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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 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! 

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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