Threatened and Endangered Species
What is a Threatened or Endangered species? Endangered species are plants or animals that will likely become extinct within the foreseeable future. Threatened means that a species may become endangered within the foreseeable future. In Texas, plants or animals may be protected under the authority of state law and/or under the Federal Endangered Species Act state law and the Federal Endangered Species Act. Examples of federally listed species in north Texas are the black-capped vireo, golden-cheeked warbler, and the Texas poppy mallow. Some of the state listed species are the Texas horned lizard (horny toad) and the Texas kangaroo rat.
Is there a difference between state and federal endangered species? Yes. Some species may be listed as state threatened or endangered and not federally listed (ex. Texas horned lizard). The state list deals only with the status of the species within the borders of Texas. A federal listing means that an animal is in trouble throughout its entire range which may cover several different states (ex. bald eagle). Regulations and penalties apply differently to state and federally listed species. State authority prohibits the taking, possession, transportation, or sale of any animal designated as threatened or endangered without the issuance of a permit. State law also prohibits the commerce of state listed plants and the collection of these plants from public land without a permit. Federal law not only protects the individual animal, but also protects its habitat. While TPWD enforces regulations pertaining to state listed species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforces regulations pertaining to federally listed species under the Endangered Species Act.
Extinct and Extirpated are other terms associated with rare species. While extinct means that a species no longer exists anywhere on earth, like dinosaurs, extirpated describes an animal that has disappeared from a given area but still exists elsewhere. An example is the pronghorn antelope. The first settlers that arrived in North Texas described in their journals herds of pronghorns as far east as Fannin County. Pronghorns have since been extirpated from the northeastern portion of their range in Texas. They currently exist in Texas west of the 100th meridian and are numerous enough to be a game animal.
Loss and/or fragmentation of habitat is the number one cause for species declines in Texas. For example, the black-footed ferret is one of the rarest mammals in North America, yet it inhabited prairie dog towns in North Texas as recently as 1963. While prairie dog towns still exist, they are too small and too few in number to support a population of ferrets. Many other species have met with the same demise in North Central Texas in the last 150 years. Animals like the plains bison, the red and gray wolf, black and grizzly bears, passenger pigeon, ivory-billed woodpecker, and pronghorn antelope are either extinct, federally threatened /endangered, or have been extirpated from North Central Texas. These are all animals that require large expanses of habitat. With the arrival of early settlers, native prairies and forests were gradually fragmented into smaller and smaller pieces, divided by roads, towns, and cropland. This trend continues today as the cities grow larger, the rural areas become more populated. This is most evident along the IH-35 corridor in the heart of the Blackland Prairie and Cross Timbers regions. Historically the Blackland prairie ecological area encompassed approximately 10.6 million acres of virgin tallgrass prairie. Conservative estimates reveal that only 200,000 acres currently exist. The Cross Timbers and Prairies ecological area originally covered 17.9 million acres. It is within this ecoregion that some counties have experienced human population growths over 200% since 1970 alone.
So why should I be concerned about an Endangered species that I have never even seen before? Most people become disturbed over the potential loss of large or charismatic species like Greater prairie-chickens (locally extirpated by early 1900's), jaguars (last one killed in Mills county in 1903), bald eagles (currently on Federal Threatened list), or black bears (common in Grayson county as late as 1848) because it signals that something is terribly wrong to lose such large or beautiful animals. Unfortunately the same doesn't always apply to a salamander, a small songbird, or a plant. An ecosystem is like a spider web. It is held together by all the plants, animals, water, air, and nutrients, each being a thread in the web. With each thread that is removed, many other threads are weakened until the entire web collapses. The fact is that when animals disappear from an ecosystem, it indicates that the area is not only becoming less inhabitable for animals but also for people. The bottom line is that in North Central Texas we don't have any large, attractive animals that are threatened or endangered to get everyone's attention...we have already lost those.
What is being done to conserve our natural resources in North Central Texas? The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department administers a grant program called the Landowner Incentive Program (LIP). This program is designed to help landowners implement conservation practices that will benefit rare plants like the Texas poppy mallow, animals like the black-capped vireo, or habitat types like native prairie. In addition to the LIP program, TPW provides free technical assistance to landowners/managers wanting to improve their wildlife habitat. Other agencies and organizations such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Natural Resource Conservation Service, and the Texas Cooperative Extension also offer financial or technical assistance programs to help landowners better manage wildlife habitat.
County by county list of all state and threatened listed species.