Texas Natural History: A Century of Change

Texas Natural History: A Century of Change

Texas Natural History: A Century of Change

Texas Natural History: A Century of Change


One hundred years ago, Texas was very different. A rural population was spread thinly across the eastern and central parts of the state, and vast lands in the western regions were still undisturbed. Wolves, both gray and red; black bears; black-footed ferrets; cougars; and many other species of wildlife that are now reduced or extinct were common then.In 1905, Vernon Bailey, chief naturalist for the U.S. Biological Survey, published his comprehensive survey of the status of mammals in Texas at that time. Now, nearly one hundred years later, David Schmidly compares Bailey's report with the status of mammals in the state today. The result is a look back at what has happened to the natural environment in Texas during the twentieth century.Bailey's 216-page survey report is included as chapter 2. In chapter 3, Schmidly annotates the report, and in the three following chapters he discusses changes in landscapes, land use, and the status of mammals in the last hundred years. The closing chapter looks ahead at the author's projection into the twenty-first century and coming challenges for wildlife conservation.Photographs from the early years of the twentieth century and maps of the distribution of mammals then and now illustrate the volume, which also contains a cross-reference list of scientific names and common names of mammals and plants and an extensive reference list.This book will give Texans a close and authoritative view of how their land once looked. More importantly, it will tell them what has happened to their wildlife heritage and what they might do to protect it in the future.


Although our mythology leads us to think of Texas as a frontier kind of place—wild, pristine, and limitless—the fact is, everything has changed. In this significant work, my colleague David Schmidly has given a meaningful historical perspective of biological change on the Texas landscape. In this updated classic, Bailey’s Biological Survey of Texas, Schmidly moves beyond taxonomy to give us an understanding of just how drastically humans can affect the landscape in a relatively short period of time.

Although Spanish cattle had undoubtedly begun to alter the vegetation on the South Texas Plains since the advent of Europeans on this part of the continent, most of Texas was biologically virgin when Austin’s first boatload of colonists washed up at the mouth of the Brazos in 1822. Barely more than a half century later, Vernon Bailey reported a biota that had been irrevocably altered forever.

Schmidly puts Bailey in context and crossreferences the original work with updated scientific nomenclature and current ranges and habitats of the mammals first described one hundred years ago. Changes on the landscape continue—particularly noteworthy is a continual decline in biological diversity. On the other hand, thanks mainly to the stewardship of private landowners in Texas, much of the countryside is in far better condition today than when Vernon Bailey first laid eyes on it.

Given these insights, Texas Natural History: A Century of Change is more than a comprehensive biological review of our state since the turn of the twentieth century. It is more than a tremendous resource to biologists and others interested in our natural history who would otherwise not have access to this information. It is more than an update.

David Schmidly has given us original interpretation and research based on sound scholarship that suggests at the turn of the twenty-first century how we can learn from both the mistakes and successes of the past and be better stewards.

Vernon Bailey and David Schmidly have shown us that the biological world in Texas is not static. It has changed and will continue to change.

Andrew Sansom Former Executive Director Texas Parks and Wildlife Department . . .

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