City officials and river-goers alike must embrace and recognize recently renewed state-level conservation efforts to preserve the endangered.
Zizania texana, otherwise known as Texas wild rice, is a federally endangered plant that grows exclusively in the waters of the San Marcos River. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website, the plant was categorized as endangered by the U.S. government on April 26, 1978. The wild rice is a perennial grass that thrives in the upper two miles of the San Marcos River. The spring-fed waters of the Edwards Aquifer produce ideal conditions for the rice to grow. The plants can be seen flowing under the river’s surface and poking out of the water in large bunches.
Last March, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission designated the area from the Spring Lake Dam to the San Marcos wastewater treatment plant downstream as a “State Scientific Area.” According to a Dec. 14 press release by the City of San Marcos, further efforts to conserve and protect the Texas wild rice will soon go into effect. A number of groups including Texas State, the Edwards Aquifer Authority and Texas Parks and Wildlife have come together to resolve the issues surrounding the endangerment of the local river plant.
Sewell Park visitors may soon notice physical barriers protecting large areas of Texas wild rice growth and new signs educating river users about the plant’s protection. In a solid push to enforce conservation efforts, deliberate destruction of the plant can be considered a Class C Parks and Wildlife Code misdemeanor, which can result in a $25 to $500 fine.
There are a number of factors that put the wild rice at increased risk. Invasive elephant ear plants growing in the river are becoming more of a threat to the already-endangered rice population. Many animals that live in or around the river also feed on the wild rice, which depletes the plant’s numbers.
In addition, frequently low water levels in recurring drought conditions pose problems. Increasing usage from the Edwards Aquifer has further exposed and made the Texas wild rice vulnerable to river visitors. The uprooting and ripping of the long perennial grasses by swimmers, tube riders and other river-goers has become more of a problem as traffic to the city’s parks increases. However, even as visitor numbers grow, there is no excuse for destroying the city’s precious endangered wild rice.
As the cold weather vanishes and summer arrives, students and residents should be mindful of the Texas wild rice when enjoying the river. Although the rice may be seen as a nuisance when tubing and swimming, river-goers must actively avoid harming the endangered plant while on the river.
The wild rice is exclusive to the San Marcos River and, as such, requires the efforts of any and all visitors to help keep the plant around for future generations.
-Alex Pernice is a mass communication sophomore.