Projects & Activities
Since the TXFWCO has been reestablished their work has been well received by state and other federal agencies. TXFWCO collaborates with other agencies and private entities to implement conservation projects of the National Fish Passage Program (NFPP), the National Fish Habitat Action Plan (NFHAP), as well as establish monitoring plans for several endangered species in Texas.
Big Cypress Bayou American Paddlefish Restoration Project
The Big Cypress Bayou American Paddlefish Restoration Project proposes to evaluate habitat restoration efforts for 40 river miles of Big Cypress Bayou and 27,471 surface acres of Caddo Lake, and their impacts on reintroduction efforts for the Texas state-threatened species, American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula). The American paddlefish is endemic to the Big Cypress Bayou and Caddo Lake, in the Red River drainage. In 1959, Ferrell’s Bridge Dam was completed creating Lake O’ the Pines, and the paddlefish fishery began to decline, and by the 1980’s no paddlefish have been collected.
As early as 2004, a number of stakeholders started meeting to develop a plan for Big Cypress Bayou and for Caddo Lake to establish a more naturalized flow regime, to enhance upland and swamp forest dynamics, bayou channel maintenance, and habitat for native aquatic and terrestrial fauna. These stakeholders include the Caddo Lake Institute (CLI), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Northeast Texas Municipal Water District NETMWD, USGS, TPWD, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Cypress Valley Navigation District (CVND), the City of Jefferson, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and others.
In March of 2013, the precursor of the project started with the release of tagged paddlefish into the area. Each tag will have a unique signal allowing the determination of each fish’s movements over the period of a year. Three stationary telemetry sites have been chosen within the study area. The data recorders located within the telemetry towers will record movement of the radio tagged fish past the towers.
This project also extends into the classroom for students in 20 schools connected with the Jefferson City based Collins Academy. With each fish having a unique tracking device the students have named the fish and will be able to track their fish and follow along with the research. You can follow along with us by visiting the tracking map located at: http://nwrcwebapps2.cr.usgs.gov/paddlefish/Map
The Caddo Lake Institute also has created a page for tracking information on the project at: http://caddolakeinstitute.us/paddlefish_press.html
The project was also featured on Season 3 Episode 39 of the television show Out on the Land, a weekly television series which highlights conservation stewardship from landowners, farmers, ranchers, as well as others. Watch the episode.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife TV will show the paddlefish experiment on PBS from October 26, 2014 through November 1, 2014. Check the TPWD TV web page for times and dates of airing. The segment will also be available on the TPWD TV YouTube channel after November 2.
Alamito Creek Restoration Project
The Alamito Creek Preserve Team, consisting of individuals from the TXFWCO, the Trans Pecos Water and Land Trust (TPWLT), Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (PFWP), and TPWD, seek to restore the grassland in the Alamito Creek watershed by removing as many acres of mesquite and other non-native grasses as possible, and reseeding with native grasses. The invasive vegetation is thought to be lowering the water table and reducing flows in the creek. The creek contains perennial pools that support populations of endemic fishes, amphibians, aquatic invertebrates, and a healthy riparian habitat. As Texas suffers through a period of exceptional drought, the perennial pools are at great risk of disappearing. The lack of water and the deterioration of quality of the remaining water will threaten the native aquatic species. The Conchos pupfish, Chihuahua shiner, and the Mexican stoneroller are indigenous to Alamito Creek and listed as Threatened by the State of Texas.
Devils River Minnow Monitoring
The Devils River minnow (Dionda diaboli) is a threatened fish endemic to a small portion of the Rio Grande drainage basin in Texas and Mexico. Historically, the fish occurred in the Devils River drainage, in three creeks in Texas, and in two small streams in Mexico. In 1989, DRM were found only in the Devils River and in two creeks in Texas and it was speculated that reduced water flow had diminished the abundance and range of the fish.
In 2001, a population had been discovered in Pinto Creek, Kinney County, Texas. By 2013 the upper two-thirds, as well as sections of the lower creek, that are part of the critical habitat for Devils River minnow in Pinto Creek had gone dry as Kinney County continued to suffer through the most intense drought on record. The TXFWCO worked with the San Antonio Zoo to establish a refuge population of the Devils River Minnow from Pinto Creek. In 2013, after the Zoo obtained a recovery permit the TXFWCO and two biologists from the Zoo collected 28 Devils River minnows and transferred them to the new refugium at the Zoo.
The TXFWCO also monitors the population of Devils River minnows in San Felipe Spring which is located within the City of Del Rio, in Val Verdy County. The San Felipe system, much like the Pinto Creek system, is under threats of increasing groundwater pumping, drought, increased urbanization, and invasive species introductions. The TXFWCO began collecting monitoring data at several sites along the spring in 2012 and continued monitoring will create reliable trend data for population estimates. As of 2013 the population remains stable; however with water a scarce resource and introduction of invasive species, the threats to the population are real.
Clear Creek Gambusia
The TXFWCO is working with the Austin Ecological Service Office (AESO), Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery (IDNFH), Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and others to secure the habitat of the endangered Clear Creek Gambusia at Wilkinson Spring. The species has been of conservation concern since its discovery in 1953, and its Federal Protection predates the current (1973) Act, and was listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. The species is currently located in a single pool encompassing an area of about 0.35 acres. Clear Creek was separated into four pools with the construction of dams in the early part of the century. Due to degradation of the dams the pool is currently being invaded by the western mosquitofish which threatens the genetic integrity of the Clear Creek gambusia with hybridization between the species. The pool in which the Clear Creek gambusia reside is on private land and the landowner entered into a cooperative agreement with the USFWS to repair the dam and secure the habitat of the species. The dam is set to be reconstructed.
