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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!

  

Broad Base of Support

Why is there is so much enthusiasm for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 4647), and why does it have a better chance at passing than past wildlife funding bills?

Because it benefits so many different groups of people! 

Thirty-five members of Congress - 15 Republicans and 23 Democrats - have co-sponsored H.R. 4647, including two Texans. New co-sponsors are coming on board every day.

In Texas, we also have a growing coalition of more than 100 organizations and businesses who have joined the Texas Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife to rally behind this once in a generation opportunity.

Why do all of these groups support the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act?  

• It’s a bipartisan bill that does not create new taxes. 

• It directs royalty revenue collected from oil and gas production on federal lands and waters to wildlife projects. These royalties are not currently dedicated to other programs. 

• Texas is home to over 1,300 at-risk fish and wildlife species; H.R. 4647 is designed to keep them OFF the Endangered Species list through preventative conservation efforts. 

• It was developed with input from national leaders in wildlife conservation, oil and gas industry, and outdoor recreation. 

• Texas would be eligible for over $63 million annually to fund qualified projects conducted by Texas state agencies, land trusts, conservation organizations, universities, and private landowners. 

• Keeping species off the Endangered Species List is good for wildlife, good for business, and saves the taxpayer money. 

At any time, you can check out our online Toolkit to read about how different Texas communities would benefit from this legislation. Join our blog over the next few weeks as we highlight the many groups, interests, and businesses that have so much to gain from the passing of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act!

Photo courtesy TPWD

GREAT NEWS: H.R. 4647 to Have Hearing in Congress!

H.R. 4647, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, will have a hearing Thursday, February 15, in the Federal Lands Subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives!

This bipartisan legislation, introduced by Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI), would direct $1.3 billion annually in existing royalties from energy and mineral production on federal lands and waters to wildlife conservation.  These royalties are not currently earmarked for any specific fund or purpose.  Directing the funding to the 50 states for wildlife restoration will not increase taxes.  Rather, it will ensure that existing funds help protect at-risk fish and wildlife populations.  Investing in protecting these species will save money in the long run, by avoiding costly delays and expensive recovery when species become endangered.

Texas will receive more than $63 million per year if H.R. 4647.  But that may not happen unless people like YOU get involved!

Send your Member of Congress a “Valentine” asking him or her to CO-SPONSOR H.R. 4647, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.

For talking points and to learn who represents you, go to the Toolkit. 

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act Introduced in Congress – YOU Can Help!

H.R. 4647, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, recently introduced in Congress, gives Americans the opportunity to solve our growing wildlife crisis.  Despite successful recoveries of species such as bald eagles and Rocky Mountain Elk, thousands of species of birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and insects are in decline due to a lack of available funding for research and management.  Across the country, 12,000 species have been identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), meaning they are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered. 1,310 of these species call Texas home, among them pronghorn, black bear, loggerhead sea turtles, Texas horned lizards, golden-cheeked warblers, and the American bumblebee.

The bi-partisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (LINK), introduced by Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI), will dedicate $1.3 billion annually in existing royalties from energy and mineral production on federal lands and waters to wildlife programs. These funds will be distributed to the state natural resource agencies to implement State Wildlife Action Plans such as the Texas Conservation Action Plan. These plans are specifically designed to conserve at-risk species and keep them off of the threatened and endangered list. Texas’ share of the funding is estimated at more than $63 million per year.

To help secure passage of H.R. 4647, please take the following steps:

1.      Contact your U.S. Representative and urge him/her to co-sponsor H.R. 4647! 

To learn who represents you, click here.  For more information, visit the Toolkit section of our website.

2.      Ask the members of your organization or business to contact their representatives. 

If passed, the resulting funds can be used for habitat restoration, land acquisition, conservation easements, research, landowner incentives, education, outreach, technical guidance, and wildlife-based recreation, as long as these activities benefit SGCN species.

“Protecting wildlife and enhancing the space so wildlife can flourish not only is right in itself, but it brings extraordinary benefits to us for both recreation and hunting,” Fortenberry said.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act follows the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources. This Panel, comprised of national business, energy, and conservation leaders, was convened in 2015 to identify a sustainable funding mechanism for fish and wildlife conservation. In March, 2016, the Panel recommended that $1.3 billion in existing revenue from energy and mineral production on federal lands and waters be used to support the implementation of State Wildlife Action Plans in every state.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a potential game-changer for America’s wildlife.  The funding represents our best chance to build a safety net for all fish and wildlife, while at the same time reducing the regulatory uncertainty and added cost for businesses of having species on the endangered species list.

“The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would bring much-needed funding to Texas to benefit wildlife without creating a new tax,” said Rob Denkhaus, speaking for the Texas Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife.  “It’s a win for wildlife, a win for businesses, and a win for all of us who care about our natural resources.”

The Texas Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife is a coalition of more than a hundred organizations.  Together they represent over a million Texans speaking with one voice support wildlife conservation Texas. The Texas Alliance invites you to join our efforts to ensure that Texas has adequate resources to conserve our at-risk fish and wildlife species, and the habitats they depend on.  For more information, visit the Toolkit section of our website.

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