By Stephen Janak
County Extension Agent – Ag/NR
There is a particular song that I enjoy by a Texas musician named Cory Morrow, and these few lines have always struck me in a powerful way:
“You’ve got to take a look around
and see this land before it drowns,
underneath the city streets.”
The name of the song is “Texas Time Travelin’.” Crank up your imaginations with me and let’s take a trip back in time. The year is 1821, and we’ve just arrived at our destination between the Brazos and Colorado rivers. The land around us is a sea of grass, for as far as the eye can see. We’ve seen herds of hundreds or thousands of bison; only a few deer. Bob-white quail whistle on the breeze, and occasionally burst from the thick bunchgrasses as our horse walks along. The endless expanse of green grass is belly-high on the horse, and we think: “We’ll never bring enough cattle to Texas to eat all of this grass.”
Fast-forward to the present day, and much of our rangeland could be described as “lizard-licked,” as one Extension Specialist told me during my time at Texas A&M University. I often have to look twice when I drive by a pasture with more than 8 inches of grass, and three times for a pasture that still grows grasses native to Texas.
We wake up every day of our lives and see a Texas landscape not as it was when Stephen F. Austin’s Old Three Hundred got here, but a landscape shaped by the imprint of modern man. Today much of our rangeland is so thick with brush that a bison could not walk through it, and certainly could not find enough forage to survive.
I feel that we often take for granted that this land is just brushy, and that’s the way it is; when in fact, this land is supposed to be open grassland – a savannah. Through drought, overgrazing, land fragmentation, and the suppression of wildfire (this area historically burned every 1-3 years), humans have changed the landscape. Let us remember then, that when the abundance or quality of services provided by native rangelands (food, fiber, water, recreation, and heritage) changes or decreases, it is because we have had an effect on ecosystem function as a whole.
We are fortunate to live near the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, one remaining sizeable piece of land that has never seen the plow, and that is now under the management of those who wish to preserve a piece of Texas as it once was. It is true native prairie. Let us take advantage of it, and take a look around at this piece of Texas history, lest we forget where we came from, and feel complacent living in our man-made brush thicket.