Sunday

Wild About Carter Smith

 Texas’ beloved protector of the outdoors moves on after leading TPWD for 15 years. 


“Thank you for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you more than ever.”


If any words can bring to life the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department mission, it’s this simple statement that Executive Director Carter Smith uses to close many speeches and writings. As the Yale-educated and conservation-steeped Texas native closes out his 15-year tenure, Smith’s legions of admirers always first mention his gift of gab.

Carter’s At Issue columns were a staple of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine for years, thoughtful essays that conjured up his love for Texas with words that could serve well as lyrics for a future state anthem. He poured out his passion like glistening cream gravy over a chicken-fried steak. Pick any installment to find inspiration, like this gem he once penned about the Katy Prairie, in his typically ardent narrative style. 

“What I saw back then was simply stunning: tens of thousands of ducks and geese congregating on remote roost ponds; giant kettles of hawks migrating through in the fall and spring; shorebirds and wading birds too numerous to count; vast flocks of sandhill cranes foraging on wheat and ryegrass fields; bald eagles perched around the rice fields and surrounding wetlands, consuming errant ducks and geese; bunches of grassland birds darting around the remnant prairies and a whole lot more.”


To lead the state’s “outdoors” agency in its many vital programs, Carter had to walk the walk, not just spout inspiring superlatives. Under his charismatic leadership, Texans enjoy the fruits of the agency’s programs to restore pronghorns and Guadalupe bass, the assurance of assistance during times of severe weather, new parklands to explore and so much more. 

It’s not hard to see how Carter’s early life shaped him into a leader in Texas conservation. A seventh-generation Texas landowner who romped around native ranchlands with a family who prioritizes its love of the land, overhearing conversations with visiting conservationists like David Bamberger, hunting and fishing and exploring. He credits early daydreaming over the stories in Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine as a real inspiration. His grandmother started his subscription at age 8.

“I’d treasure the magazine when it would come in the mailbox — I’d just hoard it, not let anybody else in the family look at it,” he recalls. “I’d thumb through those amazing pictures and stories, and they would take me to some far corner of our state, some place that I wanted to go and see and explore and do.” 

During his Yale days, Texas-fish-out-of-water Carter surreptitiously slipped issues of his favorite magazine into the shelves of the hallowed Ivy League library, secretly smiling when he saw it later in the hands of classmates. 

Carter’s early professional years included an internship at TPWD and work at conservation non-profits, eventually landing his dream job as TPWD executive director at age 39. It didn’t take him long to win the hearts of colleagues who sensed his authentic passion and caring, smiling indulgently at his half-joking promises of “extra sunrises and sunsets” for bonuses, the payoff of heartfelt work.

“Working alongside Carter Smith for the last five years, I can say without reservation that he is one of the finest executive directors to ever run the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department,” says Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Chairman Arch “Beaver” Aplin III. “He has stewarded the state and our resources with vision and integrity. In an agency full of incredible individuals, he has been an inspiring leader. There is no replacing Carter Smith.”

As Carter passes the torch to the next era of TPWD conservation leaders, let’s take a moment to see how the agency’s thrived during the challenges of the past 15 years under his leadership. 



Crisis Response 

Through wildfire and prolonged drought, public health crises and dramatic weather events, Smith has led game wardens, park staff and wildlife professionals in helping the state recover.

February of 2021 brought Winter Storm Uri’s power blackouts, wildlife kills, food/water shortages and a plethora of busted pipes at TPWD facilities. Dedicated staff protected facilities and counted wildlife fatalities despite the conditions, and subsequent measures helped affected species recover to pre-storm levels.

Three Texas Parks and Wildlife Department employees died in a helicopter crash on August 8, 2020, at Black Gap Wildlife Management Area while conducting aerial surveys for desert bighorn sheep. Carter’s was the voice of solace that soothed the pain and inspired the TPWD team to carry on the work of their fallen friends.

“I have always said that TPWD shines the brightest when times are the darkest,” he reminded grieving colleagues. 

But perhaps no unforeseen emergency tested the agency more than the resulting destruction when Hurricane Harvey pointed its deadly eyewall at Port Aransas and Rockport in 2017. Game wardens were everywhere, rescuing people and pets, distributing hope and supplies, some continuing to work while their own families were displaced by the storm surge.

