How did Texas ’fisheries, wildlife and habitats withstand winter storms? Early reports are not so encouraging

The polar vortex that hit the south last week with snow, ice and record low temperatures has trapped many people and saved life, as we know it. Many who have survived the winter storm will always remember it as a chaotic week when Texas froze and all sorts of problems arose:

To sprite:

The state power grid has suffocated, leaving millions defending the ruthless cold in the dark with no heat for days.

Limbs broke and trees fell, carrying high-voltage power lines.

Pipes exploded, flooding countless homes and businesses.

Roofs collapsed and ceilings collapsed.

Lakes and ponds froze.

At the Lake O ‘The Pines and Toledo Bend reservoirs, sections of two popular indeed marshes sank under the weight of ice and snow.

Excessive demand for gasoline has caused long lines at pumps.

Grocery shelves were stripped and many fast food restaurants lacked meat for tacos and buns for burgers.

For many finding clean water to drink and hot water to bathe has become a challenge.

To make matters worse, all these difficulties and more have fallen on a protracted pandemic that refuses to go away.

Texas ’fisheries, wildlife and habitat have also been successful in the winter storm. It’s still too early in the game to know the full extent of the damage caused in the outside world, but some of the early reports indicate it’s not pretty.

A panel of experts from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department offered some thoughts on the situation so far:

White-tailed deer and exotic animals

Texas wildlife experts say exotic animals like ax deer and black male antelope were especially hard hit by the cold weather that gripped the state last week.  These ax deer perished on a ranch in Edwards County near Rocksprings, where temperatures dropped to 4 degrees.
Texas wildlife experts say exotic animals like ax deer and black male antelope were particularly hard hit by the cold weather that gripped the state last week. These ax deer perished on a ranch in Edwards County near Rocksprings, where temperatures dropped to 4 degrees.(Ryan Schmidt / TPWD)

White-tailed deer Alan Cain does not anticipate major losses with white-tailed deer except for a few older animals.

“Obviously, some mortality from the very old deer or those deer in poor bodily condition is to be expected – this is just nature, survival of the fittest,” Cain said.

Cain has shown potential damage to indigenous habitat in some areas as a more urgent concern. He said some brush species in South Texas that had green leaves before the freeze are now burnt or brown.

“We’re also seeing some impact on the winter weeds, which are critical for deer this year and in the early spring,” he said. “There are still some green spots, but we also see a lot of it burned by the frost. I hope the humidity of the snow and ice has soaked into the soil that we will see a good start of the spring greening during the warm temperatures. “

Exotic animals did not fare so close during the winter outbreak. Ax deer and black male antelope were among the hardest hit.

“A lot of the exotics don’t feel good with long periods of extreme cold,” Cain said. “I have heard reports of ax deer seeking refuge in barns on some ranches in the Hill Country, which is completely unexpected. This only shows how desperate some of the ax deer found shelter from the weather. I suspect it will be a few weeks before we know the full impact on the exotics. “

Coastal Fish Kills / Shad Die-offs

A boat ramp at the upper reaches of Lake Palestine is flanked by ice after snow, sleet and a few days of freezing temperatures hit the state.  The severe weather event forced Major League Fishing to relocate its Feb. 21 and 25 Redcrest Championship Bass Pro Tour from Lake Palestine to Lake Eufaula in Alabama.
A boat ramp at the upper reaches of Lake Palestine is flanked by ice after snow, sleet and a few days of freezing temperatures hit the state. The severe weather event forced Major League Fishing to relocate its Feb. 21 and 25 Redcrest Championship Bass Pro from Lake Palestine to Lake Eufaula in Alabama.(Ricky Vandergriff / Courtesy)

Unfortunately, widespread fish killings occurred along the Texas Coast when cold air cooled water temperatures into the mid-40s in shallow gulf systems. Reports of dead fish and cold sea turtles have begun to enter already on Valentine’s Day. A quantification of the effects still persists, according to a February 23 TPWD news release.

