Let’s Talk Trash – How SPLASh Volunteers are Cleaning up the Texas Coast

By Kenzie Cherniak

Category Archive: Conservation Wrangler

  1. Let’s Talk Trash – How SPLASh Volunteers are Cleaning up the Texas Coast

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    Ok, we don’t mean to gossip… But did you hear that Texas is the “trashiest” state? Yep, you read that right. Texas has the highest average weight of trash debris per mile surveyed of any state in the nation, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Ocean Conservancy. As a result, trash accumulates on the Texas coast ten times faster than it does on the coasts of other Gulf states. 

    This is because waterways in Texas originate at the top of the state, and all flow down to the coast, carrying the whole state’s trash along with them to dump on our shorelines. And this is bad for Texans, bad for our environment and our wildlife, and bad for our local economies. No one wants to spend their summer vacation on a beach littered with bottles and cans. 

    As Texans, we have a great deal of pride in our beautiful state. Texans don’t want the title of “trashiest” state. A thriving, pristine coastline is the perfect pairing for our rolling West Texas plains, bubbling Hill Country springs, and dense East Texas pine forests.

    So, how do conservation organizations get ALL Texans to join the efforts to keep our state clean and our ecosystems thriving? How can we get more people exposed to, passionate about, and dedicated to conservation-based volunteering? 2023 Conservation Wrangler – Stopping Plastics and Litter Along Shorelines (SPLASh) – has a solution.

    Creating Conservation-Minded Volunteers

    SPLASh was formed in 2020 to address the overlapping issues of trash pollution and bird conservation in the greater Houston-Galveston region. Since its inception, SPLASh has been widely successful in cleaning up the Texas coastline, educating young Texans about marine debris and litter cleanup, and collecting data on the amount and impact of trash in the Galveston Bay watershed. Through the Conservation Wrangler partnership, TxN has been working with SPLASh to replicate and amplify their program impacts across the Texas coast and into internal bayous and waterways. 

    To date, SPLASh has engaged 3,301 volunteers in cleanup events. These volunteers have removed over 39,197 pounds of trash from 839 acres of beach and bayou habitats.​ Volunteers don’t just provide support by picking up trash at cleanup events, though. SPLASh provides opportunities to get more involved in community science by collecting data and inputting those metrics into the Texas Litter Database. At every cleanup, volunteers collect GPS points, weather data, and the weight of each bag of trash collected. SPLASh also leads litter transects to quantify the types of trash and materials that are found during cleanups. SPLASh has been consistently conducting data collection since the program’s inception, which has allowed them to develop an excellent baseline from which to track program progress and impacts. 

    TxN recognizes the SPLASh program as a leader in conservation, and as a model that can easily be replicated across the state. The program’s dedication to metrics collection, community engagement, and inclusion of accessibility best practices in all facets of the program make SPLASh a highly successful and sustainable model. 

    Stopping Plastics and Litter Along Shorelines (SPLASh) – TxN 2023 Conservation Wrangler from Texan by Nature on Vimeo.

    Lessons Learned – Increasing Accessibility

    Volunteering is a fantastic way for different parties to learn more about your organization’s mission, and how they can help. If your volunteer programs are accessible to all, you can even turn one-time volunteers into regular participants and major contributors to your mission. There are also major economic benefits that can be claimed from education and volunteering programs. TxN worked with SPLASh to measure the impacts of their work through the creation of a Texan by Nature Return on Conservation™ Index. The TxN ROC Index™ aligns local conservation efforts like SPLASh cleanups and educational outreach to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with verifiable data to demonstrate how they address global goals like Good Health and Well-Being, Quality Education, and Life on Land. 

    Since 2020, 2,730 SPLASh volunteers contributed 6,300 hours toward clean-ups, providing a $109K offset to local governments for waste management. SPLASh has also reached 4,900 students through its educational programming and field trips. Engaging these students in nature-based activities provides a $45K value to the community.

    Here are a few examples of best practices that SPLASh utilizes to increase access to their programming:

    • Language Inclusion
      • Translation of materials into the 2-3 top spoken languages in your city/region (tip: consult a native speaker to ensure that grammar and colloquialisms are represented accurately and professionally!)
      • Enhancing educational documents: Include definitions, non-technical language, and images to further represent concepts and ideas shared.
    • Recognition of Ability Differences
      • SPLASh recognizes that every volunteer has different mental, emotional, and physical capacities, and may need additional accommodations to feel comfortable. A few ways to provide accommodations include:
      • Providing free access to trash grabbers and all tools needed to safely clean up trash. Partnering with other organizations that provide accessible tools (beach wheelchairs) and locations (paved sidewalks).
    • Reducing Barriers to Entry
      • Financial: SPLASh has developed of free educational materials and activities to send out to schools, such as educator guides, coloring sheets, virtual lessons, marine debris toolkits, and more.
      • Physical/Material: Providing free sustainable/reusable items (reusable tote bags, metal water bottles, reusable food storage containers, fruit and vegetable bags) for volunteers to take home and continue to make a positive

    At TxN, our vision is for every business, every Texan to participate in conservation and for Texas to be a model of collaborative conservation for the world.

    By implementing these simple practices to make volunteer opportunities more accessible to all audiences, conservation organizations can invite more Texans to get involved in local volunteer efforts. This model can easily be replicated across all programs, and across all reaches of the state and beyond. And it should be replicated, so that Texas conservation efforts benefit from more volunteers, and more Texans take ownership to keep our state healthy.

    Learn more about how the SPLASh program is getting Texans involved in conservation here.

     

  2. Landowners and the Future of Conservation with Texas Wildlife Association

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    In the heart of Texas, where vast landscapes and thriving communities coexist, a unique challenge has emerged. Our land provides rich natural resources that make Texas the 9th largest economy in the world. Our natural resources have driven the migration of people and businesses alike. Between 2010 and 2020, more than 25,000 businesses relocated to Texas and our population increased by 3.9 million people. As businesses and people move to Texas’ major metro areas, it is critical to understand the connection we all have to the land that provides the state its food, grain, water, and energy.

    80% of Texans reside in urban areas, cities continue to grow, habitats become displaced, and land becomes fragmented. In a state where 95% of the land is privately owned, the health and resources provided by natural spaces depend on the management decisions made by landowners and hunters. In 1985, conservation-minded landowners recognized the need for broader natural resources awareness, education, and collaboration with private landowners, and the Texas Wildlife Association (TWA) was formed. TWA rallies Texans to support this mission by inviting all to membership and providing resources, education, and community to those who join.

    As a 2023 Conservation Wrangler, Texan by Nature and the Texas Wildlife Association are working together to share the importance of engaging with private landowners to advance conservation. TWA has a network of landowners that allow access and programming on their lands to educate Texans about wildlife, how hunting contributes to conservation, and the importance of land and water conservation.

    We spoke with Andrew Earl, Director of Conservation at TWA to share their insights for engaging landowners in Texas…

    Can you share an example of a successful strategy you’ve employed to engage Texan landowners in conservation initiatives? What were the key factors that contributed to their success?
    TWA’s success is driven by our community engagement around the state. By working with members within their community the organization builds a more organic connection with our audience and empowers volunteers to take on the role of an ambassador of our mission. These relationships require nurturing, however, this model has scaled our impact and adds invaluable legitimacy to TWA’s work.

    In the context of Texan landowners, how do you address concerns related to property rights and land use decisions? How do you navigate the balance between conservation goals and respecting the autonomy of individual landowners?
    TWA knows that landowners are the best stewards of our lands and resources and that keeping working lands intact is critical to slowing habitat loss in our state. The organization strongly believes that keeping families on the land is the best thing for the long-term health of our natural resources and therefore that property rights must be defended.

    Undoubtedly, land use issues are complex and require nuanced approaches. TWA goes to lengths to both guide best practices through policymaking that considers the needs of land stewards and administer education efforts which give landowners the tools to make the best decisions for themselves and their lands.

    How do you tailor your conservation messaging to resonate with the unique values and concerns of Texan landowners? Can you provide specific examples of messaging that has been particularly effective?
    The Texas Wildlife Association’s conservation initiatives are directly rooted in the values and interests of its membership. TWA’s member committees bring together a diversity of backgrounds that include farmers and ranchers, wildlife managers, land brokers, teachers, researchers, lawyers, and more. This variety of perspectives ensures that the many ecological and financial complexities of the issues facing Texas landowners are accounted for in decision-making processes. The input of these diverse committees is on display in TWA’s collection of educational opportunities, hunting outreach events, and natural resource policy priorities.

