Environmental Restoration In Texas
Environmental restoration covers a range of activities that involve returning the land to some predetermined state of ecological or agricultural productivity. These activities very often focus on restoring the native or original vegetation to a site. A very important issue with most restoration projects in Texas is trying to figure just what the end point of restoration is. Many restorationists have a vision of the presettlement vegetation as the ideal. The first problem with this is that we usually don’t have good, detailed information on what that vegetation looked like. And the second problem is that, much as we would like to see that vegetation return, the conditions responsible for it are no longer present.
Given these difficulties, most projects have rather broad goals. Restoring the “prairie” or restoring the “forest” are common goals. Or it may be “increasing the presence of native vegetation on the prairie.” Many projects will have a list of target plants they would like to see increase, and these are almost always natives most susceptible to disappearance—such as Big Bluestem or Eastern Gama Grass. Almost all restoration projects have a list of plants they would like to see disappear—brushy invasives, for example. These invaders and other problems such as depleted nutrients and lower water holding capacities in the soils are the result of overgrazing and other poor management practices. Restoration might also refer to specific landscape or ecological functions that are wanted, such as groundwater recharge or water filtration.
Restoration to a “natural” state might seem to imply a system where artificial management is no longer necessary. We now recognize that no such state exists. Human influence is so extensive that there really is no place where our influence has not been felt. “No management” is thus a management decision, and may in fact have detrimental consequences for some of the very ecosystems we view as completely “natural.” The more self-sustaining an area is, the more stable it will be and the less intervention will be required, but some management will always be required. While we accept the necessity of management, true environmental restoration recognizes the primacy of natural processes. Our goal is to use and mimic these processes as much as possible.
Conditions in Your Watershed
The Environmental Protection Agency maintains a directory of Texas river corridor and wetlands restoration projects. Other programs in your area may be found through the following websites:
- At the Armand Bayou Nature Center, a large Coastal Prairie preserve in the Southeast Houston metropolitan area, considerable progress has been made against the invasive Chinese Tallow tree. Combinations of aerial and ground applications of herbicides, and a variety of removal mechanisms, including falling in place, have been employed against the Tallow tree. The most effective, and the most expensive, treatment uses aerial application of herbicide followed by mechanic mulching with a Seppi machine.
Seppi “mulcher” taking down tallow trees.
Mulch cover immediately after a pass by the Seppi.
Restored prairie 6 months after pass by Seppi unit.
Areas that were very nearly single-species Tallow forests in the first year became lush prairies with indications that target species such as Eastern Gamma
Grass and Switchgrass are beginning to increase. Restored areas must be maintained through fire or mowing. A report on water quality and biological characterization of the Armand Bayou is available.
- The Texas Society for Ecological Restoration is an excellent portal for restoration projects across the state. Their annual meeting is well attended by both academic and commercial specialists.
- The Texas Native Plant Society has chapters throughout the state and is actively involved in many restoration projects. They are a good source for information about specific native plants.
- The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is actively involved in prairie restoration activities.
- The National Wetlands Research Center of the U.S. Geological Survey has an extensive restoration program along the Texas Gulf Coast.
- The Texas Nature Conservancy has at least some restoration programs on nearly every property they protect, and some are quite extensive.
- Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is a lead partner in many restoration projects. Search for “restoration” on their local search engine.
- The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service has “conservation” projects throughout the state that are synonymous with restoration.
Resources and Programs
The Texas A&M University System provides research, education and extension resources to assist state and federal agencies, business and industry, communities and individual citizens in addressing water quality concerns. These programs are designed to provide information for specific audiences, such as farmers, homeowners and youth.
Texas A&M University has established programs designed to provide environmental restoration assistance. Below are some key links to information and resources available to assist you.
Texas Cooperative Extension is involved in restoration projects throughout the state. Extension specialists with the departments of Rangeland Ecology and Management and Forest Science are the most active in this area.
Scientific research is the basis for development of new technologies to improve environmental restoration. Researchers at Land Grant Universities work to develop these new technologies and evaluate their benefits. The Texas Agricultural Research Database has information about research on environmental restoration in Texas. You can browse or search, and researchers can submit their information online. The Texas Water Resources Institute also provides links to water-related research funded through the Institute. Some examples of major environmental restoration research efforts in Texas include:
The La Copita Demonstration Ranch is operated by the Texas A&M University Department of Rangeland Ecology and Management and Texas Cooperative Extension. Current studies at La Copita include unrolling round bales of native hay on slopes where cattle will feed on the hay and simultaneously stomp organic matter, including seeds, into the ground. The residue also slows and captures water runoff downslope.
Prairie at La Copita Demonstration Ranch after hay bale treatments.
Contact Wayne Hanselka
The Rangeland Rehabilitation and Restoration Ecology Laboratory seeks to develop integrated, environmentally sound, vegetation manipulation systems for meeting agricultural and natural resource objectives. This includes consideration of wildlife, livestock, and water management objectives within an economic framework. Research includes ecological and management oriented studies involving fire, herbicide use, and ecological restoration.
The San Angelo Research and Extension Center conducts research programs in restoration ecology and rangeland rehabilitation, with emphases on vegetation and brush management. In desertified rangelands near San Angelo “ripping” the subsoil is being used as a way to increase native forage productivity.
Scientists at the Texas Cooperative Extension Fort Stockton Center are examining the effect of eradicating saltcedar from the banks of the Pecos River. The five-year study will examine whether water flow is increased and salinity decreased in the river following removal of the nonnative saltcedar.
A Watershed and Cedar Management Applied Research Project is being conducted through the Texas A&M University Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Uvalde, Texas to evaluate water runoff, water utilization by cedar, forming filter strips to reduce water and sediment loss, and methods of improving revegetation following cedar removal. This project is in cooperation with Southwest Texas State University on the University's Freeman Research Ranch.
College and University Education
Youth and continuing adult education are critical to develop new talent and human resources to address the water quality issues of the future. Educational curricula in environmental restoration are available within several departments at Texas A&M University. Graduate and undergraduate programs in key departments include: