Last September while monitoring a site on the western edge of East Texas, I had to deliver a message that I typically do not like sending. I sent photographs to a division of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) and to an action-oriented global partnership for critically endangered turtles and tortoises. The infuriating image: two large skeletal remains of massive, state-protected Alligator Snapping Turtles.
Found shot point-blank in the head along one of the finest spring-fed creeks in the state, the rare turtles lay lifeless on a sandy bottomland under the shade of a uniquely mixed hardwood forest next to piles and piles of fishermen’s garbage. When alive, these two turtles likely weighed well over 150 pounds each and easily could have been around since the 19th century.
In Texas, Alligator Snapping Turtles are listed as a “threatened” species which means they may become endangered within the foreseeable future; therefore, by law, you cannot even legally touch them without a proper permit. Just as it is completely illegal to handle, capture, or kill an American Bald Eagle or an iconic Texas Horned Lizard, it is illegal to do any of these things to an Alligator Snapping Turtle. They are a species known to experience dire population crashes due to the moralities of a few adult individuals.
Another thing that is as threatened as the turtle is the remarkable creek itself: Catfish Creek. It is one of the few remaining relatively undisturbed spring-fed riparian wetlands of the Western Gulf Coastal Plain biophysiographic province. It is also probably the only major tributary of the Trinity River upstream of Lake Livingston which does not have a major reservoir on it. In short, the creek is a huge deal.
When I realized that there were no volunteer efforts being made to produce citizen science for the creek itself, I decided to create a site thereon Anderson County Road 321. Today I realize that my quarterly volunteered outings to test water quality there also provide additional surveillance for a protected species that may be at risk to reckless activity.
You can add any fitting locations on a Texas waterway to the Texas Stream Team Waterways Dataviewer for citizen scientist water quality monitoring. Just send an email with your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also report Alligator Snapping Turtle sightings to TPWD: just text a photo & location to (281)302-8033.
Catfish Creek is the only stream in Texas with a National Park Service-designated National Natural Landmark status. You can visit Catfish Creek for free via the Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area in Cayuga, Texas as long you possess a Limited Use Permit or an Annual Public Hunting Permit, available at your local provider for hunting & fishing licenses.