Introduction and Purpose
Texas is one of the most ecologically diverse states in the Union. According to NatureServe’s 2002 States of the Union: Ranking America’s Biodiversity, Texas is second only to California in terms of its biodiversity. Texas has the highest number of birds and reptiles and the second highest number of plants and mammals in the United States. It has the third largest rate of endemism in the country (TPWD 2002). Much of Texas biodiversity is due to sheer size. It covers approximately 267,000 square miles of land and inland waters and lies adjacent to four states, Mexico, and the Gulf of Mexico. It the second largest state in the Union and the largest of the lower 48 states. There are 10 ecoregions within the state ranging from the Pineywoods of East Texas to the deserts and mountain ranges of West Texas. The Gulf of Mexico lines 367 miles of the Texas coast and provides important habitat for a variety of fish, invertebrates, birds, and mammals.
Texas species are as diverse and the Texas landscape. There are 5,500 species of plant in Texas, and greater than 425 of those species are endemics. There have been over 600 species of bird that have been identified within the borders of Texas and 184 known species of mammal, including marine species that inhabit Texas’ coastal waters (Schmidly 2004). It is estimated that there are approximately 29,000 species of insect in Texas that take up residence in every conceivable habitat, including rocky outcroppings, pitcher plant bogs, and on individual species of plants (Riley in publication).
Overall, Texas has tens of thousands of species that fall under the loose-fitting title “non-game.” These species are vital to the ecology of Texas. To help track and manage many of these non-game species, Texas has one of the strongest Wildlife Diversity programs in the country. In addition to our Wildlife Diversity program biologists, Texas also has the largest Urban Wildlife program in the county. With 80% of the Texas’ population living in or around the major cities of Texas, it is imperative the conservation education and opportunity be brought to the city. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Urban Biology program does this by offering landowner workshops, volunteer opportunities, and technical guidance to urbanites, absentee landowners, youth, and conservation organizations. In addition to our dedicated Wildlife Diversity staff, TPWD also has field Wildlife Biologists who provide technical guidance on wildlife management, provide assistance in regulatory programs, and provide educational opportunities primarily to rural residents.
All of the biological branches of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as well as our myriad of ecological partners spend a great deal of time, effort, and resources tracking many of the non-game species and ensuring their future in Texas. The State Wildlife Grants program has offered an opportunity for states like Texas to access and maintain a consistent source of funding that will help to secure a bright future for Texas wildlife and the people who enjoy it. In order to maintain these funds, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, as well as every state fish and wildlife agency in the United States, has been tasked with drafting a comprehensive strategy to address the habitat and species needs of Texas as well as promote and advance relationships with our partners within the state. The strategy must include the following eight elements to be considered a success:
1st Element: Information on the distribution and abundance of species of wildlife, including low and declining populations as the State fish and wildlife agency deems appropriate, that are indicative of the diversity and health of the State’s wildlife.
2nd Element: Descriptions of locations and relative condition of key habitats and community types essential to the conservation of species identified in the 1st element.
3rd Element: Descriptions of problems which may adversely affect species identified in the 1st element or their habitats, and priority research and survey efforts needed to identify factors which may assist in restoration and improved conservation of these species and habitats.
4th Element: Descriptions of conservation actions determined to be necessary to conserve the identified species and habitats and priorities for implementing such actions.
5th Element: Descriptions of the proposed plans for monitoring species identified in the 1st element and their habitats, for monitoring the effectiveness of the conservation actions proposed in the 4th element, and for adapting these conservation actions to respond appropriately to new information or changing conditions.
6th Element: Descriptions of procedures to review the Strategy/Plan at intervals not to exceed ten years.
7th Element: Descriptions of the plans for coordinating, to the extent feasible, the development, implementation, review, and revision of the Plan-Strategy with Federal, State, and local agencies and Indian tribes that manage significant land and water areas within the State or administer programs that significantly affect the conservation of identified species and habitats.
8th Element: Descriptions of the necessary public participation in the development, revision, and implementation of the Plan.
In addition to meeting the criteria and goals set forth to maintain this source of funds, the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy will also be a guide for the future of non-game and even some game species efforts. It will help the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its partners prioritize, evaluate, and reevaluate our priorities over the next five to ten years. Money for conservation is finite, so all sources need to be used in a fashion which takes into account the needs of the state wildlife and the needs of the landscape as well as the input of the people and ecological organizations of the state of Texas. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has strived to take all of these points into consideration throughout the process of drafting and compiling this document so that the wildlife of Texas enjoys a strong and abundant future.
