Texan by Nature (TxN) is proud to partner with 100+ conservation organizations working to positively benefit Texas’ natural resources and communities through innovative approaches. TxN accelerates conservation by bringing conservation organizations and business together through programs that connect and convene diverse stakeholders and catalyze science-based conservation efforts and projects to accelerate impact.
Learn more about TxN Conservation Partner, Wildlife Habitat Federation, and how they are restoring prairie and grassland habitat for Texas wildlife and educating the public about the importance of these wild spaces.
Q: Tell us about Wildlife Habitat Federation and its mission.
A: Wildlife Habitat Federation (WHF) is a non-profit organization headquartered in Cat Spring, Texas that provides on-the-ground restoration, management and generational sustainability of prairie habitat for the conservation of soil, water, air, and wildlife.
Q: What is the history of Wildlife Habitat Federation?
A: WHF was founded in 2004 by three conservationists alarmed by the growing loss of prairie habitat threatening regional wildlife species. They recognized that restoring land to its native prairie ecology is key to the survival of wildlife species and essential for natural ecosystem services such as flood control from water retention and healthy microbial soil conditions.
A Conservation Innovation Grant from the USDA-NRCS provided funding for our first project which was building a 7-mile corridor of restored native grasslands from the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado County north to Cat Spring. Independent research by Texas A&M researchers has documented 31 species of upland birds utilizing restored grassland habitats in this area.
Other landowners in the area became interested and committed to putting their land back into native habitat. Support from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service and several private foundations allowed us to increase our restoration services, technical guidance capacity and to help landowners enroll in applicable government financial assistance programs.
Q: How do you work to achieve your mission and who is your audience?
A: WHF educates landowners and others about the benefits and need for native prairie habitat through annual field days; presentations to public and private groups and organizations; exhibiting at local and major public events; one-on-one meetings with individual landowners; phone consultations; website (www.whf-texas.org); articles for newspaper; magazines and social media.
WHF has created several urban and suburban “pocket” prairies in and around the Houston area for schools and various conservation organizations. These projects have made great hands-on-demonstration sites for students and the surrounding community to show how diverse and beautiful native habitat is.
We restore native habitat on private lands and urban pocket prairies by providing: site visits and management plans; technical guidance and specialty equipment use, etc. to conduct: prescribed grazing; controlled burns; targeted tillage; invasive species control; and/or sowing of cover crops, native grasses and forbs. WHF helps landowners connect with and complete applications for funding from sources such as Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Natural Resource Conservation Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The habitat management plans developed for each landowner provide information specifically about what is on their land in regard to soils, plant species, wildlife, livestock, and which have positive or negative effects related to the individual landowner’s conservation goals. The plans then provide a timeline of best management practices for achieving those goals.
We have always been concerned about the availability of locally sourced native seeds. Local ecotype seed may take a bit longer to become established than commercially grown seed, but in the long run, it outlives the non-local seed varieties. WHF is currently partnering with Texas Native Seeds on a major seed evaluation and selection project. This project will greatly enhance the availability of affordable locally adapted seed for future restoration projects.
Q: What are some examples of your projects or programs?
A: So much of what we do is helping individual landowners achieve their conservation goals. Though not famous or large, each is making a contribution to the health of our environment. Every acre that is enhanced or restored to native species makes a difference. It is through the dedication of many landowners that we have impacted over 88,000 acres in Texas.
In 2018, WHF and the Katy Prairie Conservancy worked with Katy High School to create a native prairie outdoor classroom that was later christened “The Tiger Prairie” after their school mascot. This gave 350 enthusiastic students a hands-on outdoor learning experience through all of its building phases. The students and teachers have won state and national recognition for their project. The Tiger Prairie will serve as a great teaching tool for years to come, not only for the teachers and students, but for the local community as well. Learn more at: www.tigerprairie.org – Tiger Prairie is TxN Certified!
WHF was selected by Resource Environmental Solutions (RES) in 2018 to assist in the restoration of 3200 acres of grassland habitats on the North Texas Municipal Water District’s Riverby Mitigation Site in Fannin County Texas. This on-going project serves to mitigate the environmental effects of the development and installation of the 16,000-acre Bois d’ Arc Reservoir.
Of the organization’s projects, WHF Program Director Garry Stephens said, “During my career with USDA-NRCS I have worked with many landowners on the installation of many thousands of acres of grassland habitats strictly in an advisory capacity. Working with WHF over the past 5 ½ years has been extremely satisfying in that I am now able to see projects from planning to putting them on the ground and being able to see them mature.”
Q: What are the ecological and economic benefits of your organization’s projects/programs?
A:Less than 1% of the original 9.5-million-acre upper portion of the Texas Coastal Prairie remains today. WHF is countering this habitat loss by restoring land to its native prairie ecology, and the impact of WHF’s work extends well beyond the actual acreage restored. Such lands provide ecosystem services crucial to the proper functioning of the environment. This creates and strengthens wildlife habitat and fosters native plant communities that include natural levels of biodiversity. The massive root systems of native grass and forbs limit flooding by helping to retain rainwater and improve natural water cycles serving to filter sediment and nutrients from entering our creeks, rivers, bays, and estuaries.
Q: Tell us about the future of your organization. Do you have any upcoming initiatives, exciting events, or even challenges ahead?
A:WHF recently became one of eleven national grant recipients, and the only Texas recipient, of the 2020 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Southeast Aquatics Fund. This funding has allowed WHF to address the increasing demand for its conservation services and to optimize impact by adding two wildlife conservationists to its staff. This program supports our education and outreach efforts which include site visits and the development of habitat management plans for landowners in the Lower Colorado, Lower Brazos, and San Bernard watersheds.
Q: Are there any other interesting news / events / facts about your organization that you wish we would have asked/covered?
A: WHF began its work in 2004 in a single county and is currently working to assist landowners with the restoration and management of their grassland habitats in 39 counties in Texas.
WHF has been instrumental in the development and implementation of various local, regional, and statewide partnership projects, strategies and initiatives, such as Houston Wilderness’ Gulf-Houston Monarch Flyway Strategy.
Q: How can people get involved with and learn more about your organization?
A:WHF’s website shows who we are, what we do and contains a lot of information to help people understand the process and benefits of converting habitats into native species. Through our website people are able to donate to our efforts. For those interested in WHF services, there is an online questionnaire through which a landowner can contact us. Learn more about Wildlife Habitat Federation on our website and follow along on our Facebook for regular updates.