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From the Pen of Robert L. Cook

Sometimes when I get to thinking that we’re pretty smart, that we pretty much know it all, I remind myself about horny toads, bullfrogs and mountain boomers. Up through the middle decades of the 20th century, horny toads, bullfrogs and mountain boomers occurred in huge numbers throughout most of Texas. They were everywhere. Maybe that was part of the problem, we took them for granted. Then along about the 1970s-80s folks began to notice that they had not seen a horned lizard, or heard a bullfrog, or been “chased— by a mountain boomer in years. They were gone from a vast portion of their former range, and we didn’t really have a clue as to why. Usually when species disappear, folks assume it’s because of hunting or commercialization. Folks, listen up, the disappearance of these and other species from large portions of their range in Texas had nothing to do with hunting. Next, we look for excuses, something to blame it on. I’ve heard every excuse: quail are gone because of some mystery disease or predators, turkeys are gone because of sonic booms, and the favorite of recent times – fire ants. Virtually all of the possible reasons for various species declines or disappearances have been debunked. The horned lizard and the bullfrog disappeared long before fire ants became established in Texas. Some of the best quail, lizard and frog populations exist today in areas infested by fire ants and with healthy predator populations.

In some cases, we suspect and have some evidence that these declines occurred because of “habitat changes— (more brush, more coastal Bermuda, fragmentation, etc.). Some folks believe it was acid rain, or insecticides, or “global warming.— Maybe it’s a combination of all; or none of the above. Maybe these species just naturally cycle up and down. The truth is, we do not know.

At the same time, we have seen dramatic increases in some wildlife populations; again, most of which we cannot explain. Some of these increases we think are good, and if given the chance, we “conservationists— will take credit for them. For example, white- winged doves are no longer restricted to the heavy brush in the lower Rio Grande Valley and upper Mexico as they were in the mid-1960s. White-winged doves are now established in breeding populations virtually statewide in Texas. We would like to take credit for that one, but we can’t. We don’t know why they and species like the grackle have been so successful. I recorded the first-ever porcupine observed on our little Brown County ranch in 1996. Possibly the most dramatic, and problematic, species to spread across Texas in recent times is the feral hog. Nobody wants to take credit for that one, and again, nobody knows why or what their long-term impact will be. One of the biggest mysteries to me was about 6-7 years ago when we realized that we had not seen a jackrabbit on the ranch in a couple of years, and we’ve not seen one there since. I have no idea why they are gone; but I’ll tell you, I miss the horny toads, the bullfrogs and the jackrabbits.

Bud told me the other day that he saw a lone jackrabbit by Logan’s cattle guard, and Doc told me that his Dad was now seeing lots of little horny toads in the Big Spring area. So, again, I wonder and I ask…. “What is going on in the Great Outdoors of Texas?—

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