Organizational Structure – Development, Implementation, Review and Revision of the CWCS
To ensure a diversity of opinions and representation in the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS), Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, in conjunction with Texas State University, hosted the 2004 Wildlife Diversity Conference at Texas State University, San Marcos in August. This conference was intended to bring together a diversity of professional biologists, provide a forum for dissemination of current biological information by those biologists, and create a workable structure on which to draft the CWCS.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff attempted to contact all Texas state and federal agencies as well as ecological non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working within the state. Out-of-state NGOs with demonstrated interest in Texas wildlife and wildlife issues and potential for influencing future projects based on State Wildlife Grant funding were also contacted. The conference was successful, and 150 professionals attended at least one of the three days of the event. The event highlighted the natural regions (ecoregions) of Texas on the first day and species group breakout sessions were hosted the second day. The final day focused on increasing support for drafting the CWCS and enlisting volunteers to participate in the project.
Prior to the conference, it was decided that creating working groups to draft the strategy would be the most efficient method to attract partners and gain information. Additionally, working groups would potentially provide a faster turnaround in the development of a draft the strategy. Working groups were species-based and consisted of a mammal group, bird group, herptile group, terrestrial invertebrate group, and an aquatic group. The aquatic group was comprised of a combination of inland, freshwater specialists as well as coastal, saline specialists. Response was excellent, and the working groups included some of the top specialists in the state. All of the organizations represented by the specialists are noted in this document.
Each working group maintained a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department chair and one or more co-chairs from outside of the agency. The working groups were tasked with gathering information to meet elements one through four of the CWCS requirements. Each working groups met from one to four times with scheduled agendas and deliverables due at the end of each meeting. The first task for each group to accomplish was to create a list of species in greatest conservation need. In order to create the list of species of concern, the following guidelines were used:
All native Texas species were candidates for review
Listing state or federally listed Endangered and Threatened species was discouraged but not precluded
Identifying a species as belonging to any of the following categories established it as a strong candidate for listing in the CWCS list of species of concern:
Species with localized “at-risk,” or fragmented populations
Species with fragmented or isolated populations
Species needs not being met by current funding sources
Species of economic importance to the state of Texas
These criteria were adapted from the Teaming with Wildlife Committee, September 15, 2003 memo “Identifying Species in Greatest Need of Conservation.” Additional criteria were determined during early sessions of the working groups.
Prior to group meetings, a list of known Texas species was sent to each member of the working group. Working groups used available data as well as expert opinion to determine which species fulfilled the listing criteria. Each group member had the opportunity to highlight species they considered strong candidates for listing. Once the list was updated, the working groups met to discuss the species that should remain on the list for final submission.
The bird working group provides an excellent example of this process: Prior to the first meeting, the chair and co-chair created a list of individual bird species that have been documented within Texas. After removing known vagrants and exotics species, it was sent to each member of the working group. If any member of the working group listed or marked a species as being important, that species remained on the list until the first meeting. Of the original list of greater then 600 species, approximately 380 species remained on the list when the first meeting began. At the first meeting members of the working group, with data and references in hand, discussed each remaining species and determined its final status as a species of concern. This was done with a democratic process where each working group member was allowed to discuss or present information (data) on any species. Each species was voted on. All of the working group members knew that this list was dynamic and could be altered throughout the course of the working group process. After the final list was prepared, it was sent to all of the working group members, including those that could not attend the first meeting. After reviewing and deliberating on the draft list the subject was briefly opened again at the second meeting and discussion ensued with several species reviewed a third time. Once the members of the working group spoke on each specific candidate species, the candidate species were voted on again. The final working list was set and the working group moved on to their next assignments. Resources used to create informed decisions for Texas birds included the following:
Texas Breeding Bird Surveys, 1966-2002
Texas Christmas Count Surveys
Partners in Flight North American Conservation Plan
United States Shorebird Conservation Plan, 2nd Edition
Water Conservations for the Americas, North American Waterbird Conservation Plan
Bald Eagle Nest Surveys
Breeding Non-colonial Waterbird Scores and Status for the Southeast U.S. Waterbird Conservation Plan
Available U.S Fish and Wildlife Service data
Heritage global and state scoring and information
Due to time constraints, species were ranked on a three-tier system. The simple tiers of high, medium, and low priority were established within each working group. Species of highest priority were determined to be in the greatest need of conservation. These species were typically threatened or endangered, in significant decline and with populations heavily at-risk. Disjunct or isolated populations that could be highly impacted by catastrophic events may also have qualified as high priority. Species of medium priority were deemed to be declining or at-risk but not in critical need of immediate support. These species may be declining at a significant rate; however population size is still estimated to be substantial. Species of lowest priority were typical more stable; however the populations may be vulnerable to decline. Low risk species may also have been species with which the working groups required more information on and could not completely asses but did not wish to abandon. These species may be at-risk however more research and knowledge would be required to establish this. Low risk species may also have less vulnerable populations in other states or in Mexico.
