Southwest Region Emphasis Areas
Conserving the Nature of America
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East Texas and Oklahoma Emphasis Area Priorities    

Priority Conservation Objective: The five specific watersheds identified below comprise the East Texas and Oklahoma Emphasis Area and are focused on the overarching goal of maximizing conservation of trust resources, key species and their habitats through integrated watershed (aquatic and terrestrial) management practices.

Paddlefish Festival. The Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery provided 2000 young of the year American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) for stocking into the Big Cypress Bayou during the Paddlefish Festival in Jefferson Texas.  Assistant Project Leader Ralph Simmons explains the life history of the paddlefish to local students as they stock the paddlefish into the Bayou.</span><span class=
Paddlefish Festival. Assistant Project Leader Ralph Simmons explains
the life history of the paddlefish to local students as they stock the
paddlefish into the Big Cypress Bayou.
Credit: Michael Gannon
(of The Collins Academy who we have given two grants to for
outreach and education on the Big Cypress Bayou).
 
An adult American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) captured on the Red River.
An adult American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) captured on the
Red River.
Credit: Pete Diaz, USFWS.
Big Cypress Watershed
Priority Conservation Objective: Improve watershed health through enhancement/restoration of forested habitat, improvement of water quality, connectivity and maintenance of natural hydrology.

Issues: The Cypress Basin wetlands contain one of the best examples of a mature flooded bald cypress forest (as found on Caddo Lake NWR) in the U.S., and supports animal species at critical stages in their life cycles. A myriad of important migratory birds depend upon these unique habitats including Birds of Conservation Concern (USFWS 2008): Red-headed Woodpecker, Prothonotary Warbler, Kentucky Warbler and others. The Caddo Lake system supports bald cypress trees up to 400 years of age, one of the highest breeding population of wood ducks, as well as one of the most diverse communities of plants in Texas, if not the U.S. Caddo Lake was designated as the thirteenth Ramsar Site (“Wetland of International Importance”) in 1993, one of only two in the USFWS Southwest Region. Approximately 216 bird, 47 mammal, 90 reptile and amphibian species and at least 86 species of fish, including 18 species of game fish and mussel species call Caddo Lake and its tributaries home.

 

Leopard darter, Percina pantherina.  Credit: Daniel Fenner, USFWS.
Leopard darter, Percina pantherina. Credit: Daniel Fenner, USFWS.
  Harperella, Ptilimnium nodosum.  Credit: Susan Hooks, U.S. Forest Service.
Harperella, Ptilimnium nodosum. Credit: Susan Hooks,
U.S. Forest Service.

Kiamichi-Little River Watershed
Priority Conservation Objective: Develop and implement a watershed and partner based approach to address water quality, quantity and hydrologic connectivity in Kiamichi-Little River Watershed to benefit federally-listed aquatic species, their habitats, and other trust resources.

Issues: The Kiamichi-Little River Priority Area in southeastern Oklahoma is important biogeographically, featuring many distinct habitats and a high diversity of species representative of the Ouachita Uplift. This area contains the highest levels of fish and mussel richness and endemism within the USFWS Southwest Region. Many of the species are imperiled including four federally-listed mussels (the Ouachita rock pocketbook, rabbitsfoot, scaleshell, and winged mapleleaf), one federally-listed fish (the leopard darter), and one federally-listed plant reduced water quality (harperella). Challenges include altered hydrologic regimes, habitat destruction and changes, stream fragmentation and reduced water quality.

 


Beef Creek waterfall on private land in jasper County, Texas. This waterfall flows into the Angelina River just before it's confluence with the Neches River. Credit: James Childress.
Neches River Watershed
Priority Conservation Objective: Conservation of Federal trust resources and other imperiled flora and fauna and their habitats within the Neches River Watershed.

