World Wildlife Day:

Conservation in Far West Texas

Borderlands Research Institute

Category Archive: TxN General

  1. World Wildlife Day: Conservation in Far West Texas

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    It’s a tough world out there for Texas wildlife. Texas ranks fourth in the nation for most endangered animal species with 51 species. Texas’s growing human population has caused increased habitat loss and fragmentation, which is the top reason for species declines in Texas. But that isn’t the only challenge that Texas wildlife faces: Invasive species, reduced water quality and quantity, and climate change also impact wildlife populations.

    The good news is that our conservation partners are addressing these issues in a variety of ways. In celebration of World Wildlife Day, we’d like to highlight some of the wildlife conservation work happening in one of the wildest regions of the Lone Star State. Here are some of our Conservation Partners from Far West Texas!

    Mike Pittman, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

    Texas Bighorn Society: The Texas Bighorn Society is dedicated to restoring and preserving the desert bighorn sheep population in Texas through conservation efforts and public education. In the 1900s bighorns were considered extinct in Texas, but thanks to reintroduction efforts led by the Texas Bighorn Society, bighorns roam several locations in the mountains of Far West Texas. Now, their goal is to return bighorns to all their native ranges in the state. Wild about bighorn conservation? Consider becoming a TBS member! All money raised from membership dues and our annual Roundup Weekend and Auction is used exclusively to help return desert bighorns to the mountains and people of Texas.

    Katy Baldock

    Borderlands Research Institute: The mission of the Borderlands Research Institute is to help conserve the natural resources of the Chihuahuan Desert Borderlands through research, education, and outreach. The Chihuahuan Desert Borderlands are an incredibly diverse region, supporting 500+ bird species, 170+ reptile and amphibian species, and 120+ mammal species. Through research efforts focused on poorly understood species, the BRI provides essential information to land managers that supports wildlife conservation. The BRI relies heavily on outside support to continue their work, so consider donating to their efforts.

    Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition

    Frontera Land Alliance: The Frontera Land Alliance is a land trust dedicated to forever protecting natural areas and working farms and ranches in the West Texas and Southern New Mexico regions of the Chihuahuan Desert. One of the most effective ways to combat the impacts of the growing human population on wildlife is to protect existing wildlife habitat, and that is exactly what the Frontera Land Alliance is doing. 8,000 acres (and counting) of wildlife habitat will remain intact forever thanks to their work. Looking for a more hands-on way to support Far West Texas wildlife conservation? You can volunteer with the Frontera Land Alliance to create wildlife habitat, clean up trash, and more! 

    I-20 Wildlife Preserve

    I-20 Wildlife Preserve: This 100-acre preserve in the Permian Basin serves as a hub for ecotourism and science education in the region. Its 86-acre urban playa lake is a special feature of the preserve, providing abundant wildlife habitat. Regular removal of invasive species further improves this special wild space. Located less than a mile from the interstate, visitors to the I-20 Wildlife Preserve can experience firsthand how special the playa habitat is without traveling outside of the city. It is completely free to visit the preserve, so stop by the next time you pass through Midland and make a donation while you’re there!

    Quail Coalition: The Quail Coalition works to sustain and restore huntable wild quail populations, encourage and educate interested youth in hunting and the outdoors, and celebrate their quail heritage in Texas. A large part of their work is with landowners to promote native grass production and conservation to restore Texas prairies, which are beneficial to wildlife in Far West Texas. Are you a quail fanatic? You can become a member of the Quail Coalition.

    Texan by Nature’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.

    What can Texans do to support our conservation partners and the impactful work they’re doing?

    All of these organizations are 501(c)(3) nonprofit entities, which means they rely on outside donations for much of the work they do. Consider visiting their websites, where you can donate to their important initiatives.

    Another way you can help is by giving your time and effort. If you live in the Far West Texas region or plan on visiting soon, consider contacting an organization whose work resonates with you and volunteer with them.