    Through TWA’s Land, Water & Wildlife Expeditions program, the organization partners with middle schools by providing five successive lessons that build to a field trip behind the gates of a working ranch. These lessons reinforce the interconnectedness of our lands and how the actions of conservation-minded property owners benefit their broader community.

    Our vision is for every business, every Texan to participate in conservation and for Texas to be a model of collaborative conservation for the world.

    In understanding the successful strategies employed by the Texas Wildlife Association (TWA) in engaging Texas landowners, a few key takeaways emerge for those looking to enhance their own conservation initiatives. 

    Community Engagement: TWA’s success is rooted in building organic connections within communities, empowering volunteers to become ambassadors for the organization’s mission. This approach, though requiring time and nurturing, has proven to be scalable and adds a grassroots understanding and legitimacy to the organization’s work.

    Education and Mentorship: The organization focuses heavily on building conservation literacy at many levels, from lesson plans and instruction in formal education settings to mentored experiences like the Texas Youth Hunting, Adult Learn to Hunt programs, and land & wildlife stewardship workshops. In engaging Texans at various levels of natural resource interest and literacy, the organization works to instill a lifelong stewardship ethic.  

    Meeting People Where They Are: TWA recognizes that landowners are integral stewards of the land and are a pillar in all programs. The commitment to tailoring conservation messaging to resonate with the unique values and concerns of Texan landowners has been a cornerstone of TWA’s success.

    The success of TWA’s engagement with Texas landowners underscores the importance of community connections, education, nuanced approaches to land use issues, and tailored messaging. By implementing these key strategies, conservation initiatives can not only gain support from landowners but also contribute to the long-term health of natural resources and foster a sense of stewardship within communities. Learn more about the Texas Wildlife Association and Conservation Wrangler support in this video.

  3. The Return on Conservation™ Value of Caddo Lake

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    Nestled between the secluded borderlands of Texas and Louisiana lies the enchanting Caddo Lake ecosystem– Texas’ only Wetland of International Importance. Bald cypress trees draped in Spanish moss emerge from the water, a haven for alligators, egrets, and herons. Across 27,000 acres, a labyrinth of waterways and bayous might just make you say– “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Texas anymore!”

    To maintain its health, Caddo Lake depends on the dynamic movement of water. Seasonal changes in water levels play a crucial role by bringing in vital nutrients that support the growth of plants and various organisms within the lake. These fluctuations also shape native habitats that cater to diverse plant and animal species. The flow of water helps prevent stagnation, promotes oxygenation, and acts as a natural cleanse by flushing out pollutants and invasive species.

    However, this extraordinary habitat is without a guardian. In contrast to most Texas lakes, there’s no river authority nor government agency overseeing the management and protection of the Caddo Lake system. Without this oversight, and with human activity disrupting the seasonal flows of water that have historically sustained this ecosystem, this Texas treasure is exposed to serious threats including pollution, invasive species, and drought.

    Securing the Flow of Water for Caddo Lake

    Caddo Lake Institute (CLI) was formed in 1993 to bring together state, federal, and local government entities, nonprofits, and the community to apply the best science practices to improve and protect the unique treasure that is Caddo Lake for generations to come. CLI’s Environmental Flows Project seeks to ensure there’s enough water flowing through the lake to maintain its natural balance, benefiting the environment, recreation, and the local economy in and around Caddo. CLI collaborates with The Nature Conservancy, Northeast Texas Municipal Water District, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to target the processes that Mother Nature would’ve done on her own, organizing the regular release of large pulses of fresh water into Caddo from upstream Lake O’ the Pines. By convening with these experts in various fields, CLI ensures that this project benefits from a wealth of knowledge and skills across disciplines. 

    Through consulting with hydrologists, engineers, biologists, and botanists, CLI records baseline ecosystem data and ensures that all reported benefits are proven and science-based. For example, throughout Caddo Lake Institute’s ongoing water quality monitoring and management efforts, the lake has seen a 40% reduction in phosphorus caused by nutrient runoff, along with significant improvements in overall water quality.


    Caddo Lake Institute – TxN 2023 Conservation Wrangler from Texan by Nature on Vimeo.

    Realizing Economic Returns

    While local conservation projects with biodiversity and nutrient pollution benefits– like CLI’s Environmental Flows Project are widely acknowledged as critical to addressing global natural resource challenges– investments for these projects often lag behind. According to a recent McKinsey report analyzing the sustainability goals of Fortune 500 companies, only 6% of these companies have committed to achieving biodiversity targets. Additionally, the report reveals that just 5% of Fortune 500 companies are committed to addressing targets related to nutrient pollution. 

    What is hindering companies from investing in these critically valuable conservation projects?
    One of the barriers is lack of information about the environmental and economic impacts of their investment. Despite their impactful environmental, economic, and social returns, investments in local conservation projects are often boxed out of corporate sustainability portfolios. The reality is that with limited dollars to invest in environmental or philanthropic giving, decision-makers allocate capital to investments with measurable impact, verifiable data, and clearly articulated returns.

    The Texan by Nature Return on Conservation™ Index serves as a rosetta stone if you will, that articulates local conservation projects in terms of global impact. It allows leaders to plan for, review, and make investment decisions based on a project’s environmental and economic impacts. In short, the ROC™ Index helps companies and funders overcome the barriers to investment and makes the business case to accelerate conservation. The ROC™ Index aligns local conservation efforts like CLI’s Environmental Flows Project to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with verifiable data to demonstrate how it addresses global goals like Clean Water and Sanitation, Decent Work and Economic Growth, and Climate Action. 

    TxN’s vision is for every business, and every Texan to participate in conservation, and for Texas to be a model of collaborative conservation for the world.

    Texan by Nature’s Conservation Wrangler program accelerates the very best Texan-led conservation projects in the state. 2023 TxN Conservation Wrangler, Caddo Lake Institute, exemplifies how local, boots-on-the-ground conservation and innovative partnerships can be modeled, replicated, and scaled providing tangible returns to people, prosperity, and natural resources.

    Learn more about Caddo Lake Institute and read the full ROC™ Index here

  4. A Collaborative Model for Coastal Restoration

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    Texas, a state known for its resilience, finds itself at the forefront of a pressing challenge – the impact of natural disasters. A recent 2023 study by WalletHub revealed that Texas ranks third in the nation for states most impacted by natural disasters over the past four decades. From 1980–2023, Texas recorded the most weather/climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each, totaling over $300 billion in overall damages/costs. As natural disasters and storms become more frequent and more severe, coastal restoration emerges as a critical nature-based solution for storm surge protection, erosion control, and ecological balance. 

    Coastal Restoration Benefits are More than Ecological

    Unchecked coastal land degradation1 poses myriad risks that extend beyond environmental concerns, directly impacting the people, prosperity, and natural resources of Texas. One of the most immediate threats is the heightened vulnerability to storm surges and erosion, amplified by the degradation of natural protective barriers. This puts coastal communities at an increased risk of property damage and displacement. Moreover, the degradation of the Chenier Plain, a critical ecosystem in Southeast Texas, jeopardizes the prosperity of industries reliant on its resources. Fisheries face the decline of crucial habitats, disrupting the delicate balance of marine life and affecting the livelihoods of those dependent on these industries. Additionally, the effects of land degradation extend to natural resources, impacting water quality, soil fertility, and overall ecological resilience. This can have profound implications for agriculture, water supply, and the overall health of the region. Addressing coastal land degradation becomes imperative not only for the preservation of nature but also as a safeguard for the well-being and prosperity of the people and the sustainable utilization of Texas’ natural resources.

    In the Chenier Plain, Ducks Unlimited and partners of the Texas Chenier Plain Restoration Effort are coalescing the power of collaboration from state and federal agencies, non-profit conservation organizations, and private industry to employ science-based strategies for ecosystem-scale restoration. As a 2023 TxN Conservation Wrangler, Ducks Unlimited and Texan by Nature collaborated on the below story map to amplify the accomplishments, progress, and opportunities for Texans to learn and engage with this successful model. 

    Learn more about how Texan by Nature uses GIS for Conservation Communication in this blog.

    The Future of Conservation is Collaboration- Public and Private

    Coastal restoration2 is not merely a conservation effort; it’s an investment in the future. The returns extend beyond environmental benefits, encompassing social and economic facets. Non-profit partners with boots on the ground are working with state and federal agencies to identify priority projects along the coast. The TxN Return on Conservation™ Index highlights how these projects contribute to carbon sequestration, water quality improvement, wildlife habitat enhancement, and storm surge mitigation. By activating grants and private investment, government agencies and businesses can contribute to conservation in the region that their constituents and stakeholders live, work, and play in.

    Our vision is for every business, every Texan, to participate in conservation and for Texas to be a model of collaborative conservation for the world.

    Texan by Nature’s Conservation Wrangler program accelerates the very best Texan-led conservation projects in the state. 2023 TxN Conservation Wrangler, Texas Chenier Plain Restoration Effort, exemplifies how collaboration between conservation and industry can pave the way for the future of conservation. 

    Each year, Texan by Nature selects up to six projects to support with 18 months of tailored support in the form of program management, strategic planning, marketing messaging, metrics capture and analysis, professional content production, and partnership development – whatever is needed to accelerate the project. Applications for the 2024 program cycle are open and close on January 31, 2024. We recommend reviewing the webpage and application, taking the eligibility quiz, and reading this blog before applying. Contact programs@texanbynature.org for questions. 

    1Land Degradation: refers to the process by which the quality of the land declines, making it less suitable for its intended use or natural functions. This degradation can result from factors like deforestation, overgrazing, improper agricultural practices, and urbanization.

    2Coastal Restoration: refers to enhancing or improving the health of the coast, like beaches and shorelines. It involves activities to bring back natural features and ecosystems, such as planting vegetation, restoring sand dunes, or protecting habitats. The goal is to make the coastal areas healthier and more resilient to things like erosion and storms.

  5. Conservation Wrangler Journey: Texas Longleaf Team

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    Texan by Nature’s mission is to advance conservation.
    One way we accomplish our mission is through our 18-month accelerator program, Conservation Wrangler. Each year, we select up to six of the best projects in Texas that are led by conservation organizations and that positively benefit people, our economic prosperity, and natural resources. Once selected, a Texan by Nature Program Manager, like Caitlin Tran or Kenzie Cherniak, works with each organization on their project, supporting needs such as strategic planning, marketing and messaging, metrics capture and analysis, partnership development, creation of professionally produced videos, and more. Check out our blog, Texan by Nature’s Accelerator Program: Conservation Wrangler, to learn more and see examples of the ways we support Conservation Wranglers.

    The work that we do in the Conservation Wrangler program lasts far beyond the promised 18-months. We create sustainable strategies, collateral, and processes that result in tangible outcomes like partnerships and funding well beyond our hands-on work with the project. One example of this is our work with 2021 Conservation Wrangler, Texas Longleaf Team (TLT).

    Longleaf Pine [Left]: Day after prescribed burn [Right]: 6 months after prescribed burn

    The Texas Longleaf Team has benefited greatly from the cooperation with Texan by Nature to develop the ROC Index. It’s helped us better explain the impacts of our work in terms of ESG. Our Team has received close to $1M of unexpected corporate funding through this effort, supporting over 2,000 acres of ecosystem restoration. We also recognize the card as a model for communicating the impacts of ecosystem restoration for sister efforts throughout the Southeast.

    –JENNY SANDERS, NATURAL RESOURCE PROJECT CONTRACTOR, TEXAS LONGLEAF TEAM

    TLT is a group of individuals, organizations, and agencies that share a passion for the longleaf pine. Together, they work to restore longleaf pine ecosystems on private and public forestlands in the state of Texas. From April 2021 to October 2022, we worked with the Texas Longleaf Team to achieve the following:

    • Utilized GIS to develop a map of the longleaf pine restoration area and overlaid the map with location data for private landowner and businesses to identify priority areas for expanding TLT’s network of partners
    • Quantified the social, economic, and environmental benefits of longleaf pine restoration through the creation of the Return on Conservation™ Index. This allowed for the diversification of funding for cost-sharing with landowners to fuel increased longleaf pine restoration and management on private land in East Texas.
    • Enhanced media visibility and brand continuity to improve the effectiveness of digital communications for a broader audience.

    Texas Longleaf Team – TxN 2021 Conservation Wrangler from Texan by Nature on Vimeo.

    The quantification of social, economic, and environmental benefits of any conservation project is often a challenge due to gaps in capacity, expertise, and funding that many nonprofits face, but it is imperative to have defendable, science-based data to garner funding.

    To address this challenge, Texan by Nature created the Return on Conservation™ Index or ROC™ Index to easily communicate conservation impact as a global sustainability strategy. The ROC™ Index maps the impacts of conservation projects to a standardized goal framework that is followed by most corporate stakeholders, which are the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, or UN SDGs. To quantify economic benefits, we collaborated with ecosystem service valuation experts, EcoMetrics.
    We piloted the ROC™ Index with TLT to calculate the ecosystem service benefits and associated economic valuation for restoring longleaf pine. Before the creation of the ROC™ Index, TLT had some quantifiable metrics such as acres restored, trees planted, and landowners involved. With the ROC™ Index we were able to layer in water captured/filtered, carbon sequestered, AND the economic value of TLT’s overall impact. Learn more about how TLT’s ROC™ Index was created in this blog. 

     In 2022, Jenny Sanders, TLT Coordinator, identified a project opportunity with a landowner in Trinity County, and our team estimated the volumetric water benefits in collaboration with Dr. Matt McBroom at Stephen F. Austin State University. 

    Using the ROC™ Index as the foundation, we created a funding proposal, and in collaboration with Bonneville Environmental Foundation, identified a group of funders through our statewide initiative, the Texas Water Action Collaborative (TxWAC).

    On June 27th, 2023, we announced the funding of this project, Brushy Creek, by The Coca-Cola Foundation, Silk (a Danone North America brand), Google, Meta, and Microsoft. These funders all came together to collaboratively invest $972,000 to restore 2,000 acres of longleaf pine forest. Learn more about Brushy Creek.

    The Conservation Wrangler program provided tremendous assistance to our organization. We are now better equipped with strategies that will help us engage more landowners, acquire new and diversified funding sources, and increase our overall impact in restoring the critically- important longleaf pine ecosystem in Southeast Texas.

    –HUGHES SIMPSON, TEXAS A&M FOREST SERVICE, TEXAS LONGLEAF TEAM

    Through data, when you show the value of local conservation as a component of global sustainability strategy, conservation organizations can expand their funding pool, that’s the goal of all of Texan by Nature’s programs – to increase the size of the pie for our natural resources that support the health of our economy and communities.

    Our work with the Texas Longleaf Team is just the tip of the iceberg for what’s possible through our programs, because the opportunities are truly endless.

    In 2024, we will continue our journey with a new cohort of Conservation Wranglers. Applications are now open and closed on January 31, 2024. Learn more and contact programs@texanbynature.org for questions. 

  6. Creating a Return on Conservation Index: Hives for Heroes

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    Texas is a leader in many areas. We lead the nation in oil and gas production, the number of farms and ranches, and the number of Fortune 500 companies. Our state also boasts the highest population of veterans, with about 1.5 million veterans calling Texas home as of 2021. Nevertheless, the transition from military service to civilian life can pose a significant challenge for many service members.

    Hives for Heroes (HfH) is a military veteran non-profit organization that promotes honey bee conservation and a healthy transition from service. The goal of Hives for Heroes is to facilitate healthy relationships with a purpose by fostering a lifetime hobby of beekeeping. In 2022, Hives for Heroes was selected to participate in Texan by Nature’s Conservation Wrangler accelerator program. Through our work with HfH, we determined that the organization would benefit from the quantification of the social, economic, and environmental benefits of the project.

    This type of reporting is helpful for conservation organizations when approaching corporate partners and potential funders. When industry partners invest in conservation, they are looking for organizations to make the business case- Why should they invest? What are the economic and environmental impacts of their investment? How does their investment align with their sustainability strategy?

    To authenticate the economic and environmental impact highlighted by the conservation index, TxN worked with third-party economic evaluation experts, EcoMetrics, ensuring values were unbiased and met current industry standards.

    Lesson Learned: Corporate Campus Case Study

    Through working with Hives for Heroes, we saw a unique opportunity to highlight the impact created through their corporate hive program. Hives for Heroes works with local beekeepers to place bee hives on corporate campuses, maintain them, and use them as educational demonstration sites for employees. The Hives for Heroes Return on Conservation Index was created as a case study example to illustrate the environmental, social, and economic impact this program has on the local community. During this partnership, our goal is to show the benefits and bring awareness to the opportunities offered in working with Hives for Heroes.

