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The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition


The 20th century has proven as significant for changes made by humans in the landscape — its soils, waters, atmosphere, climate, habitats, and wildlife — as for its technological advancements. The risks as we progress toward the 21st century are not just with extinction or restriction of wildlife; there are serious economic ramifications associated with the continued loss of biological diversity. As species disappear, man’s capacity to maintain and enhance agricultural, forest, and rangeland productivity decreases. And with the degradation of ecosystems, the valuable services that natural and semi-natural systems provide will be lost.

It seems inevitable that the 21st century will be as different from today’s world as the current one has been from the 19th century, perhaps more so given the accelerating pace of change in lifestyle and technology. The next hundred years is likely to decide the future of wildlife in Texas and other states. Decisions will be made, directly or indirectly, as to how much and what kind of nature survives. Conservation pressures in the next century will come from a variety of sources. Habitat loss and degradation are the most important causes of wildlife decline, but overharvesting and poaching, trade in wild animal products, introduction of exotic species, pollution from pesticides and herbicides, and other causes also take a significant toll. Global warming or climate change could exacerbate the loss and degradation of biodiversity by increasing the rate of species extinction, changing population sizes and species distributions, modifying the composition of habitats and ecosystems, and altering their geographic extent.

Essentially the problem involves proliferating human populations and associated land conversion which is powerfully changing the form and shape of the landscape. People now constitute a pressure on the global environment that is evident everywhere. There are no longer any unoccupied frontiers; every square centimeter of the earth’s surface is affected by the activities of human beings. This results in insufficient habitat for many species or situations in which habitats are isolated in separate pieces too small or too unstable to sustain viable populations of species and thus biological diversity. The theory of biogeography reveals that species richness is a function of land area. All environmental variables being equal, the greater the area, the more species it supports. Thus, as habitats are fragmented and isolated into small islands, they lose the capacity to support wildlife diversity.

Texas has a great treasure in its mammalian fauna which provides our citizens with important recreational, commercial, aesthetic, and scientific values. We are home to more than 20% of the nation’s total deer population, over three-quarters of the carnivore species, and all but 10 species of bats that occur in the United States. The question is whether or not these resources can be sustained in the future. For this to happen, we must employ several conservation strategies. It has become clear in most cases that single approaches will not work successfully to conserve wildlife diversity. We must build long-range thinking and planning into conservation, and we must find ways for diverse groups, including state and federal agencies, academic institutions, private landowners and organizations, and public groups to network and explore new collaborative ventures that bring separate approaches together in a complementary way. The challenge is daunting. We face a monumental task, far beyond our existing abilities. But now is the time to look ahead, coordinate and plan, before our options are further narrowed.

There are presently about 100 areas in Texas that potentially could serve as biological reserves for the protection of species and the supporting environment. These include national parks, forests, preserves, and recreation areas; national wildlife refuges; state wildlife management areas; state parks; private wildlife foundations; and lands owned by private conservation organizations (for example, Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, and Audubon Society). Over one million hectares of land are contained in these units which are distributed throughout the state and provide habitat for most Texas mammals.

While protected areas play a key role in the preservation of natural diversity, their ability to preserve our mammalian fauna is limited and sometimes overestimated. Their capacity for preservation is restricted by a number of internal and external factors. First, the parks and preserves of Texas are scattered throughout the state, but the geographical distribution is far from proportional. Thus, they poorly represent many of the natural areas in Texas, such as native grasslands and prairies. Second, most protected areas are too small and widely scattered to effectively preserve biological diversity. A recent publication in the scientific journal Nature concluded that the 14 largest national parks in western North America were too small to retain an intact mammalian fauna. No protected area in Texas is as large as the smallest of the 14 parks used in that study. Thus, a major goal of conservation must be to expand the number of protected areas to include a cross-section of all major ecosystems in the state and to link these areas via conservation corridors so they are more effective.

Protected areas alone, however, will not be sufficient to conserve mammalian diversity in Texas. To be effective in the long term, conservation strategies must consider the needs of local residents to maintain or enhance their quality of life. For this reason, conservation-based rural development is indispensable to any successful conservation strategy in Texas. With almost 98% of the state in private land, it will not be possible to conserve mammalian diversity in Texas without the support and participation of landowners. Why? — because the vast majority of wildlife habitat in Texas is privately owned. In order to retain the stability and diversity of this habitat, it must be managed and utilized by landowners in an economically and ecologically viable manner. A system of responsible wildlife management, sportsmanship, and land ethics must be developed. Aldo Leopold, the father of American conservation, recognized this more than 50 years ago when he wrote: "We need to recognize the landowner as the custodian of public game on all private lands ... and compensate him for putting his land in productive condition .... In short, make game management a partnership enterprise to which landowner, the sportsman, and the public each contribute appropriate services, and from which each derive appropriate rewards."

A basic weakness in a conservation system based wholly on economic motives is that most species of a land community have no economic value. Without a land ethic and a stewardship concern for the diversity and integrity of the land, landowners will favor those management practices which make the most money without a consideration of the whole biotic system. Landowner rights and wildlife management, including the protection of endangered species, can and must be integrated to achieve effective conservation of mammals in Texas. We must learn to manage the landscape for sustained local diversity, maintenance of ecosystem function, and renewable yields of natural resources for economic development.

We also must improve our biological knowledge about mammals. We know precious little of the life history of most mammals in Texas. In fact, for many species, our knowledge is insufficient to even accurately assess their status. Decisions as to whether a species is threatened, rare, or endangered are often based entirely on biological "guesswork" without proper knowledge of the population dynamics, reproduction, food habits, or behavior of the species considered. Future research efforts, whether they involve biologists working for state and federal agencies or scientists associated with academic institutions, should focus on correcting this problem.

Conserving wildlife, which recognizes neither ownership or boundaries, calls for good science, first-rate technology, excellent management, and a broad constituency willing to make some concessions to save it. Whether we act, and how, will depend on factors such as politics, education, socioeconomics, recreation interests, and planning capabilities. Broad-based conservation education programs, designed to diffuse conservation information to the public, must become an important priority. Without understanding of the need for action, and without commitment to that action, citizens will not contribute to the effort, nor will they cooperate with those so engaged. People must be educated to understand what the continuation — or destruction — of wildlife means to their future and that of their descendants, and they must be persuaded to act on their resulting concern in ways respectful to the diversity of wildlife and to their own cultural values.

Other topics under Texas Mammals:

Diversity of Land Mammals
Geographic Distribution of Land Mammals
Critical Species
Key to the Major Groups (Orders) of Mammals in Texas