These days, when Matt Poole and his team go out to survey the land at Matador Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in west Texas, they’re pretty happy with what they see. Where these areas of the Rolling Plains of Texas used to be overrun with invasive plants like mesquite, they are now seeing it return back to native grasslands.
And with the restoration of the grasslands also comes the birds who thrive in these landscapes.
“Grassland birds are declining across all prairies, and with the conversion of these dense woodlands back into savannah or grassland, we should see an uptick in grassland bird species,” said Poole, Assistant Project Leader for the Panhandle WMA Complex. “When you look at the overall diversity, we can see that it’s a lot better now than it was.”
Using data from the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions (IMBCR) program for PLJV, it is possible to see the extent to which restoration efforts are helping the local bird population.
A Closer Look at Matador Wildlife Management Area
At Matador WMA specifically, a study was designed to see if it was possible to measure grassland bird response to mesquite removal.
“Hopefully, what we find is that what we’re doing is really working, and then we have the data to back up what we’re trying to sell.”
IMBCR provides scientifically defensible estimates of bird population and distribution across large regions. These data can then be used by conservation organizations, as well as state and federal agencies to target and evaluate habitat best management practices and projects.
Since Poole and his team know which treatments were done on the mesquite in each pasture at Matador WMA, seeing their information paired with the IMBCR data on the bird populations helps them to know if their strategies are working, and exactly how effective they are.
“There are a lot of variables that come into play as far as bird populations and how they’re going to use the habitat,” Poole said. “Hopefully, what we find is that what we’re doing is really working, and then we have the data to back up what we’re trying to sell.”
As he walks the land, Poole says he can see where he thinks they have been successful, where he thinks it looks like it should. But this data gives him peace of mind that this is true.
“I think the tracking data is important because it will either validate our efforts to restore this land or it won’t,” he said. “We go out there, take a dense forest and turn it into a wide-open prairie after several years of work, and it looks great to us; but having somebody else come in and systematically sample the area from a researcher perspective is helpful.”
Invasive Plant Removal in West Texas
The IMBCR data and woody plant encroachment study isn’t limited to Matador WMA. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) will be using it to help them deal with invasive woody plants in other areas of the panhandle as well.
“When we think about brush encroachment, we want to know how severe the change is and how long it takes the landscape to recover after management.”
By pairing targeted monitoring from IMBCR with PLJV’s mesquite encroachment data, John McLaughlin, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist and West Texas Quail Program Leader, said they can find areas where mesquite is expected to encroach in the future and compare that to the bird populations still living there.
“When we think about brush encroachment, we want to know how severe the change is and how long it takes the landscape to recover after management,” he said. “Then we know where we can potentially conserve right now and then eventually start working on removing invasives in some of those areas of higher density.”
Using the data long term will also be important for ensuring positive results.
“It will be interesting to see how the areas that we think we’ve successfully restored will change in the next five, ten, twenty years. That long-term monitoring data set is important, and I’m glad we did it now,” Poole said. “If we could continue monitoring and get a long-term data set on our bird population, I would love to see how that coincides with our management strategies and see if what we’re doing is actually making an improvement in bird communities.”