Transfer of Breeder Deer: Texas Movement Standards

Landowners and Texas deer breeders interested in transferring deer must heed new movement standards. White-tailed deer breeders will be able to resume animal movements under a plan finalized yesterday by staff of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC). The Breeder Deer Movement Qualification Standards Plan will take effect upon the filing of Emergency Rules by TPWD and will be in place through the 2015-16 Texas hunting season. Details of the plan are available online at www.tpwd.texas.gov/cwd.

Key elements of the new deer movement plan

  • A framework giving breeders who met previous movement qualified standards an option to move and liberate deer. Movement qualification is also dependent on administrative compliance with deer breeder permit regulations and statutes.
  • Enhanced options for closely-monitored herds with a status of “fifth year” or “certified” in the TAHC Monitored Herd Program. There are no additional release site requirements for ranches that receive deer only from these herds.
  • Additional Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) testing in deer breeding facilities. Under the plan, the vast majority of the 1,300 permitted deer breeders in Texas can gain movement qualified status by testing two or fewer animals.
  • There will be CWD testing requirements for a proportion of deer that are harvested on some release sites.

The goal of the Movement Qualification Plan is to provide deer breeders with options prior to the September 22 deadline for movement and liberation of bucks and before the 2015-16 hunting season. This is just one of many steps Texas is taking to mitigate the spread of CWD after it was detected in deer from a Medina County deer breeding facility earlier this summer.

“We have received and tried to be responsive to the extensive feedback from the state’s many and varied deer management interests in developing this revised plan,” said Carter Smith, TPWD Executive Director. “In the development of this framework, both agencies are balancing the need to minimize the risk of unwittingly allowing the movement or liberation of Chronic Wasting Disease-positive deer on the Texas landscape while adopting reasonable movement qualification standards that allow qualified deer breeders to begin moving and liberating captive deer. The complexity associated with the development of this framework is immense.”

A joint agency CWD Working Group will now focus efforts on developing individual herd plans for affected deer breeders and develop a plan for strategic sampling of hunter harvested deer from free-ranging populations this fall.

“Our goal was to protect the health of free-ranging and captive breeder deer, while maintaining business continuity for the breeder industry,” said Dr. Dee Ellis, TAHC Executive Director. “We believe this plan accomplishes those goals.”

Factors such as level of connectedness to the index facility, level of testing in the TAHC Monitored Herd Program, relative percentage of the overall herd that has been tested, and variable liberation criteria are all being considered in development of the herd plans.

The TAHC and TPWD are continuing the investigation of the index facility in Medina County, where 42 deer have been euthanized and tested for CWD.

“The results from the partial testing of the animals in the Index Facility, as well as samples from the CWD-exposed herds, are important to making reasonable, prudent, and responsible decisions for the remaining captive herds, neighboring landowners, and wild deer,” said Clayton Wolf, TPWD Wildlife Division director.

Texas Dove Hunting Season: Lock & Load!

Dove hunting is a big deal in Texas. We’ve got a number of dove species found across the state, but the most widely known species by hunters are mourning and white-winged doves. I always look forward to dove hunting season, and not just because it is the first a long line of Texas hunting seasons. September 1 is always looked upon favorably, even if it’s just a fair opening day.

Texas is home to lots of doves. Lots! Wildlife officials estimate Texas has a resident mourning dove breeding population of about 50 million birds. That is significantly more than any other state and about 18 percent of the nation’s total mourning dove population of 275 million.

The numbers increase substantially once the millions of migrant mourning doves from northern states that pass through Texas each fall, and a rapidly expanding white-winged dove population that has exploded to well over 10 million over the last decade or so. All those birds make for good dove hunting, which makes for a large dove harvest.

Last hunting season was great one according to harvest figures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In summary, 300,000 Texas dove hunters shot more than 5.5 million mourning doves and nearly 2 million white-winged doves during the 2014-15 season. Fire up the grill. That’s a lot of bacon and jalepenos.

The banner harvest, up significantly from 2013, came largely as the result of optimum nesting conditions that put big numbers of young birds in the field ahead of the 2014 season opener. Wildlife officials are saying the upcoming dove hunting season may be just as good as last year thanks to abundant spring and summer rainfall that created banner nesting conditions for doves and left behind optimum habitat ripe with good dove forage.

No matter which corner of Texas you dove hunt, expect birds to be in good numbers. If you have food for our winged friends in the form of shredded sunflowers or waste grain in harvested ag fields, then expect great dove hunting. Good luck!

Range & Habitat Management: Prescribed Fire Workshop

The key to maintaining healthy plant and animal communities is range and habitat management. The Academy for Ranch Management is offering a basic prescribed burning workshop Aug. 6-8 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Sonora Station located on State Highway 55 between Sonora and Rocksprings. The basic course is open to those wanting to learn about the benefits of prescribed burning and the basics of planning and carrying out a prescribed burn, said Ray Hinnant, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research senior research associate in College Station.

