What a difference a year makes.
Last year at this time 71 percent of Texas was in severe drought conditions.
Today, it is only 1 percent.
Sure Lake Tyler is still down more than two feet. Last year it was down more than three.
And Lake Fork is still about two feet low. A year ago it was four.
It could be worse. There are still 15 lakes in western Texas that are below 20 percent of full capacity, seven of those are dry and probably growing tumbleweeds.
While East Texas lakes are on their way to being over the hump, the wait continues for those to the west. When the rain comes again the lakes will be restocked with fish, and then another long wait begins.
Wildlife’s recovery is also a split decision. Starting last fall, East Texas turned the corner and has been lush and green all spring. Fawns, and hopefully turkey poults, are hitting the ground finding pretty good conditions.
“Last year hit us hard in that we lost a lot of warm season bunchgrasses, primarily little bluestem which is a key plant for quail nests, fawning cover, etcetera,” said Kevin Mote, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department regional biologist for the Cross Timbers/North Central Texas Region.
Mote said the good thing is that much of the region got significant rain during the spring growing season.
“While this is a wonderful start to recovery, we won’t be back in the excellent range condition for at least another year even if moisture patterns remain favorable. There was just too much damage done to perennial grasses and shrubs to bounce completely back in one growing season,” he explained.
Improvement can’t be considered a general thing across the region.
“It varies by soil type, rainfall, and management. Some ranches that destocked early last year will rebound faster than those that continued to graze (using feed, hay and cubes),
“Some areas will remain scarred for many years, while other well managed properties will put the drought of 2011 in their rear-view mirror in a couple of years,” Mote said.
Not surprisingly, much of the land burned by wildfire is already showing signs of recovery. Some of it will ultimately be in better shape than it has been for decades.
“So much of our area that was burned is very rough, rocky and sometimes steep terrain and thus vegetation recovery is slower. There is definitely a visible change in many cedar choked slopes and even flat lands that have been opened up for the first time in half a century or more. Where deeper soils exist, last year’s fire coupled with this year’s rainfall has resulted in an explosion of early successional forbs. This means a lot of nutritious food for deer and is great for fawning cover and brood-rearing. The down side for quail at least is that nesting cover (on a large scale) is still at least a year away,” Mote said.
With young-of-the-year deer, quail and turkeys just starting to arrive, biologists don’t yet know how well numbers will rebound. What they do know is that for most species there will be a missing year class down the road after production and survival was almost non-existent last year.
“We don’t have hard survey numbers in yet, but we know reproduction for all species was impacted last year. Many of the turkeys that we have GPS transmitters on just didn’t attempt to nest (in 2011) and those that did were not very successful. I have not started seeing fawns yet. Quail and turkey reproduction are tough to gauge at this point,” Mote said.
Quail, a short-lived species, are in a precarious position without having had production last year.
In Texas Tech’s Quail-Tech Alliance newsletter, Charles Hodges may have said it best when he said “…the future of our sport was in the hands of bobwhite and bluequail hens that are grandmother hens pressed back into the service of their species. Grandmothers. These hens, at the end of their life carry the hopes of every member of the quail world. There were virtually no surviving chicks in the rolling plains last year. Therefore, there were no young hens to pick up the fallen flag and continue the battle to reproduce and survive. Grandmothers.”
Mote said the best news is that the region is still getting rain.
“It’s up to those that manage the land and to those of us who advise them to be patient and letter the land heal. We are off to a great start on the road to recovery,” he said.
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