    Lastly, you can spread the word to friends and family. Texas wildlife needs every Texan to be passionate about conserving their populations in order to prosper. Getting your inner circle excited about wildlife conservation helps more than you know!

    Texas wildlife faces a plethora of challenges, but with your help supporting and promoting these organizations, wildlife in the Far West Texas region can have a brighter future. We have the power to ensure that future generations can enjoy this region’s unique wildlife!

  2. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Kat Hicks

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    I have lived in Texas all my life. Born in Plano, surrounded by all of my extended family, I was a kid from the suburbs of Dallas until about eight years old when my family decided to move to Austin for my parents work. Despite my long-time residence, I haven’t always been in touch with my Texan pride. When we’re young it is difficult to be aware of our realities and the privileges we are granted. For me, one of those was the privilege of being born and raised in Texas, by Texans.

    At the Grand Canyon on my 4th Birthday

    Growing up, I was constantly immersed in nature as my parents and grandparents were big campers. Every summer since 1980, my grandparents have traveled the nation up to Alaska and back. The two generations combined loved to show their children and grandchildren the beauties of nature and the wonders it held. By age ten I had been to half of the National Parks with a decorated jean jacket of Junior Ranger patches to prove it. When we couldn’t travel out of state, we would take weekend camping trips to Texas State Parks or simply play in the greenbelt behind my house that had hills and a stream to splash in. My Aunt and Uncle had some land in west Texas where my adrenaline junkie was born racing Polaris’s, riding 4-wheelers, and jumping between hay bales. As a child, all of my best memories were made outside.

    Racing Polaris’ at the ranch

    As I grew older and went through highschool I kept this love for the outdoors when I got my driver’s license and gained the ability to explore the outdoor corners of Austin with my best friends. Weekends were spent at Barton Springs, Zilker Park, Sandy Creek on Lake Travis, Turkey Creek Trail and much more. Time flew and before I knew it I was applying for college and having to choose my field of study. My parents, lifelong Aggies who met in college and named their first dog Dudley (Aggie’s know), wanted their last child, and last hope of having an Aggie in the family as my older siblings strayed from tradition, to go to A&M. Ultimately, against my original hopes as we must rebel against our parents’ dreams for us, I was starting at Texas A&M with my chosen major, Environmental Studies. Before I knew it I was drinking the kool aid and becoming a diehard Aggie filled with tradition and pride. I think this is where I began to get in touch with my Texas spirit as there’s nothing more Texan than Texas A&M University. From Aggie football to playing pool at The Chicken, and dare I say, listening to country music, I began to feel the love and spirit of all the Texans before me that we’re lucky to call this state home.

    Me and my siblings at Duddley’s Draw in 2010 next to my dad (class of ’86) and I at my ring day in 2023

    The summer before my senior year of college I was granted the opportunity of studying abroad in Costa Rica. My program was in biodiversity and sustainability among coffee farmers, and I would be gone for a month.

    Visiting the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

    As much as I had traveled within Texas and the United States, I had never been out of the country and for my first experience abroad, I would be going at it alone. I was nervous, but overcome with excitement and dreams of all I would see and do. The program was so helpful at affirming my passions for sustainability and conservation, but one of my biggest takeaways was how much I loved the state of Texas. I found myself listening to Jerry Jeff Walker’s London Homesick Blues every chance I could get and realizing how big the Texas sky is when I had to look straight up just to see some blue. Costa Rica was one of the most diverse and beautiful places I have ever been, but it would never beat the expansive land and sky’s of the sweet state of Texas.

    Being proud of the growing economy and uniquely successful business’ of Texas as I begin to enter the workforce, while having a love for our landscapes, wildlife, and our big, beautiful sky drives the direction of my future in Texas. Pursuing work within conservation and business, to me, is a testament of the Texan within me and is what I am looking forward to doing post graduation.

