After unprecedented and extended freezing temperatures, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is assessing the February winter storm’s impact on fish and wildlife and is asking for the public’s help.
Residents can report any wildlife deaths, especially significant mortality events that involve a large number of dead animals, via the iNaturalist online portal.
“The prolonged period of sub-freezing temperatures, coupled with the limited availability of food resources due to the snow and ice has had some impact on wildlife resources; however, given the secretive nature of most wildlife species, the full extent of the impact cannot yet be determined,” the TPWD stated in a media release.
Officials said they don’t expect “any significant losses” of white-tailed or mule deer. Most deer deaths from the extreme cold weather would likely have been older or sick animals.
Biologists are, however, concerned about the freeze’s impact on their habitat. Some vegetation that was greening up for spring might now be turning brown or shedding off.
“Additionally, the winter herbaceous vegetation, which are critical for deer this time of year and into the early spring, were impacted and burned by the freezing temperatures,” officials stated. “TPWD is hopeful that, despite the cold temperatures, the moisture from the snow and ice was able to be absorbed by the soil, and, as temperatures warm up, the usual spring green-up will take place statewide.”
Biologists have also received reports of dead birds, including waterfowl, songbirds, and woodpeckers. The TPWD said those deaths could be due to the birds being in poor condition before the storm or a lack of protective cover, which was made worse by previous drought conditions in some parts of the state.
One creature hard hit by the recent bad weather was the bat. Residents, biologists, and park employees across the state are finding dead bats under bridges as well as live bats that were downed during the freeze because of dehydration, starvation, and cold body temperatures.
If you come across a bat, state park department officials said the best course of action is to report it via the iNaturalist website. Then, if it’s alive, contact a wildlife rehabilitator. A list of rehabilitators by county can be found on the TPWD website.
Exotic animals such axis deer, blackbuck, and nilgai antelope also might not have fared well during the storm. These species are from more temperate climates.
As Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff visit field sites and receive more data from residents through iNaturalist, they should be able to better analyze the long-term winter storm impacts on wildlife, habitat, and other resources.