When emergency shelters overflowed, 62 Texas state parks opened their gates wide to offer a temporary home to evacuees for the month of September. Fees were waived for more than 8,000 displaced Texans, who enjoyed the beautiful scenery and helpful hospitality they found there.

“Hurricane Harvey forever changed the lives of many Texas Game Wardens and their TPWD family,” says Colonel Chad Jones, a new major with less than 6 months on the coast when the storm hit. “Carter rallied around me and Texas Game Wardens, standing tall and fast as a beacon to be followed throughout the storm. His mentorship and unwavering commitment to excellence throughout the devastating losses along the Texas Coast is a reminder of what leadership truly means. I hope to live up to that example every day.” 




Wildlife Conservation 

In a state where most land is privately owned, wildlife conservation depends on adroit land acquisition in Texas’ diverse ecoregions. Wildlife management areas like the recent Powderhorn Ranch, Yoakum Dunes and Roger Fawcett properties represent unique wildlife resources and opportunities, with endowments that support long-term conservation and management of public lands in Texas.

“Carter has always been supportive of sound science and research activities, which has led to better resource management across Texas,” says John Silovsky, Wildlife Division director.

Any success in natural resource management and stewardship also requires the enthusiastic participation of engaged people: Texas landowners, the agency’s many partner organizations and TPWD staff.  

“Certainly, one of Carter’s most successful attributes that has advanced conservation in Texas is his ability to relate to all people,” Silovsky says. “Carter has a big heart — he’s always tried to take care of his staff and do his absolute best for the landowners of Texas.” 

It took two legislative sessions’ worth of effort for TPWD to gain authorization to charge a fee for participation in the Managed Lands Deer Program. That may not sound like a big deal, but the resulting income funded 13 additional wildlife biologists to better address the technical guidance requests of landowners and wildlife enthusiasts across the state. 

“With Carter’s leadership and persistence, this was one of the most impactful advancements of conservation delivery for the landowners of Texas,” Silovsky says.

All TPWD staff implementing the use of prescribed fire are now required to meet the standards of National Wildfire Coordinating Group qualification (training, experience and physical fitness). This new standard promoted inter-divisional cooperation on fire management efforts and facilitated a new level of cooperation with external partners such as the Texas A&M Forest Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

“Carter has long recognized the important role of fire as a tool in managing Texas wildlife and their habitats, as well as its role in soil and water conservation.”  

The percentage of Texans who consider themselves hunters continues to decline. Forty percent of license buyers only purchase a hunting license once every five years. TPWD launched its Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation (R3) program, part of a national initiative, in 2021, after many months of pre-planning, and hired two R3 coordinators.

“Through Carter’s guidance and leadership, we now have two dedicated individuals who wake up every day thinking strategically and implementing ways we can better recruit, retain and reactivate outdoor enthusiasts,” Silovsky says. “This emphasis will help to ensure that the outdoor heritage we all hold dearly will continue.”


Fishing Opportunities

Smith’s leadership in increasing freshwater fishing opportunities proved to be particularly beneficial when Texans turned to nature during the pandemic. Fishery production and stocking keep great catches at the end of anglers’ hooks, while new access areas bring the fun closer to home.

Every Texas angler, from the most casual Sunday afternoon line-dangler to the most competitive largemouth bass fanatic, has benefitted from the results. Dozens of projects are in various stages of completion, with new ones popping up right behind.

The Habitat and Angler Access Program restores and enhances freshwater fish habitats and improves and expands bank and shoreline-based angler access on public creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes throughout the state. The River Access and Conservation Areas program, in partnership with participating landowners, is helping paddlers and anglers access rivers across the state. The new John D. Parker East Texas Fish Hatchery opened in 2012, enhancing Texas’ production capacity for Florida largemouth bass and channel catfish.

“Through a public-private partnership with the TPW Foundation and Toyota, we expanded angler participation and engagement with a rebranded and improved Toyota ShareLunker Program in 2018,” says Inland Fisheries Director Craig Bonds, noting that Carter was key in helping establish the initial relationships with Gulf States Toyota. “This resulted in advances in bass genetic capabilities and the total conversion of Florida largemouth bass hatchery broodfish to direct offspring of ShareLunker fish. All Florida largemouth bass fingerlings stocked into Texas waters in 2022 were products of the ShareLunker Program.”

Fish care during bass fishing tournaments took a huge conservation step forward with the adoption of the catch-weigh-immediate-release model, first practiced at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic and then its successor events as part of the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest. This tournament model revolutionized fish care and has now been adopted by Major League Fishing competitions and a growing number of amateur events. 

