What are the endangered species of the Brazos basin?

What are the endangered species of the Brazos basin?

The Brazos River basin is home to an abundant variety of wildlife and plant life, including six endangered species. When a plant or animal is designated as endangered, it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range -- the area in which it is found.

In the state of Texas, there are two levels of protection: threatened and endangered species. A threatened species refers to a plant or animal that is likely to become endangered soon. 

Both categories refer to the conservation status of a species and are determined by studying various biological, ecological, and historical factors. The main difference between the two is the severity of their conservation status, with endangered species being in a more critical state than threatened species.

The six known species listed by the state of Texas as endangered in the Brazos River basin are: 

1.    Georgetown Salamander

2.    Smalleye Shiner

3.    Sharpnose Shiner

4.    Golden-cheeked Warbler

5.    Navasota Ladies' Tresses

6.    Houston Toad

Georgetown Salamander

The Georgetown Salamander is known to live only at spring outflows in the San Gabriel River watershed near the city of Georgetown. It is one of many spring-associated salamanders of its type found in the Edwards Aquifer system. Threats to this species include expanding municipal development and mining operations.
The Georgetown Salamander lives in the water under rocks and in gravel. This species only occupies spring outflows, or areas with clear water, stable temperatures, and stable water chemistry.

Smalleye and Sharpnose Shiner

The smalleye shiner and the sharpnose shiner were both listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in August 2014 under the Endangered Species Act. The main threat facing both is habitat loss and fragmentation. Reductions in streamflow caused by drought, water impoundment (reservoirs), and depletion of the water table from water wells and irrigation can also lead to habitat loss for both these small types of fish.

The smalleye shiner is native to the Brazos River. I can be found in the lower Brazos River as far south as Hempstead. The sharpnose shiner can be found within the Brazos, Wichita, and Colorado rivers.

Both are now found only in segments of the upper Brazos River system upstream of Possum Kingdom Lake.

The smalleye shiner is commonly found in and on the edge of river channels with moderate depth. This fish can survive in isolated pools for some time. The sharpnose shiner prefers mainstream rivers, sometimes entering smaller tributaries. It tends to avoid swifter currents and greater depths during periods of high streamflow.

Golden-cheeked Warbler 

The decline of the Golden-cheeked Warbler can be attributed to fragmentation and destruction of habitat and nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Golden-cheeked Warblers nest in mature Ashe juniper/hardwood forests and woodlands near and within ravines or canyons. The peeling bark found only on mature juniper trees is required by these migratory birds for nest building, making them extreme habitat specialists. Golden-cheeked Warblers breed exclusively in Central Texas.

Navasota ladies' tresses 

The Navasota ladies' tresses are a 5-15 inches tall perennial plant with a single row of creamy white flowers that spiral around the upper portion of the stalk.
Navasota ladies' tresses occur primarily in openings of post oak woodlands in sandy loam soils, often over an impermeable clay layer. They are often found adjacent to drainages and seasonal streams. 

Navasota ladies' tresses were known to occur along Alum Creek in Brazos County. Conservation efforts continue in Lick Creek Nature Center in the city of College Station, where they are recognizable while in bloom from October to December. 

Houston Toad

The Houston Toad has been listed as Federally Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 1970. This species is impacted by habitat loss and fragmentation due to human factors, including wetland alteration, urbanization, historically poor cattle grazing practices, fire suppression, forest clear-cutting, and pollution.  

Natural factors affecting the decline of the Houston Toad include drought and the proliferation of the red fire ant in Texas.

The Houston Toad primarily lives on land. However, during its tadpole stage, its life is aquatic. As adults though, these toads prefer forested areas consisting of pine and oak with deep sandy soils. Land-use change poses a severe threat because forest canopy is considered a major component of their habitat.

Because Houston toads are ectotherms (species that depend on environmental heat sources to control their body temperatures) and their skin is highly vulnerable to extreme dryness, they become dormant during harsh weather conditions, such as winter cold (hibernation) and summer heat and drought (estivation). They seek protection during these periods by burrowing into sand or hiding under rocks, leaf litter, logs, or in abandoned animal burrows.

The Houston Toad is currently found in only nine of 13 historically populated counties in Texas: Austin, Bastrop, Burleson, Colorado, Lavaca, Lee, Leon, Milam, and Robertson. To see a map, click here.

Monitoring an Endangered Species

Once endangered species are identified, then what? This is where environmentalists play an important role in species conservation by promoting the protection and preservation of threatened and endangered species.
This may involve a range of activities, including:

1.    Raising awareness about the importance of species conservation and the threats facing certain species.

2.    Researching to better understand the biology and ecology of species and to inform conservation strategies.

3.    Working with government agencies and other organizations to implement policies and regulations aimed at protecting species and their habitats.

4.    Monitoring and assessing populations of threatened and endangered species to track their status and ensure they receive adequate protection.

5.    Supporting the development and implementation of conservation plans and programs.

6.    Advocating for protecting and restoring critical habitats, such as wetlands, forests, and grasslands.

Overall, the goal of an environmentalist in species conservation is to ensure that species are protected and conserved for future generations to enjoy.

The Brazos River Authority's Environmental Services Department regularly monitors different fish and wildlife species as a way of tracking the health of the Brazos River basin ecosystem.

When the results of this monitoring begin to show changes, the BRA, along with state and federal partners, work together to identify the cause of changes and make improvements that can aid the continued health and quality of the basin's water supply.

There are many reasons why it's important to care about threatened and endangered species:

1.    Biodiversity: Threatened and endangered species are a critical component of biodiversity, and their loss can negatively impact the overall health and stability of ecosystems.

2.    Ecosystem services: Many species play important roles in maintaining the balance of ecosystems, such as pollination, seed dispersal, and pest control.

3.    Cultural value: Many species have significant cultural and spiritual value to local communities and indigenous peoples.

4.    Scientific value: Endangered species can provide important information for scientific research and can help us understand the processes of evolution and adaptation.

5.    Economic value: Some species have direct economic value, such as through ecotourism, and others provide indirect benefits, such as clean air and water.

6.    Ethical value: It is a moral obligation to conserve and protect the Earth's biodiversity, as we have inherited it from previous generations and have a responsibility to pass it on to future generations.

Therefore, preserving threatened and endangered species is crucial for maintaining the health and diversity of our planet, as well as for preserving its cultural and economic values.

When the results of this monitoring begin to show changes, the BRA, along with state and federal partners, work together to identify the cause of changes and make improvements that can 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.

When we work to save endangered species, we may just be saving ourselves.