TNC secured 2,129 acres within the Bahia Grande coastal corridor, which will eventually be incorporated into the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge .
Thomas land Tract TNC secured 2,129 acres within the Bahia Grande coastal corridor, which will eventually be incorporated into the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge . © Dero Sanford

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RESTORE Act Protects 2,000 Critical Acres in Texas' Bahia Grande Basin

The Nature Conservancy announced the protection of three coastal properties today totaling 2,129 acres within the Bahia Grande coastal basin of South Texas. 

The project supports a multi-agency effort to establish a 7,000-acre protected corridor linking the globally significant Laguna Madre region of South Texas to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, creating more than 100,000 acres of contiguous conservation land. The passageway will benefit a range of wildlife including the aplomado falcon, ocelot and several species of birds impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. These newly-protected tracts are also critical to restoring Bahia Grande’s extensive tidal bay system.  

The $5 million project was largely funded through the RESTORE Act, which is designed to foster ecological and economic restoration throughout the Gulf of Mexico and help regional communities recover from the oil spill. The RESTORE Council, which is administered in Texas by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, awarded $4.2 million towards the project. The Knobloch Family Foundation, which is based in Houston, also generously contributed $486,000 towards the purchase price. This effort marks Texas’ first coastal land protection deal under RESTORE. 

In the seven years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, community, environmental and scientific organizations have worked in concert with state, federal and local governmental organizations to identify key restoration and conservation priorities to help the Gulf ecosystem recover. Protecting Texas coastal habitat was among the top priorities identified. 

“I am pleased to see the kind of cooperation that led to this purchase of valuable conservation land,” said Commissioner Toby Baker, who was appointed by Governor Greg Abbott to oversee the RESTORE program in Texas. “It was great to work with The Nature Conservancy on this effort, which will protect this crucial coastal habitat for future generations to enjoy.

The acreage stretches across the upper end of the Bahia Grande basin and is comprised of coastal wetlands, prairies and brush habitat. The properties are adjacent to the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, the Bahia Grande estuary and the Laguna Madre, one of the most productive fisheries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

“Coastal protection has a positive impact on our communities, our tourism industry and our state’s fisheries,” said Laura Huffman, Texas state director for The Nature Conservancy. Thanks to a combination of smart science, public financing and a variety of strong partners, myriad species and an iconic landscape will now be protected for the benefit of all Texans.

The Bahia Grande, or “Big Bay,” is a large wetland connected to Texas’ Laguna Madre at the southernmost border of the state. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the region ranks as one of the highest priority conservation areas in Texas, and is also one of the most biologically rich. It supports approximately 1,200 plant species, more than 530 species of birds, more than 300 North American butterfly species, and 17 threatened or endangered species.

This project protects habitat for gull-billed, royal, Forster’s and sandwich terns, reddish egrets, black skimmers, white and brown pelicans, piping plovers, and the red knot and American oystercatcher, which were all impacted by the oil spill. The region also hosts a variety of wintering waterfowl and 85 percent of the world’s population of redhead ducks. 

This type of intact landscape has become increasingly rare in South Texas. The nearby Rio Grande Valley is the fifth largest metropolitan area in Texas, and has long suffered from the cumulative impacts of habitat loss. 

“We’re stitching together this corridor with the help of committed private landowners in South Texas, whose working farms and ranch lands are integrated into this valuable landscape,” said Sonia Najera, the Conservancy’s grasslands program manager.  “Some of these families have lived on and worked this land for generations. As the region urbanizes, they are becoming increasingly involved in conserving these critical landscapes.” 

"This property has been in my family for close to 100 years," said Tomas Tijerina, a Texas landowner who worked with The Nature Conservancy to conserve his family's ranch. "We were elated to help establish this corridor for ocelots and other Texas wildlife."

All 2,129 acres will be incorporated into surrounding wildlife refuge lands, most which will serve as the anchor for the larger corridor. 

“During a recent meeting of the federal RESTORE Council in South Padre, we invited members to see the acquisition areas for themselves. We had a great trip and council members enjoyed getting a first-hand look at where the grants were going,” added Baker.   

Portions of the properties will eventually be open for recreational access for activities like hiking, fishing, birding and hunting. The public use plan for the region is scheduled for completion in 2018.

Bahia Grande The Bahia Grande is one of the most biologically diverse areas in Texas.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.