit our toolkit page to find out how you can get involved!

  

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