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How the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act Can Help our Diamonds in the Marsh

 Texas Diamondback Terrapin in marsh habitat

Texans love turtles. It’s hard to drive by a pond in summer and ignore the basking sliders with their back legs stuck out straight like they’re impersonating Superman. It’s even harder to take a hike out west and not become enamored by the slow plod of an ornate box tutle sharing the trail with you. Texas has about 30 species of shelled reptiles. Most of them occur in freshwater habitats, a few occur in the marine environment, but just one species can only be found in the brackish waters that exist where our rivers meet the sea -- our diamond in the marsh, the diamondback terrapin.

Diamondback terrapins are unique in many ways and most of these come from their adaptation to life in estuaries, salt marshes, and bays along the coast. Obtaining freshwater to drink is always a challenge in a salty environment but terrapins are known to skim it off the surface of the water just after it rains before it mixes or to binge drink after from pools that form in the muddy marsh. Finding safe and dry nest sites can also be a challenge in a landscape where the water level fluctuates due to tides, river flows, and storms. Females are much larger than males and this is thought to be because females and males prefer different foods, in addition to the traditional body size differences between sexes because females produce the eggs.

Texas Diamondback Terrapin (male)

Texas Diamondback Terrapin (female)

Diamondback terrapins are among more than 1,300 Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in Texas. The principle reasons for concern about this species are loss of estuarine habitats due to development along the coastline and by-catch mortality from active and lost blue crab traps. Fortunately, research performed over the last decade from biologists at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, University of Houston-Clear Lake, and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi provide information and conservation solutions to these problems.

First, TPWD’s annual crab trap cleanup program removes thousands of derelict “ghost” crab traps from Texas estuaries each year. These abandoned traps are often lost by fishermen during storms and volunteers are encouraged to patrol the coast to remove them.

Derelict crab trap - Rachel Rommel

Volunteers cleaning up abandoned crab traps during annual clean up - Rachel Rommel

Additionally, we are fortunate that the Texas coastline has numerous protected areas, such as National Wildlife Refuges, Wildlife Management Areas, and State Parks. These areas provide important nursery habitat for economically important fish species, help filter and clean water as it makes it way to the coast and provide buffering for coastal communities against increasingly intense storms. With additional research and an understanding of where terrapin populations are and what key habitat feature’s they are using, we can help manage this species in these protected areas.

Finally, research has shown that voluntary participation from blue crab fisherman along the coast in a by-catch reduction device program can help reduce accidental mortality of terrapins in crab traps in high density terrapin areas. Additional resources for the production of devices and investment in awareness campaigns can help increase the scope and impact of the adoption of this conservation program.

The Recovering America's Wildlife Act would provide essential funding to help the diamondback terrapin conservation and hundreds of other fish and wildlife species in Texas. You can help #RecoverWildlife by taking action using the online toolkit.

Texas Diamondback Terrapin
Saving the Texas State Reptile: A Poster Child for the Recovering America's Wildlife Act

Is that a dinosaur? No, it’s a real-life, modern-day animal, the Texas horned lizard - our official state reptile. Once common across Texas, this much-loved lone star icon is now one of more 1,300 species of concern in our state. But there is good news for the little “horned toad.” Already, people are working to save it. But it will take the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act to bring the resources needed to save this critter and hundreds like it, plus help our woods and waters, and help people and the economy too.

For more than 10 years, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists, in cooperation with zoos in Fort Worth, Dallas and San Antonio, have been studying how to restore Texas horned lizards to formerly occupied habitats. Reintroduction efforts have happened at state-owned wildlife management areas like Mason Mountain and Muse Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).  At these places, extensive habitat management and restoration have been key, providing “new homes” for the lizard.

 

Photo: Texas horned lizard with radio tracking collar (TPWD)

Researchers been translocating adult lizards, capturing them in the wild in some areas, and then releasing them on the WMAs. Scientists have observed what happens afterward, and this has provided a wealth of valuable data to direct future efforts, but it’s also highlighted some challenges. Many relocated lizards die, many of them killed by predators. Normal annual mortality in wild populations can range from 70-90% and scientists have seen similar results with translocated adult lizards. Also, capturing and translocating sufficient adult numbers to establish self-sustaining populations may prove unsustainable long-term.   

