Texas Native Fish Conservation Areas Network: Strategic Investments in Restoration and Preservation of Freshwater Fish Diversity
Timothy W. Birdsong, Gary P. Garrett, Ben J. Labay, Megan G. Bean, Preston T. Bean, John Botros, Melissa J. Casarez, Adam E. Cohen, Thomas G. Heger, Arlene Kalmbach, Dean A. Hendrickson, Stephan J. Magnelia, Kevin B. Mayes, Monica E. McGarrity, Ryan McGillicuddy, M. Melissa Parker, and Sarah Robertson
Abstract.—Texas harbors 191 species of native freshwater fishes, 48% of which are considered imperiled. The primary cause of fish species imperilment in Texas is anthropogenic alteration of freshwater systems, which continues to occur at rates and scales that threaten the long-term resiliency of freshwater habitats, species, and ecosystems. Innovative conservation approaches are needed to restore and maintain functional watershed processes, restore freshwater habitats, and conserve native species while simultaneously supporting human needs, such as flood control, municipal and agricultural water supply, water quality protection, and water-based recreation. The need for an integrated and holistic approach to conservation of freshwater systems has been the impetus for development of the Texas Native Fish Conservation Areas Network (hereafter “Texas NFCAs Network”). The Texas NFCAs Network consists of springs, ciénegas, creeks, rivers, and associated watersheds uniquely valued in preservation of Texas freshwater fish diversity. Twenty native fish conservation areas have been designated throughout the state. These were selected based on a spatial prioritization focused on identification of freshwater systems critically important to the long-term persistence of 91 freshwater fishes considered species of greatest conservation need. Through a shared vision of collaborative stewardship, conservation partnerships have formed among nongovernmental organizations, universities, and state and federal agencies to plan and deliver actions within the Texas NFCAs Network to restore and preserve native fishes and their habitats. Furthermore, the Texas NFCAs Network has increased awareness of the ecological, recreational, and economic values of Texas freshwater systems and helped increase interest and capacity of local landowners, communities, and recreational users (e.g., paddlers, anglers) to act as advocates and local stewards of these systems. By facilitating partnership development, coordinating broad-based conservation planning, and leveraging technical and financial resources toward strategic conservation investments, the Texas NFCAs Network has served as a catalyst for collaborative, science-based stewardship of native freshwater fishes and their habitats in Texas. The Texas NFCAs Network offers a successful case study in multispecies and watershed approaches to freshwater fish conservation transferrable to other states in the United States, with particular relevance to those states that, similar to Texas, consist predominately of privately owned landscapes.