    Texan By Nature defines me—by birth, by spirit, and by choice. I wholeheartedly adopt and wield the Texan pride within me as I grow and navigate the world before me.

  3. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Taylor Kennedy Frenchi

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    I grew up in Wichita Falls, a town in North Texas where our landmark and namesake is a muddy-brown, artificial waterfall (usually turned off to conserve water). The town’s unofficial motto is “Fake Falls, Real People” and I have found that to be true of Texans in general…you just won’t meet more authentic people. As you can tell from my style (and the bright pink cowboy boots out of frame in the picture), my mom had dreams of raising a real, authentic Texas cowgirl.

    Unfortunately, I was allergic to horses and hay, so her dream didn’t come true. Since I couldn’t be a cowgirl, my love for the outdoors took root on family fishing trips, where my parents introduced me to the joy of casting a line into the river long before I could even walk.

    These early moments of connection with nature set the stage for my lifelong passion for the outdoors, but one specific trip stands out in my memory. During what we were sure was the hottest summer in Texan history, my dad, sister, and I took a float trip down the Brazos River. At some points, the water level was so low that we had to get out and drag the canoe. We spent the days rowing, complaining about the heat, and waiting for my dad to cast his line into a coveted deep pool in the river. Once he determined there were no fish for us to spook, my sister and I could hop out and swim to cool down. Our trip was full of misadventures, including an accidental lantern fire, a tipped canoe, burnt dinner, tents placed on top of fire ant nests… and my dad finding it very funny to say, “Taylor! You asleep yet?” every ten minutes as I tried to drift to sleep in the oppressive heat (still nursing fire-ant bites). Looking back, we laugh at our misadventures but also cherish the whirlpool we swam in for hours, the fish we caught, and the fun we had. That memorable trip left me with more than just anecdotes: it instilled in me a profound respect for the wilds of Texas and nature as a whole. It made me realize that I find my true happiness outdoors, even amongst the misadventures 

    Since then, I continued to spend time exploring and investigating the natural world, whether looking for insects or turning over rocks in the creek. These early experiences and lessons nurtured my curiosity and led me to pursue a career in STEM. I have explored many paths at the confluence of health and the natural world- conducting field research with bats, exploring the human dimensions of conservation efforts in Central and South America, and managing research programs that bridge human health and environmental concerns. My career has led me to beautiful places, from the prairies of Texas, through the forests of the Carolinas, and currently to the mountains of the Colorado, where I spend my time fishing and exploring with my dog, Mango.  

    But despite my roaming, I will always be Texan by Nature. I am an earnest advocate for advancing the understanding of the connections between nature and health and working towards a future where everyone can access and enjoy the benefits of nature. There is no better way for me to promote these goals than working with Texan by Nature and the Nature and Health Alliance. 

  4. What Makes Me Texan By Nature – Estela Lopez

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    Rio Grande River
    Exit to the Rio Grande Valley

    I never knew the impact of growing up in the Rio Grande Valley had on me until I moved away for college. had always heard the saying “you know you’re almost in the valley when you take the exit in Corpus”, but I wouldn’t understand the emotional meaning of it until I drove home for the first time and took the exit myself.

    Ring Day 2022

    I was born and raised by two of the most hard working individuals I know, Rosa Maria Lopez and Fernando Lopez, in the not so little city of McAllen,Texas. I never knew the sacrifice my parents made for me until I started sharing my story in college. My mother was born in Mexico and courageously came to the United States with a dream and a prayer. She has been the greatest role model in my life and has always encouraged of all of my dreams. My m​​other and father did not have the opportunity to attend college, and always made it a goal of theirs to have their only child attend college. They sacrificed continuing their education to provide for their family, and now that I have the ability to attend college and pursue a higher education, I dedicate everything I do for them.

