Ducks Unlimited’s wetlands conservation focus in the Lone Star State
The mission of Ducks Unlimited (DU) remains the same today as it was when it was founded over 75 years ago. That mission simply stated is to provide for the needs of waterfowl throughout their entire life cycle. A simplistic statement, yet a monumental task given that waterfowl are migratory and dependent on quality habitat from one end of the North American continent to the other. DU has always recognized that protection of this critical habitat is key to the future of waterfowl. Since its inception in 1937 DU has remained steadfast and true to that mission, conserving over 11 million acres of wetland and associated upland habitat across North America.
Although it is clear that protecting and restoring prairie breeding grounds is the primary path to long-term waterfowl population security, we also recognize that wintering and migration habitats are not stable. Texas is blessed with an abundance of wild diversity. Nowhere is this more evident than in the bird life associated with Texas’ wetland resources. The unmistakable call of sandhill cranes, skeins of geese passing overhead, the nervous and seemingly inexhaustible probing of sandpipers, and the music of hooded and Swainson’s warblers permeating the river
bottoms in spring are just a few vivid examples. And opportunities to enjoy these birds exist year-round. Whether it is migrating warblers and vireos along the Gulf Coast in spring, southward migrating shorebirds in July, hummingbirds staging along the coast in fall, or waterfowl in the panhandle and on the coast in winter, bird enthusiasts from duck hunters to birders regard Texas’ bird resources as world class. However, the rich diversity of Texas avifauna comes with an awesome responsibility to conserve the diversity of habitats they require to survive. Conservation of these diverse habitats is the sole purpose of Texas CARE (Conservation of Agriculture, Resources, and the Environment).
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The dominant stress on most wildlife populations today is shortage of quality habitat. From playa lakes to bottomland forests to coastal prairie marshes, wetland birds have faced a rapidly changing environment in Texas for decades. Most of the change has not been positive. It is not surprising, then, that wetland habitat conservation through Texas CARE is crucial to an amazing number of wetland-associated species – ducks, geese, shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, and warblers to name a few. Ruddy turnstones and western sandpipers probing algal flats along the southern Texas coast care little that this habitat was restored through a partnership assembled primarily to look after the needs of waterfowl. Likewise, restored bottomland hardwood forests provide much needed habitat for mallards, little blue herons, and hooded warblers alike. The partnerships formed through Texas CARE are focused on the conservation of Texas’ precious wetland resources and the birds and other wildlife that call these habitats home.
The challenge is great.
The goal of Texas CARE is to protect and restore important wintering and nesting habitat without sacrificing our important conservation work in the breeding grounds of Canada and the northern U.S. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan and DU’s Conservation Plan recognize the necessity of federal, state, and private partnerships to fulfill the mission of restoring and enhancing wetland habitat. Under the banner of Texas CARE, DU will partner with Texas Parks and Wildlife and other public agencies, organizations, and individuals to raise funds and complete habitat conservation projects for the benefit of waterfowl and other wildlife in the Lone Star State.
There are three major focus areas in Texas. Together they provide winter habitat for nearly 10 million ducks and geese. In fact, Texas winters 90% of the Central Flyway population of ducks. In order for Texas to provide for the wintering and migration needs of these birds, DU and our partners are working to increase the quantity and quality of their foraging habitats. Restoring wetlands in these critical areas will increase the carrying capacity of the habitat, increase the birds’ over-winter survival rate, and improve their ability to reproduce successfully by facilitating good health and condition before their long migration back to the breeding grounds.
Gulf Coastal Prairie Region
Includes 28 Texas counties.
Contains two distinct types of habitats: 1) coastal marsh and 2) wet prairies and/or rice prairies.
Habitat problems that are limiting factors for waterfowl and wildlife include: 1) conversion and/or degradation brought about by agricultural activities, urbanization, and industrialization; 2) increased soil erosion and water quality impairment brought about by drainage and conversion of wetlands to cropland and rangeland; 3) saltwater intrusion and subsidence resulting from dredging of ship channels and construction of upstream reservoirs which alter downstream water flow; 4) availability of water resources; and 5) declining rice industry.
The Gulf Coast provides winter habitat for 2 to 3 million ducks and 1.3 million geese. The most common species are northern pintail, blue and green-winged teal, redhead, lesser scaup, mottled ducks, and black-bellied and fulvous whistling ducks. Over half of the Central Flyway waterfowl population winters on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Southern Great Plains Region
Includes 82 counties in the Texas Panhandle.
Habitat problems that are limiting factors for waterfowl and wildlife include: 1) conversion and/or degradation brought about by agricultural activities and mineral exploration; 2) sedimentation of playa basins; 3) modification of playa basins, such as the digging of irrigation pits; 4) agricultural farming practices (planting right up to or through the playas); and 5) overgrazing.
The playas provide important winter habitat for mallards, northern pintails, American wigeon, and green-winged teal. Winter populations can reach 4 million ducks and 1 million geese (snows and Canada predominantly). In some years, the playas winter up to 30% of the Central Flyway waterfowl, making the region second in importance only to the Gulf Coast. The area also winters up to 90% of the mid-continent population of sandhill cranes. When wetlands are flooded in spring, mallards, blue-winged teal, cinnamon teal, redheads and ruddy ducks produce broods in the playas. In addition, the playas provide very important migration habitat for many species of shorebirds.
West Gulf Coastal Plains Region
Includes 46 counties in East Texas.
Habitat problems limiting waterfowl and wildlife populations include: 1) conversion and/or degradation brought about by agricultural activities and urbanization; 2) fragmentation of remaining habitat; 3) reservoir construction; 4) industrial and/or commercial development; 5) gas exploration, both current and abandoned; and 6) invasion of exotic vegetation.
Several major river bottoms and large reservoirs winter up to 1 million ducks, of which mallards, gadwall, and green-winged teal are the most common species. Wood ducks winter and breed in the bottomlands in large numbers.
America has already lost over 50% of its wetlands, and continues to lose additional acres every year. A growing human population, pollution, and increasing demands for limited land threaten our wetlands at the expense of more than 900 species of wildlife that depend on them for survival. The goal of Texas CARE is to protect and restore 62,500 acres of wetland habitat within these three focus areas at an estimated cost of $24 million. With your support, DU can help insure that future generations of Texans have the opportunity to know and enjoy our wetland resources and the birds that are dependent on them. Please join us today to secure a brighter future for waterfowl and a legacy for future generations!
For more information about Texas CARE, contact:
Ducks Unlimited, Inc.
Texas Field Office
1620 FM 2218
Richmond, TX 77469