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Lengthy Drought Takes Toll on Wildlife

It may be a bad year for hunters: The number of wild turkeys, quail and even squirrels will be down due to one of the worst droughts in state history. One bright spot is that feral hogs, a statewide nuisance, will also decrease.

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Texas is now nine months into one of the worst droughts in recorded state history, and it shows no signs of abating. That's bad news for city dwellers who must use ever less water for their lawns, but it's worse for many wildlife and fish, which find their habitats drying up.

The drought has made things "very difficult in lots of ways for wildlife," says Kirby Brown, an official with the Texas Wildlife Association, a landowner and hunter group. Even if they can find water, the animals may have trouble getting enough food, as trees and plants suffer from the lack of moisture. In West Texas, one of the areas of the state worst hit by the drought, local newspapers have reported animals creeping into cities in search of bugs that reside on lawns, and other nourishment.

Wild turkeys are in trouble, Brown says. So are quail, and deer. It's fawning season for deer around the state, and they won't get much to eat. "We'll see very low fawn production," Brown says. 

Deer hunters should also expect less spectacular antlers this year, when hunting season begins. "I suspect most of the folks that are hunting deer for trophies won't be seeing those trophies," Brown says. However, he added, hunting may be especially beneficial this year, to "take a few more mouths off the range."

Hunters will see the impact in September, when the Texas dove hunting season kicks off. Squirrel hunting in October will also be tough. 

Fish are in trouble, too. "We're expecting we're going to lose a lot of trout this season," says Mark Dillow, president of Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited, the largest arm of a national anglers conservation group. Higher temperatures in the Guadalupe River, and less water flowing through it below Canyon Dam, have hurt the fish, he says. His group asks anglers not to target trout in waters over 68 degrees; these days the water temperature is more like 75 degrees. Some fish will find cold-water springs that feed the river and survive, but plenty more will struggle. Trout Unlimited encourages catch-and-release practices, but even that might tip an already stressed fish over the edge.

Dillow says that he fished over the Fourth of July holiday last year but did not venture out this past weekend. Campgrounds and tubing venues and other river businesses are hurting, he says.

One bright spot amid the terrible dryness may be the impact on feral hogs, which are such a nuisance that the Legislature voted this year to approve the "pork chopper" bill, allowing landowners to hunt them down by helicopter 

"Anytime you have drought conditions like this, the young piglets and sows do suffer and they tend to go down, which most of us are very glad about, I've just got to tell you," Brown says. "We will see a reduction in the pigs. The problem is the next time it rains, you've got a litter of seven, and eight should survive."

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