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A white-tailed doe stands alert in the middle of a field near College Station. Jacob Dykes, Ph.D., will focus on improving big game and habitat management through research and Extension efforts.

Conservation-minded Texans have a new go-to source for science-based information about white-tailed deer and other big game across the state.

Jacob Dykes, Ph.D., was recently hired as the new statewide wildlife specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and assistant professor in the Department of Rangeland, Wildlife and Fisheries Management in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Dykes, who will be based at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Corpus Christi, said his focus will be on white-tailed deer and other big game species, including exotic animals.

“Texas A&M AgriLife hasn’t been very involved with big game across the state, including one of the most popular game species in the nation — white-tailed deer,” he said. “There are so many questions and such a high demand for science-based information related to their behavior and habitat from a spectrum of stakeholders, including landowners, conservationists and hunters in the various ecoregions of the state.

“There are other institutions doing amazing work in this area, but I think there is a void that Texas A&M AgriLife is in a great position to fill,” Dykes said.

Parr Rosson, Ph.D., associate department head for AgriLife Extension in the Department of Rangeland, Wildlife and Fisheries Management, said Dykes is arriving at a critical time for the agency’s ability to provide landowners with expertise that will enhance habitat and wildlife management around the state.

Dykes will help formulate plans and guide landowner management of big game species based on applied science. He will also be conducting cutting-edge research to better understand the needs and behaviors of white-tailed deer and other big game species.

“We felt there was a need in AgriLife Extension based on the demand for knowledge and expertise across the state when it comes to white-tailed deer, Texas big game and even exotics,” Rosson said. “Dr. Dykes has hit the ground running and been engaging with stakeholders and every AgriLife Extension agent interested in learning more about big game management. The response has been very positive.”

Wildlife specialist focused on big game ecology

Dykes said he will concentrate on the interconnections of habitat and the animals and how landowners can influence ecology to improve species productivity based on their stewardship goals.

Integrating technology like tracking collars to study deer movement and monitor behavior can help researchers answer basic ecological questions about the animals, he said. His goal is to produce scientific data that can help formulate and steer land and species management plans that maintain healthy and productive herds.

Dykes said he views the management of deer, wildlife and land as a puzzle. He believes research projects utilizing the latest technology and scientific methods and knowledge can piece together a complete picture.

“The research is directed at conserving the species and helping landowners,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. But wildlife management is not one-dimensional because of all the factors that influence the land and all the plant and animal species it supports and the goals of the landowner who wants to actively steward the natural resources.

“Our job is to gather the information, answer those ecological questions and take that information to provide our best management recommendations to the public, the landowners and land managers who are actually making the decisions.”

Serving through engagement, collaboration and communication

Dykes said he looks forward to engaging with property owners and land managers making stewardship decisions in such an ecologically diverse state. Collaboration with landowners and other institutions and agencies will be critical to the program’s success.

Rosson said Dykes position will help meet rising demands for information among new landowners. There is also a great interest and demand from landowners looking to manage properties in ways that have long applied to agriculture land valuations and now apply to wildlife.

“Ag valuations are very important to most Texas landowners,” he said. “But there are also people buying property who have no interest in agriculture but see the financial and enjoyment value in improving their land for wildlife. That incentive from the state is good for landowners and great for wildlife as more and more Texans see themselves as stewards of the land and wildlife.”

Dykes said he hopes his position can develop strategies that will address land fragmentation. Such strategies will provide owners of smaller land parcels with knowledge that empowers them to improve properties and band together with like-minded neighbors to mitigate any negative impacts fragmentation might have on wildlife.

Listening to questions and concerns from stakeholders will help direct research, Dykes said, and he has plans to help communicate with the public. He hopes to provide a steady stream of information, tips and data related to Texas big game and wildlife improvement opportunities through multiple social media accounts, including Instagram and a blog.

“My goal is to make Texas A&M AgriLife the go-to source for reliable information, whether it’s a species-specific or habitat management topic,” he said. “The research we do only has value if it is getting into the hands of people who might want to apply what we learn. Conservation is the common goal, and I am excited to be involved with this program.”

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