Biologists and game wardens have documented deaths along the entire coast, but TPWD says it appears that gulfs south of Galveston were the hardest hit. Early estimates indicate that the majority of fish affected were non-recreational species, but game fish including spotted trout, red drum, sheep’s head, gray lute, snooker, black drum and tarpon were also affected. Experts will know more when gillnet samples and fisherman surveys begin this spring.

Freshwater sport fish are not as easy as mortals in freezing events, as they can usually find refuge in deeper water. However, shadows that give essential fodder for game fish are not always so lucky, according to TPWD fish biologist Brian Van Zee of Waco.

Van Zee said dead threads were reported at Lakes Texoma, Lavon and Graham.

“It’s not that unusual, especially at Lake Texoma,” he said. “Fortunately, shadows are quickly rebuilding. Once it warms up, they will start generating like crazy. “

Van Zee added that the game wardens at Falcon Lake in South Texas collected a lot of tilapia that perished in the cold.

Wild Turkey

Wild turkeys are large, robust birds. Likewise, the head of TPWD wild turkey Jason Hardin is not expected to see any major effects of the big frost.

“Most of our turkeys have to be good,” he said. “They should have had enough fat and energy reserves to survive. That said, all the birds that were in bad shape (malnourished, injured or sick) in this event would have had a harder time and more sensitive to predators. This has definitely drained fat.” reserves, so there could be an impact into the nesting season with reduced breeding effort, but if we can stay warm and green from now until spring they have a chance to replenish their reserves. “

Quail

Texas white-and-whites just can’t pause. The verdict still reveals how hard the iconic game birds may have been hit by the cold blast, according to Robert Perez, leader of the surrounding game bird programs.

“Our Texas quail species have adaptations to weather severe weather,” he said. “With the right exhaust cover available, the covey formation retains heat excellently. However, the snowfall seems to penetrate even a good exhaust cover, so cavities may have been pushed and possibly weakened.”

Perez added that icy events lasting more than 3-4 days can cause problems for the smart game birds.

“Bobwhite and scaly quails are just weak scrapers, so they don’t really adapt to a need to dig through ice,” he said. “After the body fat reserve disappeared, birds were found whole / frozen after long glacial periods in Texas Terland and Oklahoma. I haven’t received reports of that so far with this winter storm, but it’s possible.”

Pigeons, Ducks and Bats

Owen Fitzsimmons, the intact migratory leader of TPWD, said there are reports of deaths among white-flying pigeons, pelagic marine species and various songbirds, but he does not expect the effects to be significant. He believes some pigeon losses will quickly be offset by a decent breeding season.

“Birds have to consume a lot of food to generate heat and stay warm during prolonged cold weather,” he said. “It only takes a day or two without food to kill a bird in extremely cold temperatures. The bad part was that all the snow and ice made it impossible to find seeds / insects, so some birds did not succeed. “

Additionally, TPWD has reported hundreds of dead coots and multiple blue-collar kerchief deaths at state nature management areas, along with dead or cold-stunned bats under road bridges.

Giant Salvinia Inverted

The great freeze may have helped in the state’s ongoing battle against giant salvinia. The invasive plant is present in more than two dozen Texas reservoirs and several rivers, according to John Findiesen, the head of TPWD’s aquatic habitat improvement team.

“I’m not entirely sure what the long-term effects will be, but in the short term it looks good,” he said. “We had a cold weather event in January 2018 that was not as severe as this one and had a shorter duration, but it nevertheless wiped out 98 percent of the salvinia in the state. Giant salvinia covered nearly 6,000 acres of Caddo Lake by 2018 We found less than 50 acres of salvinia in our initial survey of a post-event event in 2018. “

Unfortunately, the plant has the ability to bounce back.

“This event will certainly help reduce salvinia coverage again, but I don’t know how long it will be before we see it floating again on area lakes,” Findiesen said. “Even if everything dies in Texas, it could easily be brought in from elsewhere by trailer, boat or other equipment.”

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. You can contact him by email, [email protected].

Joe McKay (right) and Ben Milliken with the 16.40-pound Toyota ShareLunker McKay landed at Lake OH Ivie on February 19th.  The 19,000-acre lake near San Angelo produced four other fish from 13.20 to 14.4 pounds between 21 and 25 February.

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