Ecosystem and Wildlife Implications of Brush: Management System Designed to Improve Water Runoff and Percolation
Winemiller, Kirk O.
Arrington, D. Albrey
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With the settlement of Texas and establishment of ranchers to produce cattle, there was an effort to maximize beef production. This caused serious overgrazing. In addition, there was a reduced incidence of fires across the landscape to clear out brush. These factors led to deterioration of the grazing lands and provided an opportunity for invasive intrusion by brush and other species onto the land and riparian zones. There has been a large-scale conversion from grasslands and savannahs to wildlands over the last 150 years (Scholes and Archer, 1997). The overall impacts are significantly impaired uplands and reduced percolation and surface flow of water from rainfall which caused changes and loss in basic aquatic and terrestrial habitat. The State of Texas adopted a program to study and implement brush management systems across the state to improve the water availability in streams, rivers, reservoirs and aquifers, as well as to improve the rangelands. The feasibility studies have shown great promise for improving ranchland and improving the water situation. However, there is less known about the aquatic and wildlife species response implications of brush management. Certainly, there are opportunities for improving the viability of an ecosystem through brush management strategies and continuing management practices. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the changes in hydrology and biological diversity associated with brush management in two watersheds where significant data was already available. This study focused on assessing the aquatic and terrestrial species implications related to specified brush management strategies over time. This involved an integrated analysis including modeling of the landscape, assessing biological diversity and developing economic implications for the two watersheds (Twin Buttes and Edwards regions). Thus, this study is comprised of three parts: modeling of brush management strategies temporally, assessing biological diversity (aquatic and terrestrial) and estimating economic implications. This represents a complex analysis involving variable units and multiple disciplines. Previous feasibility studies of brush removal have been targeted at maximizing water runoff. This analysis is an extension that is designed to examine the implications of brush management under a more restrictive set of brush removal criteria that were chosen based upon wildlife considerations. To achieve the integration of hydrologic modeling, range ecology, and economic implications, there were three team meetings bringing together all components to review status and set priorities for the remainder of the work. In addition, scientists in the three basic groups of specialization interacted daily along with representatives of the Corps of Engineers to assure that each decision was reflected in other parts of the analyses. The major addition of this analysis to brush management feasibility studies being conducted as part of the Texas brush management plan is the consideration of wildlife and aquatic biota and assessing changes in biological diversity likely to result from alternative brush management scenarios.