On Oct. 15, the Comptroller’s office will host a virtual meeting to provide updates on endangered species research and policy in East Texas. The meeting also will inform industry leaders, government agencies, local stakeholders and scientists about U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) status assessments and plans for more than a dozen species under review, including the western chicken turtle.
Unprecedented cooperation between these groups in the last six months, facilitated through the Comptroller’s East Texas Initiative, has created a unique opportunity to pursue range-wide surveys, consider voluntary conservation plans and create regulatory certainty for those who depend on and work in the piney woods and rivers of East Texas.
“Economic and ecologically sustainable solutions can be found when industry and business stakeholders join together with private landowners, passionate nonprofits, government agencies and expert researchers to solve issues in a collaborative way,” said Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar. “The potential for results that benefit the economy and the environment is now great in East Texas. I’m excited to see what comes next in this stakeholder-driven process, and my office will continue to facilitate communication and research among these diverse partners.”
The timber industry has been a leader in fostering this cooperation. Private landowners and corporations have provided access for surveys. The Texas Forestry Association has hosted meetings to inform its members and spread the word about opportunities to participate.
“In the forest sector, it’s paramount that decisions be based on sound science fueled by accurate and complete data,” said Rob Hughes, executive director of the Texas Forestry Association. “We are thrilled to work with the Environmental Institute of Houston at University of Houston-Clear Lake (EIH) research team on the western chicken turtle and the Texas Comptroller’s office on all species for which the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering taking action.”
EIH is the lead investigator on this Comptroller-funded research of the western chicken turtle. Mandi Gordon, a senior biologist at EIH, lauded the cooperation of the stakeholders involved.
“The stakeholders are amazing,” Gordon said about the help she has received with access to survey sites. “Nonprofit organizations like the Katy Prairie Conservancy and the Galveston Bay Foundation, school districts including Dickinson ISD, private landowners, the timber industry, river authorities, herpetologists at Texas A&M University Natural Resource Institute, Texas Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have all helped. I’ve never seen this much support.”
Environmental groups have been instrumental by providing research sites and assistance in the field.
“This is exactly the type of open and transparent process needed,” said Mary Anne Piacentini, president and chief executive officer at the Katy Prairie Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust protecting coastal prairie in southeast Texas. “We can better protect broad-ranging species like this when we understand their needs and habitat use on private working lands and how these areas can supplement habitat on protected lands like ours.”
In addition to the western chicken turtle, FWS is assessing the status of six plant species, two mussels, the alligator snapping turtle, plains spotted skunk and tri-colored bat, all of which have habitat in East Texas. Conservation plans for the Louisiana pine snake are in the works, and the red-cockaded woodpecker has been proposed for downlisting from endangered to threatened.
The Comptroller’s office will continue to host meetings and, in response to stakeholder needs, is planning to fund research on the mussels and alligator snapping turtles starting in 2021.