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Drought-stricken Texas impacts wildlife


Drought conditions are plaguing Texas.
Drought conditions are plaguing Texas.

Jill Colton, staff writer

August 11, 2011 — Wildlife habitats have been severely affected by drought-stricken lakes and rivers in Texas.

Scorching hot temperatures have dominated and made drought-conditions worse.
Scorching hot temperatures have dominated and made drought-conditions worse.

Animals of all sorts lay dead throughout Texas and even the smallest insects are struggling for survival.

The state is dealing with the worst one-year drought in its history. Entire ecosystems are falling prey to a bevy of dried up water systems.

The drought has sucked up the water, leaving only dry sand, wet mud, trickling springs or, in the best case, large puddles behind.

“It has a compound effect on a multitude of species and organisms and habitat types because of the way that it's chained and linked together,“ said Jeff Bonner, a wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

According to meteorologists, Texas has received some 15 centimetres or rain, compared to a norm of around 33 centimetres. The extremely dry conditions also extend into parts of the Plains including Oklahoma and Kansas.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center is blaming the La Nina weather pattern for the significant dry spell. There's a chance the phenomenon could extend into 2012.

Weeks of scorching temperatures is hardly helping. The sizzling weather has caused reservoirs to evaporate, crops to wither and animals and fish to die.

Water systems are drying up.
Water systems are drying up.

Experts say that some rivers and lakes have bottomed out, others are at lows not seen since the 1950s -- the decade when the state suffered its worst drought in recorded history.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, of the state's 3,700 streams, 15 major rivers and more than 200 reservoirs at least seven reservoirs are empty and more than half are below the normal flow rates.

Fish are dying off in mass quantities, including near the Canadian River, a normally fast-flowing water system in the Panhandle.

Particularly, in West Texas, O.C. Fisher Lake depleted fish populations died from lack of oxygen and bacteria has converted the small amount of water red.

Without water, the entire ecosystem is in jeopardy. Animals first struggle with thirst, then few plants grow. Without vegetation, there are fewer insects. No insects result in low seed production.

“So there's a domino effect that goes out in however many more branches than you can actually every keep count of,” Bonner said.

Texas boasts a large and diverse ecosystem. According to scientists, the long-term impact from the drought could cross state lines and country borders. For example, migrating birds will find little food in Texas this year, so they'll have to expend more energy flying further south. This could result in a decline in reproduction.

Prairie chickens are also in trouble. They could reproduce less from the drought. This is problematic, because the chickens' numbers have dropped so significantly that the federal government has placed them on an endangered species list.

With files from The Associated Press

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