    Bougainvillea Tree
    Memories in Mexico

    Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley has been a blessing. It has given me the ability to appreciate the beauty it holds even though the weather is unbearable at times. The proximity to the border and the Gulf of Mexico blesses us with an abundance of biological diversity. The true beauty of the RGV is in the people and the culture. The Tex-Mex culture has always been a defining and influential part of my life. Most of my childhood was spent traveling to Mexico to visit my mother’s side of the family. My greatest childhood memories include spending time at the ranch in Mexico with my family and eating all the delicious food I could possibly consume prepared by the locals in my grandparent’s hometown. My favorite thing to do was ride around with my grandpa in his old truck listening to corridos and looking at all the cattle and the surrounding vegetation. One of the most beautiful aspects of the ranch is a bougainvillea tree that my great-great grandfather planted for his wife, Rosa Ramirez, who I get my middle name from. This tree has survived droughts, freezes, and the hardships that ranching families face. It shows the true power and perseverance that nature has. This tree has always been so symbolic in my family because if this tree can survive anything, so can we.

     

    Antelope Canyon

    Traveling and discovering the beauty of nature is one of my favorite things to do. One of my favorite quotes comes from John Muir, “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees”, and I couldn’t agree more. Traveling with my family across the U.S. has been one of the biggest blessings in my life. Pictures cannot describe the awe that encompasses an individual when you see first hand the beauty that nature graces us with.

    Antelope Canyon

    My time at Texas A&M University has afforded me the ability to learn more about the great state of Texas. Throughout my undergraduate and graduate education, so many professors have highlighted the diversity that Texas has. Through case studies and group discussions, it’s quite evident the pride that we all hold to be Texan. Nothing gives me greater joy than to tell my story and what it means to me to be from Texas. Walking into a room knowing that growing up in Texas has given me the strength, courage, and ability to conquer anything I set my mind to, empowers me to overcome any obstacle in my way. This is what makes me proud to be Texan by Nature.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  5. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Sydney Gass

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    By Sydney Gass, Texan by Nature Social Media and Marketing Intern

     

    I was born in Baltimore, Maryland but spent most of my formative years on the Florida coast, searching for shells in the sand, spotting animals in the sea. My earliest memories in nature were the years my family spent in Turks and Caicos Islands, where my afternoons were filled with crystal blue waters and white sands. 

    After a few more moves, we landed in the greater Houston area when I was eight years old – my education and childhood continued to be formed by the wildlife that inhabited the land we lived on. Being homeschooled allowed so many moments to turn into science lessons, from catching snakes to watching deer feed, my love of wildlife was something that came naturally. 

    We spent five years in Texas when my family ended up in Vancouver, British Columbia, an incredibly beautiful city where the mountains and ocean literally meet. My teenage years brought me hiking, skiing, working as a naturalist on whale-watching boats, and spending as much time in nature as possible. I volunteered with the Canadian Wildlife Federation as a youth ambassador and at the Vancouver Aquarium’s marine mammal rescue center, caring for injured and orphaned marine mammals. 

    I started my undergraduate education in forestry at the University of British Columbia. But, after one conservation course, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the field. I shifted degrees and received my Bachelor of Science in Natural Resource Management. I was able to take an interdisciplinary approach to my degree, with courses in business, economics, ecology, conservation, psychology, and visual arts. I worked with master’s students studying the impact of urban development and agriculture on the critical habitat of endangered salmon species. I also studied the human impact on black bears within various communities and worked with the government to better educate tourists.

    About halfway through my degree, my love of photography morphed with science into a minor in communications and marketing. I was enthralled with sharing the beauty of our world and the importance of protecting it by taking science-heavy materials and turning it into something tangible, exciting and inspiring. I spent the past year working with Oceana Canada on their social media team. 

    I’ve found myself back in Texas after eleven years away and I’m constantly reminded of the beauty of such unique landscapes. This spring was one of the first times I’d seen Texas wildflowers across the hill country and I couldn’t catch my breath, it was unlike anything I’d seen before. Although I’m not born and raised in this incredible state, I don’t believe I truly am “from” one particular place. The stunning topography, incredible gulf coast, diverse wildlife, and endless opportunities for conservation make me proud to be Texan by Nature. 