“This looks to be an excellent year to grow grass, which is fuel for a prescribed burn, across the entire state,” Hinnant said. “This might be a good time to begin planning for a prescribed burn either this summer or next winter/spring.” He also said this workshop would be a great follow up for those who attended the recent Rancher’s Roundup in Abilene.

The workshop also constitutes the first half of Texas’ Prescribed Burn Board-approved course required for Certified and Insured Prescribed Burn Manager licenses by the Texas Department of Agriculture, Hinnant said. A license holder has the ultimate authority and responsibility when conducting a prescribed burn, according to department rules. The burn manager must meet the minimum standards of training and experience and maintain required insurance. There are three types of certified and insured burn managers: private, commercial and not-for-profit. Continue reading

Riparian Habitat Restoration Workshop for Texas Landowners

Riparian Habitat is Important

There is nothing better than riparian habitat. It’s true, the plant communities that comprise riparian areas are critical for wildlife. In many cases riparian areas have higher plant and animal diversity than surrounding areas. Although riparian areas such as creeks, streams and rivers are ever-changing, unprecedented rain events can cause serious problems with the health and function of these systems in the short-term. Central Texas has been hammered with rain, but Texas landowners have help when it comes to figuring out what to do with their flood-impacted properties.

The Nature Conservancy, Texas Parks and Wildlife, City of Wimberley, Texas A&M Forest Service and other Central Texas conservation agencies and non-profit organizations are offering natural resource restoration workshops June 10, 11 and 12 for landowners and residents whose properties were affected by flooding on the Blanco River. Water is important for the Hill Country, but it’s also important that riparian areas function properly.

What: The workshops will cover the do’s and don’ts of riparian (stream side) recovery following the Blanco River flooding. Field trips will cover restoration tips and plant identification and provide an opportunity for attendees to ask questions of Texas’ top riparian restoration experts. Continue reading

Hunt Harvest App for Texas Hunters

It’s almost turkey hunting season in Texas and I’m excited! Not only are the toms getting a little restless but so am I after a cold, wet weather. The spring season for turkey starts on March 21, but a new app can help hunters document their harvest. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recently released the My Texas Hunt Harvest App for iPhone and Android devices, which allows hunters to report harvested game in real time on smartphones or tablets.

Texas hunters can use the app to record the number of harvested game animals, including eastern turkey where all animals must be documented. Hunters can also view harvest history, including dates of location of each hunt. This will help us remember the details, but should not limit our ability to embellish our stories around a campfire. The Texas Hunt Harvest App will be most convenient for hunters in east Texas. Successful hunters can check Eastern turkey harvested without having to visit physical, official check stations. This will save hunters both time and money.

My TX Hunt App

Wild turkey hunting season continues in South Texas counties until May 3. Youth hunters get another shot May 9-10 if needed. The annual bag limit for turkey is four gobblers, but as in the past only one may be an Eastern turkey.

Believe it or not, turkeys were almost extinct in Texas a century ago. Careful population management and support of landowners and hunters have brought the famous bird back from disaster, according to TPWD biologists. State figures show that turkeys now inhabit 223 of the 254 counties in Texas.

The Eastern wild turkey is the most populous of the five subspecies of turkeys — in the eastern U.S. It not as prevalent, but certainly as sought after, in South Texas. Eastern birds are bigger than the two other prevelant turkey subspecies in Texas, with body weights of around 25 pounds. The other subspecies are the Rio Grande and Mirriam’s wild turkeys. Rios are found just about everywhere west of IH-35 and Mirriam’s turkey are limited to the northern Trans-Pecos in Texas.

Deer Management: Suburbs are Food Plots for Deer

Managing suburban deer populations is a challenge for both home owners and wildlife management professionals. So when the phone range, I knew it was going to be a tough day. The phone call came from a suburb known to have a robust white-tailed deer population and have emotionally charged debates about their “issue.” Somehow, a buck had gotten wrapped up in a tangled mass of volleyball net and 3 heavy posts. Adjacent the “court” was a lush, green food plot consisting of a yard overseeded with annual ryegrass. The net covered his eyes and his mouth, and we weren’t sure he would be able to eat or drink on his own.

This is a familiar scene in urban, suburban, and rural suburbs with overabundant deer populations. Because deer management in communities can be emotionally charged, and lead to conflict between neighbors, it’s a good idea to get assistance from professional wildlife managers. A one day workshop will be offered this May to provide that guidance, entitled “Addressing Conflict with Deer in Our Communities.” The workshop will give residents, communities and municipal leaders the tools, information, and management strategies they need to resolve conflict with deer and about deer.

