AUSTIN, Texas, -- Michael Forstner and James Dixon, two of Texas’ distinguished authorities on the endangered Houston toad, have joined the team of biologists that is helping to ensure the steady pace of Bastrop County’s recovery from the 2011 wildfires by monitoring for the toad, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Texas Division of Emergency Management said Tuesday.
Although the historic Texas drought and then the Bastrop wildfires had a devastating impact on the toads, Forstner and other researchers from Texas State University have recently confirmed toad presence in the burn zone. The goal now is to ensure the toads that survived the blazes do not become a casualty of the recovery.
Forstner, a Texas State University biology professor who has spent more than a decade and a half studying and developing management protocols for the Houston toad, and Dixon, professor emeritus at Texas A&M University with 40 years experience working with the species, are part of the monitoring team whose collective experience working with the toad and its habitat totals nearly a century.
“The presence of a highly qualified team of Houston toad experts and habitat conservationists will ensure no harm comes to the toad while crews work hard to get Bastrop cleaned of debris and hazardous trees,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Kevin Hannes of FEMA. “In this way, we’re driving citizen recovery forward while protecting a rare native Texan that also happens to be a wildfire survivor, the Houston toad.”
The monitors are accompanying debris removal and public utility crews in Bastrop County to determine whether toads are present in their immediate work areas. Should a monitor come across a toad during the removal of debris or hazardous trees, the monitor will coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to safely relocate the toad. The team collectively holds federal and state permits to identify, locate, handle, remove and transport the species.
“The monitoring work is important because it is a continuation of the collaborative efforts, with FEMA as a partner, in getting Bastrop and its Houston toads back to where they were before the fires of last year,” said Forstner.
It is FEMA’s duty under the federal Endangered Species Act to avoid spending taxpayer dollars on recovery projects that might jeopardize the existence of endangered or threatened species, or that might destroy or harm critical habitats. Bastrop County is one of the Houston toad’s few remaining habitats.