“Feral hog apocalypse” triggers drastic, controversial action

hogFears of a “feral hog apocalypse” has prompted Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller to approve the use of a piggy pesticide.

As reported by CBS News, Commissioner Miller will employ the use of Kaput Feral Hog Lure, a bait food that is laced with warfarin. The drug—often used to exterminate rats—is prescribed in smaller doses by doctors to help prevent blood clots, and will target the more than 2.5 million feral hogs in Texas. According to the Austin American-Statesman, this invasive pig population cost an estimated $50 million a year to Texas agriculture interests, along with the untold damage to residential yards in suburban areas.

The move by the Agriculture commissioner, however, has caused uproar among Texas hunters.

“We don’t think poison is the way to go,” said Eydin Hansen, Vice President of the Texas Hog Hunters Association.

Hansen said that he prefers hunting and trapping methods in order to control the species due to the potential environmental impact. Hansen and other hunters across Texas, along with conservationists fear other animals may be exposed to toxin.

“If a hog dies, what eats it? Coyotes, buzzards…” said Hansen. “We’re gonna affect possibly the whole ecosystem.”

Miller, who says he is changing Texas agricultural rules to allow the use of the product, said Kaput presents a “minimal risk to other animals” because it requires much higher dosages to affect other wildlife populations or livestock. And as for the concerns of hunters, Miller said hunters would be able to tell if the feral hog has consumed Kaput because the fat will be a bright blue.

“It’s a dead giveaway,” said Miller, who said the product has won federal approval.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has not yet commented on the move. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Steve Lightfoot said the agency had been consulted.

“These invasive animals destroy native habitats, indirectly impacting our state’s wildlife resources that rely on these habitats, and the department strongly supports and encourages feral hog control management practices,” he said.

“As for non-target species, we can’t speculate on the impacts to wildlife species should exposure or consumption take place because dose, dose frequency, body mass and species sensitivity will likely be highly variable. Studies have shown that individual animals, such as rodents and raptors, can be affected through primary and secondary consumption of warfarin.”

Officials in Louisiana are also considering usage of the product in the near future.

Black-capped Vireo to be delisted from endangered species roll

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As reported recently by the Texas Farm Bureau, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) is proposing to delist the Black-Capped Vireo from the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to a recovery.

The songbird species, native to only Texas, Oklahoma and the northernmost regions of Mexico, was listed in 1987 as endangered because of the loss of habitat range due in part to goat and other herd grazing, as well as significant nest parasitism from brown-headed cowbirds. Between 1987-2012, however, the available habitat range increased 17 percent due to a 47 percent decrease in goat population, as well as a decrease in brown-headed cowbird population in the area because of trapping by conservation groups. The vireo’s numbers have increased significantly during this time, citing as many as 14,000 male vireos in Texas in 2014 compared to as low as 350 in 1987.

Due to this significant increase in population, the USFWS has decided to propose that the vireo no longer be classified as “endangered” under the ESA. The USFWS also factored in the vireo’s increased population in northern Mexico in its decision because of the migratory habits of the birds across the region.

Some groups have expressed fear that, once the vireo is delisted, commercial activity in its habitat will increase and leave the songbird back at square one. There is also concern that conservation groups will ease trapping efforts on the brown-headed cowbirds or that the herds will return and the habitat range will once again be negatively impacted.

On the other hand, these birds live in the habitat range of several other species listed on the ESA, so their habitat will effectively be quasi-protected. In addition, the vireo will still be protected under the Migratory Bird Act, therefore prohibiting the “taking” of the birds to any place outside of its habitat range.

Since 1973, 38 different plant and animal species have been delisted. Among those, reports Michael Bean of the Austin American-Statesman, are five species from the Lone Star State. These include the nation’s symbol, the American bald eagle, as well as the brown pelican and the American peregrine falcon, all three of which have made dramatic gains after suffering decades of decline. The American alligator and a Texas wildflower known as Johnston’s frankenia have also recovered and been delisted. The northern aplomado falcon, after an absence of more than half a century, has been restored to the Texas coast. After a brush with extinction, the whooping crane is also making a steady comeback – and drawing lots of tourists to the Texas coast to see it.