    Local Conservation for Global ESG Strategy

    According to a 2022 survey, 68% of global consumers were inclined to apply for and accept jobs from companies they considered environmentally sustainable. Of these 16,000 respondents in 10 countries, only 21% considered their current employers to be sustainable. To mitigate the risk of losing talent, companies can engage in local conservation projects like HfH’s corporate bee hive program. The multi-faceted benefits of investing in local conservation deliver more than just positive community relations. In the example of the HfH corporate apiary, 500 employees benefited from the stress relieving opportunities of dedicated outdoor space, 5 veterans that managed the hives benefitted from $100K in mental health services cost avoidance and local agriculture benefited at a value of $33K in pollination services provided by the bees.

    Engaging in local conservation embodies the essence of effective corporate ESG strategies–collaborative efforts, natural resource conservation, social responsibility and long-term sustainability. The TxN Return on Conservation (ROC) Index makes reporting these investments simple by demonstrating the global sustainable development goals the investment addresses, the high-level economic and environmental impact of the project, and the reporting standards used to achieve these metrics. This level of data-backed reporting and multi-faceted approach to environmental sustainability can be a magnet for attracting and retaining talent.

    Replication Opportunities

    Additionally, conservation organizations can learn from Hives for Heroes’ decision to scope their alignment to the UN SDG goals in a way that highlights the benefit of participating in or supporting a specific program within the organization. When businesses invest in local conservation projects, the returns are realized by both people and the planet in the form of ecosystem services, jobs created, costs avoided, education received, and more.

    If you’re interested in reviewing the Texan by Nature Return on Conservation Index for Hives for Heroes or other local conservation projects, click here.

  7. Bringing Baffin Back- Conservation Communication

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    Science-based conservation is a driver of economic prosperity that is in balance with a healthy environment. In efforts across the state, conservation organizations look to share the progress and results with the local communities they impact to demonstrate the value of conservation efforts. However, there can be a major communication barrier. Conservation leaders have deep technical knowledge in their field and share scientific resources and analyses about the actions they are taking toward positive change, but this is often not widely understood by the general public. 2022 Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler, Bringing Baffin Back (BBB), faces a similar challenge as they execute multi-year, watershed-scale restoration, and conservation projects, impacting over 85,000 South Texas residents. 

    Baffin Bay and the lands that surround the bay are economically and culturally important to South Texas. Its iconic ancient reefs, built over thousands of years by tiny tube-dwelling serpulid worms, attract anglers from near and far. Baffin Bay’s salty waters have traditionally supported world-class fishing and critical seagrass habitat, but this once pristine bay has become less healthy over time.

    Bringing Baffin Back engages local citizen conservationists, anglers, and lifetime residents who understand the importance of protecting the bay’s water quality, quantity, and wildlife habitat. In 2013, Bringing Baffin Back enlisted citizen scientists, and members of the general public who become trained in data collection, to understand the status of water quality in the bay. From that data, BBB was able to confirm the declining trend of water quality and launch the initiative, proposing scientific projects to address these challenges.

    Through the Conservation Wrangler program, Texan by Nature worked with Bringing Baffin Back to develop an interactive story map to communicate the goals and progress of the initiative in a digestible way for a number of audiences. Story maps use Geographic Information System (GIS) tools to combine geospatial data with photos, video, audio, and text to visualize a theme or sequential events. Story maps are great tools for nontechnical audiences to engage with and learn about projects through a one-stop-shop of information. Scroll through the story map below or click here to learn all about the Bringing Back Initiative:

    Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler is an accelerator program that catalyzes the very best Texan-led conservation projects occurring in the state. Story maps are one of the many deliverables that can be produced through the Conservation Wrangler program. To learn more and see when applications open each year visit: https://texanbynature.org/programs/conservation-wrangler/

  8. Texan by Nature’s Accelerator Program: Conservation Wrangler

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    Conservation Wrangler Program

    Conservation Wrangler is an accelerator program that catalyzes the very best Texan-led conservation projects in the state. Selected projects are research-based and demonstrate a positive return on conservation for people, prosperity, and natural resources.

    Return on Conservation™: The return realized by investing in conservation encompassing positive financial, people, and natural resource impact.

    2021 Conservation Wrangler San Antonio Zoo’s Horned Lizard Reintroduction Project.

    Each year, organizations with ongoing conservation projects have the opportunity to submit Conservation Wrangler applications that are scored against a wide range of criteria with an emphasis on proven environmental, economic, and human impacts. Texan by Nature looks for applications that benefit Texans’ quality of life, economic growth, and natural resources in equal measures. Projects can focus on many natural resources such as wildlife, land, and water and be based in any Texas geography from urban to rural.

    During each program cycle, Texan by Nature selects up to six Conservation Wrangler projects to support with 18 months of program management, strategic planning, marketing messaging, metrics capture and analysis, professional content production, partnership development, and more. Each project has specific support needs and Texan by Nature develops a custom program plan with actionable goals to meet those needs and accelerate the project. 

    2018 Conservation Wrangler McDonald Observatory’s Dark Skies Initiative works to mitigate light pollution.

    Additionally, ALL Conservation Wrangler programs receive:

    • 12-18 months of tailored support
    • Recognition and certificate
    • Promotion via social media, newsletters, blogs, websites, etc.
    • Professional content production in the form of videos, collateral, and messaging
    • Program management and impact reporting
    • Monthly media roundup
    • Inclusion in partner program
    • Connections to technical, expert, and industry support
    • Recognition and participation in Texan by Nature’s annual Conservation Summit
    2022 Conservation Wrangler Hives for Heroes connects veterans to hives and beekeeping training.

    STRATEGIC PLANNING

    For conservation nonprofits, it is imperative to have a strong mission, vision, and strategy for conducting business. A strategic plan lays the foundation for broad organizational structure, allows a leadership team to set and keep track of measurable goals, and provides direction and guidance during the decision-making process. Additionally, a strategic plan is a great asset to share with staff and board members to ensure organization-wide alignment and prepare for growth. Refining goals, setting priorities, and creating a future plan are all ways that Texan by Nature helps our Conservation Wranglers think strategically about their project.

    • Texan by Nature acted in an advisory capacity on the Texas Children in Nature Network Strategic Plan during their participation as a Conservation Wrangler in 2020.
    • In 2022, Texan by Nature developed a comprehensive Strategic Planning framework that  allows organizations to understand all of the components that make up their strategy, empowering staff to create a plan without the need to hire an outside consulting firm. TxN is currently working with our 2022 Conservation Wranglers to develop useful strategic planning documents that aid in advancing their mission.
    2021 Conservation Wrangler Texas Children in Nature emphasizes equal access to outdoor opportunities.

    MARKETING AND MESSAGING

    Once a project or organization develops a clear vision and goals, our focus shifts to spreading that message across the state. Texan by Nature helps Conservation Wrangler projects build out an effective marketing strategy – from determining the right way to message your intentions, to curating a list of outreach targets and developing unique deliverables. We also provide social media strategy support, Some examples of the work we have done in collaboration with our CW projects on marketing and messaging include: 

    Conservation Wrangler Videos tell the story of a project, highlight the positive impacts, and explain existing ways to support it. We provide each CW with a five-minute full-length video, as well as a 30s and 60s cut. These assets are debuted at the Conservation Summit and are then made available to the project to share on social media, send to potential donors, and post anywhere else they see fit. 

     

    Texan by Nature also provides each Conservation Wrangler project with a comprehensive one-pager to provide background on the project, highlight the positive impacts on people, prosperity, and natural resources, and outline existing ways to support it. This document is printed for the Conservation Summit and also provided to each project for distribution to whomever they choose.

    To help Conservation Wranglers refine their messaging and ensure it is consistent across all assets, Texan by Nature can help projects create a unique comprehensive Style Guide. Style guides encompass the organization or project’s brand language and image. The “style” represents how the project or organization is perceived by partners, landowners, Texans, industry, and others. This guide is to be used internally by the project and partners to ensure clarity, unity, and consistency when using programmatic language and graphics. 

    CW projects may require additional support in developing materials that tell the story of their work. Texan by Nature is skilled in GIS content production and able to produce high-quality project area maps, as well as detailed Story Maps that guide the audience through a series of curated maps, quotations, and photos.

