The article first appeared in
the Fall 1997 GCBO newsletter, under the title Habitat Inventory of
Austin's Woods Complete.
In the four counties
southwest of Houston, dense woods along the Brazos, San Bernard
and Colorado Rivers comprise critical bottomland habitat.
The protection of critical bottomland habitats
has become a conservation priority throughout the eastern US states. Bottomland
hardwood forests and associated habitats occur in significant amounts
along the floodplains
of the rivers and bayous of four coastal counties west of the eastern
forest section of Texas. Historically, these seasonally flooded forests
were contiguous along the river and bayou corridors, but they are now
fragmented by human activities.
The 4 county area (Brazoria, Fort Bend, Matagorda
and Wharton) is a significant stopover destination and staging area for
millions of birds during their migration across the Gulf of Mexico (unpublished
research data from radar imagery by Dr. Sidney Gauthreaux). Neotropical
migratory birds annually migrate in the spring from Central America, South
America, and Caribbean Islands across the Gulf of Mexico bound for northerly
Dr. Gauthreaux's work shows us that these
bottomland forests are important resting and refueling habitat for these
birds. Initial investigations of the importance of these habitats found
that 237 species of birds totaling 239 million individuals migrate through
the area annually. The area is also an important habitat for resident
breeding birds and other wildlife species.
The loss of forest habitats has caused concern
for neotropical migrant landbirds that utilize the area. Fortunately for
the masses of migrating birds, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is working
to encourage and assist conservation of this bottomland habitat with a
plan to create Austin's Woods Units of the Texas Mid-Coast National Wildlife
Under a contract with the US Fish and Wildlife
Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Texas A&M University,
the GCBO recently completed a study examining the amount of change in
bottomland habitats between 1979 and 1995 in the 4 county area of the
proposed Texas Mid-Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Dr. James Webb of Texas A&M completed
the mapping and geographic information system work. Findings indicate
that over the 16-year time period (1979-1995), there was a loss of approximately
51,000 acres or 16.9 percent.