UVALDE – While it can be difficult and expensive to acquire a detailed, up-to-date habitat map, the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde has begun producing them for South and Central Texas ranchers and landowners at a lower cost and in detail comparable to commercial maps.
Dr. Susan Cooper, Texas AgriLife Research associate professor of wildlife science researching quail, deer and other wildlife at the Uvalde center for more than a decade, said many ranchers and others in the area have contacted her about how to obtain a habitat map.
“They wanted the maps to use in planning, rangeland and wildlife habitat management, hunting leases, ecotourism, historical reference and more,” Cooper said.
She said maps denoting pasture boundaries, roads, gates, cattle guards, feeding areas, hunting blinds, windmills, stock tanks and other details of a property can be very useful to landowners and others.
“And with the current digital technology and GPS capabilities, it’s possible to get great detail on the topography and identify the specific features of interest for the landowner, she said.
Cooper, one of the developers of the Covey Connection, a network of Central and South Texas ranchers and others interested in preserving quail habitat, said the idea of producing habitat maps at the center initially began with network members asking her where to get a map of their property.
“Since the Covey Connection’s beginnings in 2003 we’ve had numerous ranchers in the network contact us about getting a map of their property denoting specific features,” she said. “We also had requests from the Nueces River Authority asking our help in obtaining maps showing how the location of river banks had changed over time. We already created detailed habitat maps for planning research projects so we knew how useful they would be to land managers. It was logical to extend the opportunity to our research collaborators.”
To help with mapping requests, Cooper and others investigated how they might acquire and apply the same technology used by commercial mapmakers to produce and print high-quality habitat maps there at the center.
“We purchased state-of-the art mapping software and a poster printer and were able to get the most up-to-date topographical background available from government websites, aerial photos and other sources,” Cooper said. “Plus, we already had access to and expertise with GPS technology, because we use it in many of our wildlife research projects at the center, as well as other applications.”
“This is an excellent example of merging expertise in research and technology to develop detailed topographic maps to benefit the rancher and landholder,” said Dr. Daniel Leskovar, interim director for the center. “The information on these maps will help improve the accuracy and efficiency of rangeland and habitat management planning.”
Cooper said the initial step of the process is to meet with the landowner to determine what boundaries and topographical features are wanted on the finished map.
“We can either go out to the property and use a hand-held GPS to log in the location of specific features or landowners can provide us their own GPS coordinates — or approximate where the features are — and we can note them on the map,” said Shane Sieckenius, a research assistant at the Uvalde center who does the fieldwork and mapping, plus serves as a liaison with landowners in the Covey Connection and related projects.
Sieckenius said accumulating details on features and their coordinates for very large ranches and plotting them can take up to a month, but most mapping can be done more quickly and easily.
“We can also make alterations based on the movement of blinds, feeding areas or other features,” he said. “There’s a lot of flexibility in the process.”
Sieckenius said the background he uses for mapping comes from the Texas Natural Resource Information Service website.
“The service updates their maps about every two years, and we get their most recent maps about every 2½ years,” he said. “We generally use the natural color maps provided through the site, but also have access to and use the infrared maps they provide and make available to the public.”
He noted that fence lines and boundaries are probably the most complicated aspects of the mapping and require more attention in order to obtain precise measurements.
“Most landowners want specific property measurements so they can know more precisely the amount of acreage they have,” he said.
Sieckenius said the center is able to produce maps from standard letter size up to about 42 inches in width by 56 inches in height.
“For large-size maps, the price is typically around $500, including the site visit, provided the site is manageably sized, has an average number of features and is within about 100 miles of the Uvalde center,” Cooper said. “But the price for the map will be higher for larger properties with more features and at a greater distance, because that requires more time and travel.
“Also, if the landowner is familiar with GPS technology and can provide us with the proper coordinates for specific features, we can work long-distance by phone or e-mail to turn that information into an accurate mapped representation,” she noted.
The maps have a legend inset at the bottom with symbols corresponding with the features denoted on the map.
“Many ranches get their maps laminated so they may write on them with an erasable marker,” Cooper said.
So far, the center has produced maps for ranches in Zavala, Frio, LaSalle, Uvalde, Webb and Fisher counties, as well as maps for several properties within the Nueces River Basin.
“We use our maps for a variety of purposes,” said Tommy Haeglin, general manager for the approximately 80,000-acre Chaparrosa Ranch in Zavala County. “We’re using them as we look into possible oil and gas activity on the ranch, plus we use the maps to denote features like stock tanks and in planning where we may put roads. We also find the mapping helpful in determining interior fence lines separating pastures and in defining where old fence lines used to be.”
“We hope that with the continued support by local landowners and from organizations interested in the protection of natural resources, particularly considering the new oil and gas activity in the region, the wildlife program lead by Dr. Cooper will continue to grow, and that these new mapping capabilities will provide an added value to area landowners,” Leskovar said.
For more information, contact Cooper or Sieckenius at 830-278-9151.