  6. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Madeleine Kaleta

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    I grew up nestled amongst the trees in a valley between the mountain in a small town in upstate New York. My family’s history runs deep in this state, with the entire family residing in one of three cities. So, I stayed and followed my interests in animals and science and received a Bachelor’s in Zoology with a minor in bio-cultural anthropology at SUNY Oswego. Throughout my studies, I quickly found my love for wildlife conservation in faraway internships with a passion to preserve all aspects of the land, and I knew I had to explore more of our natural world. 

     

    The day after graduating, I loaded my life into my car and took off for my first official job in wildlife conservation. I traveled the country, only staying a few months at each temporary job, and one of those places was West Texas. No one in my family was surprised to see me end up in this beautiful and wild state. This was the first place in my journey where I was constantly amazed by the novelty and landscape as I drove across the state. It was nothing like home, but working on private ranches all across west Texas, I quickly appreciated the diversity. From the bogs and dense trees of East Texas, to the canyons and rolling plains, the birds of the Rio Grande, and all the amazing people and cultures I have encountered along the way.  

    While that job soon ended, I ultimately returned a few years later to begin my current master’s degree in biology with a focus in avian ecology research at UNT. While birds are a huge focus in my passion, I quickly realized the ecological complexities of the world. I found so much value in preserving other aspects such as land and water resources, but also engaging with local communities. A huge takeaway I learned in my bio-cultural anthropology background, was the best way to conserve nature, was to work with and help the local community. I feel this is the cornerstone to all great conservation successes across the world.  

    While I continue my current degree, my perspective and passion for combining conservation and community has only further solidified. Texan by Nature spoke strongly to me as an organization. Their contributions not only to the conservation of Texas natural resources, but also to aiding businesses and local community programs couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. I am excited to join them in our endeavors to catalyze and conserve so many meaningful projects and projects to protect this state. I may not have grown up a Texan, but I chose it. Contributing to the prosperity of the people and land of Texas is what makes me Texan by Nature. 

     

  7. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Faith Humphreys

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    By Faith Humphreys, Texan by Nature Programs Intern

    Although my birth certificate says I was born in Kansas, in my heart I was born in Texas. My mom is from Ohio, and my dad is from Kansas, but they met and fell in love in Texas. My family moved to Abilene, Texas, when I was just one year old, so Texas holds my earliest memories.

    As a little girl, I was known as the crazy dinosaur girl who refused to play with dolls. Pretending I was a T. rex by holding meat forks in my hands was much more fun than playing dress-up. I was blessed to grow up with sweeping views of the Callahan Divide from my backyard with abundant space to explore nature. Expeditions with my sisters to “Faith’s Lake” (a small pond) were common, along with captures of many small critters and romps in the mud after notorious west Texas thunderstorms. Being constantly exposed to nature sparked curiosity for my plant and animal neighbors. I attended zoo school in the summers and quickly realized I wanted to be a zookeeper because I couldn’t think of a better job than one that allows you to take care of wild animals all day.

    My family traveled a lot, and one of our favorite spots was Possum Kingdom Lake. We had a lakehouse on PK and spent many July 4ths there with my cousins and grandparents. We loved loading up the boat with cokes and hotdogs then watching the fireworks over Hell’s Gate. We also made trips to Waco to visit my oldest sister and go to Baylor football games, however terrible they were back then. I came to love the game of football, which would come in handy later as a football coach’s wife.

    As I grew up, I learned more about the peril that wildlife around the world and in Texas was increasingly facing. However, unaware of any “real” careers in wildlife conservation, I chose to study business at Baylor University. During my college years, I loved running and hiking at Cameron Park, kayaking on the Brazos, and of course going to every Baylor home football game. I also discovered the beauty of Austin and the Hill Country during my visits for the ACL music festival.

