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April 2009 cover image dorrado fish in the gulf

From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

Irrespective of the time of year, birds and bird dogs are rarely far from the thoughts of many a Texas sportsman. And, after one year in this position, I can state without equivocation that nothing stirs the passion of a Texas quail hunter more than the specter of some threat to their beloved feathered quarry.

Such was the case recently when I received a well-penned missive of concern from a West Texas blue quail hunter out Midland way. The hunter, a sportsman, conservationist and gentleman of the highest order, clearly knows blue quail as well as Willa Cather knew the prairie winds. His concern centered upon a mysterious, exotic ­bunchgrass that had recently crept into his quail pastures. Apparently, with the advent of the new grass came the demise of the native grasses that once dominated the West Texas ranchlands he knows so well. Not long after the displacement of the native grasses, he noted that the blue quail that once were present in such abundance could no longer be found in his pastures.

Suffice to say, the correlation between the incursion of the exotic grass, the ­displacement of the native grasses, and the decline of the blue quail was not lost on him. And, like any good quail man, he wanted an explanation.

As it turned out, the grass in question was an unwelcome interloper indeed. It was Lehman’s lovegrass, an exotic species originally found in Africa. Sometime in the mid 20th century, it was introduced by range scientists to the arid southwestern United States in a well-intentioned effort to restore degraded rangelands and to reclaim ­eroded old fields. Its successful proliferation today would probably surprise even those who first planted it. Regrettably, however, like many such well-intentioned introductions of non-native plants, the “cure” may have been worse than the problem.

The spread of exotic and invasive species across the Texas landscape is one of the most daunting issues facing natural resource managers. Next to habitat loss, invasive and exotic species pose the greatest threat to our state’s biodiversity, including grassland dependent birds such as blue and bobwhite quail. The “quiet invasion,” as some scientists refer to the alarming spread of these pernicious pests, is already radically altering the natural ecology of much of Texas’ native lands and waters.

From buffelgrass and guineagrass on South Texas rangelands to hydrilla and water hyacinth in East Texas lakes, invasive and exotic species are displacing native vegetation, negatively impacting fish and wildlife populations, and disrupting recreational usage of Texas’ inland waters. It is a serious problem, and if we are not careful, we may find ourselves in the unenviable position of a state such as Hawaii, where in some places one is as likely to encounter an exotic species as a native one.

Fortunately, many agencies and organizations, including your Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, have redoubled their efforts to keep these invaders from sweeping through our prairies, woodlands, lakes and rivers. For more information on how to combat their spread and what you can do to help, please take a moment to visit our Web site at www.tpwd.state.tx.us or those sites of our partners such as www.texasinvasives.org and www.wildflower.org/invasive.

Thanks for caring about Texas’ wild places and wild things. They need you more than ever.

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