The USFWS is accepting comments on this proposal until February 13, 2017. You can submit comments in one of the following ways:

(1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS-R2-ES-2016-0110, the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”

(2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to:
Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS – R2-ES-2016-0110
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC
5275 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041-3803

Texas dove hunters enjoying longer season in 2016

Photo credit: Texas Parks & Wildlife
While September 1 marked the first day of dove season in Texas, Texas wing shooters will get to enjoy both the longest dove season in the Lone Star State in 80 years, as well as better odds.

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department reports that this year’s dove population is soaring, due to the continuation of wet weather conditions for a second year in a row. That news, coupled with a new 90-day season this fall means hunters will have 20 more days of opportunity compared with previous years. Texas Parks & Wildlife is integrating those additional days early in the season to take advantage of mourning dove migrations into the state, as well as at the end of the season in the Special White-winged Dove Area to offer more bird hunting days.

“Hunters will now be able to take advantage of those northern birds riding early November cool fronts into Texas, without sacrificing days of opportunity early in the season,” said Dave Morrison, TPWD Small Game Program Director. “We’ve also tacked on extra days to the back end of the season in late January when South Texas prospects are still pretty solid. It’s a win-win for dove hunters.”

As reported by Lynn Burkhead of The Durant Democrat, many of these hunters along the Red River are now on the lookout for one of the two primary types of feeding areas that doves are known to frequent. The first is agricultural fields containing staples such as leftover wheat stubble, especially early on in the season, along with sorghum and corn.

The second type of spot that hunters should be looking for are locations that include natural food resources like native seed-bearing plants including sunflowers and croton.

What you need to know

Dove season in the North Zone runs:

Sept. 1 – Nov. 13 and Dec. 17 – Jan. 1, 2017

Central Zone from Sept. 1 – Nov. 6 and Dec. 17 – Jan. 8, 2017

South Zone from Sept. 23 – Nov. 13 and Dec. 17 – Jan. 23, 2017.

The daily bag limit for doves statewide is 15 and the possession limit 45.

In the Special White-winged Dove Area, the season runs Sept. 3-4, 10-11, Sept. 23 – Nov. 9, Dec. 17 – Jan. 23, 2017. During the early two weekends in the Special White-winged Dove Area, hunting is allowed only in the afternoon and the daily bag limit is 15 birds, to include not more than two mourning doves and two white-tipped doves. During the general season opens, the aggregate bag limit is 15 with no more than two white-tipped doves.

Shannon Tompkins of The Houston Chronicle reiterates the importance of following all dove hunting regulations before heading afield this season. Texas’ 500-plus game wardens will be afield, too. Over the years, wardens report the same regulations violations leading the list of dove hunters they check.

These violations include:

No hunting license. Texas’ hunting/fishing license year begins Sept. 1. Dove hunters are required to have a Texas migratory game bird stamp endorsement ($7 if purchased separately, included with super-combo license) and have their licenses indicate they have been certified as signed up under the federal Harvest Information Program.

No hunter education certification. In Texas, hunters born Sept. 2, 1971, or later are required to have taken and passed a state-approved hunter education course before hunting. There are exceptions, including the ability to purchase a one-time deferral.

No plug in shotgun. Federal migratory game bird-hunting regulations require shotguns used to hunt migratory game birds be limited to holding no more than three shotshells. That doesn’t mean a hunter with an “unplugged” shotgun can be legal by loading only three shells. If the shotgun can hold more than three shells, it’s a ticket.

Commingling birds. Federal regulations require all hunters have personal possession of the birds they take. No putting all birds in one pile. Each hunter is responsible for keeping possession of each dove taken.

