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Meet Laser Tag: My Urban Wildlife Manager

Laser Tag hanging out at the back door.

Laser Tag hanging out at the back door.

I started trapping and releasing the neighborhood feral cats a few years ago. It was important to me to stop the cycle of kittens I was seeing every six months or so. In fact, my cat Nomark is from a litter born in my garden shed. I was able to get his brothers and sister adopted and his mother was the first cat I had spayed (the current total is five, plus Nomark, his two brothers, and his sister).

I choose to take a certain level of responsibility for these cats afterwards — partially for their benefit, partially for mine. By encouraging them to stick around, they fill a niche by retaining their territory and keeping other, intact cats away. They also continue to do a great job of keeping the rodent population in check.

Laser Tag has taken advantage of this beneficial relationship more than any of the other cats; she spends 90% of her time in my yard now. I feed her and have built her a cat house so that she has a warm, dry place to sleep, and she repays me with mouse management. On more than one occasion, I’ve looked out on the back patio to see her playing with her latest catch.

She also seems to have a special relationship with another cat that we trapped, fixed, and adopted, Crouching Tiger. They spent time together when they were both roaming the streets and now they cuddle and rub through the glass door. Unlike Crouching Tiger, Laser Tag does not have a personality suited to being an indoor cat, so this is the compromise we’ve all worked out.

Laser Tag spending time with my boy cats.

Laser Tag spending time with Nomark and Crouching Tiger.

Special thanks to Lake Austin Boulevard Animal Hospital. They always take such great care of us and these, often less-than-cooperative cats.

Karr’s Kritter Kam 2: Fall Edition

More fun pictures from the wildlife camera at the farm:

Texas white-tailed deer <em>(Odocoileus virginianus texanus)</em>.

Texas white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus texanus).

Coyote <em>(Canis latrans)</em>

Coyote (Canis latrans)

Coyote <em>(Canis latrans)</em> with mange.

Coyote (Canis latrans) with mange.

This one's a little harder.  There's a Great Blue Heron <em>(Ardea herodias)</em> on the opposite bank of the tank.

This one’s a little harder. There’s a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) on the opposite bank of the tank.

Feral hog <em>(Sus scrofa)</em>.

Feral hog (Sus scrofa).

Smile! You’re on Karr’s Kritter Kam!

Common Raccoon <em>(Procyon lotor)<em>

Common raccoon (Procyon lotor)

I put a wildlife camera up out at the Farm about a month ago as one of the three strategies we need to implement in order to convert to the Wildlife Management tax valuation — the camera counts as ‘Census’.

In addition to the raccoon and the turkey below, there were lots and lots of pictures of cows, a couple of doves, a crow, and a mystery rodent or bunny. No hogs, deer, skunk, coyote, or armadillos, all of which I expected to see since I’ve seen them out there before. I’ll give this camera location another week or two and then I’ll move it over to one of the stock tanks, see who I can catch getting a drink.

Female Rio Grande turkey (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia)

Female Rio Grande turkey (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia)

I’m really excited about the turkeys in particular. I’ve actually seen and heard them the last few times I’ve visited the Farm. I want to manage for them specifically and found some good information on the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s website about wild turkey food and habitat needs.

Cash, Grass or…Cows?

We have a new lessee running cattle out at the farm. He has, what I think are, very aggressive ideas about what “improvements” need to be made to our property (hybrid grasses, city water piped to troughs, spraying the weeds).

Calves with loblolly pines.

America’s. Next. Top. Moo-del is…

We told him upfront that spraying was not an option, but already, he’s tilled up tens of acres and planted annual rye grass, with the intention of planting Coastal bermudagrass this Spring. Since minimizing property taxes is the main reason we currently have a lessee, I think we need to look at other alternatives that are more in-line with our long-term goals.

The alternative I’m currently researching is converting our current tax valuation from “traditional” agricultural practices to “wildlife management” practices. Doing this would mean that we wouldn’t have to have a lessee in order to keep the taxes low. “Traditional” agricultural practices require that we stock cattle based on income derived from stocking at traditional intensity rates, meaning you have to keep as many cattle on your land as all the other guys who are trying to make money from it and it alone. Changing to “wildlife management” practices mainly means not having to keep the land available to that one “traditional” income source. Instead, we could have some cattle, some timber stands, and some orchards — none of which would need to support us on its own in order to maintain the tax valuation.

From the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Comprehensive Wildlife Management Planning Guide:

“The Texas Constitution and the legislature provides those landowners with a current 1-d-1 Agricultural Valuation (often known as an Ag Exemption) an opportunity to change from a traditional qualifying agricultural practice to wildlife management as a qualifying agricultural practice while maintaining the current valuation. HB 1358 by Representative Clyde Alexander provided that the landowner must implement and complete at least one management practice from at least three of the seven wildlife management activities listed in Appendix A. Most landowners interested in wildlife can meet this requirement, and implement several practices beyond the minimum required.”

We would definitely be able to “implement several practices beyond the minimum required” — the practices include activities like pond construction, gully shaping, plant establishment in critical areas, and grazing management. I have contacted a Bastrop County TP&WD Wildlife biologist to schedule an evaluation and start moving forward with a management plan.

In the meantime, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s private land website has an unbelievable amount of useful information on this subject. I’ve only linked to a small portion of what’s available below: