The History of Resource Use and Management of Galveston Bay Coastal Prairies




Gallaway, Alecya

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Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission


The original tall-grass prairie habitat, which once surrounded Galveston Bay, has been completely altered. The four most dramatic changes to the coastal prairie were brought about by the use of the land for cattle production, agricultural cultivation, industrial development and urban growth. Today there is an environmental focus on prairie restoration. The vast grasslands were an important resource for the first settlers to the Texas coastal region. The upland tall-grass prairies and lower salt grass prairies surrounding Galveston Bay have been managed by the cattle industry for the past one-hundred and eighty years. A large percentage of the prairie habitat being preserved today was used in the past primarily as cattle range, and some of these preserves still have cattle grazing leases. To help facilitate a better understanding of the changes made to the lands being preserved this research focuses on both the original Galveston Bay prairies before European B American immigration impact, and the management and changes to the prairies by the cattle industry.; The early prairie habitat is explored through the descriptions reported by the first visitors to the shores around Galveston Bay. Their journals and letters are filled with details about the rich wildlife and plant diversity. Range management of these same resources is investigated by oral interviews of the descendants of the early cattlemen and cowboys who worked the range, early research and reports of the United States Department of Agriculture, and newspaper articles about extreme weather conditions and catastrophes that occurred on the prairies. ; Much of the littoral land surrounding Galveston Bay was restricted from colonization by the Spanish during the early exploration and settlement of Texas. Since the land was closed, few descriptions of the prairies before 1830 exist. By 1831, the prairies on all sides of the bay were populated by free ranging, branded cattle, with the largest concentration on the eastern shore. After 1831, the cattle numbers on the western shores increased as more cattlemen received Mexican Land Grants through Stephen F. Austin or just took areas of open land. Numbers of cattle, burning, hurricanes, war, fencing and cultivation were all factors that altered the coastal prairie plant climax communities. These changes can only be understood by tracing the past range management practices as they developed individually around the bay. ; Understanding how man and his management have impacted an area will prove to be a valuable tool to aid in the restoration of the Galveston Bay prairie habitat. As more historical knowledge is gained about the specific wildlife and resource use through research conducted on each specific area, agencies and scientists will be better able to determine their specific restoration goals.


pg. 113


Galveston Bay coastal prairies