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Axis Deer and the Upper Llano Watershed

A public meeting was held on April 6 at the Texas Tech University (TTU) Center in Junction to review a project that will be undertaken on the management of non-native, free-ranging Axis deer and their effects on the riparian habitats of the Upper Llano River Watershed, which includes the valleys of the North and South Llano Rivers. Over 25 persons attended the meeting. TTU is seeking landowners and other parties to participate in the project.

The TTU-funded project flows – no pun intended – from the Upper Llano River Watershed Protection Plan (the Plan) that was developed by local stakeholders. The Plan is intended to address proactively the threats to the Upper Llano through “strategies to restore and/or protect the quantity and quality of surface water and groundwater resources through voluntary, non-regulatory watershed management strategies.”

One of eight proposals in the Plan is to increase the number of ranches with wildlife management plans by a least two annually, particularly in critically important riparian areas, which is the area of interface between land and a river or stream. Riparian areas are critically important components of ecosystems that support very diverse and interrelated plants and animal life.

The Director of the Llano River Field Station, Dr. Tom Arsuffi, welcomed everyone to the meeting and was followed by Tyson Broad who gave a brief presentation on the origins of the Plan and its contents. Matthew Buchholz, Ph.D. research assistant, then made a presentation that focused on the four major goals of the Axis deer project. The goals, as also described in a brochure, follow.

First – assess the extent and quantify damage of riparian zone habitat, plants, and soils caused by Axis deer. Second – estimate regional population and the group structure of Axis deer, including population size, sex and age ratios, breeding chronology, and survival. Third – assess frequency of occurrence and potential risks of transmitting relevant diseases in Axis deer. Fourth – characterize the extent of genetic diversity and regional population structure of the Axis.

The project is being undertaken because it is highly likely that overabundant Axis deer are contributing to degradation of water quality and riparian habitats by overgrazing and trampling, resulting in erosion into the rivers. It was stated further that the precise effect of Axis deer on riparian habitats, as well as other factors of their ecology remains unknown. The project – expected to last four years or longer – is designed to address these gaps in knowledge. At its completion, the project will provide an assessment of the environmental damage being caused by Axis deer and recommendations for ameliorating the damage and protecting riparian areas.

TTU researchers undertaking this project are looking for opportunities for partnerships and collaboration with wildlife professionals, land owners, and the public. For example, local deer processing businesses could become a good source of information for the project.

Anyone interested in learning more about the project or who would like to participate should contact Matthew Buchholz with TTU’s Department of Natural Resources Management. Buchholz can be reached by phone at (806) 392-3699; his e-mail address is

In discussing the project with Dr. Arsuffi, he described it as “an example of the region’s stakeholders recognizing a growing problem in the watershed, identifying information needs and solutions in the Upper Llano Watershed Protection Plan and Texas Tech researchers supplying valuable expertise to address the problem proactively.”

Visit the website for more information on the Upper Llano River Watershed Protection Plan and its strategies for protecting the watershed.

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