Not only for wildlife research and habitat management, the Engeling area informs visitors about habitat management in an applicable way so they can learn from demonstrations how to do it on their private land, said Tucker Slack, a wildlife biologist stationed there.
Wildlife research and demonstration of proper management of a wildlife area is the main objective, Slack said.
The overall mission, Slack said, is “to manage and conserve wildlife populations for future enjoyment of Texans … we are managing native wildlife populations and allowing the public to enjoy them.”
An interpretive panel displayed in Engeling Wildlife Management Area elaborates, saying the goals are to develop and manage wildlife habitat populations, conduct wildlife-related research, demonstrate habitat development and management provide for public hunting, wildlife viewing and enjoyment of wildlife.
The Engeling area, which covers 10,958 acres and is a division of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, relays to the public “good information” that promotes native wildlife, overall land health and good stewardship of the land, Slack said.
“People fall in love with the property,” Slack said. The wildlife management area attracts visitors for hunting, hiking, walking, bird watching, butterfly watching and viewing wildlife as well as seeing how the land is managed for habitat.
It had about 6,500 visitors in 2011 and about the same number the year before, said Jennifer Ganter, administrative assistant, but she added that visitation “has gone up and down over the last several years.”
Many visitors are from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex who consider the wildlife management area an “escape” from the big cities, Slack said.
Slack called it “a neat place to come” and said that many people have been coming so long that third generations of some families show up.
Depending on when they come, visitors can see song birds, migrating birds, deer, armadillos, bobcats, beavers, alligators, quail, turkeys, raccoons and other wildlife.
“We have a large diversity of animals here,” Slack said.
Upon entering, visitors register at a kiosk. They can travel an extensive system of main roads, cut-throughs and side roads as well as walking trails and pathways to see the wildlife area up close.
The driving tour allows visitors to view the results of habitat restoration.
The main entrance is from U.S. Highway 287, but there are also two entrances off Anderson County Road 473.
The county road bisects the property, separating the south unit with its flatter bottom lands and sandy uplands from the north unit, which has more typography, higher hills and sandier soil.
There are several ponds and springs on the property as well as two lakes where fishers catch blue gill, bass and catfish. A birding observation tower looks out over a beaver pond. The area also has native prairies, savannahs, riparian corridors and bogs.
Catfish Creek, a major tributary of the Trinity River, runs along the eastern boundary of the property. There are numerous sloughs and marshes along the creek. Bottomlands hardwood eco systems are associated with drainage into the creek. Wintering ducks and other water birds use the marshes as a wintering sanctuary for food and cover, according to information about the habitat.
The creek was designated in the 1980s as a national natural landmark because of the lack of human touch and influence on it.
As everything grades down to the creek, the difference in elevation from north to south accounts for much of the diversity of plants and animals, Slack said.
The vegetation consists of deciduous forest with an over story of oak, hickory, sweet gun and elm plus dogwood, American beautyberry, huckleberry, greenbrier and others.
The diversity of plants promotes a diversity of wildlife species, he said, noting open grasslands and areas of trees promote different types of animals although some animals need both.
Since many people don't really know what the wildlife management area does, a big part of its outreach involves finding opportunities to talk to people about what goes on at the facility, Slack said.
“We educate people about preservation and conservation; our hope is people will use what they see here on their private land,” Slack said. “If we can reach out and teach them lessons, we learn here, they can apply them and we can have a large-scale impact on wildlife in Texas.”
The wildlife management area uses five basic tools and the philosophy of naturalist Aldo Leopold for managing the habitat and wildlife: an ax to cut trees down, a grazing program, plowing, prescribed burn plans and hunting to manage wildlife populations and keep the numbers down to healthy levels within the capacity that the land will support.
Educational guides explain what wildlife management is, what habitat management is and what the area's goals are.
The area develops and manages wildlife habitats and populations of indigenous wildlife species and provides a site where research of wildlife populations and habitats can be conducted under controlled conditions.
Management workshops and programs are conducted in the wildlife conservation center, a large structure used for orientations of hunters and for other outreach events.
For example, during the summer a monthly habitat management workshop/seminar is conducted on the first Friday of the month and at certain times of the year there are larger programs when there are both indoor and outdoor sessions and field exercises.
Workshops are conducted in the spring, and fall presentations are made to civic groups and youth groups.
A demonstration area of about 30 acres is maintained showing small landowners how principles biologists learned from the large-scale management of the wildlife area can be applied to small-acreage sites.
Over the years, habitat-based research for native animals has been conducted, sometimes in conjunction with universities. Projects involved controlling problem species, alligator snapping turtle research and research of ticks and how they pass different diseases. There have also been wild turkey re-introduction efforts on the property.
“We have drawn hunts now; it's a public lottery type system,” Slack said, explaining biologists at the wildlife management area use hunting as a method of controlling the wildlife population. There's hunting for squirrels, doves, feral hogs, deer and ducks.
“We try to keep in mind that ultimately we are trying to manage the habitat for wildlife but we are using public hunting as a tool,” Slack said.
Permits are required and include the annual public hunting permit, computer drawn special permits (drawn hunts) and regular permits.
The area was originally named the Derden Wildlife Management Area after Milze L. Derden, from whom much of the land was purchased, but was renamed in honor of Gus A Engeling, the first biologist assigned to the area, who was killed by a water fowl poacher in December 1951.
The state purchased the acreage using Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program funds available under the Pittman-Robertson Act for wildlife habitat research, wildlife management and public use.