Heritage rankings (number 9, above) were used differently by the individual working groups. The greatest contrast was between the terrestrial invertebrate working group and the other groups. There are approximately 28,975 species of terrestrial insects in Texas (Riley, in publication). In order to reduce the number of listed species the Heritage database was employed by looking most closely at species with a global rank of one (G1 - imperiled) or two (G2 - rare). This immediately brought the reviewed number of species into the hundreds. Other terrestrial invertebrate species were considered, especially those that had not yet been placed in the Heritage database. Many species “groupings” such as South Texas palm grove beetle assemblages were also reviewed and eventually placed on the list. Little is known about this group, however habitat fragmentation is placing its habitat type in decline and therefore the assemblage is in greater peril. The bird working group did use the Heritage database to make priority decisions; however just listing G1 species would not have created a comprehensive list. The majority of the species that are on the bird list are G3 (uncommon or restricted) and above. These species were still deemed to have significant detrimental biological factors associated with their survival and are often in decline.
One factor that confounded the review of some species was the lack of information on or the secretive nature of the species. This was most true of invertebrate species. Similarly, survey efforts of mammals have been applied unequally across Texas. Other then lack of time, lack of information on a genus or species was often the driving force behind the liberal use of expert opinion. To create the most comprehensive and appropriate list of species, working groups often relied on the opinions of scientists who have current and historical knowledge of species and are regarded as authorities. Their research and monitoring activities are often the only source of information on a particular species or genus.
Not all working group members could attend each meeting; however the entire working group was invited to review and comment on the output from each of the previous meeting. Most of this was done via e-mail. At least one group decided to conduct much of their correspondence and production via e-mail because of geographical range of working group representatives and the difficulty of travel. Many of the members of the working group also presented information to species specialists that were not members of the working groups. All of these professionals essentially gained entrance and provided input into the original working groups through the working group member that contacted them. This input was taken very seriously by working group members.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department had over 50 staff members involved in this process. Each major wildlife region and district associated with TPWD was represented. Each of these regions and district cover a wide variety of habitat types and communities. The Inland Fisheries Division and Coastal Fisheries Division were also heavily involved with the aquatic working group. Each Division Director as well as the Chief Operating Officer, the Chief of Staff and the Executive Director was kept apprized of the status of the strategy and the working group’s progress. Each person was invited to offer input, advice, or general comment at several stages of development. The Communications Division Director and her staff were instrumental in developing and implementing the public input methodology. Overall, the internal work and effort from TPWD staff was unprecedented.
External participation was also unparalleled, with a number of Universities, NGOs and agencies participating in the working groups or having input through the established TPWD Wildlife Diversity Policy Advisory Committee, a group of interested agencies, NGOs and landowner groups that help create direction for the Science, Research and Diversity program at TPWD. All of these organizations were eager to assist and added a great deal of important and needed information. Without these organizations the development of this strategy would not have been possible.
Review of the Strategy
The review of the CWCS was handled as part of the public participation process. Partners where encouraged to attend the public meetings that were designed for review of the strategy. Those agencies and organizations that were part of the orginial working groups were notified through their working group chairpeople to attend the meetings for a briefing on the strategy. Once the briefing was completed, the individuals were asked to please read the strategy online and make comments on the available forms or send in e-mails with attached comments. Documents were placed on the website, primarily as Word documents so that a tracking function could be used to make comments or amendments to the individual sections of the document. All comments were reviewed and changes to the final strategy were made or documentation was made as to why changes could or should not be made to the final document.
Revisions of the Strategy
All comments derived from federal, state and local agencies, Indian tribes, and other conservation entities were used to create the final draft of this strategy. As stated previously, the public comment process of the strategy was intented to gather information from these organizations as well as the general public. The groups will be encouraged to add signiticant edits to revisions that occur every five years.
Implementation of the Strategy
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department currently uses a grant proposal system to do research or on-the-ground conservation using State Wildlife Grant money. In order to ensure that all conservation organization can be involved in this process and therefore receive funds from the State Wildlife Grants program, TPWD staff are encourage to find partners to assist with and/or help finance certain projects. Once this strategy is in place and TPWD’s partners have had an opportunity to digest the contents of this document, those groups can then contact appropriate TPWD staff and attempt to obtain funds for projects. This will allow for many or potentially most of the money spent from this grant program to be done with the support or the direct partnership with state and national conservation entities. In addition, there is the potential for TPWD to simply have a set aside fund or funds for “pass through” grants from State Wildlife Grant appropriations. This would allow universities or conservation organizations to submit grant proposals directly to the State Wildlife Grants administrator for evaluations and possible funding. By doing this, the groups submitting the grant does not need to work with TPWD personnel and could submit without a “sponser” staff member. This would potentially reduce the partnering aspects of this program but it could increase the number of organizations that would seek funding.