During Carter’s tenure, TPWD Inland Fisheries celebrated 30 years of Guadalupe Bass conservation efforts. The division advanced science on huge alligator gar and implemented conservation measures to sustain unique fishing opportunities that draw enthusiasts from around the world. Texas remains the last stronghold for opportunities to pursue these prehistoric fish.

“Carter staunchly supported Inland Fisheries staffs’ efforts to continuously strive for novel and effective means to provide access to a broad menu of quality fishing opportunities across lakes, rivers, and neighborhood ponds in Texas,” Bonds says. “He consistently championed our scientific approaches to fisheries management and aquatic stewardship. His wise counsel, encouragement, and friendship will be dearly missed.” 


New State Parks 

“When you think about conservation and outdoor recreation in Texas, there is no greater legacy than leaving more open space for future generations of Texans to enjoy — it is central to the mission of Texas Parks and Wildlife,” says Rodney Franklin, Texas State Parks director. “If you made a list of people who have embodied that mission, protected our heritage, and left an indelible mark on outdoor recreation, Carter Smith is right at the top.”

As with other monumental achievements over the past 15 years, there’s not enough room to discuss all the advances in parkland acquisition and conservation, but looming openings of two epic state parks serve as apt examples: Powderhorn State Park (and Wildlife Management Area) down in the Coastal Bend and Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, a short drive from Dallas/Fort Worth. These parks and those conserved during the past century benefit the public health and the economy of this state. 

Park enhancements — including Dark Skies designations, historic and cultural preservation, natural resource restoration, modernized business/reservations systems, along with increased interpretation and environmental equality — mark Carter’s era of leadership. None of that would be possible without the dedication of sporting goods sales tax revenue in 2015 and partnerships with the private sector and non-profits, especially the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation.

Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, 75 miles west of Fort Worth, surrounds 91-acre Tucker Lake, site of the recent announcement of the upcoming State Park 100 Years celebration in 2023. Palo Pinto will have a soft opening in late 2023, the first state park in North Texas in two decades. TPWF raised the private funds for the purchase and will build the park facilities.

The Foundation donated the majority of the 17,351-acre Powderhorn Ranch (near Port O’Connor) to TPWD for a wildlife management area in late 2018. The remainder was donated last year for a future state park at the site. This pristine and irreplaceable land, filled with recreational and conservational opportunities, is now a significant public asset for all Texans.

“These two (of many) examples will provide hunting, fishing, trails, paddling and nature watching opportunities for scores of Texas for years to come,” Franklin says. “In so many ways, Carter has strengthened the future of state parks — I am beyond grateful for it.”  





 







Yoskowitz Succeeds Smith as TPWD Chief
David Yoskowitz became the new TPWD executive director on Nov. 15. Learn more about him in the upcoming Jan/Feb 2023 issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. 


My Next Chapter in the Texas Outdoors

The Final Installment of At Issue by Carter Smith


The first sip of coffee hadn’t quite reached my lips when Ryland came bounding into the kitchen. Bedecked in full camouflage from head to toe — cap, boots and all — he left no doubt he was ready for the deer blind.   

“It’s going to be a great morning, Dad!” he said with conviction. 

“How do you know?” I teased him.  

“Trust me, Dad, just trust me. You’ll see.”

His unbridled enthusiasm was infectious, for sure. It also roused memories from my own boyhood, when sleeping before a fishing, hunting or camping trip or some other outdoors-related adventure was a case study in lost causes.




I harkened back to a deer hunt when I was 9 or so, about young Ryland’s vintage. It was a bitterly cold December morning, reeling from a bruiser of an arctic front that had pushed through southern Gonzales County earlier that night. With sleet in the air and a stiff north wind to boot, it really wasn’t the best time to climb up in a tree stand. Dad gave us both a graceful exit, promising to take me again soon, like when the temperatures were tolerable. I wasn’t having any of it. We were going hunting.

Our perch was a couple of two-by-fours nailed up in an old bull mesquite sitting at the edge of an oat patch. The deer loved that winter greenery, and I had grand aspirations of a big buck hitting the ground that morning. 

As it turned out, I got something far greater instead. 