Over-bagging. Poaching, really. Despite the liberal daily bag limit for doves (15) some people can’t abide by the law and take more than their daily limit. This also includes “double-bagging,” where a shooter takes a limit of doves on a morning hunt, then returns to the field that afternoon and takes more birds. That’s a big ticket.

Alamo transformation project continues; Land Commissioner weighs in on progress

alamo-750xx4928-2773-0-169Progress continued on two significant archaeological dig sites surrounding the most visited and cherished shrine to Texas independence; the Alamo in San Antonio.

The digs are a critical first step in the transformation of the historical site to help the Lone Star State tell more of the story of the battle for independence beyond the Battle of 1836.

As reported by W. Scott Bailey of the San Antonio Business Journal, there are two active dig sites roughly 25 yards west of the Alamo. Work at one of those sites, immediately west of Alamo Plaza Street, is nearing completion, while the other, closest to the Alamo, is more active.

The Alamo complex is operated by the Texas General Land Office, and, in August, Land Commissioner George P. Bush went to the dig sites to evaluate the progress.

“This is the most visited site in the entire state of Texas,” Bush said. “When I visit with folks throughout the state, the country and the world, they tell me that we need to do a better job. So this is one step, an important step, in a long process.”

During the 2015 Texas legislative session—Bush’s first as Land Commissioner—his efforts surrounding the Alamo centered around directing resources toward the immediate structural integrity needs on the grounds of the historic mission complex. As the end of the year approaches, and the 2017 session is on the horizon, Bush and San Antonio civic leaders have stressed that the state must make the most out of this opportunity to rethink the meaning and layout of the site.

“The rest of the world is watching, so we’ve got to make sure we do this right,” Bush said.

The project emerged from a partnership between the General Land Office, the City of San Antonio and the Alamo Endowment, and is known as “Reimagine the Alamo.”

According to the project website, the purpose is to reimagine the Alamo by creating an interpretation of the site that honors the true footprint, history and significance of the Alamo over its nearly 300-year history, first as a Spanish mission and later as the Cradle of Texas History. The site explains that there has never been a systematic archaeology study of the entire Alamo site to determine, with as much certainty as possible, the location of the walls and other structures. In order to develop a plan with integrity, based on evidence going back to 1724, the master planners agreed that such a study was necessary. The archaeology work, as well as a complete timeline of the history of the site, will inform the decisions made as to where buildings such as a new visitor center and museum are built and the content of educational programming.

To learn more about the project, visit http://reimaginethealamo.org/.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner weighs in on scales

farmers'+marketAs you were filling up the family car to head out of town on your summer road trip, you may have noticed that the gas pump at your local convenience store had a seal of approval from the Texas Agriculture Commission. This seal indicates that the pump has been registered and is continually regulated by the state, ensuring that you receive the proper amount of gas that you purchase.

What you might not know is that the Agriculture Commission regulates a host of items inside the convenience store, as well. Everything from bags of pecans to coffee beans are required by state law to be weighed by a certified scale. Alas, sometimes, the scales are tipped against the consumer, and they become victims of improperly weighted scales across a variety of industries, and are shorted on products for which they paid.

To combat this potential fraud, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller quietly launched “Operation Maverick” a little over a year ago to rein in businesses that still need to register their instruments used to weigh goods for sale.

As first reported by the Texas Tribune, nearly 18,000 retailers in Texas, including grocery store chains, coffee houses, laundries and BBQ pits use scales to measure what they sell to the public.

The name of the agency’s effort comes from the term used to describe a cow that has left the herd.

“We are rounding up strays,” explained Agriculture Commission spokesman Mark Loeffler. He explained to the Tribune that the agency believes that a significant amount of new businesses don’t know they have to register a scale with the state. Twenty years ago, most retailers bought scales from a small handful of providers that the agency tracked. But now that more people can buy measuring devices online, it has forced the agency to rethink its retailer education effort.