    FUNDRAISING AND PARTNERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

    Conservation nonprofits rely heavily on fundraising efforts and sponsorship opportunities to fund their work. It takes time and relationship-building to curate a diverse network of donors and partners. Texan by Nature aids our Conservation Wranglers by advising them on how to build this network for themselves based on their unique location and mission. The Conservation Wrangler program does not provide funding to projects.

    Fundraising support conducted through the Conservation Wrangler program consists of assistance in the curation of outreach materials, lists and targets, professional content creation, strategic support and planning, and more. 

    Royal Terns in Matagorda Bay, site of 2021 Conservation Wrangler Audubon Texas’ work

    IMPACT MEASUREMENT

    Texan by Nature’s mission is to advance conservation. We help our Conservation Wranglers by capturing and analyzing metrics, creating case studies and model expansion statements, as well as producing deliverables that align project directives with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). Examples of impact measurement include: 

    Learn more about our ROC™ Index work here: https://texanbynature.org/roc-index/.

    EDUCATION

    Many of our Conservation Wranglers focus on a specific species, ecoregion, or ecosystem. To achieve its goals, a project’s target audience must first have an understanding of the topic, which then creates an interest in support. Texan by Nature helps Conservation Wranglers develop educational materials that encourage greater community engagement and provide more transparency and credibility to the project. Some examples include:

    Pine warbler in Longleaf Pine.

    Since the inception of the Conservation Wrangler program in 2017, Texan by Nature has supported 23 unique projects across the state, elevating their conservation work. Through this program, TxN has accelerated efforts impacting 7+ million people, 20 million acres, and all of Texas’ 254 counties.

    Visit our website to read more about the specific impacts of each Conservation Wrangler project. 

    Please contact programs@texanbynature.org if you would like to support a Conservation Wrangler project, provide resources or connections, are interested in applying to the Conservation Wrangler program, or would like to learn more.

  9. Conservation Wrangler Case Study: Paso del Norte

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    The Paso del Norte Trail (PDN), a trail network spanning across El Paso County promoting an active lifestyle and natural resource conservation, was selected as a Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler in 2020. During each Conservation Wrangler program cycle, Texan by Nature provides up to 6 Texan projects that benefit people prosperity, and natural resources with 12-18 months of tailored support in the form of program management, strategic planning, marketing messaging, metrics capture and analysis, professional content production, and partnership development – whatever is needed to accelerate the project. The following blog showcases highlights from the Paso del Norte Trail Case Study, complied by Texan by Nature as part of he Conservation Wrangler program to demonstrate the benefits of the PDN trail as well as outline opportunities for expansion.

    Project Description

    Serving a population of 2.7 million in the region between El Paso and their sister city Juarez, Mexico, the Paso del Norte Trail has the vision to improve environmental, economic, and public health conditions for Texans and our neighbors across the border in Mexico.

    This project is a community-driven, collaborative effort to develop a county-wide trail in El Paso County. The roughly 68–mile span of the PDN Trail is divided into five distinct districts, each defined by their unique geographical, historical, and cultural contexts. The PDN Trail provides essential transportation routes for community members to businesses, parks, and downtown areas, including the University of Texas at El Paso, Ascarate Park, the University Medical Center, and the El Paso Zoo. Connector trails and loops provide additional access to natural areas and outdoor spaces, such as the Franklin Mountains State Park and the Rio Grande River. The PDN trail network includes designated hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, as well as ADA accessible paved trails in high-traffic and rural areas.

    PDN trails cover a range of terrain from natural surface to paved paths in high-traffic areas.

    Key Points

    In addition to the economic and social benefits provided by the PDN trail, the trail network benefits wildlife in the area by preserving and restoring habitat, including bat houses that can provide shelter for up to 1,200 bats, and habitats designed for nesting Burrowing Owl mothers and their owlets. In the water-stressed Chihuahuan Desert, the PDN uses water-harvesting practices like bioswales and curb breaks to efficiently use water on-site. Irrigation canals along the PDN, which convey water from the Rio Grande to farmers, and bioswales, which recharge underground water reservoirs, are particularly important as 50% of El Paso’s drinking water comes from the Rio Grande itself, with the other 50% sourced from the Hueco-Mesilla Bolson Aquifer. As populations on both sides of the border grow along with demand on water resources, protection and conservation of water resources are top priorities for the PDN Trail.

    “The Paso del Norte Trail is the next step in the evolution of our great city. It will bring connectivity to our entire city, it will foster economic growth, and be an amenity to everyone that comes here, visits here, and lives here.” – Marybeth Stevens, President, Better Business Bureau, El Paso

    Project Impact Results

    • Serves a population of 2.7 million in the region between El Paso and their sister city Juarez, Mexico 
    • Provides the community with connections to businesses, attractions, parks, downtown areas, recreational activities, outdoor spaces, and historic landmarks. 
    • Includes environmentally-friendly amenities such as pollinator-friendly and native plant species, green infrastructure, stormwater drainage systems, and solar-powered energy.
    • Economically benefits the community through increased profits at local businesses, decreased public health costs, improved transportation options, the interconnectedness between the city and nature, and elevated property values.
    • Provides access to landmarks such as the Franklin Mountains and the Rio Grande River from the PDN Trail for all ages and abilities.
    • Installations at the Playa Drain Trailhead and Vocation Pond Park provide habitat for 1,200 bats and burrowing owl habitats for nesting mothers and their owlets.

     

    Accomplishments and Innovations:

    • Over 20 miles of the planned 60+ miles are complete and open to the public as of 2021
    • As of 2021, the PdN Trail saw 141 volunteers donate 300 hours of time at over 20 events, including planting 115 trees.
      • TxDOT and the PdN trail collaborated to install trail counters in 2021, helping gain insight on actual trail usage along the Playa Drain Trail, strengthening the case for the trail to funders and the public.

    Model Expansion

    The PDN trail is a prime example of a communal recreational space that positively contributes to the well-being of the environment, community, and natural resources. Whether the intent is to build a small nature trail around a neighborhood or to construct a binational trail spanning for miles, a strategic, exhaustive, and collaborative plan must be created.

    To see how other trails developed over time, visit these sites for examples of Texan trails of varying sizes:  Spring Creek Nature Trail, River Place Nature Trail, Barton Creek Greenbelt, and Santa Elena Canyon Trail

    Implementation of the PDN trail and its accompanying initiatives is ongoing, as will public outreach tasks such as brand awareness and community involvement.

    Contact Information

    Contact Texan by Nature at info@texanbynature.org or email: health@pdnhf.org

    Website: https://www.pasodelnortetrail.org/

     

     

  10. Learning What it Takes to be a Cadet at Texas Brigades

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    Texas Brigades is a non-profit organization that is recognized for its summer camps that provide hands-on education and leadership experiences to the next generation of conservation stewards. Brigade camps span various topics such as white-tail deer, to waterfowl, to the Texas coast, to highlight the diversity of natural resources in Texas. Brigade camps connect participants to conservation and stewardship by capturing the variable interests among its young participants. Texas Brigades was a 2020 Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler where the TxN team worked directly with Brigades to push various initiatives forward. We were able to work together to begin short and long-term impact measurement, increase media awareness, and reach new communities of campers during our partnership.

    At a Texas Brigades camp, there are various levels of participants, from campers (or cadets) to leadership positions such as assistant leaders. Assistant leaders are previous-year cadets who have been selected to lead a team of peers/cadets at the next battalion of camp (the following summer). Assistant leaders offer advice, motivate, and help their team of cadets during and after camp. To become an assistant leader, cadet graduates are encouraged to use the skills and knowledge they gained at camp to spread the word about conservation. A Book of Accomplishments, or BOA, is a record of all the post-camp events and activities a Texas Brigades cadet has completed in the name of conservation advocacy. There are many categories and activities graduates can complete, showcasing the different avenues one can take to share conservation knowledge and values with others. One opportunity outlined for aspiring assistant leaders is an interview with like-minded organizations. We had the pleasure of chatting with Brynna Malley, a cadet from the Waterfowl Brigade, about her driving passion for land stewardship and wetland conservation in Texas.

    Q: Tell me about yourself.

    A: My name is Brynna Malley and I’m seventeen years old. My brother and I have been homeschooled by my mom since kindergarten. I recently started taking my dual credit classes through our local community college this year.

    I live on a 13-acre ranch in Boerne with my mom and brother. We have two horses at home with our dogs and chickens. I’ve been riding horses for over twelve years, and I’m training with my horse right now to hopefully go to the Junior Olympics next fall, which is big and really exciting.

