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Bastrop State Park

The park’s ponds are home to the Houston toad.

By Rob McCorkle

Even though the Lost Pines woodlands of Bastrop State Park may well hold the key to the survival of the endangered Houston toad (Bufo houstonensis), few visitors will get a glimpse of the small creature.

The almost-7,000-acre park 30 miles east of the state capital still supports the largest population of Houston toads found anywhere. Bastrop County is one of only a handful of southeast Texas counties supporting breeding populations of this species.

Most visitors to the park will take advantage of the park’s fishing opportunities, the hiking trails that meander through the pine-oak woodlands or drive the 13-mile scenic loop that connects Bastrop State Park to Buescher State Park. Park facilities include campsites, cabins and lodges as well as a group barracks and dining hall.

Visitors hoping to learn more about the elusive Houston toad should visit with park staff about toad watching or listening opportunities. The long, high, clear trill of males seeking a mate during late winter and early spring breeding seasons can only be heard about five nights each year. On their own, visitors can learn about the Houston toad through a park pamphlet and several interpretive displays found inside the park. One such exhibit panel has been placed just outside the park office where visitors check in. It pictures the toad and provides details about its endangered status, its preferred breeding habitat (small, shallow ponds), its tadpole offspring and its preference for sandy burrows to protect them from the elements.

TPWD’s Andy Price directs Houston toad research, gaining a more complete understanding of the toad’s range in the park, how the three-inch, nocturnal creatures move in the landscape and how suppression of forest fires has affected the toads. Colleague Greg Creacy recently completed the mapping of all potential breeding locations within the park and has been conducting the first park-wide Houston toad breeding survey.

“The Houston toad is in real trouble,” asserts Mike Forstner, an associate professor of biology at Texas State University in San Marcos. “Its populations are lower than when it crashed in the ’90s. Its habitat is only more fire suppressed and more fragmented by subdivision development, forest clearing and the spread of Bermuda grass.”

Though more is known about the Houston toad than ever before, unanswered questions remain. Where do the toads live in and out of breeding season? How do the baby and juvenile toads move as they emerge from small ponds onto the upland landscape? What are the characteristics of prime breeding ponds? How much are toad populations impacted by drought? What can private landowners do to help the toad and steward their lands, while still keeping their farming and ranching operations going?

If Forstner and other biologists are successful, the unique call of the Houston toad will continue to be enjoyed by future generations.

“We need to do whatever we can to move the species past its problem time,” Forstner says. “And, we need to do it now. We can’t control the rains, but we can try to recover the toad’s habitat and work to protect existing populations.”

For more information, call (512) 321-2101 or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/bastrop>

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