What Makes Me Texan By Nature – Abbey Jacks

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  1. What Makes Me Texan By Nature – Abbey Jacks

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    Abbey Jacks as a child hikingI was born in Kingwood, Texas under the huge canopy of loblolly pines native to the Big Thicket of Texas. These trees were the constant background for my childhood quests as my family and I rode our bikes on the greenbelts to school or to my grandparents’ home, and some of my first and most cherished memories are of these kinds of adventures with my parents. My mom was a flight attendant for Continental Airlines (when Continental was independent of United Airlines), and I was incredibly lucky in my childhood to travel far and often. My dad comes from a long line of native Texans and instilled in me a sense of wonder and respect for the land and nature just outside our door; so, despite getting to be on an airplane for most of my childhood, some of my favorite destinations were in my home state.

    One such destination is west Texas, and this area still holds my heart to this day. My childhood is filled with memories of swimming at Balmorhea State Park, star parties at McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, and exploring Big Bend National Park and the ghost town in Terlingua. Anybody will tell you I have always had an affinity for nature and wildlife, but I think it was here in these spaces that I developed my love for all things wild and all things Texan. 

    As I grew, loving wildlife and animals was the driving force for my hobbies, extracurriculars, and goals. I knew I wanted to work to protect animals in their wild habitats thanks to my childhood heroes like Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin.
    Abbey Jacks as a child horseback riding
    My parents (thank you Mom and Dad) helped foster that drive in me, and I grew up tackling the joys and challenges of working with animals such as raising a filly for my 4H Club and riding horses competitively throughout middle and high school. I also joined the local horse judging team and this skill stayed with me on to college at Texas A&M University in College Station where I competed at the collegiate level and went on to graduate with a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries.

    I have been so lucky in my life to do some amazing work with a wide variety of animal species – lions, tigers, bears, oh my! (no, seriously) – but my absolute favorites have always been Texas native species. There is such a pride that we as Texans take in our wild neighbors, and there’s something magical knowing that we share our home with animals like black bears, mountain lions, pronghorn antelopes, and golden eagles.

    Abbey Jacks in front of Bracken Cave

    We certainly do it bigger here in Texas, and our over 260,000 square miles of land is home to 142 animal species and sees over 500 species of birds – roughly 75 percent of all bird species identified in the United States. We share our home with animal species seen nowhere else in the world, like the Barton Springs salamander and the Rio Grande gold tarantula. Texas is unique and special in so many different ways that are worth protecting, and the fierce pride and ingenuity of every Texan (native or not, y’all means all) is essential in conserving these spaces and the incredible animals that live here alongside us.  

    Abbey Jacks at the entrance of Big Bend National Park

    When I think about what makes me Texan by Nature, I think of the animal life we see here in the Lone Star State. I think of the wide variety of ecosystems in Texas, from the beaches of the gulf to the panhandle plains and caliche outcroppings to the pine trees and bayous where I grew up. My passion for conservation began in the deserts and mountains of my home state, tracking lizards and snakes in the sand and marveling under the night sky in Big Bend National Park, now the largest dark sky reserve in the world. Most of all, I think about how important it is to protect these wild spaces for generations to come for all Texans. What makes me Texan by Nature? Simply put, it’s the nature in Texas  

     

  2. What Makes me Texan by Nature – Aaron Bowen

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    I grew up in the rolling hills of Tontitown, Arkansas, amidst the gentle hum of a 4-house pullet farm. This is where my connection with nature began. Those long, sun-soaked summers spent working the farm, growing chickens, and wading knee-deep in Clear Creek fostered a profound love for the outdoors—a love that would shape my life’s journey in ways I couldn’t yet comprehend.

    The farmhouse, perched on the banks of Clear Creek, became a sanctuary—a portal to a world overflowing with adventure. From the crack of dawn till the sun dipped below the tree line, I wandered the rocky landscape, hunting ducks, trapping crawdads, and chasing after elusive smallmouth bass. Every moment spent there was a lesson in resilience, resourcefulness, and reverence for the wild.

    But it wasn’t just the farm that captured my imagination; nestled amidst the majestic Ozark National Forest was our family cabin and 40 acres of untamed wilderness—an explorer’s paradise. In those dense woods, my brother and I embarked on daring escapades, our youthful curiosity leading us down unmarked logging roads and into uncharted territories. Lost in nature, we found ourselves—instinctively navigating the forest, forging bonds that would endure a lifetime.

    As life beckoned, I traded my fishing pole for a baseball bat, leaving behind the untamed landscapes of my youth to pursue higher education and chart a course in the business world. Yet, the call of the wild never truly faded; it was simply dormant, patiently waiting for its moment to resurface.

    And resurface it did, with the allure of Texas’ vast wilderness calling me once more. In a state dominated by private land, my journey to rediscover the outdoors was met with initial uncertainty. But in true Texan fashion, strangers soon became friends, opening their lands and sharing their passion for the wild with me.

    Reflecting on my roots and the invaluable lessons learned amidst the Arkansas wilderness, my path converged with Texan by Nature—a beacon of conservation and stewardship in the Lone Star State. My journey from the pullet farm to the boardroom, from the tranquil waters of Clear Creek to the sprawling forests of the Ozarks, has equipped me with a unique perspective—a blend of business acumen and a deep-seated admiration for nature.

    As I step into this role as Chief Administrative Officer, my mission is clear—to leverage this expertise and unwavering passion for wildlife conservation to propel Texan by Nature’s noble cause forward. To me, the wilderness isn’t just a place to escape; it’s a canvas upon which life’s most profound lessons are painted.

    In the words of the legendary Jim Harrison, “The wilderness does not make you forget your normal life so much as it removes the distractions for proper remembering.” And for me, Texan by Nature isn’t just a job; it’s a calling—a testament to this unwavering commitment to preserving the wild places that have shaped me into the Texan I am today.

  3. NRG Dewey Prairie Garden Ribbon Cutting

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    Located on 10 acres of a reclaimed lignite mine near Jewett, Texas, the NRG Dewey Prairie Garden will provide 10,000 pounds of fresh produce annually to help alleviate food insecurity in Leon, Freestone, and Limestone Counties. NRG, Texan by Nature (TxN), and community partners officially unveiled the garden with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 2, 2022, where 80+ individuals gathered to celebrate the opening.

    The garden, which includes a wetland area, pollinator habitat, and a future orchard is an initiative of positiveNRG, NRG Energy’s philanthropic arm, and is managed by Texan by Nature. Additional garden partners include Texas Master Gardeners, Texas A&M Agriculture Extension, and the local food pantry coalition. 

    Leon County 4-H students presented the flags and lead attendees in the US and Texas pledges.

    According to the USDA, the tri-county area surrounding the garden is considered a food desert. Many residents live over ten miles from the nearest grocery store. Food insecurity rates in the region are 51% higher than the national average. The garden will provide produce to local food pantries, supplying healthy food for up to an estimated 3,000 people every year. Garden managers surveyed and collaborated with local food pantry leaders to determine foods of highest need, including potatoes, beans, green leafy vegetables, carrots, peppers, peaches, plums, pears, strawberries, and blueberries.  

    “Most of our clients are unable to regularly buy fresh fruits and vegetables, due to the cost. Thanks to the support of NRG and Texan by Nature, the garden will be a true blessing for all of us,”

    -Kathleen Buchanan of Lord’s Pantry of Leon County

    The project’s roots go back to 2019 when NRG approached Texan by Nature to collaborate on ways to enhance the conservation mission of its lignite mine reclamation project for the benefit of the communities around Jewett, Texas. This conversation resulted in extensive research by the TxN team and ultimately a recommendation to use the land to alleviate food insecurity in the area.

    Cilantro is one of the many fresh food items the garden provides.

    “Beyond our standard reclamation practices, we wanted to find a way to benefit the community over the long term. We’re excited to partner with Texan by Nature to realize this vision in a special community that’s been part of the NRG family for 40 years,”

    -Chris Moser, executive vice president of operations of NRG Energy

    Although the ground was first broken on the NRG garden in May of 2021, the land has been at work through the reclamation process for over a decade. In 2013, the Jewett Mine site was awarded the coveted Texas Lone Star Land Steward Award for reclamation activities at the site before being purchased by NRG in 2020. Reclamation accomplishments at the mine include planting 3,500 acres of native bunch-grasses and constructing 700 acres of wetlands, which provide habitat and water to native wildlife and pollinators. The garden’s design also incorporates native pollinator plants to attract bees, butterflies, and support a healthy ecosystem for the garden and surrounding areas. The NRG mine staff also used their ingenuity to reuse materials no longer in use at the mine, such as PVC pipes, tanks, and a solar array that were repurposed for use in the garden. 

    The garden team manages crops in orderly rows with labels at each end.

    In addition to the benefits for people and natural resources, the NRG Dewey Prairie Garden will be an educational field trip and project site for local K-12 schools, 4-H, and FFA programs. Students will learn about agriculture, ecosystems, and nutrition through hands-on opportunities at the garden. 

    “The NRG Dewey Prairie Garden is an excellent – and replicable – example of a diverse set of partners coming together for big impact. This project creates an immense, multi-community impact for years to come, and we’re proud to act as the central connector to achieve the vision of this garden.”

