Landowners, Master Naturalists, educators, and the interested public are invited to a Playa Field Day Oct. 8, that features a timely panel presentation on “Playas & Wind Development: Practices, Protocols, & Outcomes.”
The field day will be from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Floyd County Friends Unity Center at 990 FM 786, adjacent to the south side of U.S. Highway 70 – halfway between Lockney and Floydada.
Panel presenters include Rick Hansen, habitat assessment biologist, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD); Tiffany Lyon, wildlife biologist with Western Ecosystems Technologies, Inc.; and Tylan Shelton, a former wind project developer and current asset manager of the South Plains II and Route 66 wind projects owned by Novatus Energy.
Activities begin with coffee and refreshments.
An opening presentation by Don Kahl, TPWD Region 1 Migratory Gamebird Specialist from Lubbock, will cover playa restoration possibilities through the Texas Playa Conservation Initiative (TxPCI).
Healthy playas ensure recharge of clean water into the Ogallala aquifer. The recharge rate through playas is 10 to 100 times greater than elsewhere.
Kahl says Texas has 23,037 playas, with 4,080 currently categorized as pristine/functional. Another 5,631 are currently listed as functional but at risk, and 13,326 playas are categorized as not functional.
Kahl’s TxPCI work, launched in 2015, seeks to rehabilitate playas listed as not functional. Others partnering with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in the effort include the Playa Lakes Joint Venture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ducks Unlimited, Texan by Nature, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Ogallala Commons.
“Our focus is on backfilling tailwater pits in grass-buffered playas. A hole in the clay pan of a playa, such as a tailwater pit, is a hole in the playa’s filter mechanism. Water gathered in a pit is not productive like rainwater spread shallowly over a whole playa basin. With pits, you lose the shallow water habitat,” Kahl says.
Kahl says TxPCI seeks playas to restore and directly contacts the landowner. The initiative pays 100 percent of restoration costs and hires and pays contractors.
Playa landowners receive a one-time incentive payment of $80 per playa acre and must enter into a 10-year agreement that precludes future pit creation in the playa.
The initiative has projects in Castro, Floyd, Swisher Briscoe, Hale and Armstrong counties thus far and as of spring 2019 had completed 13 pit filling projects with 489 playa acres restored. Thus far TxPCI has spent an average of $12,305 per project.
Primary funding for TxPCI is via migratory gamebird funds through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, federal and North American Waterfowl Conservation Act grants, and regional grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This effort shows that water conservation goes beyond what you do in your household. It’s important to realize where your water comes from, and the important role that playas play in keeping Ogallala aquifer water available,” said Kahl.
The panel presentation will be at 10:10 a.m.
At 11:15 a.m., participants will depart for a field tour to visit a nearby playa restored through the TxPCI, and also to view wind turbines in relation to playas.
The tour returns to the Unity Center for lunch. Jim Steiert, outdoor writer and playa enthusiast from Hereford, will close the event with brief remarks. His book, Playas: Jewels of the Plains (Texas Tech University Press, 1995) can be purchased at the event for $40.
Playas are shallow, rain-fed wetlands throughout the Great Plains. When containing surface water, playas provide crucial habitat for wildlife that depend on water to survive. When dry, playas also support several other Great Plains wildlife species because they are often the only natural lands in a region dominated by agricultural production. Playas also recharge water to the underlying aquifer, filter nutrients and chemicals from the surrounding watershed, and add recreational value to the region.
The Field Day is sponsored by Ogallala Commons and its partners, the High Plains Water District, the Dixon Water Foundation and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. Those attending are asked to wear clothing, footwear, and a hat suitable for the field tours. There is no charge for the event, though a $10 donation for lunch is appreciated.
Those planning to attend are asked to contact Darryl Birkenfeld, Ogallala Commons Director, at 806-945-2255 or firstname.lastname@example.org to insure an accurate lunch count.