HABITAT & RANGELAND RESEARCH
Historically, Trans-Pecos Texas consisted of large expanses of desert grasslands interspersed with succulents and shrubs. These unique and vibrant rangelands supported a wide variety of wildlife, and provided important grazing land for livestock operations. However, in recent history drought, climatic change, overgrazing by livestock, and suppression of grassland fires have changed these historic ecosystems. In many places, grasslands have been overtaken by shrub species, which results in decreased forage availability for both livestock and wildlife, and increased soil erosion. Additionally, commercial interests and development have had impacts on native plant species.
The good news is that west Texas landowners are concerned about restoring and protecting the native rangelands of this area, and we at Borderlands Research Institute are committed to helping landowners achieve this by providing research based solutions. Our rangeland restoration research is varied, but focuses on providing specific information that will allow landowners to make informed management decisions
The wide-spread and costly effects of the 2011-2012 fires sparked the need to properly investigate and manage land in the Trans-Pecos. In 2011, over 616,000 acres in the Trans-Pecos burned, and in spring 2012 the Livermore Ranch Complex Fire in Jeff Davis County burned over 14,000 acres. The Rockhouse Fire in 2011 in Presidio and Jeff Davis Counties was especially destructive in terms of damage to homes and agricultural infrastructure, including fences and water systems. No one should suffer the loss of his or her home or other property in the interest of any perceived ecological benefit, however, when these events do occur it is prudent to analyze post-wildfire effects as to ecological improvements or damages. Additionally, it is widely accepted that grassland ecosystems such as those of the Chihuahuan Desert have evolved with fire and generally benefit from the application of controlled burns.
Research in this area advances in parallel with that investigating the effects of wildfire. Potential benefits of fire include rejuvenation and enhancement of vegetation used as forage and cover for livestock and wildlife, reduction of woody vegetation in areas formerly dominated by herbaceous species, and soil enhancement via deposition of organic material. Conversely, wildfire or inappropriately applied prescribed fire that occurs during drought or at other times when such fire is inordinately intense may result in the loss of desirable vegetation that is slow to regenerate, as with burned stands of large trees, and other undesirable effects such as sterilization of the seed bank. In the worst cases, homes, barns, fences, pipelines, standing grass available for livestock, and other economic assets are lost to uncontrolled wildfire or prescribed fire that jumps containment lines.
West Texas Native Seeds
West Texas Native Seeds is a multi-agency collaborative initiative of the Borderlands Research Institute for Natural Resource Management at Sul Ross State University and the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M Kingsville to develop and promote native plants for the restoration and reclamation of habitats on private and public lands across West Texas. Our goal is to provide economically viable sources of native plants and seeds to both the private and public sector for the restoration of native plant communities.
Currently, there are no commercial sources of native seed adapted for use in the Trans-Pecos region of Texas. Those desiring to restore native plants to degraded lands have few suitable options. As a result of the lack of native seeds, exotic grasses are often planted to prevent soil erosion in reclamation projects or following habitat improvement efforts. Exotic grasses have negative impacts to wildlife and the ecosystems they are introduced to. As disturbance and fragmentation increase in West Texas, commercial sources of native seeds for restoration and reclamation will be increasingly important for conservation of the region’s unique biodiversity.
- Collect, evaluate, and release seed sources of West Texas native plants to commercial seed producers to facilitate availability of locally adapted native seeds to consumers.
- Develop and implement restoration and reclamation strategies that can be successfully used to reestablish native plants in disturbed or degraded habitats.
- Promote the use of native plants in rangeland restoration, highway right-of-way, oil and gas, and energy transmission right-of-way reclamation, as well as in horticulture plantings.