Abstract: May 29  9:10 AM (BACK)

Consideration of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Outdoor Recreation and Community Stewardship Objectives in Stream Restoration

Timothy Birdsong
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Austin, TX

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is currently leading a watershed-scale conservation initiative in the Edwards Plateau Ecoregion of central Texas that is focused on supporting the long-term persistence of native fish populations.  Also known as the Texas Hill Country, the region is characterized by a karst landscape intersected by numerous clear, spring-fed streams.  These streams support 15 species of endemic fishes, including the State Fish of Texas, Guadalupe bass Micropterus treculii.  Despite recent increases in human populations, many streams in the region remain relatively pristine and intact. However, projections of population growth, water demands, and land-use changes indicate that they will soon be at risk. Through this initiative, conservation partners are working to implement actions that promote the resiliency of rivers and streams and native fish populations of the region by addressing factors leading to their decline, including flow alteration, loss of watershed connectivity, physical habitat degradation, and introductions of non-native flora and fauna.  Among the core partners of the initiative are networks of willing landowners working to coordinate actions at watershed scales that support healthy habitats, natural ecosystems and sustainable native fish populations.  Specific actions taken by the partnership network include stream bank stabilization and reestablishment of native vegetation to support functional riparian zones, removal or redesign of road crossings that serve as barriers to fish passage or that alter natural fluvial processes, upland grasslands restoration to support recharge of springs and restored hydrologic flows, instream structural habitat enhancements, and delivery of riparian and watershed conservation workshops that promote watershed best management practices.

As we explored opportunities to replicate this watershed-scale conservation approach in other areas of Texas, we recognized that our success would depend upon our ability to engage informed and committed local landowners and other community partners.  Although the majority of Texans live within a mile of a river or stream, many do not realize the connection between watershed condition and river health, or the central role that these landscapes play in overall quality of life for their communities.  In an effort to better link communities to their rivers, instill a sense of stewardship, and promote broad-based public support for river conservation, we initiated a new initiative focused on the development of streamside conservation demonstration areas on public and private lands.  The initial conservation demonstration area is being developed along a 3.5-mile segment of the South Llano River that is entirely encompassed within a newly-approved Texas Paddling Trail located adjacent to public lands at the South Llano River State Park (location of put-in), Texas Tech University Llano River Field Station, and a City Park in Junction, Texas (location of take-out).  The South Llano River Conservation Demonstration Area will connect the paddling trail with existing upland trails at the State Park and Field Station.  Educational kiosks and interpretive signage will be placed along the paddling and upland trails and highlight actions taken at the State Park and Field Station to restore and preserve quality habitats and healthy populations of native fishes.  In 2012, the conservation demonstration area concept was expanded to seven additional areas of the Brazos, Colorado, Guadalupe and Neches rivers, and TPWD is actively working to continue to grow the initiative in 2013.