Texas club takes on huge habitat project

It was a dirty job and somebody had to do it. In this case, raking through the muck led to bigger and better things for members of the Denton County Bass Club. 

LEWISVILLE, Texas — Bill Maggs knew his peers were committed to conservation when he watched them rake heavy mats of floating water hyacinth while wading through the waters of Lake Quitman on a Saturday afternoon.

Maggs, conservation director of the Denton County Bass Club, had challenged the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to allow the club to manually remove the 1/4-acre of floating, noxious vegetation instead of spraying it with chemical herbicides as planned. The TPWD agreed to put the spraying date on hold and, ultimately, never sprayed the vegetation. The project was deemed a success and the time well-spent.

Maggs issued another challenge to his club members, this one the size of a lake. Again, the resilient members accepted. For the next two years, the club will participate in the Lake Lewisville Founder Colony Vegetation Project, an experiment with potential groundbreaking significance. That's because the man-made, 29,582-acre fishery is void of plants, and if the project is successful, it could be emulated elsewhere to benefit aquatic ecosystems and recreational fisheries.

Meanwhile, Maggs and his club realize the massive project looming ahead will also cut into their fishing time. But that's OK.

"Our guys are up for it," said Maggs. "Our ultimate goal is to help our local fishery. But we also want to increase awareness of projects like this. If we can manage this project, then maybe other Texas clubs and even Federations elsewhere could follow."

The club is receiving technical advice and leadership from scientists at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Lewisville Aquatic Ecosystem Research Facility (LAERF), located on the shoreline of the fishery also set for a Bassmaster Elite 50 Series event this June.

The project began after Maggs visited the facility, met Dr. Michael Smart and invited him to meet the club. The LAERF team leader accepted the invitation, making a presentation about the facility's role in researching aquatic ecosystems.

Maggs kept the momentum going by creating and making an impressive 22-slide PowerPoint presentation to Smart and his team. The LAERF was so impressed with the presentation and commitment from the club that it applied for and secured a grant for funding the project.

"Projects like this always come down to two things: manpower and money," observed Maggs. "Clubs can always provide the first, but the money is always an issue, and especially so today with all the budget cuts. So, we hope to make this a model for other projects on a bigger scale when it comes down to applying for grant monies."

Working through the LAERF, the club split 20 members into four teams responsible for identifying prime areas for the experimental plantings. Four areas of the lake are targeted with specific planting sites to be saved as GPS coordinates. Teams will be responsible for monitoring the plantings monthly, logging growth rates and making other observations.

The early stages of the project begin this winter when the club plants 30 plots consisting of 10 varieties of vegetation. The plant list is impressive, with a mix of submersed, emergent and floating vegetation included in the project.

The plots, each 3 feet by 4 feet in diameter, will be surrounded by protective cages to prevent predation and disturbance by riparian and aquatic species. Timing is based on lake level, which must lower to conservation pool to expose the shoreline. A follow-up planting with a dozen additional cages is planned for later this winter.

"We could really make a difference since all Texas lakes are man-made, except for Caddo," added Maggs. "What is also very important is that native vegetation can help eliminate nuisance vegetation, and we must really work hard to keep it out of our lakes. "Sure, hydrilla is good while infestations are young, but ultimately someone will have to control it with grass carp or herbicides, neither of which we want in our lakes," he added.

Maggs and resource managers hope that if the plants take hold in Lewisville, vegetation control will never be an issue.