A Note from Our State Director
Welcome to the first issue of The Nature Conservancy’s Texas Bulletin, created to provide you with an informative snapshot of our conservation successes in the previous quarter, and to keep you posted on upcoming events as well as breaking news on the public policy front. We’ll be sending these to you, our valued members and supporters, three times a year. Enjoy!
I don’t generally spend much time looking behind me; I prefer to course-correct as I go and keep forward momentum until I reach my goal. But given our accomplishments, I thought it made sense to recognize the hard work that got us here.
The areas in Texas we have protected in the last year have a collective value of $51 million, by far our best year ever in terms of the total value of protected lands. As is always the case, the support of our members, donors and partners is the engine that drives this work. Two new standout projects are Cibolo Bluffs Preserve, northeast of San Antonio, which was created to provide habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler and to help safeguard land above the Edwards Aquifer; and the purchase of 800 acres in Travis County that connects Hamilton Pool Preserve and Milton Reimers Ranch Park. The tract will adjoin 3,500 acres of Texas Hill Country lands and preserve water quality at the iconic Hamilton Pool. Looking ahead, we plan to expand our Yoakum Dunes Preserve in the Panhandle by more than 3,500 acres to create more high-quality habitat for the lesser prairie chicken; this area of Texas is the species’ only known habitat within the state.
Collectively, we are firing on all cylinders, with strong science guiding sound strategy and positive conservation results.
Big Strides in Conservation
We ended the fall/winter quarter with a total of 13 land protection transactions totaling 8,800 acres; those acquisitions pushed Texas’ 50-year total to 840,000 acres of protected lands, including 186,000 Conservancy-owned acres, 103 easements totaling 284,000 acres and 370,000 acres protected by collaborative efforts.
But conservation is about more than land protection—it also involves restoration and science. Our Christmas bird count at Mad Island Marsh Preserve included Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Mad Island Wildlife Management Area and adjacent lands; a record-breaking 125 volunteers counted 244 different species. This event set the record (again!) for the most diverse count in the nation, illustrating that our property and the management of it benefits a wide range of bird species.
In 2011, our fire staff conducted prescribed fires on 18,135 acres of Conservancy-owned properties and assisted in burns across 10,761 acres of partner-owned lands. Our survey and monitoring efforts will pick up as well, as migratory birds arrive and native plants start to leaf out and flower. Our prescribed fire program will once again swing into action in late winter and early spring 2012; we’ll be using this technique to restore grassland habitats on our preserves as well as lands owned by cooperating landowners.
Advocating in the Legislature
We continue to work to ensure that any fines paid by BP as part of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill come back to the Gulf of Mexico for ecosystem restoration. While we are still attempting to pass federal legislation to direct the course of those fines, we are also working on a new strategy involving any possible settlements between BP, other parties and the U.S. Department of Justice.
We’ll also spend 2012 building our legislative agenda for the regular legislative session, slated to begin January 2013. We are building partnerships with elected officials and interest groups, and will provide testimony before legislative committees as they study issues during the interim. Our agenda includes two specific issues: how Texas can implement its water plan and ensure 25 percent of our future water comes from conservation, and how we can better plan for our energy future while recognizing the nexus between water use and energy production.
Locally, we are helping shape a city bond package that will go before voters in November; it’s the first the city of Austin has put together since 2006. Our goal is to ensure a large amount of funding for open space and water protection. We’ll inform city officials as they develop the package, assist with ballot language where appropriate and ultimately help city officials purchase valuable open space.
Texas: We’re All Over It!
We are partnering with Earth Day Dallas and gearing up for our 2012 Picnic for the Planet, a worldwide celebration of good food and the planet that provides it. This coming Earth Day, people from all walks of life will be celebrating with one thought in mind: the Earth does a lot for us—let’s take it to lunch! Join us at Fair Park on April 22 to help us set a world record for the largest simultaneous global picnic. Scheduled to kick off at 10:00 a.m., the Dallas picnic will be one of several planned in more than seven countries. If you’re in San Antonio on Earth Day, come to our picnic at the Pearl Stables. And if you can’t make a picnic, participate at your local Whole Foods Market! Check with stores in the Austin, Houston and San Antonio areas for different activities and promotions beginning April 16; pick up some delicious food and learn more about The Nature Conservancy.
We continued to press our message of freshwater conservation across the state and nationally, sharing it via The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Economist, Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Houston Chronicle, Austin American-Statesman, and San Antonio Express-News. The chapter and State Director Laura Huffman also generated significant buzz in late November when Huffman rolled out the Conservancy’s comprehensive freshwater plan at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.