Archive for the 'Wildlife' Category

The State Bighorn Sheep in Texas

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019
Bighorn Sheep release

Bighorn Sheep release

This is Passport to Texas

We almost lost the [Desert] Bighorn Sheep from the American landscape. What was the cause of such decline?

Primarily the introduction of domestic sheep and goats into Bighorn habitat. Diseases that domestic sheep and goats had that Bighorns had not been exposed to. Net wire fencing has also been associated domestic sheep and goat industry that prevented Bighorn movement. And then unregulated hunting.

Froylan Hernandez is Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Desert Bighorn program leader. He is one of many individuals tasked with returning Bighorn to their native habitat and things are going well.

So what we are doing now is translocating free ranging animals into unpopulated habitats… we’ve been able to restore sheep to three mountain ranges that haven’t seen Bighorns in over 60 years in the last 8-10 years.

Bighorn still face many challenges, but the future looks bright.

Luckily we don’t have the problems that you see in other states as far as disease goes. And so we are not immune to that but we certainly don’t have those problems. But yeah, I’m very hopeful.

Things are looking good for Bighorn sheep populations but there is a lot of work still left to restore balance back to our Texas landscapes.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

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

Preparing Your Spring Turkey for the Table

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019
wild turkey

Wild turkey ready for the table. Image: Field to Table Cookbook, Susan Ebert.

This is Passport to Texas

If you harvest a bird during the 2019 spring turkey season, don’t wait until Thanksgiving to eat it. Yet, whenever you prepare it, be sure to save their built-in “flavor packet”.

Wild turkeys have this huge fatty deposit at the top of the chest and the base of their neck; it’s called the breast sponge.

Susan Ebert is author of The Field to Table Cookbook. She says gobblers develop this fat layer to sustain them during mating season and it can account for up to 10 percent of the bird’s body weight.

It’s very weird looking tissue. And some people will just cut it off and throw it away, and I say, oh no…no…no. Leave that breast sponge on the turkey’s breast. Because, what you have is a built-in fat blanket to keep that meat moist while it’s cooking. It will shrink substantially during the cooking process. You can discard it afterwards, before you start carving.

We have a longer segment on harvesting and preparing wild turkey with Susan Ebert, as well as a segment on turkey restoration and another on how to call turkey for hunting or nature watching, and on our podcast Under the Texas Sky.

It’s the one called “Talking Turkey”.

The podcast is available on spotify, iTunes and other places where podcasts roam.

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

Value of Fire on Turkey Habitat

Thursday, April 18th, 2019

Working on a prescribed burn.

This is Passport to Texas

We welcome rain in Texas as it promotes lush vegetative growth. Yet, in the absence of fire, such growth can become a problem.

The lack of fire on the landscape has been a big issue. Especially in East Texas, but across the state. We’re seeing a lot of our habitat go from those grasslands to being more dominated by woody vegetation.

Jason Hardin, Turkey Program Leader at Texas Parks and Wildlife, says woody vegetation with an open understory is good turkey habitat.

A turkey’s main defense is its eyesight. Its sense of smell isn’t much better than ours; it’s sense of hearing is good—but it’s not going to keep them alive. So, their vision is most critical for them. So, they need to be able to see where they’re going. If they can’t see through it and move through it easily, it’s not good habitat.

Fire creates an open understory, which affords usable space for turkey, especially in rainy East Texas.

When you see forty, fifty, sixty inches of rainfall a year—you’re going to get a lot of rapid growth on that woody cover. So, burning those forests is essential. We don’t have a fire culture in Texas; people know it’s important, but they’re scared of it. So, we’re trying to provide funding where we can, and work with partners to try and get fire on the ground with certified prescribed burn bosses doing that fire—some of our staff as well—to educate those landowners. And try to—as much as we can—begin to develop a culture that if they’re not willing to burn it themselves, at least they can support fire as a management tool.

The Wildlife Restoration Program Supports our Series.

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

Habitat and Turkey Restoration

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019
A fine looking turkey gobbler.

A gobbler in its natural habitat.

This is Passport to Texas

Texas has three sub-species of Turkey: the Rio Grande is the most abundant, followed by the Eastern and then by the Merriam. Without good habitat, none will thrive.

They have to have good structural cover.

Jason Hardin, Turkey Program Leader at TPW, says this may include low-growing, woody cover for nesting.

It provides like an umbrella that they sit underneath to protect from avian predators and then also weather elements. And then also, grasses, weeds, forbes growing up to provide vertical cover.

Think of woody cover as you would a deer blind: you can see out, but nothing sees in. This feature is critical when hens are on nests and raising poults. The biggest threat to good turkey recruitment (nest success and poult survival) overall is weather.

Because that nesting rate, re-nesting rate, poult survival—all that’s driven essentially by moisture and the climate. So, if we have three years of drought, you’re going to see that Rio Grande type turkey population begin to decline. So, it’s something we try to pay attention to. And over a long term—five ten years—is there something beyond weather that’s causing a shift in that population.

In addition, the lack of fire to burn out dense understory growth from an abundance of rain, impacts Eastern turkey habitat. The value of fire when managing habitat—that’s tomorrow.

The Wildlife Restoration Program Supports our Series.

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

Wild Turkeys Making Comeback

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019
Wild turkey in Palo Duro

Wild turkey in Palo Duro

This is Passport to Texas

Unregulated hunting and loss of habitat nearly caused Turkeys to disappear from Texas. Jason Hardin, Turkey Program Leader at TPW, says thanks to hunter and landowner support, bag limits and a restocking program, they’re making a comeback.

In Texas, we’ve been working hard since the 1930s and 40s to put turkeys back on the landscape in Texas. We’ve been tremendously successful with the Rio Grande—500 to 600-thousand birds in the state today. But with the Eastern sub-species, we haven’t been as successful.

Nevertheless, TPW and its partners continued eastern turkey restoration efforts in the state.

In 1979, we brought our first eastern wild turkeys over from Louisiana—put them in Tyler County—they did pretty good. In 1987, we worked with the National Wild Turkey Federation, their Making Tracks program. We started working with lots of states, bringing turkeys into east Texas. Using what we referred to at the time, using a block stocking approach.

That involved releasing 15 – 20 birds at five to 10 locations in a county; they’d work in that county for two years, and then move to the next.

During the latter part of that block stocking era—mid-nineties, Dr. Raul Lopez was doing some research, and he found that we were doing two things that he thought we could improve on: we could put larger number of birds on the ground—increase that up to 70 or 80 [birds]; he referred to it as super stocking.

The second area for improvement was the habitat into which they released the birds. More on that tomorrow.

The Wildlife Restoration Program Supports our Series.

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

NOTE: Find our 30 minute podcast on turkey conservation, turkey calling and cooking wild turkey when you visit Under the Texas Sky.org