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Keeping Texas Wild

09-04-2014

Bluebirds and quail, turkeys and terns among species finding new life at Luminant plants and mines.

Food, water and shelter are fundamental for sustaining any life. In Texas, degradation of these habitats is a leading threat to the state’s wildlife. It’s only natural that Luminant strives to offset this through the development of wildlife habitat as an aspect of land management plans at all our plants and mines.

A number of federal- or state-listed endangered, threatened and protected species benefit from Luminant’s water resources and restored lands. Several species on decline in the state are among the most recent to find new life at restored habitats.

Reclaimed land home to interior least tern love nests

Tern1_300Interior least terns were first spotted nesting on sandy soil at Luminant’s Big Brown Mine in Freestone County in 1997. The tiny birds with a funny name breed in the summer along inland U.S. waterways, but the elimination of much of their natural habitat is no joke, landing them on the endangered species list.

In partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Luminant developed a plan to provide nesting areas on reclaimed land at Big Brown and nearby Kosse and Turlington Mines.

“The terns chose these locations for nesting and foraging due to their location along the migratory path, sandy soil conditions and proximity to fishing waters,” says Pete Okonski, senior environmental specialist. “We wanted to provide the terns a safe habitat compatible with our mining activities to support the goal of returning the species to non-endangered status.”

Mine employees watch for the birds to arrive in mid-June, even smoothing over stockpiles of soil as an invitation for terns to scratch their nests in the sand. Once spotted, a physical fence is erected hundreds of feet away to ensure the birds are not disturbed until they migrate south in August. The plan is working: nesting pairs of terns are increasing, from two pair at Big Brown in 1997 to at least 25 pair at Turlington Mine this year, Okonski says.

 

initialhabitatsitevisit300Build it and bluebirds and bobwhite quail will come

Bobwhite quail and eastern bluebirds once flocked to what is now Squaw Creek Park at Luminant’s Squaw Creek Reservoir, which provides cooling water for Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant. But, by the time Luminant acquired the land, it was overgrazed and overgrown. In 2010, the company’s desire to restore the habitat merged with a Glen Rose High School teacher’s environmental grant.

With guidance from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and Texas A&M AgriLife, Wendy Thompson’s environmental systems students cleared non-native vegetation, introduced native trees and grasses, and installed nesting boxes on 120 acres of park land Luminant dedicated to the program.

Slowly, following natural migration patterns, both species are returning. The bluebirds have built more than a dozen nests and at least one covey of quail has been seen and heard in the park, which is considered good progress, says Comanche Peak Environmental Services Manager Mark Clark.

While this is considered good progress for the birds, Wendy Thompson says the benefit to students is just as important.

“Not only do they learn about the efforts that it takes to restore and maintain a habitat, but they also learn to research, make decisions about real world situations and they get to work with professionals. This helps prepare them for when they get out of school and their future careers.”

birdsflyoverhead_v300Wild turkeys take flight at Oak Hill Mine

Eastern wild turkeys have been in decline since the early 1890s. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is working to restore the fowl to their historic range in East Texas and partnered with Luminant to welcome more than 80 turkeys to the company’s Oak Hill Mine in Rusk County earlier this year.

“Large acreage sites with the right mix of forested and open habitat are unique in East Texas, and Oak Hill Mine is a prime location, with over 10,000 contiguous acres of suitable habitat,” says Jason Hardin, TPWD upland game specialist.

Oak Hill Mine was selected as an optimal release area since its reclaimed land is more than 50 percent forested and provides quality nesting and brood-rearing habitat in patterns to support large turkey populations.

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