Nature Keeps Its Place as San Antonio Grows
San Antonio has expanded its city limits over the last two decades turning wild land into a manmade urban landscape as its population has grown by 20% since 2000.
San Antonio has grown to become the seventh largest city in the United States according to World Population Review.
The city limit expansion has created a situation where wildlife have become urban dwellers alongside the humans the urban terrain was created for. The shared spaces create opportunities for San Antonians to enjoy wildlife, but sometimes also creates conflicts.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recognized the increasing urbanization of Texas created a need to help both people and wildlife in urban areas.
“Over 86% of the Texas population live in urban areas. The six largest metropolitan areas (Metropolitan Statistical Areas including Houston, San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, El Paso, and the lower Rio Grande Valley) combined total over 70% of the state's population,” TPWD on its Urban Wildlife Program webpage said. “The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Urban Wildlife Program has Urban Biologists stationed in the top six areas to provide urban communities with professional planning guidance, management recommendations, research and public outreach associated with wildlife, habitat and natural resource management.”
Jessica Alderson is one of TPWD’s urban biologists working in the San Antonio area.
Alderson said, “It’s (The Urban Wildlife Program) important because there’s so much development going on we want to try to assist cities with doing sustainable development as well as talk with people that are living in the urban environment, so they have a better understanding on how to coexist with wildlife.”
Residents coexist with a variety of wildlife inside the San Antonio metropolitan area.
Everything from deer, rabbits, racoons, squirrels, opossums, coyotes, grey foxes, and skunks share the urban environment with San Antonians.
There is also a variety of birds, both permanent residents and migratory birds in San Antonio. You can see Cattle Egrets, Herons, Sparrows, Red-tailed Hawks, Ospreys, and Crested Caracaras in the skies, waterways, and backyards of San Antonio’s urban areas.
While most San Antonio residents enjoy being able to see wildlife in their neighborhoods there are some who see them as a nuisance.
An example of this is the urban Whitetail Deer population in the city. In areas of the city there are too many deer and they come into conflict with gardeners and homeowners when they eat their plants.
Alderson talked about why deer management is important.
Alderson said, “We’ve got a lot of areas in San Antonio where we’ve got too many deer. You understand that when you’re starting to see browse lines. Where the deer have eaten everything up to, sometimes you’ll see them up on their back feet with their neck stretched out trying to take that very last leaf off the tree if they can. You can see very easily when you drive through a community if there’s a deer issue or not. Or if there’s forty deer hanging out in someone’s front yard, that’s not natural”
“A lot of times that stems from supplemental feeding. We have communities and landowners that want to help the deer. They feel like the only way they can help them is to feed them. And really that just makes the problem a lot bigger and worse,” she added.
It’s important to learn how to coexist with San Antonio’s wild urban residents.
Alexander Killion, Julianna Ramirez, and Neil Carter wrote in their conservation letter “Human adaptation strategies are key to cobenefits in human–wildlife systems”, “A key to coexistence is mutual adaptations between humans and wildlife, such that both are able to change their behavior, learn from their experiences, and pursue their own interests with respect to each other.”
In addition to our wildlife San Antonians and urban wildlife get to enjoy over 250 green spaces managed by San Antonio Parks and Recreation. The parks, natural areas, greenways, and San Antonio River trails allow residents an opportunity for recreation and to enjoy wildlife in a natural setting.
It’s important to have green spaces in San Antonio’s urban environment. David Jimenez, Hardberger Park Education Coordinator, talked about the importance of green spaces such as Hardberger Park.
Jimenez said, “San Antonio is in the top ten largest cities in America so there’s a lot of people here. And the bigger the city the harder it is to get in touch with nature. Schools can come visit, we can have field trips, tours and nature walks to teach people about nature that otherwise they might not necessarily engage with.”
McAllister Park is one of the city’s green spaces that residents enjoy spending time in. Marjesca Zoellner, a Texas Master Naturalist, has a specific area in the park she enjoys and is fighting to keep the city from developing a paved trail through it.
“I think the natural areas in our parks specifically Mud Creek Loop, which is about a hundred acres of natural land, urban wildland in the middle of the city. There is so much that we can do with that area. We can do programing to connect people to nature,” Zoellner said.
The San Antonio River Authority and Bexar County also provide green spaces and trails for San Antonio residents including urban wildlife.
The Mission Reach Trail follows the San Antonio River for 5.7 miles. It’s a green space along the river with natural habitat that allows human residents to enjoy seeing urban wildlife in their natural habitat.
There are threats to San Antonio’s urban wildlife. One of those threats is the automobile that we depend on for transportation. We’ve all seen the carcasses of deer, skunks, squirrels, and racoons along the sides of the roadways.
In “Impact of vehicles on vertebrate wildlife on the urban and extra-urban infrastructure roads” Albert Kopali, Elison Rota, Simir Krasniqi and Ardian Zhupaj claimed, “Vehicles kill a large number of animal species, rare to common.”
Litter is another threat to urban wildlife.
Changing human behavior regarding trash and litter is a key to helping protect our environment and urban wildlife. There are volunteer groups dedicated to changing San Antonio residents’ behavior and removing trash from our waterways. One of those groups is River Aid San Antonio.
Charles Blank, RASA director said, “River Aid San Antonio’s vision is an entire city focused on not just picking up trash obviously but correcting the behaviors that we all unknowingly do that affects our water quality. Whether it be leaving trash in a pickup, not securing your trash can lids before a rain, or honestly not cleaning up after your dog in your backyard.”
Invasive species are a third threat to urban wildlife.
One invasive species is the Apple Snail.
In “Apple Snails Invade San Antonio”, Chris Vaughn said, “They (Apple Snails) are a pretty nasty invader to our rivers because they tear up the habitat utilized by fish and other native snails and other organisms.”
Removing the Apple Snails is important to protect our aquatic wildlife because they compete with them for food and destroy the habitat fish and other native aquatic wildlife depend on.
Invasive birds are also impacting native urban wildlife. European starling and house sparrows are two birds that compete with native songbirds for food and nesting space.
The house sparrow is, “Tough, adaptable, aggressive, it survives on city sidewalks where few birds can make a living; in rural areas, it may evict native birds from their nests,” according to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds.
Despite the threats, urban wildlife is here to stay in San Antonio. Residents can help by not feeding wildlife, enjoying wildlife respectfully from a distance and planting native plants for wildlife food.