    – Amy Snelgrove of Texan by Nature

    Fresh vegetables like broccoli are a priority item for local food pantries.

    TxN is proud to be working with NRG, the Dewey Prairie Garden partners, and members of the community who made this project possible. Rooted in purpose, we wait for the first harvest and look forward to seeing the positive impact the garden will have on people, prosperity, and natural resources in the community for years to come. 

    Learn more about the NRG Dewey Prairie Garden here: https://texanbynature.org/projects/nrg-dewey-prairie-garden/ 

     

  4. H-E-B Funds Texas Longleaf Team’s Longleaf Pine Conservation

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    February 2022. H-E-B generously supported the mission of the Texas Longleaf Team (TLT), a 2021 Texan by Nature (TxN) Conservation Wrangler, to restore the longleaf pine ecosystem in East Texas. H-E-B’s continued support of science-based, local conservation efforts drives the implementation and success of many conservation organizations and their missions across the state. H-E-B’s support of TLT will be deployed directly to private landowners who are working to restore, enhance, and maintain the environmentally and economically beneficial longleaf pine ecosystem on their land. Learn more about this unique and historic ecosystem in the TxN blog, How Fire Makes a Forest.

    Texas Longleaf Implementation Team
    Forest managers conducting a prescribed burn

    “The Texas Longleaf Team is excited to partner with H-E-B to promote restoration of the longleaf ecosystem in support of private landowners and rural communities in East Texas. Their support will promote carbon sequestration, water infiltration, biodiversity, recreation, and rural economies.  Their investment is an investment in a sustainable East Texas and we are so proud to work with them!” -Jenny Sanders, Coordinator, Texas Longleaf Team.

    H-E-B and TLT connected in 2021 at TxN’s Conservation Summit, where TLT presented their work and its importance for the “business of conservation.” As a 2021 Conservation Wrangler, TLT received 18 months of tailored support in strategy, marketing, partnerships, outreach, and more. Watch their Conservation Wrangler video here to learn more.

    “Texan by Nature’s mission is to unite business and conservation, and we are thrilled to see the results of that work playing out in real-time. Our Conservation Wranglers represent the best in science-based, impactful conservation, and those projects are often the perfect opportunity for businesses to add to their ESG, community, and philanthropic portfolios as we all work together to improve outcomes for our natural resources.” -Jenny Burden, Director of Development, Texan by Nature.

     


    The Texas Longleaf Team invites all companies operating within East Texas to consider their footprint on the longleaf pine ecosystem and their potential to positively impact this beloved and environmentally beneficial ecosystem. Longleaf pine restoration contributes to water and air quality, wildlife habitat, and carbon benefits, making it ideal for meeting ESG goals.  Not only is an investment in this work good for Texans, but it is good for a business’s bottom line. 

    If you are a landowner or consultant who has land that could be converted to longleaf, the Texas Longleaf Conservation Assistance Program will be accepting applications for cost-share assistance until April 15.  Visit our website for more information or reach out to us at 936-225-2175 to learn about technical assistance and training opportunities.

    For more information on how to get involved with the Texas Longleaf Team as a supporter, please reach out to Jenny Sanders. For more information about TxN Conservation Wrangler Program and how to support it, please reach out to info@texanbynature.org

    About HEB:
    H-E-B, with sales of $32 billion, operates more than 420 stores in Texas and Mexico. Known for its innovation and community service, H-E-B celebrates its 116th anniversary this year. Recognized for its fresh food, quality products, convenient services, and a commitment to environmental responsibility and sustainability, H-E-B strives to provide the best customer experience and lowest prices. Based in San Antonio, H-E-B employs over 137,000 Partners in Texas and Mexico and serves millions of customers in more than 300 communities. For more information, visit HEB.com and HEB.com/Newsroom.

    Texas Longleaf Team

    About Texas Longleaf Team (TLT):
    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.

    About Texan by Nature:
    Texan by Nature (TxN) unites conservation and business leaders who believe Texas’ prosperity is dependent on the conservation of its natural resources. TxN amplifies projects and activates new investment in conservation which returns real benefits for people, prosperity, and natural resources. Texan by Nature achieves mission goals through the Texan by Nature Certification program, Conservation Wrangler program, Symposia series, and the Texan by Nature 20. Get involved and learn more at www.texanbynature.org and follow us on Facebook @TexanbyNature, Twitter @TexanbyNature, and Instagram @texanbynature for the latest.



  5. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Scott Dubois

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    By Scott Dubois, Texan by Nature Marketing Manager

    I’m honored to have been hired by Texan by Nature as the new Marketing Manager. During my first day on the job, I was asked to consider “What makes me Texan by Nature?,” and I’ve thought about it quite a bit since. Essentially, I’ve learned a lot from the diverse landscapes and people of Texas. However, a deeper dive into my background will illuminate what that means and why it is important.

    My Story

    Growing up on the coast in Corpus Christi, Texas, I learned to love nature from my dad, the Laguna Madre, and the Gulf of Mexico. I have early memories of dolphins playing at the bow of our boat and wade fishing in broad brown seagrass beds, watching schools of redfish and stingrays swim by. My dad built a cabin with my uncles on a nameless island along the Intracoastal where I could look for hidden treasures and explore the wreckage of abandoned cabins. In high school, my friends and I would drive 4x4s down the Padre Island National Seashore to camp, surf, and fish. We regularly took our boat offshore to dive into the clear blue water found just a few miles past the muddy surf. Most weekends left me salt-encrusted, waterlogged, and sunburnt.

    Baby Scott Fishing
    My first fishing trip with Dad
    Posing with kingfish catch in High School

    I didn’t realize there was anything unique about this upbringing until I left home. I moved to Austin to study at the University of Texas and graduated with a dual degree in history and government. During that time, I missed the Gulf but learned to love swimming in Hill Country springs. After graduation, I moved to New York and worked at my first nonprofit, Friends of the High Line. Despite being a part of a fascinating project, the big city wasn’t in my nature. I needed more space and a visible horizon to survive. Any free moment I had there was spent in the deepest parts of Prospect Park, foraging for berries, where I could no longer see or hear the city. After a year away, I moved back to Austin.

    Back in Texas, I studied Permaculture, tutored science classes, and became a freelance designer and organic gardener. As a freelancer, I took a wild ride as the Web Designer and Art Director for the Kinky Friedman for Governor campaign, which allowed me to meet people from all walks of life and all parts of Texas. When the campaign wrapped up, I continued to freelance until the Great Recession brought work to a standstill. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to share my passion for nature with young Texans as the gardening Teacher at a Montessori School. I eventually left the school for a job at Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report, a travel publication, because I wanted to learn how to tell stories that engaged people.

    In early 2020, the Hideaway Report was sold. I took that opportunity to bow out and get more involved in conservation. Little did I know that the pandemic would torpedo my dreams of quickly finding a job in. Fortunately we were prepared, and during that lost year I became a stay at home dad and focused my creative energy on writing about the history of Texas Wildlife. I eventually heard about this job opportunity at Texan by Nature from the Deep in the Heart team, whom I had helped with historical research. That brings us to the present day.

    Hiking with my family in the Davis Mountains

    Texan by Nature

    How does all of this personal history relate to Texan by Nature, and why is it important? First, as the new guy, I’d be remiss if I didn’t introduce myself. More importantly, as Joni Carswell our CEO points out, each person’s journey gives them a unique perspective that they can apply whenever they are challenged to innovate. 

    Texan by Nature brings conservation and business together to increase investment in conservation. We do this by sharing information and building partnerships of diverse and sometimes unexpected constituencies. As an electric-car-driving son of a Texas oil man, I understand that. When I go fishing with my Dad, and talk to people around the state, I can see that the love of our natural resources is something all Texans share. If we can harness that common ground, it will help protect those resources, and maybe open other doors for collaboration.

    Further, as a lifelong Texan, I have also seen how wildlife can return, when protected and given the opportunity to live. I remember how rare it was to see a brown pelican when we were fishing in the 1980s. I always pointed them out when we would see them. Now they are ubiquitous on the coast. As a child, I visited parks all over Texas with my family. When we stayed at the Chisos Basin in Big Bend around 1990, we spotted a young black bear near our cabin. At the time I thought that was just how wild West Texas was. Only later did I realize that this was probably one of the first bears to be born in the park in decades. If you study the history of Texas wildlife, you read about the ecocide that happened throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, but you also see that we are learning from our mistakes to make things right.

    I see a future Texas that has ocelots roaming their former range, large areas of protected or restored prairies, and plenty of outdoor space that is available and welcoming to all Texans. I also understand that Texas is a pro-business and private property state. We need to engage the business and conservation resources we have and play to our strengths. It won’t be easy, but this environment is primed for innovation. We can get to that future in a uniquely Texan way, and I’m excited to see how we do it.

    My background in nature, design and marketing has prepared me to tell these stories, but we still need people to make them happen. I hope you’ll join me on that journey. If you’d like to share feedback or have a good story to tell, please email me at scott@texanbynature.org.
    Nice to meet y’all!

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