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2014-08-21

Volunteers play key role at ABK State Natural Area

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Photo courtesy fws.gov
The ABK State Natural Area has been found to be a perfect habitat for the golden cheeked warbler. Volunteers have learned that other unique animals and plants endemic to the Texas Hill Country have found a place to proliferate on the almost 4,000 acre property on Highway 46.



While public access to the Albert and Bessie Kronkosky State Natural Area won't be a reality for four or more years, work has been progressing at Bandera and Kendall County's newest SNA. According to Superintendent James Rice, volunteers have been active working on a wide variety of projects on the property over the last year.
"The two biggest projects have been cedar cutting on the old ag fields on the property, and working on baseline surveys," said Rice.
Once the fields have been cleared, Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) aims to reseed the ground with native grasses and wildflowers.
Baseline surveys are being conducted on deer, butterfly and bird counts, identification of plants and more. "A baseline survey is like an inventory," explained Rice. "We want to know what's here before we decide what to do with it."
In addition to cedar cutting, manual labor chores can run from fence repair to planting those grasses and flowers. GPS mapping of sensitive locations is also being done. The less physically active can offer their services for office duties of various kinds.
"We have some wild hogs and are starting a hog management program," said Rice. "It's hard to tell how many we have... one hog is too many." The hogs threaten the springs on the property as well as other wildlife. The program involves trapping, not hunting of the destructive critters, Rice said. "We need folks to build traps and to manage the traps," he said.
Unlike a state park, a state natural area is never as heavily developed, but there is always some infrastructure that has to be built. SNAs need headquarters, visitor centers, water and electricity, trails, roads, restrooms and public use areas. TPWD hosted a public meeting in Boerne last Wednesday night to get public input on how the site will be used in the future. See the story on page 1A.
Rice follows a philosophy of forest management that aims for diversity of all species. "We're lucky here that the whitetail deer population has been low for some time. When the herds get too big, they browse off all the little plants. What we're finding here is a nice balance of seedlings, pole size and old growth," he said. The natural cycle exists only where the deer can't get to, he added.
As a result of the limited whitetail population, volunteers are finding lots of madrone, sycamore leaf snowbell, big tooth maples and a rare Hill Country plant called the Boerne bean. Volunteers have identified over 250 species of plants and they are just beginning.
The SNA volunteers also monitor the beautiful Monarch butterfly. "It's our state insect and it's in a world of hurt because of loss of habitat in Mexico. Well, we can't do anything about Mexico, but we can do something here," said Rice. The SNA will try to maintain a generous growth of milkweed, the Monarch's food of choice.
Why worry about a butterfly? Well, it goes back to that idea that a diverse habitat is a healthy habitat. "It's like making chocolate chip cookies," explained Rice. "You can leave out the chips and still have a pretty good cookie. But if you start removing other ingredients, when does it start effecting the taste and quality of the cookie?"
Rice accurately describes ABKSNA as beautiful. "What I want is for 60 to 75 years from now, to see the same thing. We need to have sustainability."
Rice encourages feedback from local taxpayers and urges them to contact their Texas state legislators about fully funding the SNA. "With our budget now we can go up to developing a public use plan," he said. "If the state will fully fund us we can start working on infrastructure, work with TxDOT on improvements on Highway 46, develop architectural plans for structures, build campsites."
Developing conservation and preservation projects and educational programs will also be an important part of the SNA.
Volunteers are always needed and welcomed. Go to the TPWD website and go to the ABKSNA site to sign up. Volunteers undergo a background check. "There is no time requirement for the volunteers," Rice explained. "If someone can do two hours, I'm happy!"