Since the launch of Operation Maverick in June of 2015, nearly 1,000 retailers and vendors have been given notification that they need to have their scales registered with the agency. Registration fees can range anywhere from $12 to $400 depending on the industry. And during Operation Maverick, retailers are not being fined for not having scales registered, instead they are simply being informed that they need to register, and are given a sticker of compliance for the implement when registration is complete.

In-season crop estimates agreement signed

crop-photo

The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Statistics Services (USDA-NASS) recently announced a cooperative agreement that will provide accurate statistics and timely crop estimates to Texas farmers.

According to a release from the TDA, the agreement will allow for in-season district-level estimates yield and production for Texas wheat, corn, cotton and sorghum crops. These estimates are used throughout the agriculture industry for resource management planning, transport decisions and marketing strategies. This is highly advantageous for agriculture producers across the state due to the strengthened reliability and availability of current crop data and trends. The electronic report will be posted to the Texas and Oklahoma USDA-NASS websites and provided to TDA as part of a monthly Crop Production Report.

The effort to create the partnership between the state and federal agencies was spearheaded by the Plains Cotton Growers, a Lubbock-based trade group that has represented the cotton industry in Texas for six decades.

“Texas is a large and diverse agricultural state,” said Johnie Reed, president of Plains Cotton Growers, Inc. “The ability to obtain district and county wide information derived from state data through this cooperative agreement is important to the agriculture industry. It provides the agriculture industry with more accurate information on planted and harvested acres, in addition to production and yield, which in many instances is utilized in federal farm programs and marketing and decision aid tools for producers. Plains Cotton Growers greatly appreciates this effort by TDA and USDA-NASS.”

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller praised the Plains Cotton Growers for facilitating the inter-agency meetings.

“These meetings ultimately lead to the creation of this new agreement,” said Miller. “I couldn’t be more pleased to see this partnership come to life.”

Lesser prairie chicken officially off endangered list

lesser-prairie-chicken

Recently, the Obama administration said that it will not appeal the September 2015 and February 2016 U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas rulings that removed the lesser prairie chicken from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species list.

The Texas rulings found that Fish and Wildlife failed to make a proper evaluation of a multi-state conservation plan when it listed the lesser prairie chicken as “threatened”.

In 2014, the grouse species was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, one step below “endangered,” meaning that federal officials believed the bird would quickly be in danger of becoming extinct.

The birds range across sagebrush regions of five states, with about half of the current population living in Kansas. The other regions include Oklahoma, eastern portions of New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, and across the Texas panhandle, dipping into Val Verde County, south of I-10, and north of Del Rio. This area is squarely in the middle of significant ranching operations, and oil and gas and wind energy development in Texas.

Industry operators saw the placement of the chicken on the list as a direct threat to their livelihood, and claimed the listing would cost their operations millions of dollars. These individuals took action, joining together with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) on the Lesser Prairie Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan (LEPC RWP), and the Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat Exchange. These organizations aimed to provide new incentives for industry to minimize and mitigate its impacts throughout the southern Great Plains region, and for private landowners to improve and expand habitats for the ground-dwelling bird and other native species.

According to the Habitat Exchange site, the Exchange allows industry to benefit from a predictable value for credits that can be purchased to offset the impacts of development, and a standard set of rules and regulatory assurances, even if a species is listed, to ensure that projects move forward. Through prescribed activities like managed grazing, converting marginal lands back to native grass and marking fences, industry became part of the solution to the conservation issue.

Due largely to these efforts, there is good news for the lesser prairie chicken. In it’s second annual report on the species to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, WAFWA, which oversees the LEPC RWP, said that the grouse species had another successful year in 2015.

In the report, WAFWA said the chicken’s range-wide population had increased by 25 percent to just more than 29,000 birds. Meanwhile, industry partners had committed nearly $51 million in fees to pay for mitigation actions, and landowners and operators across the multi-state range agreed to conserve more than 67,000 acres of habitat.