Procedures for Review of the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy
Texas Parks and Wildlife has been fortunate to have had the input of multiple conservation organizations during the drafting of the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. Many of these partnerships were developed at the August, 2004 Wildlife Diversity Conference held in San Marcos, Texas at Texas State University hosted by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. In order to keep these partnerships active and to create new opportunities for conservation organizations to partner on new projects it is important that the conservation community come together to review and redraft the CWCS in regular and reasonable intervals.
Because of rapid changes in technology and the need to conduct large and long term large conservation projects, it is important to reevaluate nongame conservation progress at intervals not to exceed 5 years. It is also important that the CWCS be reviewed and evaluated with the input of our conservation partners as well as the public. Throughout the life of each CWCS, a website (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/grants/wildlife/cwcs/) will be maintained to collect, summarize, and post public comments regarding the strategy. Additionally, forums such as the 2004 Wildlife Diversity conference are an excellent way to bring biologists together to evaluate individual conservation projects and determine if those projects are meeting the goals of the CWCS and the needs of conservation in Texas. If those goals are not being met, it is important to get input from partners and TPWD staff and make adjustments to ensure quality conservation. Future Wildlife Diversity conferences should be held at a minimum of every four years after the latest draft of the strategy has been submitted to USFWS. After the conference, changes or adjustments to the goals and objectives of the strategy should be made and a draft of the new document should be presented to the public for final review. The undated document should then be sent to United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in the fifth year. This method allows for formalized and scheduled interaction with conservation partners and ample opportunity for the general public to review and comment.
Throughout the life of each draft of the CWCS, it is important for TPWD to continually take comment on the current strategy and make amendments. Maintaining and updating the website and the electronic and paper comment forms in addition to drafting and releasing press information after each substantial modification of the strategy will allow TPWD to gain feedback at regular intervals. This feedback will permit TPWD to maintain consistent interaction with the public and partners and ensure shorter turn-around on major modifications and resubmissions to USFWS.
Public Involvement and Partnerships
A relatively recent method for obtaining public comments has been developed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for use in their proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, Oklahoma to Mexico/Gulf Coast (TTC-35) project. The methodology involves a series of public meetings along the proposed corridors, in which TxDOT, their subcontractors, and project contributors attend each meeting to discuss a series of poster boards designed to give the public information without overwhelming them. The posters are set up in a manner that allows the public to move from one poster to the next to gather “big picture” ideas, then move to regionally-specific posters with maps that indicate the proposed highway corridors as well as data that supports the need for increased focus on particular traffic-ways. These meetings were advertised six weeks in advance. This methodology lends itself to ease of movement from venue to venue, it is non-confrontational, and it allows the public to interact with critical personnel involved in the project. It promotes one-on-one interaction that allows no single person or special-interest group to monopolize a meeting with a specialized agenda.
There are a limited number of seats in the venue to promote movement and flow of the public. In addition to the posters and maps, there are locations within the venue to sit and write comments, a court stenographer is available for those who wish to make a verbal statements, and television/VCR/DVD combination sets that allow for the posters to be projected through a looping PowerPoint presentation for those attendees that can not stand or walk for great lengths of time. Also available are business card sized handouts that have phone numbers to call, e-mail addresses for commenting electronically, mailing addresses and the active website link for the project. Information is provided in both Spanish and English on the same card. At the entrance of each venue there are personnel available to greet and introduce the process. A large map allows attendees to place a mark in the approximate location of their home so that TxDOT knows how far attendees have traveled.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department emulated this process with the development of a PowerPoint presentation that can be transferred to poster boards as well as looped on DVD. The PowerPoint Presentation was developed to describe the need for the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS), to give information on the required elements of the strategy, and to receive comments on the success of meeting the required elements by TPWD and our partners. Our partners and the Wildlife Diversity Policy Advisory Committee representatives are listed in the presentation. Maps associated with the region of interest, based on the location of the meeting, were also available for the public to represent the project scope and the ramifications to their area or ecoregion. The Wildlife Division Planner, the Program Leader for Nongame and Rare and Endangered Species, a cadre of TPWD biologists, and partners traveled with the show to the different venues. Regional TPWD employees and partners were available at each meeting to assist in answering questions. These assistants were responsible for discussing biological components of the strategy while the planner answered questions concerning the strategy effort, scope, and ramifications of the document.
Copies of the PowerPoint presentation and the complete CWCS were made available to the public so that individuals could comment directly on the text. Prior to the event, sections of the draft strategy could be downloaded from the TPWD-hosted website (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/grants/wildlife/cwcs/) to allow the public to be more informed about the project. The website and instructions for downloading the project was issued in the press release prior to the public comment sessions.
Public Meetings were held in the following cities and venues: