The endangered Texas wild rice, native to the San Marcos River, is growing substantially thanks to efforts from the Conservation Crew and other organizations united by the Habitat Conservation Plan.
The Conservation Crew is made up of citizens dedicated to protecting the river and its endangered species. Fourteen staff members make up the crew and they rely on volunteers to assist with relocating Texas wild rice grown in the San Marcos Aquatic Resource Center’s raceways.
The group reports that progress in the restoration and conservation process has exceeded expectations.
“Our river is very unique,” said Eric Weeks, Conservation Crew supervisor. “It has lots of species that are endemic—found nowhere else in the world—and without these conservation measures, they will be lost forever.”
Jeffery Hutchinson, San Marcos Aquatic Resources Center botanist, said the population of Texas Wild Rice covered 5,000 square meters of the river in 2013 and 12,000 this year.
Through combined efforts of these organizations, approximately 14,000 Texas wild rice plants have been planted over the past three years.
The Conservation Crew’s surveys reported significant growth. Weeks said Texas wild rice grew by 53 percent between 2013 and 2014, followed by a 46 percent increase between 2014 and this year.
Hutchinson credits the Conservation Crew for keeping people out of the State Scientific Areas where wild rice is being planted and removing mats of vegetation covering and stifling growth.
Weeks said the Conservation Crew is on the river eight hours per day and seven days per week, monitoring wildlife and the people using the river.
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Conservation Crew was on the river daily. The group educated people about the importance of respecting native wild life, Hutchinson said.
Dianne Wassenich, San Marcos River Foundation program manager, said the Conservation Crew played a key role in educating people about the importance of not entering the wild rice enclosures and the ongoing effort to nurture the endangered plant’s growth.
“People did a great job of following (the no-entrance policies enforced by the wild rice enclosures) and the Conservation Crew helped people understand what was going on,” Wassenich said.
The successful growth of the endemic Texas wild rice is having positive effects on other endangered wildlife in the river.
“Endangered fish and the San Marcos salamander have been using the wild rice as a sanctuary,” Wassenich said.
Although the wild rice’s early success is encouraging, more work is needed to ensure the future of the endangered plant.
Sewell Park is a prime example of the recovery that can occur, Weeks said adding that sections of the river near Interstate 35 continue to struggle to support a healthy population.
The Conservation Crew harvests tillers, parts of the plant that can be grown into clones of the plant it originated from. The group grows tillers at the Freeman Aquatic Biology building and the San Marcos Aquatic Resources Center.
Hutchinson said the San Marcos Aquatic Resources Center needs to acquire roughly 280 more plants to achieve a sample representative of genetic diversity in the river. Maintaining diversity is important so the endemic plant can be reintroduced if all Texas wild rice were killed.