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November 2010 cover image Kiss Me!

From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

At first glance, it looked as if they had taken everything but the rocks. What little topsoil there was appeared to be mostly gone. There should have been plenty of grass and forbs in the pasture. There wasn’t. And, other than the scattered live oaks that had been left, there was hardly any evidence of any woody plants.

In the midst of it all, a rather gaunt white-tailed doe was searching mightily amid the rocks for something to eat. It was early afternoon on that hot August day, not exactly a prime foraging time for most wildlife.

All in all, the gently rolling pasture west of Kerrville had been pretty well denuded. What should have been a diverse Hill Country setting, replete with a broad mix of trees, shrubs, grass and forbs, had been transformed into something of a biological desert. The land’s rawness stood in stark contrast to the ranch’s shiny new perimeter fences, caliche roads and carefully sculpted rock entrance.

The culprit was not what one might expect. The ranch had not been overgrazed by domestic sheep, goats, cattle or exotic wildlife. No catastrophic fire had raged through the ranch. It had not been cleared for a new subdivision. And the land was not reeling from a protracted drought.

The ranch (and the landowner) was simply suffering from some bad advice. Someone had probably told the new landowner to bulldoze all the cedar and surrounding vegetation. In its place would spring up rich stands of grass, perhaps stirrup-high, just like in the old days, and an aesthetically pleasing park-like savannah. With all the pesky cedar gone, rain would penetrate more easily into the below-ground aquifer, and latent springs might even come bubbling forth out of the rocky draw. Wildlife of all kinds would suddenly flourish …

Alas, it is a little more complicated than that.

Before the bulldozing, the ranch owner could have benefited from a trip to the Kerr Wildlife Management Area near Hunt to see firsthand what the fruits of good stewardship can bring. While there, he would have observed how different pastures with varying soil types, vegetation and topographic features responded to different habitat management treatments over time. He would have learned about such tools as prescribed fire, rotational grazing, water enhancement, selective brush clearing and management of livestock and wildlife in appropriate densities.

In short, he would have learned the basic tenets of rangeland health and how his goals for his ranch could be achieved with the right mix of management tools, timing and persistence.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department stewards 51 such wildlife management areas (WMAs) around the state. They are found in ecological settings from the Pineywoods to the Rolling Plains to the sky islands of West Texas to the Brush Country and to the Gulf Coastal Plains. The WMAs are places of biological research, experimentation and innovation as well as demonstration. Our biologists and technicians are trained in wildlife biology, ecology and range management. As part of their jobs, they share with other landowners, land managers and interested parties what they have learned while managing the lands and waters under their purview.

Texas’ WMAs occupy an important niche in the state’s system of public lands. To learn more about them, visit our website at (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us)and look up wildlife management areas.

Thanks for caring about Texas’ wild things and wild places. We need your help in taking care of them.

 

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