Native plants are essential for supporting game and non-game wildlife populations in Texas. The Texas NRCS biologists discuss the importance of managing rangeland and the impact of overgrazing on the ecosystem. This article explores the benefits of using native plants for wildlife, the history of grazing management in Texas, and the crucial role of pollinators in maintaining ecosystem health.
Rangeland Management and Native Vegetation
Rangeland, which constitutes half of the world’s land mass and 59% of Texas’ land, refers to land predominantly covered with native vegetation like grasses, forbs, and shrubs. It is essential to manage rangeland according to its specific climatic conditions to maintain its biodiversity.
Although cattle grazing is a common land use in rangeland, it is crucial to understand that rangeland is a land type. The early history of Texas saw the presence of buffalos as the primary grazing animals, but over time, buffalo numbers decreased due to hunting. As a result, native grasslands were overgrazed before 1900, leading to a decline in range condition.
Early History of Grazing Management
The early history of Texas, before 1900, witnessed a lack of range management and overgrazing. Early ranchers took advantage of the abundant grass and grazed their cattle without considering the long-term consequences. With the arrival of railroads in the 1870s, speculators bought land to make a profit, leading to further overgrazing.
Additionally, the prevention of wildfires by settlers allowed invasive native plants to spread. Lack of range management knowledge and drought planning further exacerbated the decline in range condition. Over time, the carrying capacity of the land decreased, and grazing management became crucial for landowners.
Importance of Native Plants for Wildlife
Managing rangeland effectively involves considering the needs of both game and non-game wildlife. The Texas Wildlife Association logo symbolizes the end product of effective range management, focusing on creating habitat for wildlife. Pollinators play a significant role in maintaining the vibrant ecosystem required for both game and non-game wildlife species.
Pollinators, such as bees, are essential for the flowering plants that provide forage for wildlife. Without pollinators, plants cannot produce seeds, leading to a decline in plant diversity. Over 70 of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of the world’s food require pollination by bees. Therefore, it is crucial to preserve pollinators’ habitats to ensure a stable food supply.
Impact on Game Species
The impact of native plants on game species, such as white-tailed deer, is significant. Studies have shown that a large portion of a white-tailed deer’s diet consists of native forbs, browse, and mast from shrubs. In North Texas, forbs and browse make up 76% of a white-tailed deer’s food. Heavy grazing by livestock reduces the availability of forbs, forcing deer to rely more on browse for nutrition.
Similarly, in South Texas, white-tailed deer heavily rely on forbs and browse for their diet. Grazing management that prioritizes native plant habitat restoration ensures a stable food source for game species.
Role of Pollinators
The presence of pollinators is crucial for the survival and reproduction of native plants. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators help transfer pollen from one flower to another, enabling plants to produce seeds. Studies have shown that a diverse range of pollinators is necessary for effective pollination and the growth of flowering plants.
By preserving native plant habitats, landowners can support pollinators and ensure the sustained growth and reproduction of native plants. Without these habitats and pollinators, the ecosystem would be at risk of losing vital plant species and disrupting the food chain for wildlife.
Understanding the benefits of using native plants for game and non-game wildlife is crucial for effective rangeland management. Proper grazing management, preservation of native plant habitats, and support for pollinators are all vital for maintaining the health and biodiversity of Texas ecosystems. By practicing sustainable land management techniques, landowners can create a thriving environment that benefits both wildlife and the local community.