    It was my first time at summer camp this year at Texas Brigades Waterfowl camp. I hadn’t heard about them until November of last year, so I’m really excited to be working with them. It’s opened a lot of opportunities for jobs in the future in conservation, which is really great.

    Q: How has Texas Brigades impacted you not only as a leader, but also as a conservation steward?

    A: It’s really shown me that if there’s no risk, there’s no reward. Before I went to Brigade camp, I knew that I wanted a job in conservation. I’m thinking about becoming a Texas Game Warden, so I decided to go back next year and fulfill my BOA. I learned that putting myself out there not only helps me, but also helps bring awareness of conservation to all people. I’ve seen a lot of kids come to see me speak about Texas Brigades and they get that same spark in their eyes as I do when they get talking about conservation.

    It has taught me that leadership is not just about you, it’s a partnership. A lot of cadets, who are also friends and assistant leaders of mine from camp, still help me today with everything. Texas Brigades has taught me that it takes a village to build a really great community amongst people.

    Q: How do you feel that you are able to impact people due to your experiences at Texas Brigades?

    A: The impact is most clear to me when I am talking about camp to other kids about how I have put myself out there. It’s really helped me with not only my leadership skills, but also my knowledge in conservation. I know my projects have brought forward a lot of people who have been interested in them and like to tell their stories, which is so awesome. It’s helped me learn a lot about conservation, preservation of land, and all sorts of other resources. Conservation is not just about saving the land for the people, but it’s about saving the planet and animals and all the resources we have.

    Q: Texans have a historical connection to the land. How has this camp deepened your connection to the land?

    A: Prior to going to camp, I had a passion for law enforcement. One of my backup plans was to even to be a SWAT officer. But when I went to camp, all the instructors were passionately teaching campers about the land, how it provides for us, and how it gives back when we treat it right. You don’t realize how much work goes into the fields you drive by every day. You don’t realize how hard we must work to help our land give to us. It really helped my connection with the land on a personal level because I realized just how much our land means to us, and how much we can effect it.

    For example, a lot of people see a grassy field and take it for granted. Now when I look out on a grassy field, I see the hours and hours of hard work producers put into managing that land and managing the soil and water. It really gives you a whole new perspective of the nature you see when you go out every day.

    Q: What was the most impactful moment from camp?

    A: The most impactful moments from camp came from talking to the instructors. They all took the time and dedication to answer all of my questions and give me a lot of advice. It’s kind of scary when going to college and you don’t know what field you want to study. A lot of the instructors were helpful in telling me how important it is to find my passion in life and ways to help me find those passions. Going to camp, I realized that my passion is conservation of the land and teaching people how to connect to it and the animals. The people at camp made me realize who I wanted to be.

    Wetland Conservation

    Q: What initially interested you in wetland conservation?

    A: I’m a duck hunter. Before I went to camp, I took the beauty and complexity of the sport for granted. It was a misconception to see ducks and assume that they’re always around. At camp, we learned about wetlands and why 50 percent of them are degraded, why we need to help these environments, and why so much of the wetland environment needs human support. It is rare to find a wetland environment that can sustain itself. That made a really big impact on me. I not only want this habitat to stay on earth, but I want it to be there for the next generation of hunters and children who are interested in conservation.

    Q: What types of animals and plants rely on these wetlands?

    A: Hydrophytic plants, meaning that some vegetation is completely submerged in water, some is rooted in the water but rises above the water, and some live right along the banks of the water, are the main types of vegetation. Those types of vegetation are important as they aerate the water, keep the water healthy, and give the water the necessary level of oxygen for invertebrates to use. There are microorganisms that live in the water, and alligators, snakes, and fish. There are so many species of bugs, especially mosquitos. And of course, waterfowl. Additionally, deer rely on wetland habitats a lot. There are so many other animals that rely on wetland habitats, such as owls and coyotes. The list just goes on and on for the homes it creates for animals.

    Q: What makes these wetlands important to Texas?

    A: Wetlands serve as hurricane buffers. Winnie, Texas is home to a lot of large coastal wetlands. When the hurricane happened earlier this year it helped the community that the water was close to the ocean. Within about two days, the water had drained out because the wetland took the water away from Winnie and dumped it back into the ocean.

    The freshwater and deep-water wetlands that exist further inland provide a water source for plants and animals, not just humans. Sometimes we don’t take into consideration that there are other animals that need a water source. It also serves as a habitat for fish to procreate and to help our population levels. Also, they encourage so much biodiversity. They’re a good thing to have. It’s a benefit to our environment and to our communities.

    Q: Waterfowls are hunted in these wetlands. Why is hunting important for us to continue to do in Texas?

    A: Waterfowl hunting helps with population and disease control. Also, we’re able to provide food on the table. For some, it’s historical for them to go hunting as it has been around for so many years.

    Also, hunting is a great community to bring people together. As a child who grew up hunting, I’m so grateful for what it gave me. Some of my fondest memories are from hunting when I was a little kid. A lot of these wetlands provide the waterfowl we’re looking to hunt. When you’re out in a wetland hunting, you’re given the opportunity to observe the ecosystem and what’s happening. You’re also able to see the habits of the waterfowl, and it’s a helpful way to see what has changed and is currently changing. Many hunters contribute a lot to surveys from Texas Parks and Wildlife to keep track of these birds, maintain large datasets for the state to work from.

    Q: What are some best practices that a private landowner could adopt if they had wetlands to preserve or even enhance them?

    A: A lot of people don’t realize that wetland management and wetland conservation are a bit easier than it seems. You can hire organizations that will survey your property and help you develop a management plan, such as Ducks Unlimited. If you want to do it yourself, the biggest thing is a water management and enhancement plan. If you don’t have water, you don’t have a wetland. For example, a watershed enhancement plan involves collecting runoff and rerouting the water back to the wetland. It helps raise some landowners’ water levels from six inches to over a foot. Then, you’re not having to pay to bring water into the wetland. Habitat management, which includes soil and water management, is one of the most popular strategies as it combines both habitat and water management and saves time and money. A habitat management plan ensures that water levels and soil quality are healthy to provide for the plants and animals in the wetland. It all depends on the landowners’ preference and land.

    Q: Besides landowners, what can the public do to protect the land?

    A: Don’t pollute! If you’re outside, pick up your trash. When you have plastic and other trash in a wetland, the materials break down and release toxic chemicals into the soil, killing plants and animals. Also, you can always volunteer if that is something you’re interested in. If you know someone who lives near a wetland, you can help with water conservation by building rainwater runoff barrels for watershed enhancement plans. There are many ways to get involved. You need to be mindful about your environment and what you’re taking out and putting into the environment.

    You can volunteer with Texas Brigades by joining its volunteer registry year-round: https://www.texasbrigades.org/volunteers/

    Or by applying as an Adult Leader to join one of the nine camps throughout the summer:
    https://www.texasbrigades.org/applications/

    If you have any questions, or would like to get involved with Texan by Nature, contact us at info@texanbynature.org. If you would like to get involved with Texas Brigades, contact Natalie Wolff at natalie@texasbrigades.org

    Texas Brigades provides educational programming and leadership development for adolescents through three conservation-driven, statewide programs: Summer Camps, Experiences, and Wildlife Intensive Leadership Development (W.I.L.D). Through these programs, Texas Brigades molds over 300 youth leaders each year, with participants coming from over 1,000 communities across Texas. Participants leave with a connection to the land, informed and ready to make conservation a life-long passion. Learn more at texasbrigades.org and follow them on social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)

  11. Conservation Wrangler Case Study: Exploration Green

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    Exploration Green Conservancy was selected as a Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler in 2020. During each Conservation Wrangler program cycle, Texan by Nature provides up to 6 projects with 12-18 months of tailored support in the form of program management, strategic planning, marketing messaging, metrics capture and analysis, professional content production, and partnership development – whatever is needed to accelerate the project. The following blog showcases highlights from the Exploration Green Case Study: Integrated, Solution-Oriented Urban Green Space that is a result and deliverable of Exploration Green Conservancy’s involvement in Texan by Nature’s Conservation Wrangler program.

    In highly industrialized areas across Texas and the United States, mass development has rendered once beneficial urban infrastructure obsolete. Many opportunities for creating urban green space exist through repurposing underutilized urban infrastructure. For example, dedicated groups in Houston, Texas, are transforming a defunct golf course into an integrated stormwater detention center, recreation space, and conservation area. This project, Exploration Green, provides critical ecosystem services tailored to this region’s needs, receiving an outpouring of community support.

