Archive for the 'Conservation' Category

Restoring the Playa Lakes

Friday, August 4th, 2017
Playa Lakes, Photo: Kevin Kraai, TPDW

Playa Lakes, Photo: Kevin Kraai, TPDW

This is Passport to Texas

Playa lakes are shallow clay basins bordered by native grasses that depend on rainfall to fill them. Panhandle playas provide a direct link for rainwater to reach the Ogallala Aquifer, and as stopovers for migrating waterfowl.

[But] land use has altered playas in many different ways. Some playas are completely barren and farmed through – which is one issue.

Biologist, Don Kahl says an initiative started in 2014 by a coalition of organizations is returning functionality to altered playas.

We’re targeting the playas that have a grass buffer around them – that helps with that primary filtering – and playas that have pits that were dug into them. These pits typically aren’t used anymore. They were used in irrigation practices back in the fifties. The easiest way to fix a playa that’s pitted is basically to go back in and put the dirt back into the hole to seal off that clay layer.

Deep pits dug into playas force rainwater into limited areas, greatly reducing a basin’s usefulness. But by backfilling the manmade pits…

It’s going to: 1) help reestablish the filtering mechanism [for the aquifer], and 2) instead of all that water collecting in a deep pit in the middle, we’re going to spread that water back across the playa to create that shallow water habitat that we want for waterfowl.

The Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program supports our series and funds wildlife surveys throughout Texas.

That’s our show for today… For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti

Ephemeral Panhandle Wetlands

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017
Playa lakes attract waterfowl.

Playa lakes attract waterfowl.

This is Passport to Texas

Something that is ephemeral is random, and exists for a short time, such as the playa lakes in Texas’ High Plains.

On average, playas are only wet one out of every ten years. And as we go from one side of the panhandle to the other, from west to east, our rainfall totals increase. So, the likelihood of a playa being went increases as you go further east. On the western side of the panhandle, along the New Mexico border, it could be tens of years between wet spells for these playas.

Biologist Don Kahl says playas are the most direct link for rainfall to reach the Ogallala Aquifer. Yet, their importance goes further yet.

There’s numerous plant species that can be found [around playas] – upwards to 350 plant species. And up to a couple hundred different bird species can be found around playas. So, they’re very useful, especially in the high plains landscape.

Playa lakes are valuable to migrating waterfowl, too.

It’s a very productive area for waterfowl whenever we do have the rain. Our mid-winter surveys in 2017, which were conducted this past January, set an all-time high for our estimate of the number of ducks for the High Plains of Texas, at about 1.4 million ducks in the Panhandle. So, this past year was good evidence of just how productive it can be for waterfowl.

The Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program supports our series and funds wildlife surveys throughout Texas.

That’s our show for today… For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti

Panhandle Playas and the Ogallala Aquifer

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017
Playas are the most direct route for water to reach the Ogallala Aquifer.

Playas are the most direct route for water to reach the Ogallala Aquifer.

This is Passport to Texas

A playa lake is a natural landscape feature of the vast, flat expanse of the Great Plains and Texas High Plains.

Really, what it is, is a low spot where rainwater collects.

More than a mere low spot, Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Don Kahl says Texas playas are ephemeral wetlands, and vital recharge points for the Ogallala Aquifer.

They’re really the most direct link between rainwater or rainfall to the Ogallala Aquifer below. The amount of water going into the aquifer is from 10 to 100 times greater in a playa basin as compared to surrounding soils or surrounding upland areas.

Kahl calls playas “self-contained watersheds”, each playa is the center collection point of runoff from surrounding uplands. Most playas only exist for a brief time after it rains. Clay soil lines the bottoms of these shallow basins permitting the rainwater and runoff to collect and slowly filter into the aquifer below.

In combination with a healthy playa, having a grass buffer around it helps to filter out sediments and some of the contaminants running off of neighboring fields. You also get a secondary cleaning with the clay layer in the basin, helping to filter out other contaminants and nitrates as the water passes down into the aquifer.

Recharge rates are slow, and it takes years for rainwater to pass from playas, through soil, and into the aquifer.

The Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration program supports our series and funds diverse conservation projects throughout Texas.

That’s our show for today… For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti

Beach Makeover

Thursday, July 27th, 2017
Some makeovers just take heavier equipment than others.

Some makeovers just take heavier equipment than others.

This is Passport to Texas

People get makeovers to feel better about themselves. But when the beach at McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge got a makeover recently, it was to bring in sand to restore dunes to protect its freshwater marsh ecosystem.

The lack of a sand dune has allowed salt water to move up inside the marsh, here. And what we have now, with no dune, the water’s stacked and now it’s finding a way back out and eroding the bank here even more.

Refuge manager, Doug Head.

McFaddin Refuge is a 60,000 acre national wildlife refuge. Not only do we provide great hunting habitat, but we also provide sanctuaries for migratory birds that are moving south for the winter or coming back across the Gulf of Mexico for the springtime. [03 ambience]

Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008 wiped out McFaddin’s sand dunes, leaving miles of fragile marsh habitat unprotected. Texas General Land office Project Manager, Kelly Brooks.

So, we have freshwater wetlands right on top of beach. So now anytime we have any kind of tidal surges, they create wash over events into the marshes.

The reconstructed dunes will serve to protect the marsh at McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge from saltwater infiltration and degradation.

The Sport Fish restoration program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Historic Bison at Caprock Canyons State Park

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017
Bison

Members of the Texas State Bison Herd at Caprock Canyons State Park

This is Passport to Texas

History walks on four legs at Caprock Canyons State Park. It’s where descendants of southern plains bison, from a herd started by rancher Charles Goodnight, roam free.

It’s the official bison herd of the State of Texas. It’s a herd started by Charles Goodnight back in 1878; these animals are direct descendants of those that he captured in the wild right here in this area.

Donald Beard is park superintendent.

These are the last true remaining example of the southern plains bison. Animals that were captured by him [Goodnight] in these canyons. Kept in these canyons and never had any influence from any other animals [bison] outside of this area. So, their genetics are basically the same as they were back in the 1870s.

No fences separate visitors to Caprock Canyons State Park from the approximately 150-plus bison on site.

Awe, it’s amazing. You have to wait for them to cross the road. They can wander through your campsite. Go down to the lake while you’re fishing and take a drink. They’re just like any other wild animal in the park. You can experience them as they were – not behind a fence in an exhibition.

September 23 the 7th Texas State Bison Music Fest takes place in Quitaque. Find the music lineup and ticket information at bisonfest.com. Money raised funds bison research and conservation.

That’s our show for today… For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti