Using Mobile Apps to Assist in Grazing Management

Texas has over 142M acres of open lands (i.e., working lands) with the majority designated as grazing lands for various livestock. Texas leads the nation in sheep, goat and cattle production with over 94M head of cattle alone. Even with this strong representation, landowners often mix livestock production and wildlife management on the same property. Other landowners now primarily manage for wildlife on an additional 3.3M acres which helps maintain ecological functions of the state’s grasslands and forests. Given the preponderance of livestock and growing interest in wildlife management, it’s easy to understand why grazing management is essential for sustaining and improving open lands in Texas.

Private Land Stewardship: The Importance of Knowing Your Animals

It is important as a landowner to know which wildlife species frequent your property and how to alter your management practices in order to benefit those animals. Gaining a better understanding of common wildlife as well as species you may never encounter will not only make you a more informed wildlife enthusiast, it can provide you with a well-rounded approach to private land stewardship. Most landowners commonly observe generalist species like white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginanus) or raccoons (Procyon lotor) on their property, but among the ecoregions of Texas there is vast diversity in habitat that many species call home. 

Identifying and Documenting Species with iNaturalist: a great tool for private land stewards

There are many resources you can access to expand your knowledge of the species in your area, but few are more accessible than those on your phone. As citizen science continues to expand with the help of technology, apps are being developed with the sole purpose of helping amateur naturalists and landowners identify and better understand the plants and animals on their property.

Acoustic Monitoring: Redefining innovation on the prairie

If a prairie chicken clucks in the prairie and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Thanks to the innovative survey techniques deployed by the NRI research team of Dr. Brian Pierce, Frank Cartaya and Sarah Turner, we finally have our answer. Travel to eastern New Mexico with us in this week's blog as we track the team's progress while they conduct surveys using acoustic technology, which is 50 times more efficient than traditional methods for detecting the occurrence of the formerly ESA-listed Lesser Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicintus) on Melrose Air Force Range. This is what raising the bar for the standards of proactive wildlife management looks like.

Sorting Out Bobwhite Population Genetics

Wild quail face a long and varied list of challenges to their daily and long-term survival. While some perils are easily identified—a predator raiding a nest, a lack of vegetative cover for nesting, or a sweltering summer day—others, like diseases and parasites, are more subtle. Still others are even less tangible than that; to observe them, you have to dive into the gene pool. Genetic diversity is a topic not often addressed when discussing ways to help quail, but given its role in determining the fate of populations, perhaps it should garner more consideration.

Private Land Stewardship and Plants

The plant community on a property determines what habitat types are available for wildlife and how it can be grazed, so familiarity with those plants is essential for any land steward. Here we provide tips and tools that will help you learn to recognize your resident plant species and incorporate that knowledge into an effective management plan.

Map of the Month: Freshwater Mussels: Key Indicators of Ecosystem Health

Freshwater mussels play an important role in the health of freshwater ecosystems by providing food and habitat for other aquatic species, stabilizing stream bottoms, and filtering the water in our lakes and rivers. The Rio Grande basin is home to three mussel species suffering from habitat loss and growing human populations in this area may be threatening the water systems necessary for their survival.

Private Land Stewardship Starts with Soils

Soils are the foundation of healthy habitat and can make or break any land management plan. Regional differences in soil structure and composition play a major role in determining which management strategies will succeed or fail, and familiarity with your soil is the first step toward meeting your land stewardship goals. Here we provide contacts and resources to help you take that step.

Meet the Gambel's Quail

Gambel’s quail are less common in Texas than northern bobwhites and scaled quail, but they're a fascinating species and excellent desert survivalists. Learn more about the habits and habitat of the Gambel's quail in this article.

NRI Members Showcased Efforts at the Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society Annual Meeting

The Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society (TCTWS) annual meeting is a time to present and discuss current research and recognize notable achievements in conservation leadership. NRI was well represented at this year's meeting by noteworthy scientific research presentations, employees who took on leadership roles within TCTWS, and extension outreach efforts.

Passing the Pen

After renowned wildlife illustrator Dr. Terry Maxwell unexpectedly passed away in April of 2017, the Texas Society of Mammologists was tasked with finding the next artist who would preserve the integrity of the society while honoring the tradition of Dr. Maxwell’s legacy. One young lady stood out in particular, a former student and family friend of Dr. Maxwell with immense artistic talent—Ms. Krysta Demere.

Map of the Month: Bright lights and big cities: urban growth in Texas

From scattered rural settlements to big cities, the density and distribution of people in Texas has changed dramatically over time. As "urban sprawl" continues to increase development in the outlying areas around cities, it will affect the resources, amenities, and job opportunities for the people who live there.

The Economic Value of Hunting

A lot of money changes hands when hunters pursue their passion, and in the state of Texas, those funds support rural economies, public resources, and even wildlife conservation. Quail hunting in particular is a significant economic stimulus. This article explains how that money makes its way all across the state and gets to the bottom line.