For these reasons, in recent years the focus has shifted to captive breeding Texas horned lizards at partner zoos. The plan is to test the feasibility and success of releasing hatchlings, since this can potentially release hundreds of lizards at one time. Texas horned lizards have large clutch sizes with many eggs and can often produce multiple clutches in one year.

You can read about a recent baby horned lizard release in this Statesman article.

Biologists remain optimistic that continued research and restoration work will ultimately lead to self-sustaining wild populations of Texas horned lizards. Recovering America's Wildlife Act would provide breakthrough funding to make this dream a reality. You can help #RecoverWildlife by taking action using our online toolkit.

 

Photo: Hatchling Texas horned lizards to be released (Jim Gallagher)

 

Photo: Released Texas horned lizards (Jim Gallagher)

 

 

 

 

Recovering America's Wildlife Act Could Help Our Nation's Birds

Can you imagine Texas grasslands without the iconic, flute-like song of the Meadowlark? Sadly, some bird songs could be at-risk of going silent in North America's grasslands, forests, waterways, and backyard habitats. 

A recent study published in Science, one of the world's leading peer-reviewed journals, found that almost 3 billion fewer birds fill the skies today than in 1970, a loss of more than 1/4 of U.S. and Canada's birds.

Losses have occurred in common species too and in almost every habitat type, with grassland birds showing the steepest decline. For example, 3 out of every 4 Meadowlarks have disappeared. But also 2 out of 5 migratory birds, like the Baltimore oriole, and aerial insectivores, like the Barn swallow, have been lost.

There were some bright spots in an otherwise grim study: waterfowl numbers increased -- thought to be the result of decades-long efforts to fund wetlands protection and restoration. Also raptors -- like our much-loved Bald Eagle -- thanks to conservation efforts for those species. 

Infograph from 3 billion birds website

Help bring birds back:

The partners affiliated with this study have created a website with information about how individuals can help. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology also outlined big steps government and businesses could make to take action for birds which includes passing the Recovering America's Wildlife Act.

The bipartisan Recovering America's Wildlife Act, H.R.3742, is one of the long term solutions needed to provide adequate, dedicated resources for proactive wildlife conservation that will help recover bird populations (and other at-risk species).

A New York Times opinion article on the bird study specifically mentions the Recovering America's Wildlife Act as a policy initiate that can help "invigorate underfunded state and tribal wildlife habitat conservation programs."

According to the National Wildlife Federation "protecting and restoring wildlife habitat won’t just help birds: this kind of investment in our natural infrastructure will help provide clean drinking water, mitigate flooding, foster pollination, improve soil health, and safeguard our food supply. When birds are healthy, we’re all healthy."

A 2019 State of Birds report supplement notes that "habitat restoration work generates $2.50 in local economic activity for every $1 invested and boosts the outdoor recreation economy". In Texas, this industry amounts to $52.6 billion annually in consumer spending, directly contributes to 411,000 jobs, and supports many small and large businesses across the state.

Please take action today to ensure our birds keep singing, and that future generations receive the full benefits of healthy fish and wildlife populations. 

Ask your Member of Congress to help bring birds back by cosponsoring the Recovering America's Wildlife Act, H.R.3742 -- now at 125 bipartisan cosponsors nationwide.

 

 Yellow-rumped warbler, Rachel Rommel

 

What’s the Buzz: Decline of Bees, Pollinators is Bad News for Ecology and Agriculture, Yet Recovering America’s Wildlife Act Could Help

Photo, Robert Jackson - Bee on bluebonnet

Consider the humble bumblebee. Honeybees may be one of the best-known insects in our lives, yet many people may be surprised and saddened to hear that a recent study found that 11 of 21 North American bumblebee species have seen population declines of 50 percent or greater. It’s one more example of the more than 1,300 species of concern in Texas that could get much-needed help from the proposed Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA).

Bees alone pollinate 30 percent of our food sources, including apples, tomatoes, broccoli, sunflowers, strawberries, nuts and onions. The pollination service provided to U.S. agriculture by native bees has been estimated to be more than $3 billion annually. The added benefit to farmers is that pollination by native bees is essentially free, as opposed to leasing commercial honeybee hives for crop pollination.