Rillito Spring and Pecos Pupfish
Rillito Spring is a new spring that appeared on a private ranch near Toyah, TX in 2005. As of 2013, the spring opening is about two feet wide by 1 foot in height and is flowing at approximately 35 gallons per minute. The landowners hand shoveled a "creek" approximately 1300 feet long to and between the two ciénegas they have created. Enhancement of the spring system they have created was selected as a project to be funded through the Desert Fish Habitat Partnership. With the enhancement of the spring it will be made into a refuge for the Pecos pupfish, a species listed at Threatened by the State of Texas and is currently restricted to a one-mile stretch of Salt Creek. The creek had outgrown the channel and was overbanking into the surrounding pasture making a swampy area. During 2013 a team from TXFWCO and TPWD made some repairs to the site to clean out the channel, remove cattails and tamarisk, and used herbicide to kill additional cattails. The team returned a second time to begin widening, deepening, and lining the channel. However, the ground had not dried out sufficiently and the heavy equipment was inoperable. The team will continue to work on drying out the area and restoring habitat and has plans to stock Pecos pupfish into the spring during 2014.
The TXFWCO collaborates with TPWD on quarterly Pecos pupfish monitoring on Salt Creek. Pure Pecos pupfish exist in only 3.2 miles of Salt Creek and are not found anywhere else in Texas. The pupfish are imperiled due to hybridization with sheepshead minnow, loss of habitat due to drought, and ground and surface water pumping. Tissue samples have been collected from specimens believed to be pure Pecos pupfish for DNA sampling to determine the extent of the hybridization with the sheepshead minnow. A multi-agency Conservation Agreement has been formulated to secure and protect the Pecos pupfish within its currently occupied and known historical range in the States of New Mexico and Texas. The Rillito Spring project will address the immediate measure to secure an off-channel population.
Lower Rio Grande Ecological Monitoring
The TXFWCO has been an active participant in the recovery effort for the Rio Grande Silvery minnow in the Lower Rio Grande since 2010. Beginning in late 2012, the TXFWCO took over as the lead on this project and assumed the responsibility from the NMFWCO.
In 2013 the TXFWCO began participating in the Big Bend Binational Conservation Cooperative. The cooperative includes The National Park Service, TPWD, and Sul Ross State University, and was established in 2012 to support development of instream flow recommendations for the Texas Instream Flow Program. Permanent ecological monitoring sites have been established in the Lower Canyon Reach and Martin Canyon. The ecological data developed here will be used for future flow recommendations for the Texas Instream Flow Program.
In 2015, to increase the numbers of Rio Grande Silvery Minnow in the Texas reach of the Rio Grande a pilot project was completed at Uvalde National Fish Hatchery. The project was a success and the facility will continue raising Rio Grande Silvery Minnows.
Big Bend Science Team
The core team includes USFWS, TPWD, USGS and NPS. The goal of the team is to develop a comprehensive Lower Rio Grande Monitoring Plan.
Salamander Toxicity Project
The TXFWCO, Arlington Ecological Services Field Office (ESFO), Austin ESFO, TPWD, USGS, and The City of Austin have partnered to develop a project to examine the relationship between salamanders and land use. The project will focus on the federally endangered Barton Springs salamander, the threatened San Marcos salamander, and the candidate Georgetown, Jollyville Plateau, and Salado Springs salamanders. The study objectives will be accomplished through a combination of geographic watershed analysis, field surveys, and tissue analysis. The goal is to provide insight into the decrease of salamander densities surrounding areas affected by human land use.
Central Texas Urban Intensity Index
Central Texas has a high degree of endemic and spring-adapted species, and is experiencing large urban growth, threatening these unique species and their habitat. The development of the urban intensity index (UII) for the Central Texas area will aid in conservation and understanding of the unique environment. The study provides a baseline on many of the streams and rivers to follow the progression of urbanization in the Central Texas area over the coming years. The project has also created a method to rank and manage imperiled sites within the Central Texas area.
Phantom Spring Ciénega Restoration Project
The restoration project has been completed. However, monitoring and maintenance activities will be ongoing to ensure the spring continues to be a healthy habitat.
Phantom Spring, owned by the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), is an isolated spring located near the west Texas town of Balmorhea. Spring flow from Phantom Spring has continually declined since flow measurements began in the 1940s. Corresponding aquifer levels in Phantom Cave have dropped 2.5 feet in elevation in the last 10 years.
The aquatic habitat in the small spring ciénega at Phantom has been maintained by a pumping system since 2001. The submersible pump system circulated water to the spring pool from about 75 feet back in Phantom Cave. The system was not regularly monitored and the small check dam constructed to maintain water in the spring pool was leaking so severely that the pump system needed constant adjustment to maintain a target water level in the pool. The system experienced several short-term pump failures resulting in extreme conditions in the pool; with a small amount of stagnant water remaining until pumping could be resumed.
In 2011, the TXFWCO and its partners, the Desert Fish Habitat Partnership, the United States Bureau of Reclamation, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and others, completed a habitat restoration project which tripled the size of the ciénega, sealed the leaky check dam, installed two new “spring” water delivery systems, and installed a backup generator and alarm system.
In 2013, the Desert Fish Habitat Partnership provided funds to replace one of the pumps that was running erratically and causing sporadic alarms.