A heavily bundled up man looks out over the murky waters of the Trinity River. A thick overcast is muting the sunrise sky to a washed out gray. His bright orange jacket stands out like highlighter marks on dull white paper. He waits for the thumbs up from his comrades on the airboat below. Within seconds, the mechanical lock gates create a stir in the still water. Salt and fresh water collide, waking up wildlife along the Wallisville Lake Project. Egrets and pelicans—the proverbial early birds—are getting their fill.
For most coastal Texas residents, this might sound like the start of an ideal fishing trip. For the USACE Galveston Natural Resource Specialists—or Park Rangers—this is another day at the office.
Most of their days are spent outdoors anyways. Today, however, has a very specific goal.
The Park Rangers are up early on a cold February morning to catch abandoned crab traps.
Eric Angle, lead park ranger at the Wallisville Project, Brandon Moerhle of the Houston Project Office, and Mark Tyson of the Wallisville Project, are spending their day scouring the lake rounding up and discarding as many crab traps as they can find. [Watch a video of the day’s events on our YouTube channel.]
They aren’t doing this to antagonize local fishermen, however.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department allows the removal of traps once a year for a ten-day period starting on the third Friday in February, Angle said. “Any crab trap left in the water during that time is considered abandoned.”
“All types of wildlife can be impacted by the abandoned traps,” Tyson said. This includes fish, crabs, birds, and mammals. The abandoned traps also provide harborage for invasive plant species, which can throw of the lake’s unique ecosystems.
If left unchecked, the abandoned traps can keep fishing and trapping crabs or other unintended prey for months, possibly years.
“Not to mention, the traps are also an eyesore for the public who come out to view the wildlife,” Angle said.
Keeping the property looking good is just a drop in the bucket of their responsibilities. These Park Rangers do so much to keep Wallisville and all other USACE-owned areas up to par—not just for the taxpaying public—but for the hundreds of flora and fauna species that call these places home.
“As Natural Resource Specialists we have a duty to manage the fish and wildlife in a condition as close to how it was before the project was established,” Angle said.
“We also have a duty to protect our visitors and their vessels,” Tyson said, adding that the crab traps also pose a hazard to outboard motors.
A mission like this calls for great coordination across the Galveston District, pulling Park Rangers from the Houston Project Office, Wallisville, and headquarters.
“This was also a great team building exercise that gave us an opportunity to improve the project and strengthen the bonds between our staff,” Tyson said.
The crab trap round-up is just one of the many ways the Galveston District promotes environmental stewardship, regulates waterways, manages natural resources, and maintains a variety of recreational opportunities for Texans.
“Bottom line, we have to keep the project clean and safe for everyone,” Tyson said.