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Conservation Funds Awarded

Center Distributes Endangered Plant, Animal Grants

Texas Prairie Dawn
ABOVE: Texas Prairie Dawn is an endangered native plant and one of the targets of the Conservation Grant program. Photo by Terry L. Hibbits in Katy Prairie, which is in Harris County, Texas.

At the Wildflower Center, staff know that promoting native plants isn’t just about helping the state’s flora. Among other benefits, native plants provide wildlife with shelter and food, assisting everything from songbirds to salamanders with survival. So the center’s manager of plant conservation was thrilled to oversee grants that would help endangered animal and plant species when she came on board this past spring.

“This is the first time the Wildflower Center has been given the opportunity to fund conservation grants,” says Dr. Karen Clary, “and we were delighted to be recognized for our conservation knowledge and to see that the money assists plants and animals in need.”

The Wildflower Center helps conserve Tobusch fishhook cactus and about 12 other rare and endangered plants. And now the Wildflower Center is awarding grants totaling $637,858 to eight organizations doing work to benefit this and four other Texas species. The one-year grants are to conduct conservation research or set aside habitat to assist the recovery of the two bird and three plant species. The species listed as federally endangered are: the black-capped vireo, golden-cheeked warbler, Navasota ladies’ tresses, Texas prairie dawn and Tobusch fishhook cactus.

The funds for the Endangered Species Conservation Grant program come from mitigation dollars paid voluntarily under the Endangered Species Act. The money from highway departments, municipalities, commercial and other land developers was collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and passed on to the Wildflower Center for distribution through the Endangered Species Conservation Grant program. Mitigation dollars related to destruction of habitat for a federally endangered species will be used for conservation-related grants for that species. “It’s about making something good come from this impact to an endangered species,” Clary notes.

The eight grant recipients were chosen out of 16 submitted proposals. Wildflower Center and outside experts chose the following projects:

  • Black-capped vireo, $39,478: Rich Kostecke, The Nature Conservancy and colleagues will count male and female vireos during their breeding season at multiple locations in Val Verde County. The surveys at Dolan Falls Preserve and other conservancy-affiliated land along the upper Devils River will improve statewide statistics on the vireo. Studies will also be done to determine whether vegetation changes on this land over time shift the bird’s habitat.

  • Golden-cheeked warbler, $136,434: Jim Nosler, Friends of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, to help purchase 60 acres of habitat in Burnet County adjacent to refuge land. Friends of Balcones would partner on the acquisition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which would manage the warbler’s nesting habitat on the property. The purchased land will help buffer the refuge from a nearby subdivision and help protect the Lower Colorado River watershed.

  • Navasota Ladies' Tresses
    ABOVE: Navasota Ladies' Tresses, one of the endangered plants being aided by the Wildflower Center's Conservation Grants. Photo by Dr. Darren Henrichs, Texas A&M postdoctoral fellow.
  • All three endangered plant species, $68,971: Dr. Brenda Molano-Flores, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois and colleagues will conduct interviews and use published and unpublished data on these three plant species to develop an index to assess how vulnerable each are to climate change. In addition, the likelihood that these species will go extinct will be evaluated using data on factors such as the percentage of their habitat projected to experience climate change-related changes in temperature and rainfall.

  • Navasota ladies’ tresses, $215,570: Dr. Fred Smeins and Dr. William Rogers, Texas Agrilife Research, to use computers to develop region-wide predictive models to identify critical areas of the native plant’s habitat that may be threatened. They will also work with local, federal and state agencies, landowners and a wide-variety of stakeholders to create a “Conservation Corridor” management plan for threatened and fragmented Navasota ladies’ tresses populations. In addition, they will study how much genetic variability occurs and how widely it is distributed within and between Navasota ladies’ tresses populations throughout its geographic range.

  • Texas prairie dawn projects: 1. $78,000. Mary Anne Piacentini, the Katy Prairie Conservancy and colleagues will develop a conservation easement to permanently protect 511 acres of the plant’s habitat in western Harris County. They will also survey existing populations of Texas prairie dawn, which are primarily threatened by Houston-area growth. The response of this member of the aster family to various management techniques implemented with the funding will also be evaluated. 2. $24,452. Anita Tiller, Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Gardens and colleagues will collect seeds in the wild and review the records and viability of seeds already banked at Mercer of Texas of prairie dawn and associated rare plant species found in East Texas. A plan will also be developed to manage and reintroduce the wildflower into a new Harris County preserve.

  • Tobusch fishhook cactus projects: 1. $30,985. Charlotte Reemts, The Nature Conservancy, will study whether Tobusch fishhook cactus populations in Bandera and Real counties benefit from partial or full shade provided by nearby shrubs in terms of improved flowering or production of fruits. 2. $43,968. Dr. Jyotsna Sharma, Texas Tech University, will study the genetic composition of Tobusch fishhook cacti in eight Texas counties to determine whether two different subspecies of the cacti can be identified, whether the two subspecies share habitat if so, and whether one is less susceptible to the deadly Tobusch weevil.

The projects will be funded through November 2013. However, Clary hopes that added conservation granting opportunities will be developed in the future. The Center will retain an additional 10 percent of the funds from the Endangered Species Conservation Grants program for grant administration and for its conservation projects.

Story by Barbra Rodriguez

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