Written by Matt Wagner, Project Development, Texan by Nature
With over 95% of the land in the state of Texas being privately owned, it is imperative for landowners to be educated on how to properly care for the natural resources that they have in their own backyards. In order to ensure a prosperous future for our state’s people, prosperity and natural resources, it is important that landowners are aware of the tools available at their fingertips through Texas’ non-profit and government natural resources organizations. At Texan by Nature, we recognize the ability everyone has to positively impact and preserve the land around them, and it all starts with a first step. As part of #TxN5WayFriday series, we will dive into 5 ways you can be a successful land and wildlife steward.
1. Locate Your Land on a Map
Being a landowner, you are no doubt accustomed to locating your property on a map of Texas, but did you know that the state of Texas is broken up into distinct ecoregions? Each ecoregion has its own unique geographical features that distinguish one from another. For example, a ranch located in the Edwards Plateau will have drastically different features when compared to a ranch located in the High Plains. Think you have an idea of what ecoregion your land is in? Test your knowledge by locating your property on the Ecological Regions of Texas map below:
2. Identify Soils, Plants, Wildlife, and Water Features Associated with Your Property
Does your land contain woody vegetation? What about the soil? Is it loamy or sandy, or perhaps both? How many different species of wildlife have you observed on the property? Does a creek or river run through your allotted acreage? This may all seem a bit overwhelming, especially if you are the owner of a large piece of land, but there are numerous online resources available to you, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Web Soil Survey for helping determine different types of soil, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Ecosystem Mapper to narrow down what ecoregion encompasses your land. If you are unfamiliar with identifying different species of wildlife, apps such as iNaturalist is a fantastic tool utilized by both biologists and everyday citizens that can help you with proper identification. There are also many field guides available that help with becoming familiar with the flora and fauna of Texas such as UT Press’ Texas Natural History Guides, Texas A&M Press’ Nature Guides, and TPWD’s Texas Wildlife Identification Guide, and many more! Texas Watersheds can assist you in pinpointing water sources, along with overall water quality, quantity, and ecosystem health. Another outstanding resource available to you is the Texas Forest Service’s Property Map, which can help you map out your land and all of its natural resources in a GIS format for easy access. On top of these resources, you can also get in touch with your county’s resident wildlife biologist, who would be more than happy to assist you in evaluations of your property.
3. Develop a Plan
Depending upon the size, location, and natural features of your property, you will be able to determine what current plants are on your land and what potential plants may arise from land management. Based on this vegetation assessment, you will be able to figure out what types of wildlife the habitat will support. By manipulating the woody and weedy vegetation on your land, various species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians can be attracted. Typical ways to manipulate vegetation include mechanical and chemical brush management, disking, seeding, rotational grazing, and prescribed fire. The scale of implementation and degree of intensity will depend upon the goals of the landowner, and potential of the land to respond. A good dose of patience is necessary to see the fruits of your labor over time. To assist you, various do-it-yourself forms and useful information can be found on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s website. Here, you can learn about the wildlife and land management activities and practices to apply to your specific region of the state under seven broad categories (Edwards Plateau and Cross Timbers & Prairies, Gulf Prairies and Marshes, High Plains and Rolling Plains, Pineywoods, Post Oak Savannah and Blackland Prairie, South Texas Plains, and Trans-Pecos). As previously mentioned, a trained wildlife biologist can also provide free on-site technical assistance.
4. Implement the Plan
You will need some equipment and a budget to execute your wildlife management plan, but it does not have to be expensive. Start with the simplest activities (i.e. erect bird nesting boxes, keep records of wildlife sightings, re-seed problem areas with native plants, and hand-cut heavy brush to allow sunlight to reach flowering plants) before attempting larger projects. Learn as you go and keep good records of rainfall and other environmental conditions.
5. Monitor Land Response and Adjust as Needed
Establish permanent photo points to monitor before-and-after vegetation conditions and keep a journal of wildlife sightings to estimate change in populations as habitat conditions change. After this, re-evaluate at one-year intervals, and make adjustments in timing, location, season, and activity.
Listed below are additional state and federal organizations that specialize in assisting private landowners with managing property. These organizations provide tips on proper land management methods, increasing ecosystem health, and helping spread awareness about successful land and wildlife stewardship.
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
Check out these TxN Certified projects as prime examples of successful land and wildlife stewards here in the Lone Star State: