I grew up on my family’s ranch in the Texas Hill Country seduced by the rolling hills and river valley. But an environmental science class taught me that Texas’ vast territory wasn’t just beautiful, but endangered. I volunteered with The Nature Conservancy to learn what I could do to help.
In July, I left the drought-ravaged Hill Country behind bound for the coastal plains of the Mad Island Marsh Preserve. Minutes after turning into the gate I was aware of the sacred diversity of life. The strange, yellow eyes of a mother alligator float above the surface of green lily pads, the rest of her prehistoric figure submerged. The preserve is called the “birdiest county” in Texas; at one point, more than 200 cattle egrets transformed the marshy ground into a rippling blanket of white, while roseate spoonbills were flowering pink blossoms in the trees. I learned to drive a tractor (despite not yet having a driver’s license!) and helped turn the soil to create a better habitat for migratory birds. I also kayaked through the aquatic maze of sea-grass to the intra-coastal, where the Conservancy combats erosion of the oyster reef.
Later in the week, preserve manager Becky Flack greeted me at the Love Creek Preserve in Medina, home to the endangered golden-cheeked warbler, black capped vireo and miniature toe bush cactus. I spotted recently-discovered plant species and secret springs bursting through every fissure of the surrounding limestone cliffs. We spent the day with wire cutters, removing inoperative fences to ensure free movement of wildlife. Becky and I also visited the Conservancy’s Barton Creek Preserve, nestled amid the Austin suburbs. Ostentatious houses encroach on the preserve’s border, illustrating the tangible threat of development and the significance of this particular acquisition.
My work with the Conservancy showed me it isn’t enough to admire diverse landscapes. Conservation means taking action, whether I’m learning about native species or pulling dilapidated fences. I met interesting people from different backgrounds, all driven toward protecting Texas’ treasures. Together, we worked to make an impact on Texas’ conservation future.