You see, the deer didn’t really want any part of that rip-roaring wind and subfreezing temperature. Huddled up next to Dad (with my bright red Mickey Mouse sleeping bag), I was thinking about crying “uncle” when I caught a movement at the edge of the brush. I almost fell out of the tree when a big tom bobcat walked up. He sat right down on his haunches about 30-40 yards from our tree stand and stared at us. Every hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. 

It was a great morning. And the hook of the outdoors had been firmly set.       

That all seems a bit surreal now as I reflect on another time in my life with the outdoors, albeit professionally. It was the fall of 2007. I needed a nudge to throw my proverbial hat into the ring to be considered as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s next executive director. My predecessor Bob Cook told me emphatically it would be the best job I would ever have. Andy Sansom, Bob’s predecessor, said pretty much the same thing, as did the late Dickie Travis, the director before Andy.  

Fifteen years later, I can say without hesitation — they were absolutely right. But, as they also readily knew, the job really isn’t a job. It is a privilege, one inarguably without measure or equal.        

How does one begin to place a value on working for a department whose 3,000-plus men and women devote their entire professional careers in service to a mission that results in people having great mornings in the Texas outdoors? 

Come the end of January 2023, I will be moving on to the next chapter of life and work. The separation disorder will kick in immediately, I know that. 

Thankfully, TPWD won’t miss a beat as our new director, David Yoskowitz, takes over the reins. David is scientist-smart, thoughtful, strategic, engaging, technically savvy and an avowed outdoorsman. He’ll hit the ground running. 

Meanwhile, I’ll have ample time to reflect upon just what a privilege serving in this role has been to me, personally and professionally.  

I grew up captivated by the places, people, stories and pictures within the pages of this very magazine. The subscription was given to me at the ripe old age of 8, courtesy of my grandmother, who recognized my love affair with all things outdoors. It was the source material for my very first book report, a piece about the work to save the ocelot in deep South Texas. 

Our Gonzales County game warden and area wildlife biologists were local role models and sources of advice and assistance to our family at the ranch. The Outdoor Annual was considered sacrosanct in our home and at deer camp. Palmetto State Park was the place to go and gather with family and friends. The boat ramp at Goose Island was the summer portal into the trout- and redfish-rich bays of the glorious Texas coast. 

In short, TPWD was a vital part of my upbringing, and whether the wardens and biologists and magazine and state park staff ever knew it or not, they helped imbue in me a deep and enduring respect for all things land, water, fish, wildlife, parks, stewardship, conservation and the outdoors. Stewardship takes stewards, as Aldo Leopold famously reminded us. That’s what TPWD does best — steward our fish and game and parks, as well as stoke the fires of the outdoors inside us all.

As I pen this final letter in the pages of a magazine that to this day inspires in me a fierce love of all things Texas, my hope is that I have been able to give back to something that has given so much to me — a calling, a mission, a deep sense of fulfillment and a team of colleagues I care deeply about.  

Be assured, I’ll have no shortage of memories to take with me. The men and women of this department have done a lot of good for our home ground — the Guadalupe bass the biologists have put back in the rivers, the bighorns on the mountains, the turkeys in the woods and the trout in the bays; the wildlife and lands protected by our game wardens who have collared poachers and gillnetters, trespassers and smugglers; the thousands of sea turtles our team saved during the big freeze and the thousands of people they rescued during the big floods; the resilience they displayed in the fires of Bastrop and through the hurricane forever known as Harvey; the new parks and wildlife areas they protected like the wind-sculpted oaks and sweeping coastal marshes of Powderhorn and the pristine, impossibly clear and clean waters of the Devils; the new paddling trails they put in on the Neches and the hiking/biking trails out in Big Bend; all the smiling faces they helped generate through the Texas Youth Hunting, Vamos a Pescar, Archery in Schools and Texas Outdoor Family programs; the dedicated private landowners they’ve helped become Lone Star Land Stewards; the restoration of places like Salt Bayou and the recovery of the Bahia Grande. 

And, certainly, that glorious day in 2019 when it seemed all of Texas showed up and voted to permanently fund their state parks. 

For sure, it hasn’t been all blue skies and bluebonnets. The tragedy of line-of-duty deaths and the heartbreak of uncontrollable fires and raging floods will long be with me. I sure won’t miss the politics, over deer and oysters and red snapper and such. I’ve often called TPWD “the land of 1,000 hills to die on,” some of which I’ll confess seem bigger than others. Our constituents care, and care passionately.  

I’m sure proud to be raising one of them, that budding outdoor enthusiast of ours, Ryland. 






