Bastrop County clean up stopped because of a Toad!

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BASTROP COUNTY — Officials are keeping an eye out for the endangered Houston toad while cleanup crews are picking up debris from the wildfires.

After a brief pause, debris cleanup in the public right of way and private property has resumed, said Mike Fisher, Bastrop County emergency management coordinator. “We paused work when FEMA officials notified the county and Bluebonnet (Electric Cooperative)  that the toad could be active. Certain restrictions kick in during this time because disturbance work like picking up debris with machinery and sawing down trees would hurt the toad,” he said.

On Tuesday, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and several other agencies met to talk about protecting the toad that is beginning to surface from its underground burrows.

The male toads, however, have yet to start calling (called chorusing) to persuade females to meet them in ponds to mate, said Michael Forstner, a Texas State professor of biology and Houston toad expert.

The breeding season is late December through May.

“We’re OK right now,” Forstner said. “It was great getting all the parties together to be able to articulate the best management practices that incorporate the science being done.”

Bastrop County is home to 90 percent of Texas’ 3,000 toads, he said.

Kevin Hannes, a federal coordinating officer for FEMA, said, “We want to give the toad the best chance for survival. We’re all in agreement where work can be performed and not performed.”

Bluebonnet got back to work immediately Will Holford, a spokesman for the co-op, said in a news release Tuesday. “As always, we will follow the best management practices according to our habitat conservation plan. We have many years of experience working in the Houston Toad habitat and we’re committed to protecting it.”

Forstner said the toad has had a rough time recently.

“The drought was already hurting, them, and then came the fires, but the ones that survived have emerged to the surface. The males then begin their unique call. Then the girls show up, and they head for the ponds,” he said.

Forstner said warmer weather and rain are keys to the toad becoming more active. “That’s their cue that it’s breeding season,” he said.

Hannes said biologists will continue monitoring the toad as environmental conditions improve.

“We’ll provide guidance down the line,” he said. “This is proactive, and we all want to be on the same page.”

ByRicardo Gándara

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

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