Control Urban Deer Overpopulation - Whitetail Deer Management

Topics will include:

  • Why do white-tailed deer thrive in our communities?
  • Evaluating your situation and identifying measures for success. How bad is your deer problem?
  • Identifying and building support for deer management solutions
  • Real world case studies: What worked and what hasn’t?
  • Deer management tools and solutions
  • Regulatory authority versus management responsibility: Whose job is it?

When we arrived, the white-tailed buck seemed to be waiting for us, less than a hundred yards of the landowner’s “food plot.” After a few false starts, and just at the right moment, we made our move. The deer saw through the ruse (and the netting), skirted between us, and gracefully jumped over a 6 foot privacy fence and trotted casually away. All 3 of us rolled our eyes and immediately packed up our fancy equipment. If the buck could do all that, he didn’t need our help. This suburban deer was going to be fine.

It turns out, as is often the case, that the problem was never about the deer. It was about the different human opinions on how to manage the deer. We spent the next few months providing recommendations to resolve the underlying conflict within urban environments with a proactive, rather than reactive approach to managing the local deer herd. I hope that both this community and your community joins us in San Marcos on May 29th for a great workshop.

Richland Creek WMA Hunting & Birding at Wetlands

Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area is known for producing large-antlered white-tailed deer, but it’s man-made wetlands also offer excellent duck hunting and birding opportunities. The north unit has had wetland impoundments for some time, but recent and additional wetland development has increased surface water, making the area even more attractive to wintering waterfowl and shorebirds.

Source: “The benefit of the a wetlands project such as this one is it actually accomplishes more than one goal,” Kramer said. “It is much more beneficial than other types of wastewater and water supply projects because it provides habitat for birds and other types of wildlife.”

While the bird counts vary throughout the year, Symmank said they have soared as high as 30,000. Last week, about 10,000 birds were hanging out, many getting ready to head northward for the spring migration. By April, most will be gone, having flown off for the Dakotas, Canada or even Alaska. Besides hunters, the wetlands are also becoming an increasingly popular place with birders.

During field trips over Feb. 27-28, the Texas Ornithological Society counted 84 species of birds on the wildlife management area’s two units. The 5,209-acre North Unit contains the wetlands while the 9,029-acre South Unit in Freestone County consists of bottom-land hardwood forest.

“The bird population down there — it’s just gone crazy, it’s just increased exponentially,” said D.D. Currie, the regional director for Piney Woods region of the Texas Ornithological Society who splits time between Arlington and a second home in Henderson County a few miles from the wetlands.

Currie, who has traveled all over Texas to see birds, said she can now find most of them at the wetlands. “Five years ago, you wouldn’t have seen a white-faced ibis there but now you can see as many as 30,” Currie said. “There so many bald eagles out there, they’re like gnats. Now there’s a dozen out there with a breeding pair on the South Unit.”

But this time of year, ducks are the predominant species. The northern pintail duck was the most prevalent last week, but there also were plenty of northern shovelers, gadwalls, green-winged teals, blue-winged teals and mallards. While the ducks showed a preference for the water, a juvenile bald eagle and a northern harrier hawk alternated between flying over the wetlands and perching atop nearby trees.

“A lot of pintails will be leaving soon, and we’ll see a flush of more blue wings coming through,” Symmank said. And this summer, they’ll be replaced by a new population of birds, including wood storks, roseate spoonbills, great egrets and great blue herons. Hunters are finding plenty of ducks in the wetlands public hunting areas.

During the duck season that ended on Jan. 24, almost 2,600 hunters came to Richland Creek and killed 7,833 birds, according to Parks & Wildlife statistics. While duck hunting has declined in popularity across some areas of the country, it is growing in Texas. The estimated number of duck hunters climbed from 54,675 in 2008-2009 to 99,514 in 2013-2014, according to Parks & Wildlife.

“I don’t know why,” Symmank said. “It’s just becoming more popular in Texas. The TV show “Duck Dynasty” is real popular. That may have something to do with it but I don’t know.” Many first-timers come to public lands to try out duck hunting and they often have questions. “It’s more complicated than some other forms of hunting,” Symmank said. “I end up walking people through on the phone about what permits they need.”

Because of the nasty weather — and with duck season being over — the birds were largely undisturbed last week. But hunters from as far away as Minnesota and Wisconsin were camping at the wetlands and searching for feral hogs. For birders, Currie said, it is important to be aware of the hunting seasons when visiting the property.

“It’s an active wildlife management area so there could be hunters there,” Currie said. “It’s pretty primitive so you need to take a lunch and take some water and be prepared to go the bathroom behind a tree. You’ll need to allot quite a bit of time to see it all out there.”