So what about that recent morning with Ryland? Well, our sit in the blind treated us to a sounder of wild hogs that gave us the slip, along with a nice gaggle of does and their fawns that we enjoyed watching meander around. 


When we knocked off the hunting part of the morning to go fishing, we got derailed by the sight of monarchs and other butterflies, massed in trees along the river bottom. The fall butterfly migration was in full force, and the abundant monarchs were a sight for sore eyes. 

When we finally arrived at our fishing hole, a smattering of blue teal and a dinosaur-sized great blue heron (Ryland said it looked like a gray pterodactyl) gave us a wide berth. As I looked on from the riverbank and Ryland reeled in a handful of bass, including one we unanimously agreed was his very own “state record,” I realized he had been right.

It was a great morning.

Here’s to many great mornings, and memories, for all of you in the lands and waters of our home ground. I am forever grateful for the privilege of contributing to a few of those for all of you.

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.












Tuesday

Hunters Can Help Protect Texas Deer from Chronic Wasting Disease

 Here’s everything you need to know about testing your fall harvest for a deadly disease.


Texas deer need your help.

 

Why? Hundreds of captive or free-ranging deer in 16 Texas counties have tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD) over the past decade. If left unmanaged, CWD can have catastrophic, long-term impacts on the most beloved game animal in the state. 

 

How? If you’re deer hunting in Texas this fall, test your harvest for CWD. It’s mandatory in CWD zones and voluntary elsewhere. With your participation, biologists can gather statewide data to aid in CWD management strategies to reduce the risk of CWD spread.

 

Where? CWD containment and surveillance zones are found in various areas across the state. These zones have special rules, including mandatory testing. See map below.

 

You can find everything you need to know at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department or Outdoor Annual websites. 


Here are quick answers to common CWD questions.


Why sample for CWD? 

Surveillance is an essential part of managing CWD. Testing for CWD allows wildlife biologists and animal health officials to get a clearer picture of the prevalence and distribution of the disease across Texas. Proactive monitoring improves the state’s response time to a CWD detection and can reduce the risk of the disease further spreading to neighboring deer populations. With each discovery of a new CWD-positive area in the state, CWD zones are established as a strategy to manage and contain the disease. 


Which counties have mandatory testing?

So far, the only areas in Texas where CWD has become established within native deer populations are in the northern portions of El Paso and Hudspeth counties in far West Texas and in western Dallam and Hartley counties in the northwest Texas Panhandle. CWD has also been detected in multiple deer-breeding facilities across the state, and on some properties neighboring those CWD-positive deer-breeding facilities in Medina and Uvalde counties. Testing within established CWD zones will help determine the geographic distribution and prevalence of the disease, or in some cases, confirm that the disease has not been established outside of captive-deer facilities.


To see if your hunting location is in a CWD zone, check the map at the TPWD website. If you harvest a deer in a CWD Zone, it is mandatory to bring the deer to a check station within 48 hours of harvest to have a CWD sample collected from that deer.  There are no exceptions to the regulation.


Where is the nearest check station?

There are approximately 30 check stations and drop boxes across the state in Kimble County, far West Texas, South Central Texas, the northwest Panhandle, Val Verde County, Hunt County, Lubbock County, Gillespie County, Limestone County and Duval County. Check the map at the TPWD or Outdoor Annual websites for locations and hours. Too far from a check station? Call your local TPWD biologist. 


What do I need to bring to the check station?

TPWD staff will collect a tissue sample from the head of the deer for testing purposes. The head may be attached to the carcass or separated. If you separate the head from the carcass, it is very important to include the first two to three vertebrae to keep the necessary samples intact. Place the head in a plastic trash bag and keep it cool (but not frozen) until you get to the station.


Can I take my deer out of a CWD zone?

There are restrictions on which parts of a harvested deer may be transported outside of a CWD zone to help prevent the unnatural spread of CWD. 


Parts that may be transported from a zone include: 

  • cut quarters with all brain and spinal cord tissue removed
  • boned-out meat
  • cut and wrapped meat
  • caped hides with skull not attached
  • skull plate with antlers attached and cleaned of soft tissue
  • finished taxidermy products
  • the skinned or unskinned head of a deer for transport to a taxidermist (A Deer Head Waiver form must accompany the head to the taxidermist.)

Is testing free?

Yes, TPWD will provide free CWD testing for all your hunter harvest samples.


