Conservation Matters June 2012

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

  • Finch named director of Water Conservation and Technology Center

    Finch named WCTC directorDr. Calvin Finch was recently named the director of the Water Conservation and Technology Center (WCTC) in San Antonio. Administered by the Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) in partnership with the Texas Center for Applied Technology (TCAT), the WCTC is developing projects focused on high priority water issues in Texas. 

    "I look forward to being involved in directing and developing this center," Finch said. "As the 2011 drought has shown, the urgency and importance of water conservation and technology advancement cannot be underestimated or ignored."

    "Applied research and education are an essential part of Texas making the state water plan a reality," Finch said. "With the creation of the Water Resources and Technology Center, the Texas A&M system is stepping forward to play a leadership role in addressing the challenges of having adequate future water supplies for Texas. I am pleased to be a part of that effort."

  • Dunes sagebrush lizard not listed as an endangered species

    Dunes sagebrush LizardThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has announced that the dunes sagebrush lizard will not be listed under the Endangered Species Act. USFWS credited the decision to voluntary conservation agreements now in place in New Mexico and Texas that provided for long-term conservation of the lizard.

    Earlier this year, USFWS approved the Texas Conservation Plan for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, a voluntary species conservation plan spearheaded by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs with the help of stakeholders representing landowners, the oil and gas industry, agriculture and state and federal agencies.

    "This is a great example of how states and landowners can take early, landscape-level action to protect wildlife habitat before a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, in a press release. "The voluntary conservation efforts of Texas and New Mexico, oil and gas operators, private landowners and other stakeholders show that we don't have to choose between energy development and the protection of our land and wildlife--we can do both."

  • Wilkins receives Patriotic Employer Award

    Wilkins receives ESGR awardDr. Neal Wilkins, Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources director, recently received the Patriotic Employer Award from The National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. Wilkins was nominated by Clay Thompson, an institute employee and a member of the Air National Guard.

    The Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve is a volunteer organization of the U.S. Department of Defense. The annual award is given to recognize employers and supervisors who provide outstanding support for their employees who are members of the Guard and Reserve, according to George Dresser, Area 14 chairman of the Texas committee of the organization.

  • Texas Watershed Planning Short Course to be held Sept. 24-28 in Bandera

    Texas Watershed Short CourseThe Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) will present a five-day Texas Watershed Planning Short Course Sept. 24-28 in Bandera. The course will be held at the Mayan Dude Ranch, 350 Mayan Ranch Rd., about 47 miles northwest of San Antonio.

    "Voluntary, locally led watershed protection plans are one of the primary methods being used to restore Texas surface waters," said Kevin Wagner, an associate director at TWRI and course leader.

    "People attending this course will come out better prepared to develop watershed protection plans according to EPA guidelines," he noted.

  • Water Assistantship recipient to work with Center for Invasive Species Eradication

    The Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) has selected Texas A&M University graduate student Elizabeth Edgerton as the 2012-2013 recipient of the institute's new Water Assistantship Program. She will work closely with the institute's Center for Invasive Species Eradication and other statewide efforts to evaluate invasive aquatic species threats in Texas.

    Edgerton will compile current resources on status and trends of aquatic invasive species in Texas, begin identifying potential aquatic invasive species, begin assessing threats/risk for expansion of invasive aquatic species currently present in Texas, and initiate development of a priority list of species of concern and needed action.

  • New feral hog online resource provides multi-state expertise

    New feral hog onlineThe Texas AgriLife Extension Service has partnered with other land-grant university Extension entities and agencies to launch an important new resource, the Feral Hog Community of Practice, part of

    "This new resource area on will concentrate on the control, adaptive management, biology, economics, disease risks and human interface relating to feral hogs across the U.S.," said Dr. Jim Cathey, AgriLife Extension wildlife specialist who has lead this effort for the past year.

    To use the site, go to

  • Researcher says lessons from the Ogallala could help save Mexico's Calera Aquifer

    Dr. Francisco Mojarro, a researcher from the Autonomous University of Zacatecas in Mexico, is trying to find a way to save the Calera Aquifer, which is located in central Mexico. The most valuable source of drinking water in the region, the aquifer's continuous exploitation and low recharge rate is causing the groundwater level to decline at an unsustainable rate, Mojarro said.

    "It is clear that the solution to arrive at sustainable exploitation of the Calera Aquifer will require more than switching to a better irrigation system and crops with lower water requirements," said Mojarro at a June 22 seminar on the Texas A&M University campus.

  • Prescribed burn workshop scheduled for August in Sonora

    The Academy for Ranch Management will conduct a prescribed burn workshop at the Texas AgriLife Research Station near Sonora Aug. 2-4. The station is located on State Highway 55 between Sonora and Rocksprings.

    The Academy for Ranch Management is associated with the Center for Grazing and Ranch Management at the Department of Ecosystems Science and Management at Texas A&M University in College Station. The academy's primary goal is training ranchers for effective rangeland management, and the focus is now on prescribed burning for rangelands, said Ray Hinnant, a Texas AgriLife Research senior research associate in College Station and a workshop presenter.

    Prescribed burning is a tool that can be used to manage rangeland vegetation for livestock and wildlife use and also reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires by removing hazardous fuel loads.

