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From the Pen of Robert L. Cook

If you hang around Parks and Wildlife very much you’ll hear a lot about “exotics,” and most frequently, we’ll be worrying about exotic plants and animals and their potential negative impact on the native plant and animal species of Texas. Most of the time, you’d walk away with the impression that our wildlife and fisheries staff and many of our constituents who hunt and fish flat out do not like exotics.

On the other hand, let’s be honest, some “exotics” have proven to be “OK” if you just manage them. For example, we do not want walking catfish, green tree snakes or zebra mussels in Texas, but we love our Florida bass, blackbuck antelope (India) and ring-necked pheasant (Asia).

Some big game hunters and game biologists worry about the spread of axis deer, fallow deer, sika deer and the dozens of species of big game animals introduced into Texas decades ago from Europe, Asia and Africa. However, I learned long ago that these free-ranging populations of wild animals can be properly managed on our rangelands and they can be economically profitable. They are another species that grazes on the natural forage, and, therefore, you must control and manage their numbers just like our domestic cows, sheep and goats, which, by the way, you might recall are also “exotics” that most of us use and benefit from.

Sometimes the good, the bad and the ugly distinction between “exotics” and “natives” becomes quite blurred. You may recall that the nutria, an exotic from South America, was introduced in the southeastern states by folks with good intentions, but most of us would agree today that this animal has become a nuisance. Just about everybody would support sending the feral hog, English sparrow, Africanized bee and fire ant back to where they came from, but talk about ridding the state of rainbow trout, red fox or walleye, and you’ll have a fight on your hands.

Some of the most serious concerns arise over the impact of introduced plants. Fishermen and fisheries biologists in Texas are truly concerned about the recent spread of giant salvinia, a water plant that can double in size and area every two weeks. Lake residents, river authorities and municipal water providers are struggling in several areas of the state to control an introduced water plant called hydrilla, which can literally take over the surface of a lake, clog the boat docks and the swimming areas and slow the flow of water to the point of causing water to back up into homes and areas never before flooded. Our land and water managers are conducting similar battles to control and manage the spread of the water hyacinth and the Chinese tallow tree.

Some exotics “introduce” themselves into Texas. Such as the armadillo, which arrived in Texas about 150 years ago, the cattle egret, which probably blew in from Africa in the 1920s, and, over the last couple of decades, the white-winged dove, which has spread into Central and North Texas from Mexico and Central America. Some folks think it is the climate change, or maybe the ozone layer. Personally, I think, like the most problematic exotic, they probably just like outdoor Texas and they got here as fast as they could.

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