Sensitive Species

Sensitive species are plant and animal species that are given special management considerations or legal protections due to their vulnerability to population declines or extinction. The most vulnerable species have been listed under the Endangered Species Act or by the State of Texas as endangered or threatened, while other species of concern may receive special monitoring. As a national preserve designated by Congress, Big Thicket takes an active role in re-establishing and protecting any sensitive species that may occur within its boundaries. The following are just a few examples of sensitive species that currently or historically occurred in the Big Thicket.

Texas Trailing Phlox
Texas Trailing Phlox - Phlox nivalis ssp. texensis


Texas Trailing Phlox

Phlox nivalis ssp. texensis (Endangered – Federal & State)

This small, beautiful wildflower is endemic to just three counties in southeast Texas—Hardin, Polk, and Tyler—meaning it is not historically found anywhere else in the world. Texas trailing phlox is adapted to living in open, sandy longleaf pine savannah that periodically experiences fire. Without fire, it quickly becomes shaded out by brush and hardwood trees such as oaks and sweetgum, which do not tolerate fire, and the small plants lose the competition for sunlight. Big Thicket contains several populations of Texas trailing phlox, some of which were successfully reintroduced starting in 2001. These populations are intentionally burned every 2-5 years to maintain the open savannah habitat essential for their survival. After a prescribed fire, Texas trailing phlox quickly sprouts from their large underground root systems, often re-flowering within weeks. For more information, please visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile for Texas Trailing Phlox.

a red-cockaded woodpecker holding an insect in its mouth while perched outside its nest cavity
Red-cockaded woodpecker


Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

Picoides borealis (Endangered – Federal & State)

The survival of the red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) is dependent on having large, mature longleaf pine forests to nest in. Logging, conversion of forests to agriculture, and fire suppression have dramatically reduced the amount of suitable habitat. Listed in 1970 as endangered, red-cockaded woodpeckers once ranged from Florida to New Jersey, as far west as Texas and Oklahoma, and inland to Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Now about one percent of their original range remains. These woodpeckers were found in the preserve in the Big Sandy Creek Unit in the 1990s, but have since left the area as large tracts of private timberland were harvested around the perimeter of the unit and Southern pine beetles killed significant numbers of the remaining trees.

Learn more about red-cockaded woodpeckers (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) »


Louisiana Black Bear

Ursus americanus luteolus (Threatened – State)

The Louisiana black bear is one of 16 recognized subspecies of the American black bear and was historically found in the western Gulf Coast states from eastern Texas to Mississippi. They are distinguished from other black bear subspecies in their small size (120 - 350 lbs) and narrower, flatter skull. Louisiana black bears are primarily found in bottomland hardwood forest and swamp, and prefer large tracts of relatively secluded land. The Louisiana black bear is an omnivore and feeds on a variety of foods, including hard mast (acorns and hickory nuts), soft mast (berries, persimmons, and other wild fruits), forbs, grasses, and insects. Rarely do they capture and kill smaller animals. Feral hogs likely compete heavily with bears for food resources. Louisiana black bears also rely on very large, old trees that serve as elevated den sites in winter where mother bears can give birth and nurse their young while avoiding flood waters. Currently, there are no known permanent populations of Louisiana black bear in Texas. However, rare sightings indicate the species may return to its former range in the near future. For more information, please visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Louisiana Black Bear Profile.


State of Texas Listed Threatened and Endangered Species

In addition to the federal listed species, Big Thicket contains numerous species listed by the state of Texas as endangered or threatened:

  • Bachman's sparrow (Aimophila aestivalis)
  • Swallow-tailed kite (Elanoides forficatus)
  • Wood stork (Mycteria americana)
  • Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)
  • Alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii)
  • Rafinesque's big-eared bat (Corynorhinus rafinesquii)
  • Blue sucker (Cycleptus elongates)
  • Louisiana pigtoe (Pleurobema ridellii)
  • Sandbank pocketbook (Lampsilis satura)
  • Texas heelsplitter (Potamilus amphichaenus)
  • Texas pigtoe (Fusconaia askewi)

For additional information on threatened and endangered species, as well as other species of conservation concern in Texas, please visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Nongame and Rare Species Program website.


Migratory Birds

Big Thicket is host to a long list of migratory bird species due to its diversity of ecosystems and location within an important migratory flyway. All migratory bird species in the U.S. (over 1,000 species) receive some protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Big Thicket is especially imortant for Neotropical migrants, which travel every in spring from Central and South America to nest in forests in North America. National Park Service staff periodically conduct surveys for breeding birds in the preserve. For additional information on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, please visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Migratory Bird Program website.

Last updated: February 11, 2023

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Kountze, TX 77625



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