Texas has several hundred native bee species, including bumblebees, carpenter bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees and long-horned bees. These play a critical role to maintain various ecosystems, pollinating plants that produce food for native birds, mammals and other insects. Bees are more effective pollinators than other insects, transferring pollen from flower to flower as they collect it to feed their offspring. A female bee may visit several hundred flowers a day and pollinate 5,000 blossoms in her lifetime. 

Photo, Roger K. Allen - Bumblebee on buttonbush

Other important pollinators are also at risk, such as butterflies and bats. Butterflies pollinate many wildflower species, and they are themselves food for birds, small animals and other insects. Among the best known is the monarch butterfly, whose numbers plummeted so low in recent decades that it prompted a national, multi-partner effort to plant milkweed and take other steps to save the monarch. 

Photo, TPWD - Monarch butterfly

Texas is an important state for monarch migration, because it is situated between northern breeding grounds and Mexico overwintering areas. Monarchs funnel through Texas both in the fall and the spring. During the fall, by the third week of October most have passed into Mexico.

The possibility of losing valuable native pollinator services has spurred Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and other partners to work to encourage landowners to create wildlife management plans that protect and support pollinators. The resulting publication “Management Recommendations for Native Insect Pollinators in Texas” outlines a variety of practices, most of which work for small backyards and large ranches alike. Across Texas, more people are helping pollinators with prescribed burning, native plant reseeding, installation of native pollinator plots and creation of nest sites. 

Photo, Jason Singhurst - Milkweeds, like this native Green milkweed, are a host plant for the Monarch butterfly caterpillar 

It’s yet another example of the kind of conservation work that could be scaled up and expanded with RAWA dollars.

The Recovering America's Wildlife Act won’t pass unless people who care take action. Learn how you can help #SpeakOut4Wildlife and #RecoverWildlife at our tool kit page. 

JOIN OUR MAILING LIST TO RECEIVE UPDATES ON RECOVERING AMERICA'S WILDLIFE ACT.

 Photo, Roger K. Allen - Bee on sunflower

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, H.R.3742, Would Boost Texas Bat Conservation, Eco-tourism

© Thomas Kunz, Boston University 

Texas happens to be the battiest state in the USA, home to 32 of the nation’s 47 bat species. In a state where everything’s said to be bigger, not only do we have the most kinds of bats, we also boast the world’s largest known bat colony, Bracken Cave Preserve near San Antonio, and the planet’s largest urban bat colony, Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin. Visitors from around the world flock to Texas to see the winged mammals at close to a dozen bat-viewing locations.

Fortunately, public fears of bats as scary vampires, bats flying into people’s hair, and other unfounded phobias fostered by Hollywood have largely abated in recent decades, thanks to persistent public education work by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Bat Conservation International and many others. The upshot today is more and more Texans are realizing how cool bats are, and how valuable they are for crop pollination, insect control and eco-tourism.

Photo courtesy TPWD

To cite one example, university research has shown that bat insect control is worth $1.4 billion annually for agriculture in Texas alone. This value includes reduced crop loss to insect pests, reduced spread of crop diseases, and reduced need for pesticides.

Bat benefits have broad impact, since they are often “keystone species” that are essential to some ecosystems. Without bats’ pollination and seed-dispersing services, local ecosystems could collapse as plants fail to provide food and cover for wildlife species near the base of the food chain.

Yet bats, like more than 1,300 other species of concern in Texas, need our help. Their karst cave habitats are threatened, and some bat populations are declining. White-nose Syndrome (WNS) is a fungal disease that rouses bats from hibernation, causing them to consume their winter fat stores and starve to death. The fungus was detected for the first time in Texas in early 2017 in the Panhandle, and by early 2018 it spread into Central Texas. No bats have died yet in Texas, but the syndrome has killed millions of bats in North America since it was first discovered in 2007.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide invaluable new funding and resources to help boost bat conservation, education and related eco-tourism.

The Recovering America's Wildlife Act won’t pass unless people who care take action! Learn how you can help #RecoverWildlife by using our toolkit page. 

SIGN UP FOR UPDATES AND ACTION ALERTS FOR THE RECOVERING AMERICAS WILDLIFE ACT! 

 © J. Scott Altenbach, University of New Mexico - Mexican (Brazilian) Free-tailed Bat

 

Photo courtesy Nyta Brown, TPWD

Natural Resource Professionals: Show Your Support For Recovering America's Wildlife Act!

