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How did the winter storm affect plants and wildlife along the Butler Trail? 

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Broken tree limb on grass

Broken tree limb on grass

After last month’s historic low temperatures, many are eager to get outside and enjoy the sunshine. Maintenance crews for TTF and Austin Parks and Recreation Department worked quickly after the storm to clear any immediate damage and made sure the Trail was safe for users. But it will take time to see the longer-term effects that may have impacted the plants and wildlife along the Trail. 


“At this point, it’s really hard to say what has survived and what hasn’t,” said TTF Conservation Director Leslie Lilly. “As temperatures this spring start to rise, we will see what root systems are still intact.” 

In general, the native plant species fared better through the storm because they are better adapted to survive extreme temperatures. While not all native plants will survive an ice storm, they have evolved under conditions where there have been infrequent but regular ice storm disturbances throughout history. Nonnative plants from more moderate and tropical climates aren’t adapted to these extremes and suffered as a result due to their lack of hardiness. 

The snow actually proved beneficial for some plant species, acting similarly to how an igloo would protect a person from freezing temperatures. Plants that are low to the ground, like Bluebonnets and Inland Sea Oats, were protected and insulated by the snow cover. 

Texas Mountain Laurel

Texas Mountain Laurel

Unfortunately, the snow did not offer this same protection to trees, many of which suffered stress from the weight of the ice. Some bigger trees, like pecans and cottonwoods, lost large limbs along the Trail. Smaller evergreen trees, like the Mexican Olive and Texas Mountain Laurel, held more ice because of their biomass and may be damaged beyond repair as a result. The good news is that the trees that did survive with minimal damage will be more hardy and stronger, making them more resilient through future extreme weather events.

As TTF looks forward to replanting efforts, the effects of the storm on the horticulture industry will be apparent into the future. TTF manages a greenhouse to propagate and grow native plants for restoration projects, and despite covering these wetland plants, we unfortunately lost a few tubs to the cold. 



Warm-blooded mammals like squirrels, foxes, and raccoons were also impacted by the freezing temperatures. Hundreds of bats have been found dead or injured in the Austin area, including under the Congress Avenue Bridge. 

Two Great Egrets sit on a log in the water

Great Egret

While birds have adaptations that make them resilient to cold temperatures, those who rely on insects and nectar for food sources will continue to be impacted by the disruption of those resources in a trickle-down effect. 

As researchers study the impact of this storm on wildlife for months and even years to come, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is asking the public to upload observations to iNaturalist. 



Spring is a great time to visit the Trail, so next time you’re out make sure to take the time to observe the resilience of wildlife. 



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