How long does it take to get results?

About two weeks.


How can I tell if a deer has CWD? 

Only through testing. Both healthy and sick-looking deer can be CWD positive as visible symptoms do not become apparent until the terminal end-stage of the disease. An animal may be shedding infective prions well before symptoms become apparent. The disease cannot be diagnosed by symptoms alone since other diseases or conditions can cause the animal to exhibit similar symptoms. 


What other precautions should I take? 

Properly dispose of carcass parts. Leave inedible parts at the site of harvest, or preferably, dispose of them in a landfill or bury them on the property of harvest in any CWD zone. 


Is CWD dangerous for humans? 

Researchers have found no evidence that CWD poses a serious risk to humans or domestic animals. However, as a precaution, it is strongly advised to test susceptible species harvested in known CWD areas and to not eat meat from CWD positive animals or any sick animal regardless of the disease.


(click map to enlarge)


Protect Texas Deer: Test4CWD



Monday

Texas Mule Deer Season and Restrictions Change for 2022

TPWD expands antler restriction, extends season in Panhandle 


To keep the balance of young/mature mule deer in the Texas Panhandle, an experimental antler restriction regulation will be continued in some counties and started in others, while the season is extended by a full week. Here are the highlights.

  • Antler restriction regulation: Mule deer bucks must have a main beam outside spread of at least 20 inches. However, the antler restriction does not apply on Managed Lands Deer Permit properties or within any Chronic Wasting Disease zone.

  • Briscoe, Childress, Cottle, Floyd, Hall, Lynn and Motley counties: TPWD regulation continues.
  • Andrews, Armstrong, Bailey, Castro, Cochran, Collingsworth, Dawson, Donley, Foard, Gaines, Hale, Hardeman, Hockley, Lamb, Lubbock, Martin, Parmer, Randall, Swisher, Terry and Yoakum counties: TPWD antler restriction regulation begins here. 
  • Terrell County within the Trans-Pecos: TPWD wants to test the antler restriction regulation here.
  • Extend season from 9 to 16 days, including special archery season: General season starts the Saturday before Thanksgiving; continues for 16 consecutive days in the Panhandle. (Andrews, Bailey, Castro, Cochran, Dawson, Gaines, Hale, Hockley, Lamb, Lubbock, Lynn, Martin, Parmer, Terry, and Yoakum counties) 

In 2018, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department considered landowner/hunter requests and data that showed an excessive harvesting of young mule deer bucks in the southeast Panhandle counties. The department began testing an experimental restriction in six counties (Lynn County was added in 2019) to protect bucks till they reach maturity at 4.5 years of age. The new antler restriction prohibited harvesting bucks with a main beam outside spread of less than 20 inches.


Four hunting seasons later, the sex ratio is improving — there are more bucks now. The steep decline in the harvest of young bucks provides more mature bucks, as hunters and landowners are now seeing. That’s exactly the desired effect, so the department is expanding the regulation to 21 additional Panhandle counties. 

 

Extending the season from nine days to 16 days in the selected 15 counties provides additional hunting opportunities while using the antler restriction to maintain or improve mule deer sex ratios and buck age structure. 

 

Again, the antler restriction doesn’t apply to properties in the MLDP program as TPWD sets property-specific bag limits for mule deer which are generally conservative (producing results similar to the antler restriction). Also, the antler restriction won’t be implemented in any part of a county within a CWD management zone (an area where certain special provisions regarding harvest reporting and carcass movement are in effect) because current science indicates that increased buck harvest in those areas will reduce CWD prevalence rates and may inhibit the spread of CWD into new areas.

            

TPWD staff will implement the antler restriction in Terrell County as a 4-year experiment across the entire county. In portions of Terrell County (for example, south of US Highway 90), intense buck harvest has skewed sex ratios and severely reduced buck age structure, even more so than the primary experimental antler-restriction counties in the Panhandle. 

 

As with the Panhandle antler restriction, staff will monitor the experiment in Terrell County. An incentive-based voluntary check station in Dryden and annual post-season helicopter surveys will be used to evaluate the success of the experimental antler restriction. 

 

See the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website for more details. 


If you want more content like this, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Thursday

Leading the Search for Juvenile American Eels

American eels undergo one of the most remarkable journeys from the Sargasso Sea to coastlines from Greenland to South America. 

