Tag Archive for: Texas Parks and Wildlife

Contractor Kills, Maims 138 Egrets, Herons While Clearing Land

Multiple Houston-based news outlets reported a story recently about a contractor that killed or maimed 138 egrets and herons protected under the Migratory Species Act. The birds were nesting on a site being cleared by the contractor.

It’s not clear from news coverage whether the contractor was working for a homebuilder or homeowner. While I have done dozens of stories over the years about the environmental impacts of land clearing, i.e., loss of wetlands and wildlife habitat, I can’t remember any this callous.

Summaries of Local News Coverage

KPRC Channel 2

Channel 2 reported that “An investigation has been launched after dozens of migratory birds were discovered injured or dead in an area being used as a breeding ground by the protected species.”

The incident occurred last Friday in the 19700 block of Cherrywood Bend Lane in the Town Lake neighborhood in Cypress. A tree trimming company cut down trees where the birds had built nests. The surviving birds suffered broken wings, mangled legs, and internal injuries.

Texas Parks and Wildlife said the property owner and tree trimming company will be held accountable. “Their fines could add up thousands of dollars, multiple Class C violations, plus the civil restitution,” said Texas Game Warden Jaime Hill.

Egrets and herons are migratory birds protected by state law, in addition to being federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The MBTA protects 1,000 species. Under the MBTA, it is illegal to kill, injure, or capture protected birds.

Houston Chronicle

Houston Chronicle reported that 67 birds were discovered dead and another 71 were rescued by the SPCA’s Wildlife Center of Texas. The story said the non-profit had to euthanize 17 of the injured birds due to the extent their injuries.

A game warden cited the contractor and property owner for violating a statute which protects these non-game birds from being injured or killed, and their nests disturbed or destroyed.

“The issue here is the nests,” said Hill, the game warden. “Before nesting season begins residents can harass the birds so they don’t return.” They can use noise-making devices, fake owls, balloons with eyes on them and even pyrotechnics to try to ward them off, the warden added. “But any harassment must end when the first egg is laid,” she added.

“The birds might be a nuisance,” she said, “but at the end of the day when it comes to their nests and their young, they are protected.”

TPWD conferred with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and agreed to handle the incident at the state level.

KHOU Channel 11

KHOU 11 reported that “Several of the blue herons and great egrets were found alive inside trash bags that also contained dozens of dead birds.”

The Houston SPCA will care for the surviving birds until they can be released back to the wild.

TPWD’s investigation is ongoing.

Personal Commentary

Few waterbirds are more beautiful or graceful than herons and egrets. I have photographed them in the wild for years. My favorite shot is this one, taken years ago, not at the site in question.

I took it moments after the chick hatched out of its egg, as both parents looked on proudly.

Great Egrets and hatchling. I call this photo Proud Parents. © Bob Rehak 2022.

The chicks look gawky and gangly in their nests. As they mature and grow feathers, they walk out on branches and flap their wings to gain strength. Then one day, they release their grip on the branches and take wing to repeat the cycle of life as young adults.

It isn’t until you follow these birds from egg to air, that you can appreciate them as individuals. At moments like the one in the photo above, I see the same emotion that parents of every species feel. Love. Pride. And protectiveness.

But sadly, the egrets are no match for chain saws.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/17/22

1722 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Two More Websites That Help You Understand Drainage and Flood Risk

Today, readers sent me links to two more websites that help you understand drainage and flood risk. The first by Texas Parks & Wildlife is called the Texas Watershed Viewer. The second is a FEMA site that estimates base flood elevations based on USGS data.

FEMA defines base flood elevation as “The elevation of surface water resulting from a flood that has a 1% chance of equaling or exceeding that level in any given year.” In other words, it’s how deep the water would be in a 100-year flood at any given spot.

Let’s take a look at each.

Texas Watershed Viewer

The Texas Watershed Viewer lets users identify local watersheds, sub-watersheds, river basins, and river sub-basins throughout the State of Texas.

To find your watershed and river basin, simply type your address into the search bar and press enter. The map will zoom into the address. From here, click anywhere on the map and the name of the sub watershed will appear. If you click the next arrow on the feature label, the name of the watershed will appear. If you click the next arrow again, the name of the river sub basin will appear followed by the larger river basin.

Clicking on Caney Creek showed the extent of the watershed. Clicking on the arrow within the green bar at the top of the info box changes the outline to match the river sub-basin or basin.

This lets you quickly visualize the extent of a watershed so you can see where water is coming from and going to.

After you click on map to see the feature’s name, you can view the geographic extent of the sub watershed, watershed, river sub basin, and river basin, by clicking the minus sign on the top left corner to zoom out from the address level to the boundaries of the other features. The boundaries of these features will be light blue. 

