On May 21, 2011 we were fly fishing for redfish in the lower Laguna Madre. Here’s a wonderful photograph of a redfish pod feeding on shrimp, and gulls trailing the redfish to pick up their leavings.
You might wonder why this picture has been entered on a blog dedicated to West Texas wildlife and habitat management. It is because fisheries have much to teach us about terrestrial environments and their animal life.
The summer of 2010 saw big rains in the drainages that feed into the lower bays of Texas. Extremely high levels of fresh water created big shrimp hatches. Human impact in the form of dam building and irrigation withdrawals have greatly reduced fresh water flows into Texas bay systems. The disruption of the historic water cycle has greatly reduced the amount of food available for marine life including native species like reds and trout and migratory species like tarpon. Problems in our estuaries can be directly traced to the disruption of this water cycle. A big rain year reminds us of what we have lost.
Likewise, our desert environment which supports elk, deer, pronghorn and bighorn has suffered from the disruption of water cycles due to human impact. At Circle Ranch we have successfully applied holistic insights to begin to restore water function: recognizing that communities of living organisms (soil life, plant life and animal life) are interactive, and, that all living things function together with mineral, water and sunlight cycles in a system of mutual interdependence. Disruption of any of this is harmful to all of it.
Look at this picture: gulls and redfish are eating shrimp: What if TPWD fisheries biologists embarked on seagull elimination to improve survival of shrimp for shrimpers, and to ensure more redfish food for a favorite sport fish? Ridiculous? TPWD biologists, field staff and managers in West Texas are eradicating elk and burros, and culling mule deer does, to ensure more food for bighorn.
Would the Audubon Society advise the removal of redfish so the gulls and other waterfowl would have more shrimp? Ridiculous? Texas Bighorn Society is funding aerial gunning of exotics, and native elk, to increase bighorn food.
Would there be more shrimp if the predators with which they are symbiotically interactive were removed? Numerous experiments in these areas have always shown that removal of predators harms the species which the removals are intended to protect, and, that removal of species to reduce “competition” with other favored species harms multiple species and their habitat. This is as true on land as at sea.
TPWD practices permanent predator, and ‘competition’ removals on every West Texas property it manages, and yet its habitat at the Sierra Diablo WMA is in declining condition compared to Circle Ranch next door where we do not do this.
I am appealing to deer, bighorn and elk enthusiasts here: tell your elected leaders at the Texas Bighorn Society, and your employees in agencies such as Texas Parks & Wildlife Department that elk, burro, and deer removals are as ill-advised a way to help bighorn as seagull removals would be to help redfish, or vice-versa, or removing both would help shrimp. Ask them why they believe that nature can be improved on, and why our efforts on behalf of wildlife and habitat should come through any process other than recreating natural systems. Ask them how their methods of improving on nature are doing to reverse habitat and wildlife decline. Ask them why they continue doing things that don’t work, spending your money on costly practices which their own literature shows to be counterproductive.
And as you think critically about the rationales they offer in defense of their practices, remember this: nature cannot be out-smarted but, as landowners and managers acting on the advice of such “experts” have been learning for decades, it can definitely be out-dumbed.