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) is landmark proposed legislation that will change the trajectory of fish, wildlife, and habitat conservation in the United States. Gaining extraordinary momentum since its introduction, the legislation has over 105 bipartisan cosigners and thousands of official supporters. As momentum for upcoming hearings and votes builds, it is essential that Representatives hear from professional biologists, natural resource managers, professors, and researchers that this effort is strongly supported by “boots on the ground.”  

You can go on record as supporting RAWA by signing the Scientist Sign-on Letter in Support of Dedicated Conservation Funding hosted by The Wildlife Society. This letter documents the unprecedented level of support for this historic proposed legislation and will be distributed to U.S. Congressional offices.  If you’re not sure if your University or employer would endorse this advocacy, the form allows you to enter your affiliation with a professional society (ex: Society for Range Management, Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society, American Fisheries Society).  

Going on record as supporting RAWA is an important action, but it is just the first step in a long journey for the Act. If RAWA is to become law, representatives must hear a choir of support: support from constituents interested in how the act will positively impact their businesses, support from special interests in their districts, and support from people the Representatives personally know and respect. You can be a part of that important sphere of influence by engaging directly with your specific congressional Representatives and by activating your own personal and professional network. Need tools? Check out the Texas Alliance Toolkit and find your Representative, get FAQ sheets, and download advocacy fliers for the business or industry in which you might have contacts.  You can also send emails to your peer networks and the organizations to which you belong, asking them to do the same.  In some cases, it took only a few messages to convince a Member of Congress to cosponsor the bill!

RAWA has a long way to go, but with each of us preparing the way, it’s possible for this proposed bill to become law and change the way we take care of our natural resources for the next 100 years!

Questions? Contact: Kelly Conrad Simon, Kelly.simon@tpwd.texas.gov

 

 

Image: Guadalupe bass release, Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Chase Fountain

Recovering America's Wildlife Act Reaches 100 Cosponsors!

The Recovering America's Wildlife Act, H.R.3742, has already acquired 100 bipartisan national cosponsors -- including 5 Texans! 

Did you know that America lacks a dedicated funding stream to conserve at-risk fish and wildlife? The Recovering America's Wildlife Act would be the most significant wildlife funding legislation passed in over 80 years, providing a 21st century model for wildlife conservation funding. It would be a game-changer for wildlife and habitat conservation - and people - through the many benefits wildlife and nature provides us.

H.R.3742 is good for wildlife, good for business, and good for Texans.

Learn more about the Recovering America's Wildlife Act here...

Take action by using our online toolkit...

Recovering America's Wildlife Act, H.R.3742, in the news!

Please check out the following Texas news and media about the Recovering America's Wildlife Act:

Texas Standard - Recovering America's Wildlife Act Could Bring Texas Millions for At-Risk Species - July 18, 2019

Cherokee County - Conservationist explains importance of legislation to protect wildlife in Texas - July 18, 2019

KXAN Austin - Texas could gain millions in federal funding to help at-risk fish and wildlife - July 17, 2019

NBC DFW News 5 - Texas could gain millions in federal funding to help at-risk fish and wildlife - July 17, 2019

My High Plains Amarillo - Texas could gain millions in federal funding to help at-risk fish and wildlife - July 17, 2019

Leon County Today - Game-changing, bipartisan wildlife legislation introduced in Congress - July 16, 2019

 

Recovering America's Wildlife Act Introduced in Congress!

For Immediate Release – July 15, 2019

 

Game-changing, bipartisan wildlife legislation introduced in Congress

Fish and wildlife populations are under increasing pressure from habitat loss, invasive species, emerging diseases, and extreme weather events in Texas and throughout the country. As many as one-third of our nation’s species are on the brink of becoming threatened or endangered. A bill introduced in Congress last Friday seeks to reverse this trend.

House Resolution 3742, known as the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, would provide $1.3 billion annually to state initiatives, and $97.5 million to tribal nations, to support at-risk fish and wildlife populations and their habitats. The funding would come from existing revenues, and would not require any new taxes. Texas is estimated to receive more than $50 million per year.

U.S. Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) introduced the bipartisan legislation with 60 original cosponsors (including 4 Texans) and with nationwide support from conservationists, hunters, anglers, businesspeople, oil and gas company representatives, and the outdoor recreation industry.

