- By Mike Leggett American-Statesman Correspondent
We should have our hands slapped over some of the things we’ve done in this state by letting plants and animals run wild.
Think about it: We now have tens of thousands, probably more, of exotics — axis deer, black bucks, fallows, oryx, etc. — throughout the Hill Country. And while they do offer some income potential for landowners, they also swiftly overwhelm native animals such as whitetails and the habitat on which they live.
We have zebra mussels in many lakes in the state now, most of them carried to Texas and then spread around to other lakes on the bottoms of poorly sanitized boats.
And there are other exotic and invasive plants such as hydrilla and giant salvinia that continue to spread throughout Texas. Giant salvinia is an especially nasty one, too, both for what it does to water and for the extreme way it grows and multiplies once it’s established in a lake.
Giant salvinia has been found in the top bass lake in the state, Lake Fork, and has turned parts of fragile Caddo Lake into an impenetrable mess of coves and blocked boat docks and boats that can’t be moved.
It’s horrific to think about the state’s only natural lake robbed of life-giving oxygen and habitat that fish and animals need. In just two years, the salvinia increased its coverage on Caddo from 2 acres to more than a thousand surface acres.
Giant salvinia can completely cover some small lakes virtually overnight, moving like some kind of science fiction movie monster to take over the water world around it.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is trying to slow the spread of giant salvinia and zebra mussels with public information programs aimed at educating boaters and cleaning and draining boats and live wells. It isn’t working very well because the plants and animals keep showing up in new and more widespread lakes around the state.
But this isn’t the first time things have gone wrong with invasive species in Texas. Many of our wounds are self-inflicted, too. People brought in nutria from South America, and that’s wound up creating a problem for water authorities and private landowners as the animals burrow into earthen dams, which can cause those structures to fail.
We have monk parakeets living in downtown Austin, alligators roaming around the Hill Country and tilapia creating havoc in some power plant lakes.
All these releases of exotic animals and plants probably seemed harmless and without much downside when they took place, but now we’re paying the price for hubris and ignorance.
Every one of these events threatens our outdoor lives in Texas, especially in the Hill Country, considering that the land is already altered by another kind of exotic animal. We’re talking about goats here, folks.
I’m not advocating getting rid of the goats, but we can see the results of decades of overgrazing all around us. Let’s just be careful and make sure we don’t create some kind of cataclysmic event from which we might not recover in our lifetimes.