Developing the Science and Public Support Needed to Preserve the Devils River: A Case Study in Collaborative Conservation
Sarah Robertson, Brad D. Wolaver, Todd G. Caldwell, Timothy W. Birdsong, Ryan Smith, Thomas Hardy, Julie Lewey, and Joe Joplin
Abstract.—The Devils River is a groundwater-dominated, semiarid river in southwest Texas and considered one of the most pristine rivers in the state. It is one of the last strongholds for multiple species of regionally endemic freshwater fishes and mussels. However, groundwater pumping in the watershed poses an imminent threat to the river and its fragile ecosystem. Reductions in groundwater availability have the potential to result in concomitant reductions in spring discharge and thus instream flows. Base flow reductions would negatively impact many already imperiled aquatic species and degrade one of the state’s most remote and scenic paddling and angling destinations. Development of a comprehensive basinwide fish and mussel conservation plan is ideal due to the relatively small size of the watershed. However, challenges include the isolated location of the river and the low proportion of publicly held lands for implementing on-the-ground conservation measures. To best determine science needs, focus resources, and increase informed stewardship of the river, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has partnered with governmental agencies, universities, nonprofit organizations, and landowners interested in preserving this unique resource. Through collaborative research aimed at a better understanding of groundwater–surface water interactions and instream flow needs of endemic species, and by building cooperative relationships with landowners and nonprofit conservation organizations, steps are underway to preserve the esthetic, ecological, and recreational values of the Devils River.