Industry leaders across Texas expressed their satisfaction with the news that there would not be an appeal by the Obama Administration.

“I am pleased the administration decided to drop their appeal of the 2015 federal district court decision that removed the lesser prairie chicken from the threatened list,” said Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association president Richard Thorpe.

“Ranchers across Texas and the Southwest are the best stewards of our nation’s land and have implemented successful conservation practices on their property,” he said. “Federal regulations only inhibit their ability to implement these practices and provide food and fiber for a rapidly increasing world population.”

Ben Shepperd, president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, told the Midland Reporter-Telegram, “We are extremely pleased and proud with the outcome. We feel vindicated that the court agreed with us that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had overstepped its authority in listing the lesser prairie chicken.”

Even with the news, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), who has long opposed listing the bird for federal protection, noted the Fish and Wildlife Service’s intention to reassess the bird’s status.

“We have certainly not seen the last of the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda,” Roberts told AP reporters.

State Leaders Tackle Future Water Needs

Texas leaders continue to look for ways to manage the state’s most valuable natural resource: water. Recently, planning for the state’s future water needs came into focus during several critical meetings.

Legislative Focus

The Texas House Committee on Natural Resources took the show on the road, hosting their most recent public hearing at City Hall in Brownsville. The committee took on their fourth interim charge and began the process of evaluating the progress of desalination plants along the Texas Coast.

According to the Texas Desalination Association, there are nearly 100 desalination facilities across Texas. These facilities are producing 138 million gallons of water per day, offering a viable, drought-proof solution to water needs across the state. Texas aquifers hold 2.7 billion acre-feet of brackish groundwater, while the Gulf of Mexico provides an inexhaustible supply of seawater. (An acre-foot is the amount of water that would cover one acre to a depth of one foot.) The new supplies also can free up existing water supplies for other uses and for in-stream flow.

Photo Credit: KXAN

At the hearing, several local leaders testified that coastal communities like Brownsville hold the key for water needs.

“The legislature is concerned and, I think, feels desalination is the future of water for water in Texas,” said John Bruciak, general manager of the Brownsville utility. “Since we are doing it, the future is now here in Brownsville. We take groundwater that’s salty and take the salt out to reverse osmosis and treat that water,” Bruciak said.

Tiffany Huerta of CBS 4 in Browsnville reported that Bruciak’s plant, upon its opening in 2004, produced 7.5 million gallons of drinking water per day from brackish groundwater. Today, the plant has expanded, producing 11 million gallons.

Developing Water Systems

In Weatherford, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) held a presentation for the American Society of Civil Engineers to discuss plans for water conservation and buildup.

Kathleen Jackson, a TWDB member, summed up the situation facing the state in one sentence: “People are moving to Texas and they aren’t bringing water with them.”

As representatives from the partnering organizations discussed various issues, Jackson noted that water conservation, reuse, desalination, aquifer storage and recovery and reservoirs all need to be part of a constantly evolving game plan.

As reported by Jelani Gibson of the Weatherford Democrat, an estimated growth rate of 73 percent is projected for Texas between 2020 and 2070, from 29.5 million to 51 million people, according to TWDB statistics from its 2017 State Water Plan draft.

If that trend holds, current water supply simply will not be enough.

Total needs are projected to increase by 87 percent between 2020 and 2070, from 4.8 million to 8.9 million acre-feet per year, according to the plan.

More than half of that growth is expected to take place in what the TWDB designates as Region C, which includes the DFW Metroplex and surrounding counties.

Big Tex to Celebrate Texas Agriculture

16_theme_featThe State Fair of Texas will ring in its 130th year as a cultural institution in Dallas this fall. And to mark the start of its 13th decade, Fair officials have deemed that this year’s theme will reminisce upon the event’s beginnings as a livestock exposition with the theme “Celebrating Texas Agriculture.”

