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Gus Engeling WMA (GEWMA)

Phone: (903) 928-2251
16149 North US Hwy 287
Tennessee Colony, TX 75861

Contact: Wes Littrell

Dates Open: Open year round, except area closed during special hunts.


Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area (GEWMA) is located in northwest Anderson County, 21 miles northwest of Palestine. This 10,958 acre area was purchased from 1950 to 1960 under the Pittman-Robertson Act using Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program funds. The (GEWMA)'s primary purpose is to function as a wildlife management, research and demonstration area for the Post Oak Savannah Ecoregion. The area is comprised of 2,000 acres of hardwood bottomland floodplain and almost 500 acres of natural watercourse, 350 acres of wetlands: marshes and swamps and nearly 300 acres of sphagnum moss bogs. The (GEWMA) is an island of Post Oak Savannah surrounded by coastal bermuda grass pastures, harvested timberlands, and fragmented wildlife habitat. It's rolling sandy hills dominated by post oak uplands, bottomland hardwood forests, natural springs, pitcher plant bogs, sloughs, marshes, and relict pine communities contain a rich variety of wildlife. Sound wildlife management tools like prescribed burning grazing, brush control and hunting are used to demonstrate the results of proven practices to resource managers, landowners, and other interested groups or individuals.


Historically, the upland sites of the Post Oak Savannah were open and dominated by waist-high grasses and large scattered trees. In addition, early observers reported large oak "motts" or islands of continuous hardwoods scattered throughout the grassland prairie. Bottomlands were dominated by mature, massive oaks that prefer deep, rich, moist soils. Both uplands and bottomlands supported an abundance of wildlife before man's intervention. By the mid-1800's European settlement produced dramatic changes in East Texas. Timber operations, prevention of wildfires, damming of streams and rivers, and clearing of land for pasture and crops changed the land. The first barbed wire fence was constructed in 1888. Within two years most of the land had been fenced and was severely overgrazed by hogs and cattle. Hardwoods in the bottomlands were logged during these years. The trees which made the best homes for wildlife, such as large and vigorous white oaks, walnuts, and hickories, were the first taken. Although not marketable, many good wildlife trees, such as young hardwoods and old pines, were removed and replaced by loblolly pines for timber. These loblolly pines invaded the flood free bottoms below dams, reducing the numbers of hickories and oaks. Cavity dwelling wildlife, such as wood ducks, woodpeckers, raccoons, squirrels, and many other birds and mammals, found fewer homes after the loggers passed. Most cultivated land was planted in cotton at this time, with some small farms growing row crops.

The turn of the century marked the beginning of the livestock industry in this area. Most of the land was severely overgrazed by hogs and cattle for the first half of the century. In the mid-1900's, there was an increase in livestock production resulting in the clearing of large tracts of hardwoods for pasture. Livestock production continues to be the principal land use in this part of Texas. Although still called the Post Oak Savannah, this part of East Texas is now quite different from the countryside seen by the first settlers.

Most of the land comprising the GEWMA was purchased by the then Texas Game, Fish and Oyster Commission between 1950 and 1960. Much of this land was purchased from Milze L. Derden, hence the original name Derden Wildlife Management Area. The GEWMA was purchased under the Pittman-Robertson Act as a wildlife research and demonstration area for the Post Oak Savannah Ecoregion where trained personnel could study wildlife management practices.

The area was renamed in 1952 after Gus A. Engeling, the first biologist assigned to the area, was shot and killed by a poacher on December 13, 1951.

The GEWMA has not suffered from man's presence as much as most of the Post Oak Savannah. Although the land was used for livestock for many years, it was not extensively cleared. Mature bottomland forests still dominate Catfish Creek. Five hundred acres of post oak uplands have nearly been returned to its original Post Oak Savannah state through 35 years of prescribed burning.


The initial goal and intended purpose of the Gus Engeling WMA was to serve as a wildlife research and demonstration area where trained biologists could study and evaluate wildlife and habitat management practices. Around 1990 the majority of staff duties shifted from research to public use activities and development. Future activities will return to research and demonstration designed to benefit people interested in wildlife management in the Post Oak Savannah.

In 1989, the following goals were adopted by the Wildlife Division and are used as guidelines for preparing WMA management plans. The goals are listed in priority order.

Natural Resources - Flora/Fauna:

The GEWMA is representative of the Post Oak Savannah Ecoregion which encompasses approximately 13,300 square miles of Texas reaching from Red River County in the northeast to Guadalupe County in the south. Upland soils are generally light-colored, deep, rapidly permeable sands and sandy loams. Bottomland soils are mostly mixed alluvial clays and clay loams, gray brown in color and moderately permeable. Topography is gently rolling to hilly with a well-defined drainage system that empties into Catfish Creek which is a tributary of the Trinity River. Eight miles of Catfish Creek have been designated as a "Natural National Landmark" by the US Department of the Interior. The drainage system encompasses approximately 2,000 acres of bottomland. Average annual rainfall is approximately 40 inches. Generally, rainfall is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year with less occurring during July and August.

Vegetation present in the uplands includes a dense overstory of oak, hickory, elm, and gum with a shade tolerant understory of flowering dogwood, American beautyberry, greenbriar, farkleberry, yaupon, possumhaw, dewberry, and hawthorn. Common grasses include little bluestem, broomsedge bluestem, slender Indiangrass, purpletop, beaked panicum, and spike uniola. Some dominant forbs include tickclover, wildbean, goldenrod, and doveweed. Oak trees, mostly water and willow oak, are the dominant tree species in the bottomlands. Common wetland plants include yellow lotus, common duckweed, sedges, rushes, pondweed, giant cutgrass, and plumegrass. Depending on rainfall and weather conditions, spring displays of flowering dogwood and wildflowers can be spectacular.

Between 1860 and 1920, year-round hunting with no bag limits greatly reduced the deer and turkey number. From 1948 to 1950, 280 white-tailed deer, 128 Rio Grande turkey, and 13 beavers were released on the area. The deer population steadily increased resulting in the opening of a deer season in 1955. This population remains healthy and provides a major source of recreation. Beavers are now abundant and have created many acres of wetlands on the GEWMA and surrounding lands. Wild turkeys did not prosper; so several more releases were made. The result was a small, unstable population of hybrids between pen-raised Eastern gobblers and Rio Grande hens. More recently, releases were made in 1988, 1995 and 1996. The first Eastern wild turkey hunt was held in 2003.

The GEWMA has a rich variety of wildlife. Currently 37 mammals, 156 birds, 54 reptiles and amphibians, 57 fishes and 900 plant species have been documented. There's no guarantee, but the observant visitor may see white-tailed deer, Eastern wild turkey, gray squirrels, fox squirrels, raccoons, beavers, wood ducks, or pileated woodpeckers just to name a few.

Cultural Resources:

The stewardship role of TPWD staff regarding archeological resources and historic resources is defined in the Antiquities Code of Texas (Title 9, Chapter 191 of the Texas Natural Resources Code of 1977), which calls for the location and protection of all archeological sites owned by the State of Texas. Any violation of the terms of the Antiquities Code is a criminal act, punishable by a fine and/or jail term.

Research Activities:

One of the principle goals of the Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area is to provide a site where research of wildlife populations and habitat may be conducted under controlled conditions. Through such studies biologists hope to gain a better understanding of the interrelationships between native wildlife species, domestic livestock, and habitat resources. This will enable biologists to make recommendations for a sound multiple-use management program tailored to the Post Oak Savannah region of Texas. As of 1997, 35 approved research projects have been conducted on the Engeling WMA involving such topics as:

Current projects are investigating the usefulness of feral hog control measures in aiding nesting success of Eastern turkeys and conducting a complete vegetation analysis and Geographical Information System (GIS) mapping of the entire Area.

Recreational Opportunities :

Anglers and hunters interested in waterfowl and small game need only possess an APH Permit and valid fishing or hunting license to gain access on designated days during the appropriate season. Deer hunters, both archery and gun, are randomly selected during the Special Permit drawing to avoid over harvesting of the resource.

Visitors may enjoy nature viewing, bird watching, photography, hiking, camping and the general beauty of nature. Botanists and wildflower enthusiasts may revel in the dazzling spring and fall displays. The GEWMA also serves as an outdoor laboratory for local colleges, universities, elementary, and secondary schools.

A self-guided auto tour takes a visitor through 10 stops which address wildlife, habitat and management techniques. In addition, the Beaver Pond Nature Trail and Dogwood Nature trail offer visitors the chance to personally experience the lush green mysteries of East Texas. But be warned, all four varieties of venomous snakes occur in this area - so please watch your step. Visitors seventeen years of age and older must posses either an Annual Public Hunting (APH) Permit or Limited Public Use (LPU) Permit to utilize the WMA (no permit required for the driving tour and nature trails). These permits are available at all license sale locations in Texas or by calling 1-800 TXLIC4U (895-4248). Permits are not for sale at the WMA. Refer to Outdoor Recreational Opportunities on WMAs for additional information about opportunities on the Gus Engeling WMA.

Please note:
  • All users must perform on-site daily registration.
  • Bring your own drinking water.
  • The wildlife observation blind and the restrooms are wheelchair accessible.
  • Walking in the bog area is prohibited.
  • Insecticide and sunscreen are advised.
  • Alligators inhabit some areas and should be considered dangerous.