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Texas Wildlife Action Plan

A coordinated national effort aims to prevent species from becoming endangered.

By Wendee Holtcamp

Just as health insurance companies realize that preventive healthcare saves more money in the long run, budget-stricken governmental agencies have recognized that the way to save species may be to keep them from becoming endangered in the first place.

Threatened and endangered species often receive the lion’s share of attention, protection and resources, but thousands of lesser known, less charismatic species — insects, mussels, snakes, mice, jellyfish and myriad other creatures — face similar threats, with few resources dedicated to preserving them or the habitats that sustain them. What if we could prevent species from becoming endangered in the first place? In a progressive nationwide initiative, every state in the union — plus Mexico and the Canadian provinces — has developed a comprehensive plan to do just that.

“It’s a historic process,” says Steven Bender, TPWD wildlife planner, who coordinated development of the 1,100-page Texas Wildlife Action Plan in just over a year’s time and will oversee its implementation. The International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies coordinates the development of all the state plans and gets the information in front of legislators. TPWD completed the Texas plan in September 2005, making the state eligible to receive State Wildlife Grant funds, which come from Department of Interior/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service appropriations. Based on the state’s size and population, Texas receives around $3 million annually earmarked for conserving, monitoring and researching species of concern and the habitats that sustain them. “The bottom line is that this is a historic amount of money for nongame initiatives,” Bender emphasizes.

Another innovative aspect was the opportunity for public involvement in the plan’s development. TPWD opted to organize the plan by organism type: birds, mammals, “herps” (reptiles and amphibians) and aquatic species — including coastal and inland. After the kickoff Wildlife Diversity Conference in San Marcos in August 2004, biologists and professionals met over several months to decide conservation priorities. Next, meetings were held throughout the state to get citizen input.

Now that Texas’ Wildlife Action Plan is complete, the first order of business will be a statewide gathering of vegetation data followed by a comprehensive wildlife survey. With 10 ecoregions in 267,000 square miles of land, it’s not surprising that Texas has more birds and reptiles than any other state and is second only to California in total biodiversity. Besides the more than 5,500 plant species, 600 bird species and 184 mammals, there are thousands of invertebrates that provide critical ecosystem functions. Texas boasts more than 29,000 terrestrial insects alone!

Protecting all of Texas’ biodiversity — including the creepy crawlies — will be part of the long-term conservation strategy. However, a statewide wildlife survey has not been conducted in more than 100 years. “The last biological survey was done in 1905,” says Bender. Since then, the landscape has undergone dramatic changes, and many species have declined while the status of many species remains unknown. Using new technologies such as geographic information systems, global positioning systems and even cell phones, computers and trucks will enable TPWD to perform a survey in a far shorter time than did Vernon Bailey, the naturalist who surveyed the state in the 1900s by foot, train and horseback.

“The strategy will give us focus and help us move forward to assist those species and habitats that are in decline,” says Bender. “With Texas being more than 94 percent privately owned, it will give TPWD and our partners the opportunity to further partner with and educate the landowners of the state.” If successful, this bold and innovative effort could herald a new era in conservation in which no species goes extinct on our watch.

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