Just off a quiet stretch of highway in Calhoun County, beyond a nondescript metal gate, lies a 17,351-acre mosaic of dense live oak forests, coastal prairies, salt marshes and wetlands. This tract, known as Powderhorn Ranch, is one of the largest remaining undisturbed tracts of native coastal prairie habitat left in Texas—and likely the largest conservation deal in the history of Texas.
Crucial Habitat Protection
Secured by a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and The Conservation Fund, it offers sweeping, unobstructed views of tallgrass prairies and marshland and 11 miles of tidal bay front that protect vitally important seagrass beds and mollusk reefs. Its environmental significance cannot be overstated. Federally endangered whooping cranes currently winter just 15-30 miles south of Powderhorn. With the number of wild whoopers expanding, the ranch will undoubtedly become a critical habitat for whooping cranes in the coming years.
Powderhorn’s saltwater wetlands also offer important, year-round habitat for shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl. Elsewhere, extensive woodlands and freshwater wetlands provide critically important “fall-out areas” for migrating songbirds, particularly during spring migration when, exhausted from their flights across or around the Gulf of Mexico, birds use these areas to rest and refuel. The Conservancy plans to conduct extensive wildlife and plant surveys on the ranch, which will undoubtedly become a haven for bird watchers, as well as people interested in fishing, kayaking and canoeing.
Distinctive by Design
The ranch also includes a unique geologic formation called the Ingleside Barrier, which supports unique plant life such as the seacoast bluestem and Texas coastal bend live oak. And it enjoys several miles of Matagorda Bay frontage; the bays and flats along that shoreline are important nurseries for a variety of fish and shellfish, including brown shrimp, redfish, spotted sea trout and blue crab.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funded a significant portion of this at-scale conservation project using fine money resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation has played a lead role in securing that funding, and will continue to raise money to support habitat restoration and management and create a long-term endowment. As the easement-holder, the Conservancy will play a key role in restoring areas that have been overgrazed or over-run with invasive species. The Conservancy turned full ownership of Powderhorn over to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation in 2016.