    "2011 was one of the worst wildfire seasons in our recent past," Hinnant said. "Nearly 4 million acres of rangeland and forest burned, and over 3,000 homes were lost. Prescribed burning has the potential to significantly reduce hazardous fuels and catastrophic losses due to wildfires."

  • UT research shows groundwater depletion in Texas, California threatens food security

    UT Groundwater studyThe nation's food supply may be vulnerable to rapid groundwater depletion from irrigated agriculture, according to a new study by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and elsewhere.

    The study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, paints the highest resolution picture yet of how groundwater depletion varies across space and time in California's Central Valley and the High Plains of the central U.S. Researchers hope this information will enable more sustainable use of water in these areas, although they think irrigated agriculture may be unsustainable in some parts.

    "We're already seeing changes in both areas," said Bridget Scanlon, senior research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin's Bureau of Economic Geology and lead author of the study. "We're seeing decreases in rural populations in the High Plains. Increasing urbanization is replacing farms in the Central Valley. And during droughts some farmers are forced to fallow their land. These trends will only accelerate as water scarcity issues become more severe."

  • TWRI grant recipient compares water efficiency of various landscapes

    In the first year of a 5-year study, Sam Houston State University graduate student Rebecca Hammond found landscapes containing a greater proportion of woody plants use more water, while mostly turf landscapes used less. She also found turf will leach more water underground and can help recharge aquifers.

    A native of Coldspring, Texas, Hammond received a 2011-2012 Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) research grant. With the $5,000 research grant Hammond is working with her advising professor Dr. Tim Pannkuk to determine the amount of water used by different combinations of landscape plants.

  • Climate change will alter wildfire risks around the world, says TTU study

    A Texas Tech climate scientist said climate change is widely expected to disrupt future fire patterns around the world, with some regions, such as the western United States, seeing more frequent fires within the next 30 years.

    In the study published in Ecosphere, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal of the Ecological Society of America, researchers used 16 different climate change models to generate one of the most comprehensive projections to date of how climate change might affect global fire patterns. 

    "Most of the previous wildfire projection studies focused on specific regions of the world or relied upon only a handful of climate models," said Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech and co-author of the study. "Our study is unique in that we build a forecast for fire based upon consistent projections across 16 different climate models combined with satellite data, which gives a global perspective on recent fire patterns and their relationship to climate."

  • Advanced water rights workshop to be held in August

    Advanced WRAP WorkshopThe Texas Water Resources Institute will host an advanced Water Rights Analysis Package workshop Aug. 30-31 at the Spatial Sciences Laboratory on the Texas A&M University campus. WRAP is a generalized modeling system for simulating the development, management, allocation and use of the water resources of a river basin.

    The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's Water Availability Modeling (WAM) System consists of this modeling system, along with input data sets for all river basins of Texas, said instructor Dr. Richard Hoffpauir, a research engineering consultant for the Texas Engineering Experiment Station in College Station. Hoffpauir said the workshop will cover advanced aspects of the Water Rights Analysis Package, or WRAP, related specifically to simulations using daily time steps.

  • National eXtension Conference coming to Oklahoma City this fall

    Extension professionals are invited to the National eXtension Conference, to be held Sept. 30­-Oct. 5 in Oklahoma City. The conference's theme is "Spur on the Evolution of Extension," and it will include sessions on social media, evaluating reach, innovative education techniques, and more. Conference registration is $300 before Sept. 1 and $350 thereafter, and travel scholarships are available.

    eXtension is an interactive online collaborative environment where Land Grant University content providers exchange objective, research-based knowledge in real time. Covering topics ranging from family caregiving to oil spills to pest management, information on eXtension's website is designed for the general public and to complement the community-based Cooperative Extension System. More information, including hotel and transportation options, is available on the conference website:

  • Extension offering wide variety of summer workshops, training opportunities

    Texas AgriLife Research and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are hosting the following upcoming educational programs.

  • Water, environment focus of new Soil and Crop Sciences Department curriculum

    The curriculum of the Texas A&M University Department of Soil and Crop Sciences is about to change with the times and place more emphasis on water and environmental issues, said Dr. Jim Heilman.

    Heilman is a professor of environmental physics who chaired the curriculum committee. The committee's three-year review and assessment process has resulted with changes that will be implemented this fall, as well as others that will go before the Board of Regents and the Texas Higher Education Board for approval. The new curriculum will involve less lecturing and more lab and field instruction, which will create both challenges and excitement among professors and students, Heilman said.

    "Our new degree programs will be a bachelor's of science in plant and environmental soil science, which is an existing degree we've modified," he said. "And we are awaiting approval of a new degree, a bachelor's of science in turfgrass science."

  • AgriLife Research: Rolling Plains groundwater nitrate concentrations are increasing

    AgriLife Research Rolling plainsNitrate is a major contaminant and threat to groundwater quality in Texas and around the U.S., so knowing where this chemical tends to pool will be a help in controlling potential damage, according to a Texas AgriLife Research study.

    Dr. Srinivasulu Ale, AgriLife Research geospatial hydrologist at Vernon, and his post-doctoral research associate, Dr. Sriroop Chaudhuri, completed a study of groundwater nitrate concentrations in Texas and recently had their results published in the Journal of Environmental Quality. The research paper was co-authored by Dr. Paul DeLaune, AgriLife Research environmental soil scientist, and Dr. Nithya Rajan, AgriLife Research agronomist, both at Vernon.

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