Former first lady attends LLFoR water willow planting

Former First Lady Laura Bush visited Wolf Creek Park near Coldspring to witness first-hand the plantings of American water-willows on the shore of Lake Livingston by local high school students on Wednesday, Sept. 13.

The plantings of the water- willows is a 10-year project, currently in its third year, created by Lake Livingston Friends of Reservoirs to help restore Lake Livingston as a “prime destination for anglers and water enthusiasts by restoring aquatic habitat,” said Scott Ball, LLFoR Project Director.

“So far Lake Livingston Friends has planted 10,000 American water-willows at 18 sites, mostly here in the southern portion,” Bush said. “These plants are noninvasive, fast growing, hardy and known to colonize up to 10 square feet per plant.”

The water-willows give smaller fish a structure to hide and grow bigger, plus turtles and carp won’t eat the plants, volunteer James Huson said.

Students from Coldspring-Oakhurst, Corrigan-Camden, Goodrich, Shepherd, Onalaska and Livingston school districts assisted in planting the water-willows on Wednesday. Inmate horticulturists from Huntsville’s Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Ellis Unit grew the plants for the event. School districts are also growing the plants as well.

“Seventy percent of the water in this reservoir is owned by the city of Houston. Your restoration efforts help restore water quality to the lake and they provide health benefits to the people of the greater Houston area,” Bush said. “Conversation upstream is valuable for downstream users. Especially now in their time of need, I thank your tireless efforts in restoring the lake to serve the people of your community and to preserve our natural resources. Your insuring resilience and the long-term health of our lands. For that, I’m grateful.”

Nearly 200 volunteers, students and officials also celebrated the Conservation Wrangler partnership between LLFoR and Texan by Nature, an organization started by the former first lady that focuses to ensure Texas’ natural heritage and economic vitality endure for generations to come.

“Our Conservation Wrangler Program features the very best Texan-led conservation projects, like the Lake Livingston restoration we are celebrating today,”Bush said. “As we’ve seen firsthand, collaborative partnerships for conservation yield great benefits — for our natural landscapes, native plants and wildlife and for everyone involved.”

Bush told the story of LLFoR founder Tom McDonough, who moved to the area near Lake Livingston soon after it was completed in the 1970’s.

“When Tom began fishing in Lake Livingston in the 70’s it was a healthy body of water with an abundant of aquatic habitat supporting a large fish population that attracted numerous fishing tournaments to the area,” Bush said. “Over time Lake Livingston began to lose its aquatic habitat, as is typical of many reservoir lakes as they age. Once the abundant vegetation on the bottom and the shore of the lake had declined. In 2013, the Trinity River Authority and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department approved a plan to foster natural habitat around this 85,000-acre Lake Livingston, the second largest lake in Texas.

“The plan developed by Texas Black Bass Unlimited and the Piney Wood Lakes Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists created Lake Livingston Friends of Reservoirs with a clean mission in mind – to reestablish Lake Livingston as a prime destination of anglers and water enthusiasts by restoring aquatic habitat,” she added.

Bailey Hargraves, student at Livingston High School, assisted in planting the water-willows on Wednesday.

“It’s showing that little, small town communities, like ours, are doing something for the population,” she said.

“Getting high school students was key to this project, we could not do it without the school systems, and we’ve gotten full support from the superintendents, the principals and the agriculture teachers,” McDonough said. “I cannot thank them enough.”

As the project continues over the next seven years, LLFoR is on track to introduce 100,000 Water- willows into the lake.

“Median age for most reservoirs is 50 years old; we’re not making many new ones. We have to take care of the ones we have. Many reservoirs support thriving aquatic life, such as water fowls, reptiles, amphibian, fish and I guess lovebugs, too,” said Craig Bonds, division director for Inland Fisheries, TPWD. “These fisheries are dependent upon good habitat for their sustainability. As reservoirs age, habitat and water quality can decline, shing quality and water base recreation can suffer as a result. Neither the Texas Parks and Wildlife, nor any single entity has the resources to fully address these challenges alone…Partnerships are and will be crucial to take care of the lakes we love.”