The Rolling Plains Research Ranch by The Texas Wildlife Association

The Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch is a 4,720-acre ranch in Fisher County, Texas that lies about 10 miles west of Roby off of US Highway 180. Speeding past on the highway the encyclopedia of knowledge that’s been garnered from the gently rolling hills is not obvious. Ultimately, the ranch’s aim is providing land managers and other stakeholders, with timely, relevant technology and management schemes for enhancing quail populations in the Rolling Plains of Texas. In doing so, the ranch hopes to sustain the “quail dynasty” that has supported hunters, ranchers, local economies, hunters and the quail themselves.

Mutual Relationships in the Wild: A fundamental trait of the Texas Herpetological Society

Drs. Ryberg and Hibbitts are two of Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute’s (NRI) research scientists whose work includes diagnosing and resolving complex problems in conservation biology with a focus on herpetology to be applied to natural resource management solutions. As with most scientists, their work derives from a passion to understand, to explore and to make an impact in their field. The work-life balance of a scientist is quickly translated to work-life integration where traces of their passion can be found out of the lab, acting as more of a fulfilling extension of their life.

Coping with the Cold

Winters in the Lone Star State can be harsh, especially for a 6 inch tall, ground-dwelling bird. Quail faced increased pressure from predators, food scarcity, and frigid temperatures in the winter, but they also have a unique set of behaviors and adaptations for dealing with those challenges. Learn more in this article.

Providing Backyard Shelter for Wildlife

If you are attempting to attract wildlife to your backyard, providing shelter is one of the best ways to ensure that animals feel safe enough to make your yard their home. It gives wild animals a place to relax, escape from predators, and endure inclement weather. Learn how to turn your yard into a wildlife haven in this article.

The Origin of the Wild Pig Species

Nearly 160 years ago Charles Darwin published his “On the Origin of Species,” a work that would become the cornerstone of evolutionary biology. The book's 502 pages outlined the scientific theory of natural selection and species diversity through evolution across successive generations. If you’ve ever wondered where wild pigs (Sus scrofa) came from, why there are so many different names for them and how man has influenced nearly everything about them, well then what follows may be worth your minutes.

Texas Quail Index 2017 Summary

This year’s Texas Quail Index (TQI) featured 26 cooperators representing 7 of the 10 Texas ecoregions. TQI participants are asked to conduct a series of demonstrations which include listening for whistling roosters in the spring, setting out “dummy” (i.e., simulated) nests and game cameras to evaluate predator activity, examining quail habitat, and counting birds along roads. Read more to see the statewide results summarized. 

A Story Map: Habitat Requirements of Texas Quails

A Texas Land Trends Story Map: Texas is home to four species of quails: Northern Bobwhite, Scaled Quail, Gambel’s Quail, and Montezuma Quail. Many Texans fondly recall experiences with quail, whether they were hunting or watching them, or just listening to their songs. Despite the interest in these quail species, their overall abundance, especially northern bobwhites, have declined over the past few decades. Recent research efforts seek to determine what factors have and continue to contribute to the decline of quail in Texas. 

How Much Space Does a Quail Need?

There is no doubt that quail are capable fliers when under pressure and strong, swift runners, but we rarely contemplate just how much distance they cover in a lifetime. When it comes to management of northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), it is critical to consider the amount of space they need to maintain sustainable coveys (groups) and healthy populations. When answering the question of how much space a quail needs, you must consider covey sizes, how much terrain quail can cross, and both the amount and quality of habitat that is present in an area that quail occupy.

Wild Pigs and Mast Crops

Wild pigs are considered opportunistic omnivores – meaning they will consume both plant and animal food sources available to them throughout the year. The vast majority of a wild pigs diet consists of plant materials, and an important, seasonal food source for wild pigs are mast crops (acorns, fruits or beans). Common mast producing species in Texas include oaks, hickories, honey mesquite, prickly pear cactus and persimmon. This article will highlight the research that has been conducted on wild pig competition with native wildlife for mast, the effects mast has on wild pig population trends and how wild pigs’ consumption of mast can influence forest composition.

Providing Water for Backyard Wildlife

When choosing a water feature to attract wildlife to your backyard, you can often feel like you are drowning in options – and not all the choices are equally suited to benefit wildlife. There are three main ways to provide free water (i.e., water that is not contained in plants) for wildlife in your yard: birdbaths, ponds, and dripping water features. Read more about them in this article.

Native Plants for Backyard Wildlife

A well-manicured lawn with perfectly trimmed trees and shrubs may look appealing to people, but it can be a veritable desert for many species of wildlife. The majority of ornamental plant species do not provide enough food or cover, making gardens unappealing to animals. Luckily, there are plenty of native plant species which look great and also support wildlife. Learn how to incorporate them into your landscaping in this article.

Map of the Month: Wildlife management land use acres

While ag tax evaluations traditionally involve practices such as haying, cropping, grazing and livestock, the state added a wildlife management use component in 1995. This non-traditional approach to preserving open space lands and their values has gained momentum in the past two decades, as the total number of acres enrolled has risen from 93K in 1997 to 3.2M in 2012. So how do you qualify and what is the process to switch from a traditional ag use property to wildlife management use? 

Meet the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute

The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. I believe the same could be said about an organization’s name. We should understand an organization’s work and mission by its name.

That is one of the reasons why we recently changed our name from the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources to the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute.

Soil and Water Stewardship Week highlights importance of land conservation

To highlight the importance of voluntary land stewardship in Texas, the Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) and the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute (NRI) are partnering with the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB), Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Texas Agricultural Land Trust, Texas Wildlife Association, and Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. The statewide campaign, “No Land No Water ™,” is the theme of this year’s Soil and Water Stewardship Week, April 30 through May 7.

Protecting military readiness and the gopher tortoise at the same time

A first-in-the-nation conservation plan, crafted by the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and wildlife agencies in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, protects at-risk gopher tortoises while helping military bases to continue training and testing missions across the tortoise’s Southern turf.

Research scientist receives Outstanding Graduate Award

We congratulate NRI's Dr. Ashley Long, a graduate of Emporia State University (ESU; M.S. 2009 in College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), who was selected as this year’s Outstanding Recent Graduate Award of 2017. The Outstanding Recent Graduate Award is a prestigious award that recognizes former students who graduated from ESU within 10 years (12 years at most) and have accomplished significant achievements.

As deadly screwworms reduce Key deer herd, IRNR and Texas A&M help multi-agency effort

After being eradicated from the United States for more than 30 years, New World screwworm flies reappeared in the lower Florida Keys this year. Screwworms have infested the endangered Florida Key deer population, which is spread across 11 islands. Approximately 130 deer, mostly males, have been killed by or euthanized due to the infestation, according to researchers.

Can you water your landscape less and still have thriving plants?

What if there was a way to irrigate less but still have good-looking landscapes?

Thanks to research results recently published by the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources (IRNR) and the Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI), homeowners and landscapers can now learn exactly how little water is needed by popular Central Texas ornamental plants to not only survive but thrive.

Fire science, management topics of Great Plains summit in December in Kansas

The Fire Summit 2016: Changing Fire Regimes, a regional conference on fire science in the Great Plains, is set for Dec. 7-9 at the Hilton Garden Inn Conference Center in Manhattan, Kansas.

“This meeting is for all landowners, fire managers, firefighters and agency personnel who work with fire in the Great Plains,” said Brian Hays, an associate director for the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources. “Fire is an inherent component of grassland systems of the Great Plains, so there is a need to share current fire science and management with these individuals as well as with rural fire districts and emergency managers”

IRNR plays integral role in national conservation partnership

Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources (IRNR) military land sustainability (MLS) program is playing an integral role in the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, an initiative between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the U.S. Department of the Interior, according to Bruce Beard, associate director for IRNR’s MLS program.   

Scientists search for rare snake in East Texas longleaf pine forests

While many people try to avoid snakes, a group of researchers are doing everything they can to find snakes, specifically the rare Louisiana pine snake.

The nonvenomous, 6-foot-long snake lives in gopher burrows, coming out only to go from one burrow to another or to mate. Its only habitat is the longleaf pine savannahs in eastern Texas and western Louisiana. But today, that habitat is almost gone, said Dr. Toby Hibbitts, a researcher at the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources (IRNR) and curator of amphibians and reptiles at the Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections at Texas A&M.

Hibbitts is working with Dr. Wade Ryberg, another IRNR research scientist, and colleagues from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service on the project.

“With the loss of habitat, populations are crashing in Texas and Louisiana,” Hibbitts said.

The snake’s numbers have never been that abundant, Hibbitts said. In fact, the snake was undiscovered until the 1920s.

IRNR researchers survey bat populations in Texas, anticipating white-nose syndrome

First documented in bats in New York state in 2006, white-nose syndrome (WNS) has steadily spread throughout the eastern half of the country and is expected to arrive in Texas in the near future.

WNS is a deadly fungal disease affecting hibernating bats and has been confirmed in 29 states, five Canadian provinces and, in one lone case, as far west as Washington state. Since January, researchers from the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources (IRNR) Bat and Hibernacula Project have been surveying sites across Texas to monitor winter bats and roosts and assess hibernacula, or hibernating environments, prior to the probable arrival of WNS. The project has received help from the Bat Conservation International (BCI) and is funded by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).

“So far WNS has spread as close to Texas as Oklahoma, so we want to make sure we have baseline data,” said Melissa Meierhofer, IRNR research associate. “We want to know where the bats and hibernacula are prior to when the fungus comes here, so we can continuously monitor them.”