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|  TPWD News Releases Dated 2004-05-03                                    |
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[ Note: This item is more than 10 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: Tom Harvey, 512-389-4453, tom.harvey@tpwd.texas.gov ] [TH]
May 3, 2004
Authorities Suggest Ways for Living With Alligators
HOUSTON -- Encounters between people and alligators are on the rise in Southeast Texas, but people can coexist safely with the big reptiles if they take common-sense precautions, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens and biologists.
Along with a new ban on feeding alligators, authorities are emphasizing proactive education, including the need for people to better understand how to evaluate whether an alligator is a nuisance and take appropriate steps on their own.
In recent years, there's been a steady rise in alligator complaints logged by the communications center at the TPWD Law Enforcement Division office in La Porte. Annual nuisance gator calls for this region have risen steadily: 280 calls in 2000, 320 in 2001, 336 in 2002 and 422 in 2003. More than half of these calls came from five counties: Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Harris, and Liberty.
In spite of the increase, human injuries from alligator attacks are rare. In the past 15 years, there have been 15 reported alligator injuries statewide, and no one has ever reported a person killed by an alligator in Texas.
"We need to help Texans learn how to live with alligators," said Capt. Albert Lynch of TPWD's south Houston law enforcement office.
"Most of the 'nuisance' gator reports we receive are not true problem gators that have lost their fear of people, and we need people to learn to identify the real problems and leave the rest alone. In Florida, where people have coexisted with a large gator population for years, you don't see this level of public concern. We're on the front end of that learning curve in Texas."
Lynch said the increase in human-alligator encounters is probably mainly due to continued expansion of residential and business development into alligator habitat. The suburbs keep expanding into what used to be coastal plains and bayous. At the same time, alligators are expanding their range in Texas, particularly small gators seeking new habitat.
Biologist Monique Slaughter, who helps run TPWD alligator programs out of the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area in Port Arthur, points out gator activity is highly seasonal.
"Springtime is when alligators are most active," Slaughter said. "They're on the move looking for new territory, looking to reproduce. So April-July are the peak months for nuisance gator calls."
Periods of extreme weather conditions such as drought or heavy rains can also trigger alligators to relocate, Slaughter said.
Slaughter said alligators dig dens known as gator holes in levees and banks along bayous, sloughs, or other secluded areas. During the winter, these dens offer protection and cover. In mid summer, females build nest near these sites. When hatchlings hatch out, they stay close to the gators holes for safety. During drought periods, these holes may be the only water source for other wildlife.
Slaughter said TPWD estimates there are 286,000 alligators in Chambers, Jefferson, and Orange Counties, but no statewide population estimate exists. She said annual night counts across the state since the 1970s show that the overall alligator population in Texas has not increased dramatically, but gator populations do appear to have increased in certain areas, and gators are relocating into new areas. Alligators currently are found in 120 of the 254 counties in Texas. Hunting statistics for the past 15 years show the average adult Texas gator is seven feet long and weighs 60 pounds.
In 1969, the alligator was protected by a state law that preceded the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. At the time, it was considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A combined effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife agencies in the south brought the alligator back, allowing it to rebound in many areas where it had been depleted by unregulated hunting and loss of habitat. The alligator was removed from the endangered list in the 1980s. Since 1984, sustainable hunting has been allowed in Texas and Louisiana.
Houston-area game wardens have taken several steps recently to make sure nuisance alligator responses are safe and effective, yet humane. They have ordered new traps and trailers for game wardens to relocate live gators and plan to make optimal use of professional nuisance alligator hunters who have the experience and equipment to relocate or kill gators.
Lynch said the new live traps are 8-by-3 feet rectangular metal cages that can be baited next to a pond. Once an alligator is caught, the traps can be winched up onto a truck or trailer to move the alligator.
The department has taken another step to help minimize conflicts between people and alligators. In October 2003, it became a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $25-to-$500 for any person who intentionally feeds a free-ranging alligator. Use of bait for legal hunting by licensed hunters or nuisance alligator control hunters is not interpreted as feeding.
Alligator experts say the most important rule for the public is to never feed an alligator or allow it to get food. Once an alligator loses its natural fear of people it must typically be killed, since if relocated it would only seek people and become a problem somewhere else.
People should keep a safe distance from gators of at least 20 feet or more. Besides never feeding wild alligators, these tips should reduce the risk of an alligator conflict involving you or your pets: keep your pets on a leash or in a penned enclosure, don't get too close to or swim in areas where alligators are commonly observed, don't harass or agitate an alligator, never approach an alligator nest or a pod of young alligators that a female alligator might be guarding, remember that alligators are most active at dawn and dusk in the warmer months of the year, and always treat them with the respect they deserve as wild animals.
Information about alligators, including safety tips for "Living With Alligators," research reports and basic natural history, is on the TPWD Web site (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/nature/wild/reptiles/americanAlligator/).