Other Texas Watershed Viewer tools

Zoom: You can zoom in on your neighborhood or zoom out to the entire state of Texas.

Layers: adds the layers window in the top right corner. You can turn the layers on and off by click on the check box.

Basemap gallery: lets you change the basemap of the viewer. The topographic map, for instance, is a useful layer because river, lakes, and streams are labeled.

Measure: lets you measure the distance from your home to a water feature.

Share: lets you show your friends what you see on social media.

Print: lets you print out a copy for your records.


This site helps viewers understand where water comes from and how it converges. As land is cleared and leveled, it also helps you understand where streams used to flow. (Note: This feature only works until background maps are updated, however.)

One reader used this feature to show how a developer had filled in natural drainage on the developer’s property and blocked off drainage from the reader’s subdivision. With three potential tropical systems moving in our direction at this moment, that information could be very useful if his home floods and he needs to call a lawyer.

Using the topographic base layer, you can also predict where and how runoff will flow during a flood. Many homes near the East Fork flooded during Imelda when Caney Creek captured the Triple PG mine and started flowing south through an area where several other creeks converge. Homeowners report being flooded from overland flow before the creek rose. The topographic feature shows the path that the water likely took.

Those who have a passion for understanding the physical world around them could spend days exploring this website.

FEMA Estimated Base Flood Elevation Viewer

Where Caney Creek, Peach Creek and the San Jacinto East Fork all come together in FEMA’s Base Flood Elevation Viewer.
Legend shows estimated water depths in image above.

Like most flood maps of this sort, you can turn layers on and off and change base maps.

For instance, by clicking buttons, you can have it show the estimated flood extent and depths for a 1%-chance flood and a .02%-chance flood. You can also view stream center lines, cross sections, and view detailed information on flood insurance rate maps.

You can even activate a split screen mode and compare different features side by side, i.e., ten and hundred year flood extents.

The point of this whole site is to understand not just the extent of floods, but their DEPTH as well.


FEMA says information from this site helps:

  • Inform personal risk decisions related to the purchase of flood insurance and coverage levels.
  • Inform local and individual building and construction approaches.
  • Prepare local risk assessments, Hazard Mitigation Plans, Land Use Plans, etc.
  • Prepare information for Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) submittals.

Helpful Where Flood Maps Not Yet Available

The BLE (Base Level Engineering) Data in this website provides flood hazard information where flood insurance rate maps may not yet be available. We saw this, for instance, in Woodridge Village (north of Elm Grove) where flood maps stopped at the Harris/Montgomery county line. LJA Engineering claimed there were no floodplain issues on the Montgomery County side of the line. In fact, most of the Woodridge Village was in a flood plain as you can clearly see below; it just had not been mapped yet.

From FEMA’s Estimated Base Flood Elevation Viewer. Light purple represents 1% flood zone. Dark purple represents .2% flood zone.

Compare that to FEMA’s Flood Hazard Layer Viewer below and you will immediately see the difference.

FEMA’s National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer shows danger stopping abruptly at the county line.

FEMA’s estimated base-flood elevation viewer helps reputable land developers identify flood risk, expected flood elevation, and estimated flood depth where Base Level Engineering has been prepared (i.e., as in the Lake Houston Area).

Reportedly, the information in this tool is not yet Atlas-14 compliant. But it’s still better than nothing.

“Buyer Aware”

The more tools you have to evaluate the purchase of insurance and property, the safer you will be.

No one tool can do everything. But together, the can make you “buyer aware.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/20/2020

1087 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 335 since Imelda

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Sand and Gravel Permitting Program: History, Scope and Protections

As I’ve been posting a lot about sand mining legislation, a friend sent me this doc today about the reasons for Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) permitting program. TPWD regulates mining in rivers; TCEQ regulates mining in flood plains.

Photo by Jim & Melissa Balcom of their son playing on the West Fork of the San Jacinto after Harvey.

Difference in Tax Rates Between Rivers and Flood Plains

Flood plain mining has a 2% tax rate; in-river mining 8%. This doc explains what the department does with that 8%. TPWD’s authority to regulate mining in rivers goes back more than 100 years.

TPWD says that:

Dredging of sand, gravel, and shell from rivers and bays can negatively impact fish and wildlife habitats. Habitat alteration is the primary cause of population declines, loss, and extinction of freshwater fishes, mussels, and other aquatic organisms. Habitat alteration is also one of the primary contributors to listing of fish and wildlife as threatened or endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act. 

Evolution of Mining Influenced

Because of the 4X difference in tax rates, and the fact that sand is a highly competitive undifferentiated commodity, sand from flood plains enjoys a huge cost advantage: 6%. As a result, comparatively little sand is taken from rivers today. In an average year, TPWD department says it brings in only $200,000 to $400,000 statewide. It comes mostly from small scale mining (less than 1000 cubic yards) by people who want to build roads or pipelines across streams.