    Underutilized urban infrastructure, such as neglected neighborhood parks or former golf courses, presents an opportunity for reclamation into urban green space for conservation, native habitat, and community resilience. Ecosystem services provided by urban green space strengthen both ecological and human community resilience. These ecosystem services can include carbon sequestration, pollution reduction, cooler temperatures, stormwater mitigation, water purification, groundwater replenishment, and restoration of native habitat. Green space also helps its nearby residents by encouraging physical activity, supporting psychological well-being, and increasing property values.

    Exploration Green presents a model example of a collaboratively-designed and community-executed urban green space, solving a myriad of local issues, ranging from environmental to economic.

    Project Description

    In Southeast Houston, dedicated groups are transforming a defunct golf course into an innovative stormwater detention center. Exploration Green provides an integrated, natural solution for catastrophic seasonal flooding, holding up to 500-million gallons of stormwater while also serving as a nature preserve and recreation area. Located near the NASA Johnson Space Center, this 200-acre urban green space provides the community with countless opportunities to explore, offering 40 acres of both wetlands and permanent lakes providing a home to over 1,000 native species.

    Exploration Green is a joint project of The Exploration Green Conservancy (EGC) and Clear Lake City Water Authority. EGC is a volunteer-driven nonprofit dedicated to the protection and enhancement of Exploration Green – a permanently-protected, 200-acre green space for conservation, recreation, and flood mitigation in Southeast Houston.

    Highlights

    • Urban green space takes many forms, such as community gardens, community forests, green roofs, wetlands, and green schoolyards
    • Ecosystem services provided by urban green space include carbon sequestration, pollution reduction, cooler temperatures, stormwater mitigation, water purification, groundwater replenishment, and restoration of native habitat
    • Beyond environmental benefits, green space encourages physical activity, supports psychological well-being, and increases property values for nearby
    • Nature-based solutions provided by urban green space help to build environmental resilience and integrity
    • Exploration Green has provided critical ecosystem services tailored to regional needs, including flood mitigation and native wildlife habitat restoration
    • Exploration Green presents a model example of a collaboratively-designed and community-executed urban green space, solving a myriad of local issues, ranging from environmental to economic
    • The partially completed project protected at least 150 homes during Hurricane Harvey and completely mitigated flooding during Imelda. When complete, the project will protect over 200 area homes and businesses during a 15+ inch rain event

      Before Hurricane Harvey (above left), during Hurricane Harvey (above right)

    Project Impact Numbers

    Community:

    • 500-million-gallons of stormwater detention
    • 1,000 community volunteers donating 20,000+ hours (current total as of August 2021)
    • Recreation and education for more than 500,000 individuals in Southeast Houston
    • 6 miles of paved trails
    • 2 athletic practice fields

    Economic:

    • $300 million saved from flood damages caused by all 8+ inches of rainfall in a 15-year period
    • $120 million increase in property values for the community

    Conservation:

    • 200-acres of urban greenspace
    • 150,000 wetland plants providing stormwater filtration and carbon sequestration
    • 40-acres of both wetlands and permanent lakes
    • 5,000 native trees
    • 1,000+ native insects, plants, and wildlife species

    Community Partners:

    Exploration Green formed from the vision of community members and continues to flourish due to their ongoing support. Exploration Green has over 1,000 recurring volunteers that have donated over 20,000+ hours of their time (current total as of August 2021). Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds help control costs and maintain community support for the project. The Conservancy works to engage volunteers for both planting and land upkeep, but also operational tasks via committees, such as fundraising, outreach, amenities, finance, and events.

    Volunteers planting trees at Exploration Green (above)

    Model Expansion

    Exploration Green Conservancy has extensive experience, expertise, and great enthusiasm for groups that may aspire to create an urban green space in their community. This project is worthy of replication, and EGC looks forward to sharing knowledge, best practices, and lessons learned with others aiming to execute a similar project, whether it be for a nature-based flood mitigation space, an urban wildlife habitat, or anything in between. Check out the full case study to learn more about Exploration Green’s process on pages 10-22.

    Learn even more about Exploration Green on their Conservation Wrangler page and at www.explorationgreen.org!

  12. Texas Longleaf Team: How Fire Makes A Forest

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    The Texas Longleaf Team was selected as a Texan by Nature 2021 Conservation Wrangler based on the project’s positive impact to people, prosperity, and natural resources. Through this partnership, TLT hopes to bring a broader awareness to the need for collaboration between industry and conservation organizations to fuel sustainable efforts across the state.

    Through the program, Texan by Nature and TLT are working together to diversify funding and cost-sharing opportunities to fuel increased longleaf pine restoration on public and private land, expand TLT’s network of partners in longleaf pine significant restoration areas, quantify the social, economic, and environmental benefits of longleaf pine restoration, and enhance media visibility and brand continuity to improve the effectiveness of digital communications for a broader audience. TxN and TLT are excited to work together while fueling each other’s missions of expanding the awareness of conservation efforts across the state.

    What is Longleaf Pine?

    Longleaf pine is an evergreen conifer that was named for having the longest leaves of the eastern pine species. The needlelike leaves, which come in bundles of three, can grow up to 18 inches long. Longleaf pine seeds develop in cones and are dispersed by wind. When they fall to the ground, they must come in contact with soil to germinate. Historically, leaf litter and debris were cleared away by forest fires that were sparked during lightning storms. When the leaf litter is cleared this way, it opens up greater opportunities for longleaf pine seedlings to grow without competition from other species. When fire is suppressed, ground cover buildup prevents seeds from reaching the soil, and they cannot germinate. The seeds that are able to take root undergo an interesting life cycle that differs from most other conifers. Rather than spending its first few years growing in height, the longleaf pine goes through a grass stage.

    grass stage longleaf
    Longleaf pine in the grass stage.

    From the surface, the grass-stage plant appears to be a large clump of needles that grows very slowly and only in small amounts. All the while, the plant is hard at work below the surface. During the grass stage, the longleaf pine starts to develop its central root, called a taproot, which will be up to 12 feet long at maturity. For the tree to grow beyond this grass stage, it needs fire. Once heat is applied, the tree sprouts quickly to five or six feet, its sapling phase. After the grass stage, longleaf pines begin to grow in height. Drawing from soil made nutrient rich from ash, the tree will flourish. Both mature trees and grass-stage seedlings are not only fire-resistant, but dependent on fire to stimulate growth and control competing woody and herbaceous vegetation. The lifespan of a longleaf pine spans several centuries. These slow-growing trees can live for over 300 years and may take up to half that time to reach full size.

    With the rise of westward expansion and technological improvements in transportation and manufacturing in the late-1800s came the loss of millions of acres of the natural wooded grassland ecosystems that dominated the landscape from Texas to Virginia. These wooded grasslands, specifically the longleaf pine ecosystem, are globally important for migratory birds, resident wildlife, a host of rare or declining plants and animals, carbon storage, water filtration, and hold a great amount of cultural significance in East Texas. Less than 2 percent of the original East Texas landscape of longleaf pine remains. The Texas Longleaf Team is a group of individuals, organizations and agencies that share a passion for this iconic species.

    The History of Longleaf Pine in Texas

    Male red-cockaded woodpecker

    Early Southeast Texans found sustenance in these forests in the form of plentiful game, such as deer, turkey, raccoon, and squirrel, and later built their local economies from valuable forest products like lumber and naval stores derived from the sap of pines. Abundance of both game and economic opportunity were unrivaled in the prevalent longleaf pine forests of the area. By the end of the 20th century, these forests were characterized by enormous trees set in a prairie-like understory of diverse native plants.

    Longleaf was once so abundant that it seemed like an inexhaustible resource to early settlers and figured significantly in the industrial forestry of the period, owing to its high quality fiber, huge diameter, and tall, straight bole. Most of the longleaf pine, transported across the country for building materials, was gone by the 1920s. Rather than replanting the longleaf, foresters replaced it with faster-growing pines that would produce greater short-term economic yield.

    Restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem has become a major conservation priority in recent years. More than 30 endangered and threatened species, including red-cockaded woodpeckers and eastern indigo snakes, rely on the longleaf ecosystem for their habitat. Additionally, longleaf pines are more resilient than other southeastern pines. They can withstand severe windstorms, resist pests, tolerate wildfires and drought, and protect water resources.

