You are walking along the Brazos River on a weekend hike. You and your friends are taking a new boat out on a local reservoir, or you are casting your line out in hopes of catching tonight's dinner. No matter where you are or what you are doing in the Brazos River basin, you are constantly surrounded by hundreds of different plant and animal species.
An ecosystem consists of variations of plants and animals that reside within it. They play an essential role in the ecosystem's functionality and even the earth's climate.
As humans, we are also important to the earth's ecosystems, but the animals and plants that surround us help keep the environment's balance stable. In fact, by observing wildlife and plants, you can determine the health of a total ecosystem. When one species is compromised or even eliminated, it can throw off the entire ecosystem and affect human health as well. By preserving endangered species, we can maintain our natural ecosystems and our quality of life.
Endangered Species Day, celebrated every year on the third Friday in May, focuses on educating others about endangered species and protecting them. Fortunately, actions are already in place to protect the endangered species within the Brazos River basin and worldwide.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, an endangered species is an "animal or plant that's considered at risk of extinction." There are different levels of protection where a species may be placed under state and federal levels. The state of Texas provides two levels of protection, including the threatened and endangered species listing. Like Texas, species can also be designated as threatened or endangered on the federal level.
A plant or animal can be protected as endangered at both the state and federal levels at the same time. The level of protection provided by state and federal regulations is different, with federal laws providing stronger protections than those at the state level.
On the state level, the Texas Legislature included laws in the Natural Resources Code that allow the state to list a species as threatened or endangered. According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, it is unlawful for any person to hunt threatened, endangered, or protected nongame species.
You can learn which endangered, threatened or rare species live in your county by clicking here.
On the federal level, the endangered species list is managed under the Endangered Species Act enacted by Congress in 1973. Additional species called "candidate species" can be evaluated for possible protection under the ESA.
Another classification of species is called "rare" species, which are plants or animals that are uncommon and are often found in small numbers or a limited number of areas. A rare species can additionally be identified as threatened or endangered.
To be listed as an endangered species, a plant or animal must be in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its habitat range. Identifying the reason for an ecosystem imbalance causing the endangered plant or animal to decline allows natural resource agencies to develop a plan to correct the imbalance.
The Brazos River Authority's Environmental Services Department regularly monitors the status of different fish and wildlife species to track the health of the Brazos River basin ecosystem. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and several universities also monitor the plants, animals, fish and insects in the Brazos River basin.
When monitoring results begin to show changes, state and federal resource agencies work with local stakeholders to identify the cause and make adjustments to aid the continued health and quality of the basin's water supply. Maintaining a balance allows the planet to continue to provide clean air and water, a reliable food supply, and a positive economy.
There are currently five known endangered species that can be found in parts of the Brazos basin. They include the Georgetown Salamander, the Smalleye and Sharpnose Shiner, the Golden-cheeked Warbler, Navasota Ladies' Tresses and the Houston Toad. In their own way, all these species indicate the health of different aspects of their ecosystems.
Besides monitoring the status of the different species, there are other ways to help protect the endangered species of Texas, the United States and beyond. Defending, strengthening and creating litigation, such as the Endangered Species Act, that protects endangered species is vital as these laws provide an important safety net for those who put in the work to restore these species populations. Restoring lost habitats and reducing threats will also aid in their survival.
Taking time to educate yourself about the endangered species that live in your area is essential, as you can help by keeping an eye out for them and not damaging their habitat when you come across them. By taking care of the environment around us, we can help protect endangered species and protect our own overall health.
To learn more about other species of interest within the Brazos River basin, visit the Brazos River Authority's new Environmental website tab here.