Tough row to mow

Tough row to mow

The last thing you would expect while mowing the back 40 is to have a copperhead snake crawl out of the motor and on to the steering wheel, but that’s exactly what happened to Dodd Coffey this past weekend.

“I grew up running tractors on our farm along the Guadalupe River,” says Coffey. “Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve had some really high water here on the farm. And with that high water, we had all sorts of debris floating downstream like dead cows. And during that time the grass around our house grew up like crazy. Things finally dried out enough for me to crank up the tractor and clean things up. I had just started to mow when I looked down and saw a copperhead come crawling out of the engine and up on the steering wheel. I just about stroked out.”

Coffey, 62, says he managed to hit the kill switch before jumping off the tractor.

“I don’t know what was worse, landing belly first on the ground, or coming face to face with a poisonous snake,” he said

Things that live on the ground typically aren’t adept at treading water for long. In the aftermath of flood events that have hammered much of the state recently, biologists with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department say encounters with various wildlife will not be uncommon.

“Recent storms also coincided with the time of year when newborn wildlife start showing up on the landscape,” says TPWD’s Steve Lightfoot. “As flood waters recede, wildlife officials anticipate seeing more young wild animals unnecessarily being picked up by the general public and referred to game wardens or wildlife rehabilitators for treatment and rearing.”

It is not uncommon for wildlife encounters to increase after high water.

“People should be aware that snakes and other wildlife, including skunks and raccoons, may approach or enter yards and houses where they do not normally occur,” says Andy Gluesenkamp, a herpetologist with TPWD. “Over time, displaced wildlife will return to their usual habitats.”

Common sense precautions should be practiced; be aware that snakes and other animals may seek shelter in debris piles and caution should be used during cleanup efforts.

“A snake in the yard is not a cause for panic,” says Gluesenkamp. “They don’t want to be there either, and if left alone will usually leave on their own. You’re more likely to come upon a skunk, a mound of fire ants or a wasp nest in a brush pile than a venomous snake.”

The most commonly referred animals are baby birds and deer fawns. Recent flooding will likely increase the temporary displacement of these and other wildlife.

“The compulsion to help or investigate an animal that looks abandoned can be overwhelming, but interference could harm its chances of rejoining its caretaker,” says Lightfoot. “While most of these animals are picked up by well-meaning persons, it is important to realize that many such human-animal encounters are unnecessary and can even be detrimental to the wildlife concerned.

“The good news is that recent excessive rainfall is being viewed as a drought buster event that is going to be fantastic for the health of many ecosystems and habitat-types across Texas. For instance, the state’s bottomland hardwood forests will receive flood waters deep across the plains that deposit rich nutrients for lots of native vegetation. Coastal estuaries will get a much-needed flush of fresh water, soil, and nutrients, which will help sport fisheries.”

Feds reject plan to harvest breeder red drum

In April, the Coastal Conservation Association asked its membership to comment against a plan to allow harvest of breeding-size red drum in federal waters for the first time in decades. Last week it was learned that the National Marine Fisheries Service has rejected that plan, citing overwhelming opposition to it during the comment period.

It’s no secret that the federal government’s management of Gulf fisheries has created some of the most chaotic, dysfunctional and unsatisfactory fisheries in the country. The harvesting of breeding-size red drum would have been crazy. It was set up so Mississippi for-hire vessels would be allowed to target 30,000 pounds of over-sized red drum to collect “scientific data” on the stock. Because of public comments, that won’t happen. Now, if the feds would let individual states control the harvest of red snapper, everybody would be happy.


Robert Sloan can be reached by e-mail at sloan288 [at] aol [dot] com.