    How Longleaf Pine is Managed Today

    The historic longleaf pine ecosystem benefitted from natural fire events, many times as a result of lightning strikes and subsequent wildfires. These frequent fires would burn under the trees, cleaning up litter and woody vegetation, and promoting the growth of a highly diverse and beneficial grass and forb plant community. Today, managers utilize prescribed fire to mimic the natural fire cycles that maintained these systems.

    Proper management of the longleaf system can prove beneficial to the ecosystem and economy. The 2013 Forest Ecosystem Services Report generated by Texas A&M Forest Service reports that woodland pine ecosystems in Texas, approximately 9.98 million acres in East Texas, can generate $2,739 per acre per year in ecosystem service benefits, totaling $18.62 billion per year across the ecosystem. Estimated acreage values for water, carbon, biodiversity, and culture within the woodland pine ecosystems are $671.01, $90, $155, and $1,823 per year, respectively. In addition to timber income, private longleaf pine landowners can diversify their profits through utilization of carbon and water offset sales, recreational leases, and other ecosystem service benefit offsets provided at the state or federal level.

    Further research suggests that investing in the maintenance of longleaf pine more effectively sequesters and stores carbon and can protect water resources more effectively than other southern pine species. Scott Phillips, a State Forester of the South Carolina Forestry Commission, writes that working forests, or timberlands, that yield forest products have demonstrated greater carbon sequestration potential over non-working forests. Trees naturally sequester carbon by absorbing it into their mass and roots during photosynthesis, preventing the greenhouse gas from entering and warming the atmosphere. Younger trees are especially efficient at sequestering carbon from the air because they are actively growing and processing CO2 at faster rates than trees that are at maturity.  While larger, older trees may have more carbon stored, young trees sequester more additional carbon, both aspects being very important in addressing climate change.

    unmanaged longleaf
    Unmanaged longleaf forest

    Additionally, the frequent fire in a longleaf forest, stimulates the active growth of native grasses and other herbaceous vegetation in the understory, creating another layer of sequestration that a non-working forest does not produce. Because the South has a larger contingent of private working forest owners than anywhere in the country, Texas and other states are uniquely positioned to lead the way toward net-zero emissions. When a forest is not properly managed, there are associated risks and costs. To the right is a photo of mature longleaf that is in desperate need of fire. In fact, it has been without fire for so long that the landowner is going to need to implement much more expensive practices (herbicide and/or mechanical treatment) in order for it to be conducive to fire.

    Proper management of longleaf pine forests can also keep drinking water safe, reliable, and affordable. America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative reports that healthy, managed forests provide natural filtration of precipitation and stormwater runoff resulting in cleaner water reaching drinking water consumers. This natural filtration lowers treatment costs and enables utilities to avoid building or upgrading expensive treatment infrastructure, keeping water affordable for customers. Compared with other forest types in the South, longleaf pine forest management has distinct benefits for water quality and water yield. Longleaf pine management practices such as prescribed fire and thinning can reduce water demand, increase water yield, and improve water quality over time by retaining nutrients and preventing soil loss. Forest stewardship and protection are important tools to help ensure water quantity and quality. Longleaf pine forests can be part of the solution because they contribute to healthy watersheds and safe and reliable drinking water. These forests also provide many other benefits including forest resiliency, erosion control, flood mitigation, recreation, fish and wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, strong economies and forest markets.

    History of Fire on the Landscape

    Nature and humans have a long history of shaping the longleaf ecosystem and its ecological processes through fire. Natural fires were historically ignited by lightning, beginning in late spring. These fires were typically of low intensity and high frequency, occurring every 2 -5 years on average, depending on available fuels. Native Americans began applying fire over 10,000 years ago to manage the landscape for food and game, medicinal purposes, and many other reasons. For millennia, fires burned across the southeastern landscape until they reached wetlands or until they were extinguished by rain. Today, longleaf forests in the Southeast are fragmented, and various land use changes have altered existing fire patterns. In addition to these physical changes, rhetoric and narrative surrounding the frequent natural fires led the public to believe all forest fires are bad. Due to these changes, prescribed fire is an even more important tool for managing the forest.

    Texas Longleaf Implementation Team
    Forest managers conducting a prescribed burn

    The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas recently reinstated the use of prescribed fire to promote the growth and health of their longleaf pine forests. Pauly Denetclaw of the Texas Observer writes about the importance of longleaf pine to the tribe and how fire has been a part of the historical landscape. Currently, the tribe is working to preserve the forest and grow additional trees on 400 acres of tribal land. In an ecosystem that needs fire much like the Amazon rainforest needs rain, the actions of the tribe could decide the future of the longleaf pine. Longleaf pine doesn’t like competition, so the tree rains pine needles down onto competing shrubs in the hopes of a spark that will turn to flames and take out competitors. The thick bark of the tree is usually unfazed by flame, and the burn patterns of needles on the forest floor—how fire jumps from one pile of needles to the next—shows researchers just how the tree manages competition. The Alabama-Coushatta tribe will continue to do prescribed burns to further their efforts of longleaf restoration and preserve the cultural importance of trees.

    How Does a Burn Work?

    Fires are critical to longleaf pine because it controls competition by removing other woody vegetation that smothers young longleaf pine seedlings and helps control disease that stunts seedling growth. Prescribed fire allows the longleaf pine seedlings to bolt from the grass-stage sooner than they would without fire and overtop the competing vegetation. Landowners with remnant stands as well as brand new plantings of longleaf are implementing prescribed fire throughout East Texas. They know that longleaf pine, fire, and a healthy ecosystem go hand in hand.

    “I like longleaf because I like fire. My main focus on my land is walking through the woods; I love prescribed fire because it makes for beautiful woods to walk through.”

    -Rufus Duncan, Newton County Longleaf Landowner.

    rufus duncan longleaf
    Longleaf pine on Rufus Duncan’s land

    Because restoring fire to a landscape has so many benefits, the hard work by landowners and natural resources managers of East Texas longleaf pine stands has had a significant impact on the region. Fire was commonplace in longleaf pine savannas historically and it is no different in today’s management of new longleaf pine stands.

    “When you account for the 4 National Forests in East Texas, multiple state, federal and tribal partners, private forestry contractors, and individual forest landowners there is an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 acres of prescribed fire occurring annually in this region”

    “Smoke on the horizon has become a welcome sight in many of these piney woods communities. The public now understands the importance of periodic fire to protect them from future wildfires and the restoration of longleaf pine has been a huge asset as we worked to build this fire culture back into our communities.”

    -Andy McCrady, Texas A&M Forest Service- Program Coordinator.

    Fire was commonplace in longleaf pine savannas historically and it is no different in today’s management of new longleaf pine stands. Most new plantings start with a site preparation burn in late summer or fall in conjunction with other activities like herbicide and mechanical vegetation or soil disturbance. Once the trees are in the ground, fire is commonly used the next winter after planting and sometimes for multiple years to control competition and promote stimulation of the vertical growth stage. Once young longleaf begin vertical growth, fire is often carefully applied on a 2 to 3 year rotation that balances control of competition while avoiding damage to vigorously growing terminal buds in mid-spring. Once trees begin to reach larger diameter and undergo regular mechanical thinnings, prescribed fire is utilized in a wider range of seasons and time intervals based on the objectives of the landowner and individual site conditions. A general guideline many land managers use to mimic a natural fire cycle is 18 to 24 month between burns, with a focus on burning between January 1st and June 30th.

    The Texas A&M Forest Service provides informational guides to educate the public and inform landowners on the process of prescribed burns. See the outlined steps here and visit the attached links for detailed information about safely conducting a prescribed burn. It is important to note that in Texas, landowners that utilize the services of a Texas Department of Agriculture- Certified and Insured Prescribed Burn Manager are protected under state law from liability for a prescribed burn on their property.

    longleaf right after burn and 6months later
    Pine Island [Left]: Day after prescribed burn [Right]: 6 months after prescribed burn

    Texas Longleaf Team shares their passion for restoration of the longleaf ecosystem in Texas through landowner and industry outreach and education, technical support, and cost-share programs that assist landowners in implementation of prescribed fire, planting and other beneficial management practices. The mission of TLT is to promote the maintenance and restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem on private and public forestlands, including its cultural and economic values, through a collaborative network of diverse stakeholders and working groups.

    Learn more about the longleaf pine on the Texas Longleaf Landscapes Story Map and Texas Longleaf Team website.

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