Texas is home to more than 1,300 of the 12,000 species identified nationwide as Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Many iconic fish and wildlife are in decline, including the much-loved Texas horned lizard, Pronghorn antelope, Guadalupe bass, sea turtles, and many kinds of grassland and coastal birds. H.R. 3742 represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the course of history for these wildlife species, thus providing more regulatory certainty for businesses, land developers, the oil and gas industry, and governmental entities.

“H.R. 3742 would be a game-changer for fish and wildlife – in Texas and across the country,” said John Shepperd”, a spokesman for the Texas Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife. “The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a cost-effective way to recover fish and wildlife populations without the more reactive, “emergency room” measures of the Endangered Species Act. Once a species reaches the need to be listed as Threatened or Endangered, the process of recovery is more difficult and expensive. It is much smarter to act before these at-risk populations reach a critical point.

“Healthy fish and wildlife populations are the backbone of Texas’ fast-growing outdoor recreation economy, which includes hunting, angling, wildlife watching, kayaking, nature tourism, and hiking. Research has proven children do better in school when they have a connection to nature. Functioning ecosystems provide food, fiber, timber, pollination, and clean air and water which benefit all of us.”

Janice Bezanson of Texas Conservation Alliance notes that “the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would bring much-needed funding to Texas for projects designed to keep species off the endangered species list, without raising or creating new taxes. This legislation is good for wildlife, good for business, good for Texans.”

H.R. 3742 directs existing federal revenues to the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program, established in 2000. State wildlife agencies will distribute the money through grants and partnerships within the conservation community for habitat restoration, research, land protection, establishing conservation easements, reintroducing wildlife, and other initiatives listed in each state’s Wildlife Action Plan.

Particularly interesting for a private lands state like Texas, the funding could expand cost-sharing programs for private landowners to conduct voluntary wildlife and habitat stewardship activities on their property. It will also be used to fund educational programs and introduce more Texans to outdoor recreation opportunities.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act gained a lot of support in the last congressional session; 116 Members of Congress cosponsored the House bill, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Texas had the second highest number of cosponsors of any state, 13 total, including 6 Republicans and 7 Democrats.

The Texas Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife is a coalition of more than 160 organizations and businesses which actively supports this important legislation. Every citizen can help, by urging their Member of Congress to co-sponsor H.R. 3742.

Download PHOTOS of species and landscapes that will benefit from Recovering America’s Wildlife Act at our gallery page.

 

Significant Action Needed for Wildlife

You may have seen recent media regarding the United Nations report which estimates that one million species globally are at risk of extinction. This troubling news came from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a panel with 132 participating nations, including the United States. The report also highlights implications for humans - how species losses impact water and food security, as well as human health.

In 2018, the National Wildlife Federation, The Wildlife Society, and The American Fisheries Society reported similar declines for the United States. Nationwide, one-third of our fish & wildlife are believed to be at increased risk of extinction. Significant action is needed now to reverse this crisis.

One of the critical barriers we face in addressing these declines is the need for dedicated, adequate state wildlife conservation funding. States are currently funded at less that 5% of what they need to effectively implement their Wildlife Action Plans. These action plans are conservation "road maps" for stabilizing at-risk species populations, before they become endangered.

Soon to be reintroduced in Congress, bipartsian legislation known as the Recovering America's Wildlife Act, seeks to address these funding challenges and provide a new model for state wildlife conservation funding. Recovering America's Wildlife Act would provide $1.3 billion nationally to state-based conservation, and $97.5 million to tribal lands, without any new taxes, to fund conservation efforts for at-risk fish & wildlife across the nation.

Texans often ask, what can I do to help? Many actions, big and small, really do help. For example, growing native plants in your garden, supporting and volunteering with your favorite conservation organization (like those in our Alliance), or visiting one of our many state parks, which provide natural space for wildlife and people. Advocating for solutions to help find sustainable wildlife funding is also a meaningful and impactful way to help. Passing legislation like Recovering America's Wildlife Act would truly be transformative for fish and wildlife conservation, helping to stabilize and recover the full array of fish and wildlife in Texas, and across the country.

Stayed tuned for updates on how you can help support these efforts.

 

Monarch butterflies - Texas Parks and Wildlife

July 2019
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