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The fight for biodiversity: invasive species in the High Plains

Tumbleweeds and mesquite intertwined with a barbed wire fence outside the Lubbock Lake Landmark.
Olivia O'Rand
Tumbleweeds and mesquite intertwined with a barbed wire fence outside the Lubbock Lake Landmark.

The Brazos River once started just north of Lubbock, a roaring beauty that used to flow 840 miles long. Now, there are certain areas that look more or less like a sand pit. Salt cedar, a shrubby species that was originally planted to secure river banks, became invasive and threatened to suck up all the water available.

Invasive species can be one of two things: species from another area or native species, but both cause concern for surrounding native organisms. Invasives can over-compete for resources within an environment, smothering out other native species, whether it be vegetation or wildlife.

Austin Teagues is the district biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department located in Lubbock. He said the more species you have, the better the ecosystems are. Vegetation especially can choke out other species and when that happens, wildlife can lose their habitat.

One group experiencing population decline is grassland bird species. In the panhandle, we have lots of grass species that have taken over non-native land and many of these birds do not do well with the change of habitat.

“We’re a short grass prairie up here, things like invasive grass species have a detrimental effect,” Teauges said.

A lot of these grasses were brought here to mitigate other issues, he explained. During the Dust Bowl, quick-spreading grasses were brought in to reduce soil erosion by holding the soil in place.

“We created the problem; we brought in species to create a short-term fix, but we created bigger problems,” said Sam Harryman, senior wildlife biologist in Lubbock for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

People also brought exotic animals from Europe and Asia to make the new environment feel more like home. Game, such as deer, were brought over to give them something to hunt.

Harryman said parks and wildlife departments are pushing for invasive species awareness within the fishing and boating community. Mussels can be spread from one body of water to the next causing a deficit of resources for native species. One of the best ways to stop the spread of these mussels is by washing the boats before they are transferred to another waterbody.

While there are many ways invasive species can be spread, Teuges said that it's not so much dealing with the spread as it is dealing with the issues already created.

Teuges said one of the best tools is education; a field of grass only looks like grass until you've been trained otherwise.

If you are looking for more resources on invasive species in the area, reach out to Texas Parks and Wildlife or the Department of Natural Resource Management at Texas Tech University.

Olivia O’Rand is a sophomore journalism and biology student at the Texas Tech Honors College. After discovering her love for nature at a young age, Olivia is focusing on environmental journalism and covering people who are passionate about their work in the outdoors.