Those Bastrop fires that have scorched 1,500 acres in Central Texas may also have also provided a killer blow to the endangered Houston Toad as the fires swept 60 percent of the toads' occupied habitat — about 40 percent of which was scorched by what Texas Parks & Wildlife's state herpetologist Andy Gluesenkamp termed catastrophic fire. “It's probably going to be a very, very, very bad thing for the toad, but I certainly am not going to throw in the towel,” he said.
Though found in only six Texas counties, the largest population of Houston Toads has centered in Bastrop County, where likely fewer than 300 of the creatures remained prior to the onset of fire. “It looks really bad out there,” Gluesenkamp said. “We are not going to know how bad for some time.”
Though fire is typically a healthy aspect of the ecosystem, reviving landscapes and increasing plant diversity, the heat of this particular blaze was so bad it likely killed most everything in its path — even the toads that bury themselves about a foot underground. “A lot of things would normally survive things like this because they're underground,” Gluesenkamp said. “Unfortunately, when you get these superhot, furnance-like fires it kills everything. The trees blow up.”
While habitat destruction through the expansion of three-acre ranchettes through the area have been the main driver of population loss, there are “still a few rounds in the magazine” in the fight for their recovery, he added.
To wit: the Houston Zoo's recovery program, which collects egg strands from the wild to rear in captivity to increase suvival ratios of toadlets before their re-release into the wild. But 2011 has already been a bad year for the program, according the zoo's website. “Only 10-15 Houston toads detected across their range,” a program update reads, “with most of those toads in Bastrop. We only observed 1 individual Houston toad in Austin Co. this year and did not detect any calling males, let alone find any egg strands for head starting.”
Concluded Gluesenkamp: “I just don't know how long it can bounce along that bottom level and still have any chance of recovery.”
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You can donate to recovery programs at the Houston Zoo