Texas drought will harm wildlife habitat for years

By Ramit Plushnick-Masti

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Aug. 8 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

The impact on species also could last for years after the drought officially ends. For example, quail normally nest in grass grown a year earlier, but because of the drought, there has been almost no grass growth this year. That means many quail won't be able to nest next year and the impact of the drought on the birds won't be seen until 2012, Bonner said.

With deer, the true impact may not be revealed for six years when the low reproduction rates caused by the drought will leave an age gap between older bucks and younger deer.

Prairie chickens will also reproduce less due to the drought — something that could spell more trouble for the species. In the past decade, the chickens' numbers have dropped so significantly that the federal government may place them on an endangered species list, a move that would make it illegal to hunt and force conservation of prairie chicken habitats.

John Baccus, a wildlife biologist at Texas State University in San Marcos, said he is most immediately concerned with bats and song birds, both of which rely on insects for food. Baccus believes that some females will not have any offspring this year due to a poor diet. Whatever babies are born will likely have a low survival rate because they are entering a world with a scarce food supply.

Already, Baccus said, he has noticed white-tailed deer looking skinnier than usual, their ribs jutting out. As a result, the mothers are producing less milk and the newest crop of fawns will be weaned at sub-par weight.

"It's an ecosystem-wide problem," Baccus said.

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