Goals of Regulations

As the number of applications for permits has increased, TPWD has established project guidelines such as seasonal restrictions that avoid or minimize impacts to recreational users; site-specific provisions to ensure channel stability; and best management practices to control bank erosion, avoid land loss, and reduce downstream impacts. 

Read Over Your Morning Cup

The entire document is 2-pages, well-written, and well-illustrated. It will give you a good understanding of why the state started regulating sand mining in rivers long ago…all during your morning cup of coffee or tea. Highly recommended easy reading!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/19/2019

598 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Proposed New High-Rise Development Seems to Violate TPWD Guidelines for Bald Eagle Habitat Protection

A review of Texas Parks and Wildlife Departments’ guidelines for eagle habitat protection reveals that the proposed Kingwood Marina and high-rise development appears to have some permit issues circling overhead.

No Environmental Impact Statement Prepared by Developer

Developers of the proposed massive high-rise complex claim they found no bald eagle nests on their property. Therefore, they claimed, there was no need to conduct and environmental impact survey. However, I photographed this bald eagle nest approximately 500 feet from their property. GPS data is encoded in the image.

Bald eagle nest approximately 500 feet from developers’ property. Photographed by Bob Rehak with GPS data embedded in image.

Texas Parks and Wildlife considers bald eagles, a threatened species. Bald eagles were taken off the endangered list in 2007, but still enjoy many protections as a threatened species.

Bald Eagles Still Threatened, Habitat Protected

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 668-668d) prohibits activities that interfere with eagles’ shelter, breeding and feeding. It provides criminal penalties ranging from fines up to $5,000 and up to one year in prison.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Habitat Management Guidelines for Bald Eagles in Texas elaborate on what that interference means.

Activities Discouraged within Management Zones

The guidelines state the following under: “Primary Management Zone For Nest Sites.” “This zone includes an area extending 750 to 1,500 feet outward in all directions from the nest site. It is recommended that the following activities not occur within this zone: 

  • “Habitat alteration or change in land use, such as would result from residential, commercial, or industrial development; construction projects; or mining operations.” 
  • “Tree cutting, logging, or removal of trees, either living or dead.” 
  • “Human presence within this zone should be minimized during the nesting season…” 

The same TPWD guidelines also stipulate a “Secondary Management Zone For Nest Sites.

  • “This zone encompasses an area extending outward from the primary zone an additional 750 feet to 1 mile. Recommended restrictions in this zone are intended to protect the integrity of the primary zone and to protect important feeding areas, including the eagle’s access to these areas. The following activities are likely to be detrimental to Bald Eagles at any time, and in most cases should be avoided within the secondary zone:” 
  • Development of new commercial or industrial sites.” 
  • “Construction of multi-story buildings or high-density housing developments between the nest and the eagle’s feeding area.” 
  • “Use of chemicals labeled as toxic to wildlife.” 

How Management Zones Overlay Development Plans

Here’s how the radii of the management zones overlay the outline of the proposed high-rise development and marina areas. The nest is at the center of the red lines.

The vast majority of the proposed high rise development falls within eagle habitate management zones defined by Texas Parks and Wildlife.

To see the proposed development within the white outlines follow this link to the architect’s web site. It features a 3D fly-though video of a computer-rendered animation.

Impact on Eagle Nesting and Feeding

My first impression: Massive. From my point of view, the proposed development clearly does not meet TPWD guidelines.

  • Virtually the entire development would fall within management and secondary management zones.
  • High-rises and high-density housing would be built between the nest and Lake Kingwood where residents often report eagles fishing.
  • Marina operations for 700 boats and 200 jet skis would almost certainly leak chemicals during refueling and maintenance. That could poison both eagles and fish.
  • Trees would be removed from most of the area.

Emily Murphy has also photographed eagles flying over the developers’ property and adjacent river.

Eagle flying from River Grove Park to proposed site for high-rises. Photo Courtesy of Emily Murphy.
Eagle photographed by Kingwood Lakes resident near Lake Kingwood. Eagles fish in lake. Photo courtesy of Clark McCollough.

One of Many Factors Being Considered

The Corps will review the developers’ application in accordance with 33 CFR 320-322, from which the Corps derives its regulatory authority. The decision whether to approve the permit will be based on “an evaluation of the probable impacts, including the cumulative impacts of the proposed activity on the public interest.”

The permit could be denied based on wildlife impact concerns alone. However, eagles are just one of the problems this proposal has. I hope that when all factors are weighed, pro and con, that the cons will vastly outnumber the pros.

So keep sending those letters to the Corps. Encourage your friends and relatives to send them also, even if they live outside of Kingwood. You might also want to copy TPWD and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/27/2019

516 Days since Hurricane Harvey