Friday, May 4, 2012

Week Ten: Mammals and range management

Welcome to Oatmeal, Texas!
Oatmeal Community Center
In my former life as a state park manager’s wife, we often encountered wildlife in the parks where we lived. Around the house or on evening walks, I might spot armadillos, foxes, deer and raccoons. A few I got to know personally. That’s because early in our marriage, my then husband brought home (on separate occasions) two orphaned babies: an opossum and a raccoon.

Fortunately, they arrived in that order. Because if the ’coon had arrived first, I’d have said NO to every baby animal thereafter.

We raised Oblio the opossum (named for the main character in Harry Nilsson’s fable, The Point!) until he grew old enough to release back into the park. Not so the raccoon. Lotar (the genus name for raccoons) was such a rascally handful that we took him to a wildlife center in Austin.

Lotar almost ruined me for motherhood. But I changed my mind later and had my two kids. Which (in a roundabout way) leads me to...

Week 10 of our Texas Master Naturalist training with the Highland Lakes chapter covered mammals and rangeland management.

From Marble Falls, we drove 25 or so miles to a teeny-tiny community called Oatmeal, which I’d heard of for years but never visited. The oatmeal box, community center and old schoolhouse seem to be all that’s left of the town. We met for our morning’s class at the community center.

Terry Bartoli, a Master Naturalist with our chapter, gave an hour-long presentation on mammals. He covered such animals as the badger, bobcat, raccoon, coyote and others.

As for white-tailed deer, Bartoli said Texas has way too many and advised property owners against feeding them. “You should have a one-buck-to-one-doe ratio (on your land),” he said. “In some areas, there are five does to one buck. That’s too many.”

“Corn is about the least nutritious thing to give deer,” he said. “Feed them protein pellets instead. If you put out corn, then you also feed rodents, raccoons and feral hogs. So corn should be used sparingly. Every time we fool with nature, we screw up other things in the process.”

Bartoli shared skulls, hides...

...and animal mounts, such as this gray fox.
White-tailed deer can be aged by their teeth.
Jim Stanley is the author of Hill Country Landowner's Guide.
Next, we learned about rangeland management from Jim Stanley, a retired chemist and Master Naturalist from Kerrville. “It’s essential that we talk about what the Hill Country used to look like,” he said. “If we don’t, it’s more difficult to understand what’s beneficial and detrimental to our property.”

Historically, “early settlers in Texas brought their cows, pigs, sheep and goats, and kept them close (to their homes),” he said. “During this time, it was the first time Texas was grazed constantly. That kept the grass short, and it also meant that succulent, high-quality grasses got hammered more often than less desirable grasses.”

Wild fires were also suppressed, which allowed woody plants to be come established in open areas. In later years, white-tailed deer grew in numbers, thanks to eradication of the screwworm, and browsed more heavily on hardwood saplings. “With the exception of cedar, that is. Because cedar is the last thing on a deer’s list of preferred food. So drought plus overgrazing and more cedar and fewer springs leads us to where we are now in Texas. All those changes have caused problems.”

The good news: modern landowners can make a difference.

“The most important thing that you as landowners can do is get an accurate, unbiased assessment about the condition of your property,” Stanley said. “Until you do, you won’t keep track of what’s going on as time goes by. I urge you to do it right away. Keep data, which will help you see what’s happening to your land year after year.”

His final advice: “Native grasses are the most important thing to have on your property, Stanley said. “You can’t have too much! Do what you can to get more grass cover.”

Inside the community center....
Our mid-day lunch break at Oatmeal's old-fashioned covered pavilion.

After lunch, we drove down the road to Indian Springs Ranch for our afternoon field excursion to look at trees and other plants.
Jerry, Fred, Pete and Dan examined some antelope horns, hoping to find monarch eggs.
Our hike begins down a rocky caliche road...
M.J. and Barbara take a shade break.
Headwaters of the Cow Creek, which feed this small lake, lie within the ranch.
Becky and Janis kept track of plant species we found along our hike.
Betty (training assistant), Eva and Wayne take a shade break. It was a HOT, sunny day!
Kay gets up high to pick some hackberry berries.
That's Sammye, our devoted training program leader (along with Becky and Celia).

Ken visits with Billy, who owns Indian Springs Ranch.
Headin' back up the trail. We're pooped!
Social time beneath the shade...Bill graciously served us barbecued pork, tortillas, sliced watermelon and drinks.
Ed's still a kid at heart.
"Hey, Wayne!" I yelled as the three left to head back to their cars.
Wayne shrugged me off, but Ed couldn't resist hamming it up for the camera.
To make room for weary hikers, Fred crawled in the very back of his wife's Toyota SUV.


Our class curriculum AND VERY LAST CLASS takes us to the home (near Kingsland) of a chapter member, where we'll take a wildflower walk and learn about using cameras in the field. We'll also wrap up our 11 weeks of training. Graduation's Sunday, May 27!

1 comment:

His Touch said...

Oatmeal, Texas! Wow! Great memories of the day we picked up our little collie dog from a breeder in Oatmeal. That water tower is amazing. :) I am so glad you had a good day and looks like lots of learning and fun. My hat is off to Oatmeal, Texas.

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