Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Severe Texas Drought Threatens Coastal Wildlife

From: Ana Campoy, Wall Street Journal

A severe drought gripping Texas is causing unusually salty conditions along the Gulf Coast, upsetting the region's ecological balance and threatening coastal wildlife including oysters, crabs and whooping cranes, the most endangered crane species.

The drought is one of the driest on record for Texas and is currently the worst in the U.S., which has seen persistent dry weather across several Western states, Florida and even Hawaii, according to academic and government monitors. The scarcity of rain has reduced fresh-water flow from rivers and streams into coastal marshes, estuaries and bays that normally dilute the salt content of water from the Gulf of Mexico.

This spring, the only migrating whooping-crane flock that exists in the wild lost 23 of its 270 members to hunger and disease brought on by the dry weather, said Tom Stehn, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service whooping-crane coordinator. That is a big blow to conservation programs that have worked over the past 50 years to slowly increase the number of cranes.

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