With less than 200 days until the opening of this year’s festivities, State Fair officials say that they have decided to acknowledge the significance of farming and ranching in Texas’ past, present and future. To do so, officials explained that the Fair would continue to promote agricultural growth through its large number of learning initiatives, from interactive exhibits explaining how Texas agriculture touches the lives of Texans every day to presentations explaining how food gets from farm to table. Additionally, through a variety of events including competitive livestock shows and leadership contests for youth among a host of other educational activities, Fair leaders have chosen to focus on educating guests about all the ways agriculture impacts the community, as well as our day-to-day routines.

“Although agriculture plays a key role in our daily lives, it is not something we often stop and think about – especially those of us living in urban areas like Dallas,” explained State Fair of Texas President Mitchell Glieber in a statement. “With fairgoers coming from both urban and rural backgrounds, we strive to promote agriculture to all visitors through our educational opportunities that are as enjoyable as they are informative.”

The 2016 State Fair of Texas will run Friday, September 30 through Sunday, October 23 at historic Fair Park in Dallas. For more information, visit: www.bigtex.com.

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Super Tuesday in Texas: A Look Up and Down the Ballot

The five remaining Republican Presidential hopefuls and the two Democrats vying for their party’s nomination for President will be on the ballot today, Tuesday, March 1. Today is known as “Super Tuesday”, because it is the day when a baker’s dozen states hold their primaries (we’re counting Colorado Republicans here, who hold their caucus on Super Tuesday).

The Lone Star State, however, is the crown jewel for both Republicans and Democrats alike on the first Tuesday in March. There are 155 GOP delegates up for grabs in Texas, more than twice the amount in any other state participating, the next closest being Georgia with 76. For Democrats, Texas has 251 delegates at stake.

Both Parties will split the delegates proportionally to the remaining candidates, meaning that a candidate has an opportunity to win at least a few delegates even if they do not win the state outright. The “Winner-Take-All” primaries that constitute the majority of the remaining states begin March 15.

Local flavor

While much of the media will focus on the Presidential battles, there are critically important legislative races on the ballot, as well. For those in the agriculture industry, these races will be among the most critical, with the 2017 legislative session looming. Because of the importance of these races, the Texas Farm Bureau AGFUND has made endorsements in numerous races, including some of the more heated primary battles. These endorsements include: Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth); Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-Bryan); Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana); Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown); Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne); Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso); Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio; and Rep. Molly White (R-Belton). A full list of AGFUND-Endorsed candidates can be viewed here.

Another organization that has made legislative endorsements is the Texas Municipal Police Association Political Action Committee. Their endorsements can be found here.

For Texans passionate about the 2nd Amendment, the Texas State Rifle Association PAC has also made a candidate guide, listing their endorsements. The guide can be found here.

Why Super Tuesday?

Texas hasn’t always been a part of the action on Super Tuesday. Prior to 2004, Texas law stated that primary elections would be held on the second Tuesday in March. Because this date usually fell during school and university spring break, one former legislator decided to take action to ensure that more voters would be in town to participate in the process.

Former Texas Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas) led a bipartisan and bicameral effort to change the election law and move the election to the first Tuesday in March. Fighting in the name of voter enfranchisement and higher voter turnout, Branch saw his bill signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2003, and Texans have been a part of the Super Tuesday party ever since. (To read more about this effort, check out Kevin Thompson’s post.)

Just the facts

What: Texas Primary Election

When: Tuesday, March 1. Polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. across Texas.

What else:

Texas has an Open Primary, meaning registered voters can vote in either the Republican or Democratic Primary and do not have to sign up with either party prior. To check your voter registration status, visit the Texas Secretary of State’s site.

Also, for the first time, Texans are required to show photo ID to vote in a presidential election. For a list of acceptable forms of ID, click here.

Results from Early Voting (which ran from February 16-26) will be released after 7:00 p.m. With over one million voters having already cast a ballot in Texas’ 15 counties with the highest number of registered voters, high turnout is expected on Election Day across Texas.