Unseasonably warm weather and much-needed rain has led to increased activity by the endangered Houston toad, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department. Houston toads have been heard “chorusing” during nighttime audio surveys and found on the surface within the last week.
As a result, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is requiring a wildlife biologist to examine most job sites before Bluebonnet crews can begin work. This new requirement is only in the 34,000-acre area affected by last year’s fires and only applies to organizations working under FEMA requirements, such as Bluebonnet and Bastrop County. It does not apply to private landowners.
“We are working very closely with FEMA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife to balance the need to preserve the Houston toad and the need to serve our members,” said Mark Rose, Bluebonnet’s general manager. “We have a well-developed habitat conservation plan and our crews have extensive experience working in the toad’s habitat. We will work hard both to protect the toad and to minimize the impact on our members.”
Depending on conditions, the light brown, speckled toads, which are about 2 to 3 inches in length (females are larger than males), come out of hibernation to search for food and breed from early January through the end of June.
Any job that involves new construction, tree trimming and debris removal within the area affected by the Labor Day fires of 2011 must be inspected by a wildlife biologist to see if Houston toads are present before our crews can proceed with their work. When examining a job site, Jim Bell, a Texas State University graduate student and wildlife biologist hired by FEMA, is looking at any area that will be disturbed by our crews that looks like a good place for Houston toads, such as piles of leaves, pine needles, logs and branches.
If a Houston toad is found on a job site, we will temporarily stop working until the toad is removed by a wildlife biologist permitted to handle them. Biologists use rubber gloves to handle each toad to prevent transmitting diseases from one toad to another, and individually transport them in small containers.
“No toads have been found yet at any of the FEMA job sites,” Bell, who is permitted to handle Houston toads, said. “If we find one, we call U.S. Fish and Wildlife to find out what to do with it. Usually they’re taken to a facility in Bastrop where they’re weighed and measured and we place a microchip in them. Then, depending on U.S. Fish and Wildlife, they will be released back to the area where they were found or taken to the Houston Zoo for captive breeding.”
In Houston toad habitat outside the area affected by last year’s fires. we continue to work within our habitat conservation plan, which was developed in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department and other utilities in the toad’s habitat. The plan is in effecting during the toad’s chorusing season, when they’re most active, which runs from January through June.