These migrating eels make their way into coastal waters as small, transparent glass eels. They then develop pigment and become known as elvers, as they take up residence in estuaries or swim up rivers. 

Elvers continue to grow into yellow eels and live for many years before transforming into sexually mature silver eels to make their long journey back to the Sargasso Sea where they spawn and presumably die. 

Along the East Coast of the United States, the arrival of glass eels is fairly predictable; however, here in Texas and across the Gulf of Mexico, we are still wondering when American eels make it to our waters. Researchers from the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) teamed up with TPWD to sample for juvenile American eels across the Texas Coast using a wide variety of gear types with the hope of answering this question. 

From 2018-20, UHCL led an effort to sample for glass eels and elvers using small-mesh fyke nets in tidal creeks from Corpus Christi Bay to Sabine Lake. These nets were set overnight to fish one incoming tide. Small fish and invertebrates, such as shrimps and crabs, were funneled into the cod end of the net until they could be checked the next morning. These nets were set in the water 330 times across 130 unique sites during the study period. 

 
Justin Hansen, Jenny Oakley, and George Guillen with the University
of Houston-Clear Lake eploying a fyke net in a tidal creek.

During the same time that fyke nets were in the water, volunteers with the Texas Master Naturalists were also sampling along the coast for juvenile American eels using eel mops, a funny-looking device that sits on the bottom of a creek or bayou to mimic vegetation that tiny eels utilize. Eel mops were continually deployed at a single site anywhere from 5 to 25 months and checked once a week. 

 Additionally, UHCL decided to sample with eel mops in year two of their study at the same sites where they were setting fyke nets. In total, eel mops were deployed across 24 different sites and checked almost 300 times.


Pete Romfh with the Cradle of Texas Chapter and Erik Extrell with the
Alamo Area Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists check and deploy an eel mop.

Despite this intensive sampling effort, no American eels were collected using fyke nets or eel mops. However, along with many different species of fish and invertebrates, speckled worm eels were collected in both fyke nets and eel mops. This species undergoes a similar life cycle as American eel but on a smaller scale. Many of the individuals of speckled worm eel collected were in their glass eel stage. 

UHCL graduate students Justin Hansen and Tito Molina spent much of their time sorting through and carefully inspecting these juvenile eels since both American eels and speckled worm eels swim into bays and estuaries at the same time in other parts of the country. While speckled worm eels were not our target species, the collection of these individuals is reassuring because it tells us that our gear types successfully collected another species with a similar life history. 


A speckled worm eel collected using a fyke net. 

Although our sampling effort with fyke nets and eel mops has concluded, we’re not ready to give up! TPWD has partnered again with UHCL to set up a network of eel ramps along the mid to upper Texas Coast. Eel ramps are a popular sampling gear used on the East Coast to collect juvenile American eels. 

UHCL field research technicians Ashlyn Sak and Erica Underwood have led the charge in constructing and deploying eel ramps at 11 sites. These ramps will be deployed for one year and checked weekly for juvenile American eel. In addition, water samples will be collected at a subset of these sites to test for American eel DNA to see if the species is present at the site. 


Ashlyn Sak and Erica Underwood with the University
of Houston-Clear Lake checking an eel ramp.

Stay tuned to hear more about the work that we are doing to better understand the unique life history of this species in Texas. You can also follow us on Facebook (@TexasRiversStreams) and Instagram (@texasriversstreams) for project updates. Check out this project along with other research being conducted by UHCL at https://www.uhcl.edu/environmental-institute/

If you want more content like this, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Friday

Friday's Future Conservationists (Part Three)

Welcome back to our new blog feature: Friday’s Future Conservationists. We’ll share inspiring work from the students who one day will be our biologists, park rangers, nature photographers, game wardens and stewards of all wild things and places.

Thanks to Amanda Asher and the teachers/students of Cibolo Creek Elementary School for helping us get started. 

 

Did you know that living organisms in any environment depend on each other and their environment to meet their basic needs?  

 

Second grade students at Cibolo Creek Elementary School recently completed their science unit — “Investigating Organisms and Environments” — by creating an article for Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. This week we feature Mrs. Ferry’s class.

 

The students each drew an illustration for a specific environment and the organisms that live within it. They wrote articles describing how the organisms and environment depend on each other to meet their needs. To complete the project, students mapped out the food chain from their environment, displaying the transfer of energy from one organism to another for survival.  

 

Check back later for more amazing “articles” from our future conservationists.