posted on September 24, 2004 00:00
Rural landowners targeted
Seminars for managing wildlife, private property are scheduled
By SHANNON TOMPKINS
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
If Texas is to have thriving, healthy and abundant wildlife, private landowners stand to play perhaps the most crucial role. The huge majority of the state — conventional wisdom says 95 percent or more — is in private hands. So no matter what state and federal agencies do on the slivers of property they control, the ultimate fate of Texas wildlife will be decided by what happens on those private tracts.
Natural resource managers and conservation organizations of every stripe and point of view understand this.
"Educating landowners on how to best manage their land, giving them the tools they need to make it work and showing them the positives is one of the best things we can do to maintain and improve wildlife habitat in this state," said Billy Higginbotham, fisheries and wildlife specialist for the Texas Cooperative Extension, a public education arm of Texas A&M.
That message has been aimed for years at holders of large tracts of land — farmers and ranchers, mostly.
But the demographics of land ownership in Texas has undergone a huge change over the past couple of decades. Large tracts of rural land are being broken up.
Today, most purchases of rural land are made by urban and suburban residents looking for their "place in the county."
Most wildlife managers and conservation groups increasingly target their efforts at these private landowners.
Most new landowners are interested in making their property more attractive to wildlife.
Some of that is pure economics. Leasing hunting and/or fishing access rights to private tracts is a seller's market in Texas. But much of the desire to improve wildlife and fish habitats is a matter of quality of life and a desire to be good stewards.
But most of these new landowners have no idea how to best provide quality habitat for wildlife, how to manage what they have or where to go to find answers to questions.
So instead of waiting for the landowners to come to them, wildlife managers and conservation groups are bringing their message to the landowners.
Two wildlife-related seminars aimed at Houston-area owners of rural property are scheduled here over the next few weeks.
The first is a two-evening wildlife management workshop presented by Texas Cooperative Extension.
The workshop, set for Oct. 5-6 at the Houston Farm and Ranch Club, will cover topics including wildlife management techniques, using remote-sensing cameras in wildlife management, pond management and legal and economic considerations.
One of Higginbotham's presentations, "Feral Hogs — The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" should be particularly popular. Feral hogs have become a major problem in much of Texas, and can do considerable damage to wildlife and wildlife habitat.
The workshop is scheduled to start at 5:30 each evening and continue to about 9:30.
Workshop agenda and registration forms are available at www.peopleware.net/1542.
Directions to Houston Farm and Ranch Club can be found at www.hfrc.org.
More workshop information is available from Doug Smith, Harris County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, at 281-855-5600.
The second landowner-oriented education effort is an all-day Quail Workshop set for 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Oct. 15 at Westside Sporting Grounds near Katy.
Quail in decline
The list of organizations sponsoring the quail seminar reflects the wide area of concern over the accelerating decline of quail and other birds dependent on healthy and abundant grasslands.
The Katy Prairie Conservancy, Texas Wildlife Association, Audubon Texas, Texas Cooperative Extension Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service are jointly sponsoring the effort.
Topics scheduled to be addressed and discussed include quail biology and management, grassland restoration, habitat fragmentation, economic incentive programs for landowners managing their land for wildlife, plus the wide-ranging, ambitious Texas Quail Plan and Project Prairie Bird.
More information on the Quail Workshop is available by contacting the Katy Prairie Conservancy at 936-931-5564 or Tamara Trail with Texas Wildlife Association at 800-839-9453.