Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cougars, bobcats, ocelots once common in Texas Hill Country

All you wanted to know about the Hill Country

Published December 29, 2009

Jim Stanley isn’t the first person to retire to the Hill Country, and he won’t be the last. He’s looking to help all those who do decide to settle here.

Stanley, a member of Texas Master Naturalists, has recently authored “Hill Country Landowner’s Guide,” a book aimed at helping non-native landowners learn about their land.

“This area is certainly a popular getaway,” Stanley said. “A lot of people come here from the suburbs, but owning property out in the country is different than maintaining a lawn in the suburbs. In the suburbs, the only rule is that you’ve got to keep your lawn greener than the neighbors’.”

Stanley’s book is a primer for those moving to the Hill Country.

It’s divided into two main topics, ecological history and tips for landowners.

The arrival of early settlers had a massive impact, he explains. Prior to their arrival, the region’s plant and animal life were much more diverse.

Black bear, wolf, mountain lion, bobcat, ocelot, coyote, alligator, bison, pronghorn antelope, deer and javelina all were common.

“The big difference was grazing,” Stanley said. “The Native Americans were more hunter-gatherers. They followed the herds around, and they would graze a certain area, eat up most of the grass, then move on, not coming back for a year or so.”

Stanley said that the institution of farms and ranches meant land was overgrazed. Tall grasses gave way to more forestation, which led to an increase in the population of deer, which thrive in such environments. And settlers’ protection of livestock led to the disappearance of predatory wildlife.

“The reason you’ll see deer roaming around your yard is because the landscape changed so much,” he said.

The reduction in biodiversity is directly linked to a number of local environmental problems, including the overgrowth of cedar — known to trigger allergies for many residents — and exacerbation of the drought-flood cycle.

In addition to the environmental history lesson, Stanley’s book also provides concrete steps property owners can take to deal with problems such as overgrazing, deer, erosion and wildfires.

The book is a result of Stanley’s life-long love of the Hill Country and years of volunteering with Master Naturalists, a statewide program that cultivates volunteers who are experts in local wildlife. Stanley grew up in West Texas, but frequently vacationed in the Hill Country with his family as a child.

“When the time came for me to retire, I followed in the footsteps of my father and uncle and came out to the Hill Country,” he said.

“Hill Country Landowner’s Guide” currently is available for $20 at Hasting’s, 910 Main St., and online at Texas A&M publishing and


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