Southmost Preserve Threatened by Border Fence
Condemnation Suit Filed
Map of Proposed Border Wall Through Southern Cameron County
Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve
A Threatened Treasure
Situated at the southern tip of Texas along the Rio Grande, The Nature Conservancy’s Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve is among the organization’s most unique properties.
The 1,034-acre preserve harbors a rare sabal palm forest, a native plant nursery that supplies reforestation projects throughout South Texas, a compatible agriculture demonstration and habitat for Texas’ highly imperiled wildcats, the ocelot and jaguarundi.
This rare and fragile habitat has come under threat recently with the proposed Mexico border fence. As it is currently envisioned, the fence structure through the preserve would actually be situated as much as a mile and a half north of the U.S.-Mexico border, leaving three-quarters of Southmost Preserve—including the most critical wildlife habitat—in a no-man’s land.
Condemnation Suit Filed
The threat loomed larger just before Christmas, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) filed suit against the Conservancy to condemn land within the preserve.
The complaint estimated the amount of $114,000 offered by DHS as “just compensation” for the slightly more than 8 acres the fence will occupy—a 60-foot-wide strip of land running 6,000 feet across the preserve. However, the Conservancy believes this amount is grossly inadequate.
“Many people are surprised to learn that the border fence isn’t actually on the border. It often ventures deep into private property, and in the case of Southmost it cuts us off from most of our land,” said Laura Huffman, the Conservancy’s Texas state director.
“The financial offer we received from the federal government is shortsighted and only takes into account the footprint of the border fence itself,” Huffman added. “And it doesn’t begin to make up for our inability to manage the more than 700 acres of our preserve that lie between the proposed fence and the Mexican border. This land is, quite literally, irreplaceable.”
Preserve Will Be Stranded
Huffman further indicated that, once the fence is built, the majority of the preserve will be stranded between the fence and the Mexican border. “This raises serious questions about how we’ll protect a true natural treasure of Texas,” she said.
In addition to providing habitat for wildlife and a source for thousands of native plants for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Southmost Preserve also offers a demonstration of organic and sustainable agricultural practices carried out on the edge of a fragile habitat. The Conservancy employs five full-time staff members—most of whom have maintained this land for decades—to undertake all of the ongoing conservation projects at the preserve.
The preserve also serves as a living laboratory for university students and researchers from various parts of the country who spend periods of time living on the property as they study its unusual birds and amphibians.
Despite repeated requests to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for information about access and safety issues that will arise once the fence is built, Conservancy staff has not received a response.
Impacts to Safety, Stewardship
“We have serious concerns about the safety of our staff members, agricultural workers, researchers and visitors to the preserve, and how our stewardship efforts will be impacted,” Huffman said. “Our commitment to this property reflects our commitment to carefully manage the investment made here by our members and supporters.”
The Conservancy bought the land for Southmost Preserve in 1999 for $2.6 million and has spent substantial additional amounts in the years since to maintain the land. Formerly a commercial nursery and agricultural operation, the property nevertheless encompassed significant swaths of intact native habitat.
Southmost Preserve is among numerous private properties in South Texas under condemnation for construction of the border fence.
Southmost Preserve Profile
Click here to learn more about The Nature Conservancy's Southmost Preserve.
The Nature Conservancy’s position on the proposed Mexico border fence can be viewed here.
Jan. 26, 2009
Nature Conservancy Fights Planned Border Fence (National Public Radio, "All Things Considered")
Jan. 21, 2009
Opponents of the Texas-Mexico border fence look to Obama (Time.com)
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.