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[ Note: This item is more than 10 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: Kristen Everett, 512-389-8046, tpwd.news@tpwd.texas.gov ] [KE]
May 3, 2004
Two New Chiefs Named for TPWD Law Enforcement
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas Parks and Wildlife Law Enforcement division has two new chiefs who started as of May 1.
Mark Simmons has been named Chief of Special Operations. He will oversee all the agency's special units within the law enforcement division which are: marine theft unit, environmental crimes unit, covert unit, and wildlife investigators and will also oversee the forensics laboratory in San Marcos. All the investigators in these units are game wardens who have been assigned to these special tasks.
"All the investigative units in the past have been thought of as individual units. I plan to cross train all of these investigators away from individualized disciplines for a more cohesive investigative team focusing their talents on high-priority investigations regardless of specialization for the overall benefit of the agency," Simmons said.
Simmons has been a captain in the covert division, an investigator in environmental crimes, and an internal affairs captain and has been a warden for 20 years.
Bill Robinson has taken over the position of Chief of Fisheries Enforcement. He has been in charge of aquatics enforcement, district supervisor in Kerrville, and an instructor in the game warden academy. He has been a warden for 32 years.
"I am going to strive for consistent and effective law enforcement in this position and promote compliance of the law in fisheries statewide," Robinson said.
Col. James Stinebaugh said he is looking forward to working closely with the two new chiefs.
"Both of these wardens bring much experience from the field about the areas they will be overseeing. I am looking forward to the work they will do as chiefs," Stinebaugh said.
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[ Note: This item is more than 10 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: Tom Harvey, 512-389-4453, tom.harvey@tpwd.texas.gov ] [TH]
May 3, 2004
Teams Tie Top Spot in Great Texas Birding Classic
PORT ARANSAS, Texas -- For the first time in the eight-year history of the 'Great Texas Birding Classic,' two teams tied for first place in the weeklong competition.
With more new competition categories added every year, it's getting harder to say who "won" the Birding Classic, but the intense, weeklong tournament (actually five continuous days of birding) is still viewed by many as the toughest category for hardcore competitors. Once called the "iron man of birding," the weeklong tournament is why organizers call the Classic the world's longest birding competition. The ConocoPhillips Cranes from the Houston/Galveston area this year crept up to tie the Swift Wild Birders, a team of young birders from Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, and New York whose core members have captured the top spot in the adult weeklong tournament for several years running. Both teams spotted 327 bird species, down slightly from last year's winning team tally of 329.
In the new Outta-Sight Song Birder Tournament category for the blind and visually impaired, the Espaņa Tweetybirds edged out their friends on the other two teams in the category with 40 species identified. All three teams were actually members of the same group of people who are blind or visually impaired from the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Each team had a sighted birder who accompanied the team blindfolded.
Winners were announced April 25 at the Awards Brunch here. A total of 56 teams participated in the Birding Classic, a slight decrease from last year but still representing a diverse snapshot of today's birding culture, including numerous youth teams.
In the next few weeks, winning teams will award a total of $51,000 to approved avian habitat conservation projects along the Texas coast, bringing the total amount awarded to projects during the past eight years to $402,000.
Birding Classic prize money for habitat conservation comes from corporate sponsors, including Reliant Energy, ConocoPhillips and various optics companies, including Swarovski, Eagle Optics, Zeiss and Bushnell.
Below are winning teams in all categories, with the number of bird species counted listed after the team name. Complete team rosters and team sponsors are on the TPWD Web site at (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/gtbc/teams/). Next year's Great Texas Birding Classic will take place April 16-24.
2004 Competition Results
Big Sit! Tournament
--Port Aransas Spoonbills -- 100
--Brazosport Birders -- 78
--TIE: Corpus Count and Swarovski Sitting Hawks -- 75
--LONE STAR BIRD AWARD of $1,000 toward a conservation project on the Texas coast -- Swarovski Sitting Hawks
Weeklong Competition
--TIE (for the first time in Birding Classic history!): ConocoPhillips Cranes and Swift WildBirders -- 327
--Environmental Partners -- 313
--The Butcherbirds -- 285
Adult Upper Coast Only
--The Loonatics -- 214
--Wicked Wagtails -- 172
--Realtree Roadrunners -- 164
--(WINNER: College Challenge 2004 -- AEP&TAS Long-Horned Larks from UT Austin)
Adult Lower Coast Only
--Swarovski/World Birding Center Roadside Hawks -- 180
--Zeiss Guys -- 169
Adult Central Coast Only
--Team Audubon -- 183
--Fly-by-Knights -- 172
--Lovely Zorrillos -- 162
Seniors -- Central Coast Only
--Perigrinators -- 121
Gliders (14-18 year olds) Upper Coast Only
--The Four Mysterious Empids -- 177
Gliders Lower Coast Only
--Nikon Gnatcatchers -- 157
--Nikon Noddies -- 154
Gliders Central Coast Only
--John Jay Chihuahua Ravens -- 115
--John Jay Blue Jays -- 113
--Keen-Eyed Hawks -- 76
Roughwings (13 years and younger) Upper Coast Only
--Houston Audubon Accipiters -- 107
--Steiner Peregrines -- 99
--The Golden Eagles -- 67
Roughwings Lower Coast Only
--Groove-billed Anis -- 139
--Eagle Eyes -- 132
Roughwings Central Coast Only
--Fairchild Park Golden-cheeked Warblers -- 139
--Travis Audubon Towhees -- 100
--Kickin' Kingfishers -- 79
Outta-Sight Song Birder Tournament
--Espaņa Tweety Birds -- 40
--DAAMARS International Kingfishers -- 38
--Wild Bird Center Inca Doves -- 27
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[ Note: This item is more than 10 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: Tom Harvey, 512-389-4453, tom.harvey@tpwd.texas.gov ] [SA]
May 3, 2004
TPWD's Ted Hollingsworth To Lead Final San Jacinto Tour
HOUSTON -- For 11 years, Ted Hollingsworth has led an annual tour for school groups at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. But May 4 will be his last such tour, when he leads a group of 7th graders from the Seabrook Intermediate School's science program on environmental tours of the site. This will be the last hurrah for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department employee, who is moving his family to Austin to take a new job with the agency.
