16 Mar My Site: Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge
Welcome to trinity river national wildlife refuge, my workplace for the next year!
Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge is located about 50 miles Northeast of Houston, Texas in Liberty, Texas, and is one of 4 National Wildlife Refuges in this radius surrounding the 4th largest city in the United States. This refuge is about 30,000 acres surrounding the Trinity River that mainly consists of bottomland hardwood forest. East Texas is bordered by Louisiana, and as you can imagine, the change in habitat reflect that, with an increase in pine, marsh, and wetlands as you’re approaching Louisiana. Most National Wildlife Refuges have one or more species that they focus on when it comes to its preservation and conservation, but Trinity National Wildlife Refuge focuses mainly on the conservation, management, and restoration of the wetlands of the Trinity River floodplain and bottomland hardwood forests.
Throughout the 30,000 acres of the refuge there are few key locations I would like to mention and although I have been working at Trinity River NWR for only a few months, I have been able to explore at least a few of them. The first are the two bunkhouses on the northmost and southmost tips of the refuge. This housing is offered to researchers, temporary employees, and interns such as myself. As an intern I am currently living at the bunkhouse to the south, which is located right next Champion Lake. Champion Lake is an area of the refuge that is open to the public and offers recreational opportunities such as fishing, boat ramps, kayaking, a butterfly garden, and a trail that runs next to the lake. The bunkhouse to the north is the Die House. This house is located on a backroad with steady traffic and is closed off to the public. I have not seen much of the Die House but am certain more projects will be done around that area later this year. The last location is closer to the Die House and is my favorite I have visited so far in the refuge: The Bat Towers. The bat towers are gated off from the public and are used for monitoring bats, specifically the Rafinesque Big Eared Bat. These two towers are next to a pond deep within the refuge and are made of concrete with slits cut in on the sides, wooden roosts on the inside for the ceiling, and metal doors.
Species of Importance
Although the main focus of Trinity River NWR is the bottomland hardwood forest, there are projects to help monitor certain key species incorporated in the refuge efforts as well. In the previous section I mentioned the bat towers and the Rafinesque Big Eared Bat, this is one example of key species monitoring the refuge participates in. Still, the ecosystem of the refuge and habitat needs for this specific type of bat overlap. The bats are dependent upon mature, healthy bottomland forests that feature open mid-stories for foraging and mature, live trees with hollow cavities for raising young. With continued bat research and acquisition of bottomland hardwood forests, the refuge may be able to assist in keeping this State-threatened animal off the Federal list. Another example of species’ monitoring would be a project I actually helped with this February, which was setting out traps for the monitoring of Alligator Snapping Turtles within the Trinity River. This monitoring effort is being done for a study that graduate students at the University of Houst Clear Lake are conducting. For the project I assisted in setting up the hoop net traps that were place along sections of the Trinity River. This turtle, just like the Rafinesque Big Eared Bat, is in danger of becoming a state-threatened animal and hopefully with these efforts that is something we can avoid for both species.
Along with the field work and research efforts Trinity River NWR contributes to, it also has very active outreach programs. One of these programs is the Be the Biologist: Junior Ranger Program which I have been helping with since I arrived at the refuge at the beginning of this year. This outreach program teams up with the local elementary school in the city of Liberty and allows for 3rd – 5th grade students enroll to be Junior Ranger. The program teaches the students about science, conservation, preservation, and wildlife. The elementary school lets the refuge use its STEM building as a classroom and anytime not spent in the STEM building, we use the surrounding wooded areas and parks as an outdoor classroom. While in the outdoor classroom the students learn about animal identification, plant identification, and help clean up their local environment.