Playa lakes endangered without proper management

A bountiful, wet spring and summer have made playa lakes more noticeable as they fill with water across the state, a Texas Cooperative Extension specialist said.

But there's a concern, whatever the rainfall situation, that without proper management these sources of wildlife habitat and groundwater recharge may become essentially non-functional, said Ken Cearley, Extension wildlife specialist.

Playas are small wetland areas with a shallow, natural basin and are found throughout the Central Great Plains states, Cearley said.

A playa is a playa whether it has water in it or not, he said. And all playas perform a valuable function. Some hold water for extended periods of time and others do not.

While the recharge may be limited, playas are about the only source of replenishment to the Ogallala Aquifer in this region, he said.

Playas also are often the main wildlife habitat in intensively farmed areas of the region, he said. In some years, they may attract waterfowl and shorebirds, and in other years, if they are not full of water, maybe only pheasants.

In addition to vegetation in the playa basin itself, management of the surrounding plant life is equally important to keep it functional, Cearley said.

Sedimentation — a major threat — can occur without proper management on the area immediately adjacent to and around playas, he said. Playa volume is reduced, lessening its value to waterfowl, and sedimentation also could destroy valuable native wetland plants that provide food and cover for wildlife.

Cearley is working with other wildlife professionals to help raise the awareness of playas and their numerous contributions to wildlife and aquifer recharge in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

A jointly sponsored Playa Lakes Symposium will be held Oct. 23-24 at the Ambassador Hotel in Amarillo. Extension is co-hosting the symposium with the Texas Wildlife Association, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and other agencies.

"Some of the most respected researchers on the management of playas will be on hand, as well as noted educators, field biologists, farmers and ranchers," Cearley said. "We hope to encourage people to manage playas to benefit wildlife."

Getting others to help provide the necessary management will take incentives, he said. The incentive may be attracting fee-paying hunters or photographers, or may include a government-based offer to landowners.

Landowners, land managers, natural resource professionals, hunters, outfitters and the general public are invited to the conference.

The symposium will begin at 1 p.m. on Oct. 23 with a welcome by Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioner Mark Bivens. The keynote address will be given by Loren Smith, Oklahoma State University zoology department head, who has been involved for many years with research and education concerning playas.

Registration is $50 through Oct. 14 and $60 thereafter. The fee will cover a light meal at the social, a continental breakfast, lunch on the second day and a copy of the proceedings.

For registration and lodging information, go to For further details contact Cearley at [email protected] or 806-651-5760.

e-mail: [email protected]

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