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Texas Drought Will Have Long-Term Effects

The Lone Star state is facing its third worst drought

By: by Jake Moore - OutdoorChannel.com

Does can't produce milk, so they are abandoning fawns. Birds are abandoning nests and young for a similar reason: They have to fend for themselves first. Predators are suffering from a lack of prey animals, as well as from the heat and a lack of water. Even springs are drying up.

That's just a snapshot of what's going on in Texas. Add in cattle dying from poor stagnant-water quality, dry land crops dying all over the state and a record low rainfall, and you've got problems -- ones that will probably last far beyond this year unless there's miraculous relief from tropical storms this summer.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) noted that "without rain relief, deer recruitment will be poor this year. Deer have been eating their summer forage, and there may not be anything left later in the summer.

"Turkey populations may also be down due to lack of food and cover," and the same can be said about upland game birds.

O.C Fisher Lake near San Angelo, with a normal pool of 5,440 surface acres of water, has literally dried up. Photo by Bobby Farqhar, Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept.
Fish may have it the easiest, but it's no picnic for them either.

"With continued lack of rainfall, we could see impacts on fish and wildlife that could be apparent for years to come,” said Cindy Loeffler, TPWD’s top water resource expert. "That’s based on reports from our wildlife biologists on poor recruitment of young of the year, very poor available food such as mast for deer and bugs for birds to eat, not to mention lack of drinking water.

“With fish, when you see these historically low levels of stream flows, we begin to see fish kills from low dissolved oxygen and high temperature."

Yes, it's that bad. The ongoing Texas drought is the driest since record-keeping was started 116 years ago. According to Texas A&M University researchers, February through June of this year was by far the driest, with a statewide average of just 4.26 inches of rain. The next driest year was in 1917 with 6.45 inches.

Record-low rain means boat ramps on some popular lakes are unusable due to low water levels. Central Texas' two major reservoirs, Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis, are about 48 percent low and as of this writing each had one boat ramp still useable.

Some fishing lakes are bone dry, particularly in west Texas. Take O.C Fisher near San Angelo: Its 5,440 surface acres of water (normal pool) are gone. Same for Baylor near Childress. That obviously hurts area fish, but the drought isn't helping area game animals like mule deer and pronghorns either.

The drought doesn't just directly affect fish and animals. Kevin Mote, TPWD's district leader at Possum Kingdom, noted in the Midland Reporter-Telegram that he's seeing "some woody vegetation mortality -- live oak, Spanish oak. If you add high browsing pressure to drought stress, you end up with long-term habitat degradation."

Not good, but there is a silver lining.

In the short term, species that relate to water -- like fish and waterfowl -- may be easier to catch and hunt because of the limited habitat. But sportsmen and women need to decide if putting that extra stress on the animals makes sense.

And right now in many lakes the receding shoreline means prey species have lost the cover of shoreline vegetation. They have nowhere to hide, and the predators -- like largemouth bass -- know it. According to published reports, this is causing a temporary spike in weights, but that spike will return to normal and then crash without rain.

Bison sit on parched grasslands in LBJ National Park. Photo by Rob McCorkle, Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept.
In the long term:

1. On well-managed ranches where native grasses are healthy, wildlife may weather the drought better than on ranches where overgrazing occurred.

2. When lakes come back, newly flooded shoreline areas will be fertile, have a lot of vegetation growth and will jump start young-of-the-year game fish production.

Right now that is the best spin that can be put on Texas' future.

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