Since 1993, Hollingsworth has worked to preserve the area's wildlife diversity as one of the few remaining native prairie, tidal marsh and bottomland forests in East Harris County. By restoring wetlands and marshes to more like they were at the time of the battle, Hollingsworth has helped interpret and preserve the rich cultural history of the battleground and final resting place for many Mexican and Texan soldiers. Hollingsworth will continue supervising wetlands work at the site even after he moves from his Houston home to TPWD headquarters in Austin this spring.
"We were able to take a resource that was horribly degraded and restore it to an area that has incredible biological value," he said of his work to help conserve more than 2,000 acres of critical wetlands around Southeast Texas. "We are not just respecting the wildlife that lives there, we are respecting culture. There are still Mexican soldiers buried there."
A recent improvement to the Historic Site is a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk that winds through the wetlands not far from the San Jacinto Monument. Hollingsworth says the trail is so new -- work is not yet completed -- that visitors driving by the monument will do a double take and slam on their brakes when they see the boardwalk.
"It's neat to see those people who have never gone out on the marsh on purpose before," he said. "They're so excited to see wildlife that they've never seen before. That trail just attracts people like a magnet."
Growing busier with conservation issues and improvements like the boardwalk, Hollingsworth has had to cut down on outreach activities. He always continued with the annual tour "just because they are such a neat group of kids, a good group of kids."
On the final tour, Hollingsworth will lead with an hour-long lecture about water quality issues before the students go out on their own to catch fish, shrimp and other aquatic wildlife -- "if it's there, a kid with a dip net will manage to catch it," he said.
For more information about San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, visit the Web (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/sanjac/) or call (281) 479-2431.
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[ Note: This item is more than 10 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ General Media Contact: Business Hours, 512-389-4406 ]
May 3, 2004
TPWD Game Warden Field Notes
The following are excerpts from recent Texas Parks and Wildlife Department law enforcement reports.
Looking for Pickles and Ice Cream? A Travis County Warden got a call about a different kind of trespasser in Austin. A full-grown, pregnant doe deer had run straight thru an open door in the Central Market Store located at the Westgate Shopping Center. The warden roped the deer and with the help of the other officers, she taped the legs together and successfully transported the mother-to-be to a nearby greenbelt and released her back to habitat that was much more to her liking. No one knows why the deer ran into the store; maybe the Mom-to-be just had a special craving.
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[ Note: This item is more than 10 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ General Media Contact: Business Hours, 512-389-4406 ] [KE]
May 3, 2004
Stay Tuned
Information from Texas Parks and Wildlife is available on radio and television, as well as the newsstand.
Radio
Passport to Texas, TPWD's radio series of weekday, 90-second stories is broadcast on about 100 Texas stations. Airing the week of May 3-7, summer camp is not out of reach for children who can't normally attend; and we will tell you how some fish make their way to Texas lakes.
For more information, visit the Web (http://www.passporttotexas.org/).
Video News
TPWD provides video news reports that run in newscasts on numerous Texas stations, as well as on cable and satellite outlets around the nation. This month's stories include: archeologists and volunteers are finding new artifacts at San Jacinto Battleground; the third annual crab trap cleanup; nesting bald eagles who built their next to a highway are becoming a tourist attraction; and all about avoiding tick-borne diseases.
Television
"Texas Parks & Wildlife" is a weekly half-hour television series seen on PBS affiliates around the state. For more information about this week's programs and where they can be viewed, visit the Web (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/tv).
Magazine
Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine is always available on newsstands throughout the state and by subscription for $19.95 a year. To subscribe, call (800) 937-9393 or order on line (http://www.tpwmagazine.com/).
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