The Many Projects of the Big Thicket National Preserve

Within a few weeks of arriving here, I was entrusted with the job of planning and implementing the monitoring of the endangered Texas Trailing Phlox (Phlox nivalis subsp. texensis) reintroduction project. There are 17 plots, each originally planted with about 100 plants back in 2003. Today, most of them have died but monitoring continues for the survivors. I have really enjoyed working on this project because I’m working autonomously and making my own decisions. I have one supervisor that gave me an outline of what I need to accomplish, but she is there for me if I have any questions. For the monitoring, up to this point, only survivorship trends have been analyzed. However, plant sizes have been recorded since they were planted. I have taken it upon myself to figure out how these measurements can be utilized, possibly in conjunction with prescribed burn dates. Did I mention that this species of phlox can only survive if it is burned dead to the ground every few years? I love that!

phlox photo

The work has been very rewarding. For most of July and August we had very little rain, but by the end of August we had several torrential storms. Because the phlox only blooms in March and April, I had given up hope of ever seeing it bloom. But, with these storms, several of the plants must have gotten confused because they had numerous blossoms on them, even in September! They were pretty pink little things with five perfect little petals.

Working for NPS is giving me a great experience to learn how a federal agency works. Resources management is extremely important here for several reasons. There are oil companies on the preserve land because the companies have the mineral rights. Logging takes place on land directly adjacent to ours. In fact, most of the preserve land used to be timber land. Also, fire is ecologically required in most parts of the preserve, so planning prescribed burns is an essential and large part of the park’s infrastructure. Our resource manager told me that when he worked at Bryce Canyon NP, there wasn’t as much need or a challenge for him because the park was founded in 1924 and all the problems have already been worked out. But the Big Thicket is another story. It became a national preserve in 1974 and has such complicated resource issues that our resource manager is kept constantly busy. He says he enjoys the challenge it here. I thought his was an interesting perspective on choosing an agency or company for a career. Even though he held the same position, the two parks provided much different kinds and amounts of work.

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