Issues: The Neches River watershed is a hotspot of biodiversity in the Pineywoods of east Texas. Spanning approximately 10,000 square miles, it contains significant areas of bottomland hardwood forests, shortleaf pine /oak-hickory forests, and longleaf pine forests, all of which are globally important for migratory and endemic birds. Twelve federally listed species, 1 candidate species, and 44 birds of conservation concern are known to utilize habitat within this watershed. The river itself contains the richest mussel fauna in Texas, with at least 28 of the 46 native freshwater mussels found in Texas including 4 regional endemics and 1 Texas endemic. It includes a Priority 1 bottomland hardwood site, which led to the establishment of Neches River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The primary ecological processes that shaped the natural communities within the Neches River watershed were flooding and fire. Restoring fire throughout the watershed has the potential to produce and sustain habitat for rare and declining species from ridge top to river bottom. These forests and associated vegetation communities provide important current and/or potential habitat for the Louisiana black bear, red-cockaded woodpecker, Louisiana pine snake, Neches River rose-mallow, and many of the bird species of regional concern. High forest cover is associated with high mussel diversity, and ecosystem health for this watershed is driven both by maintenance of adequate and natural riparian flows as well as sustainable management of large blocks of upland forests and bottomland hardwood forests.

 

Inside January Stansberry cave. Credit: R. Stark, USFWS.
Inside January Stansberry cave. Credit: R. Stark, USFWS.
  Ozark big eared bat, winter colony. Credit: R. Stark, USFWS.

Ozark big eared bat, winter colony. Credit: R. Stark, USFWS.
Ozark Highlands Watershed
Priority Conservation Objective: Conserve high-priority caves, karst habitats, and associated watersheds in the Ozark Highlands Priority Area.

Issues: The Oklahoma Highlands is a unique biogeographic area featuring a variety of distinct habitats and a high diversity of native species and is home to the Ozark Plateau National Wildlife Refuge. The Ozark Highlands exhibits rugged uplands, steep valleys, clear streams, and extensive karst habitats. Caves, springs, and other karst features benefit numerous bats and other sensitive cave species including endangered Ozark big-eared bats and gray bats; threatened northern long-eared bats; ; threatened Ozark cavefish, rare cave crayfish, and other sensitive karst aquatic species. Ongoing threats in the area include human disturbance to colonies of listed bat species inside caves, vandalism at important caves, human activities within cave recharge areas that degrade water quality, land cover conversions, inadequate control of point and non-point source pollution, and white-nose syndrome in cave-dwelling bats. Conservation priorities include protection of caves, springs, streams, karst habitats, recharge areas, and important bat foraging, roosting, and maternity habitats outside of caves; improving and maintaining water quality in surface and ground waters; restoration and enhancement of forested habitat; and maintaining and developing important partnerships.

 

LCR, Garwood, Texas. Credit: USFWS
Tampico pearly mussel, Garwood, Texas. Credit: Charrish Stevens, USFWS. Tampico pearly mussel, Garwood, Texas. Credit: Charrish Stevens, USFWS.   Texas pimple back mussel. Credit: Charrish Stevens, USFWS.
Lower Colorado River Watershed
Priority Conservation Objective: Protect, stabilize, and enhance populations of five species of candidate mussels, and their habitats, in the Lower Colorado River Basin.

Issues: The Lower Colorado River (LCR) Basin is a priority watershed in the East Texas/Oklahoma Emphasis Area due to the ecological significance of this river and its watershed watershed. The LCR has the highest species richness of candidate mussel species in Texas. Portions of the watershed have been designated as ecologically significant river and stream segments by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). The LCR basin captures water from San Saba, Llano, and Pedernales rivers and Sandy and Onion creeks that includes a 600-mile stretch of the Texas Colorado River between the Highland Lakes northwest of Austin, Texas. These lakes include six dams: Buchanan, Inks, Wirtz, Starcke, Mansfield, and Tom Miller. For consistency purposes, the LCR watershed is defined by Lower Colorado River Authority’s management responsibilities.

Proactive mussel conservation will provide species protection, watershed benefits for some of the fastest growing communities in Texas, and regulatory assurances to regional stakeholders in the event of a possible listing of any of these mussel species. Benefits in this watershed enhance freshwater inflows to Matagorda Bay and the Texas Mid-Gulf Coast.

 

Learn about additional Emphasis Areas

Last updated: January 16, 2018