    After graduation, I married my high school sweetheart (with a reception at the Abilene Zoo) and lived in San Antonio for three years. I fell in love with the Hill Country even more, especially with all the yummy authentic Tex-Mex food. We loved hiking at Eisenhower Park and Friedrich Wilderness Park and shopping at the numerous HEBs in town. We then moved to Texarkana for my husband’s job and fell in love with the forested landscape of the Pineywoods. It was unlike anywhere else I had seen in Texas. Caddo Lake completely captured my heart with its dreamy bald cypress swamps.

    After a couple years, we moved back to our hometown in west Texas, and I finally started pursuing my passion for conservation professionally through a master’s degree online with Clemson University. Although Clemson is in South Carolina, my term projects allowed me to choose local study sites, so I was still able to learn more about the unique flora and fauna of the Rolling Plains. I also became a Texas Master Naturalist and loved learning about all the ecoregions of Texas during my training. It’s been very rewarding to teach kids who don’t have an expansive natural area beyond their backyard about the wonders of our native wildlife. Just as rewarding is helping with trash cleanups around Lake Kirby and writing articles about native wildlife for the newspaper.

    Texas, every part of it, has treated me well over these past 27 years, and it is truly a privilege to be able to give back to its natural resources by working for Texan by Nature. The diverse people and landscapes that Texas encompasses feed my desire for new and exciting experiences. My appreciation for this diversity is what makes me Texan by Nature.

  8. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Savanna Rodriguez

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    By Savanna Rodriguez, Texan by Nature Intern

    For as long as I can remember happiness looked like being surrounded by family, animal companions close by, and more often than not a fishing pole (or a couple) in hand. I grew up south of San Antonio in Losoya, Texas. Growing up my parents worked hard to provide for me and my older brother. In hindsight, money probably was an issue, (I’ve been thrifting since before it was cool) but I’m sure if you asked me and my brother at the time we would have never known. All we knew was the outdoors, sneaking snakes and bugs inside to scare my mom with, my brother skinning squirrels on the porch, chasing our escaped cow down the medina riverbank, and shooting our first bb guns at cans dangling in front of the dense tree line that fenced our land, as far as we knew life was GOOD. Although I have a squirrel-loving brother, I was without a doubt my dad’s mini-me. We were always outside together tending to chickens, goats, the occasional donkey, anything I could bat my eyes for at the local flea market. My mom swears that the only punishment that worked for me at a young age was being condemned to the house with NO outside time (sounds awful even now). I owe my love for the outdoors to my dad amongst many other things, he is a man of MANY jokes. He is also a man of many envelopes. Envelopes you may be wondering about. Yes, envelopes. That’s how my dad saves his money for fun activities or important endeavors little by little in envelopes stashed in a drawer we let him believe is “secret”. We may have been thrifting our entire wardrobe, but come summer there was a beach picnic table and cooler full of sandwiches with our name on it.

    Unbeknownst to me it seems that the picnic table was always near Aransas Pass, Texas. Aransas pass is a small town located right between Rockport and Port Aransas. The locals call it saltwater heaven and we’ve got the catches to prove it. Fast forward a couple of years, my upbringing made me value experiences (and the Texas coast). So, it’s no surprise After graduating from Texas A&M – Kingsville I found myself RVing full-time in Aransas Pass. The thought of a landlocked apartment terrified me and my need for fresh air and sunshine. That longing for sunshine and fresh air, and love for fauna and flora had always drawn me toward the outdoors.

    Generations of my family could say the same. I am the family’s memory hoarder, every old box of photos that comes out of storage is coming home with me for sure. My favorite parts of old photos are seeing not only my younger self but generations of my family enjoying the same natural places I did. Another thing generations of my family enjoyed were Texas Country music. What they didn’t enjoy so much was my singing at the top of my lungs. Singing wasn’t the only thing I did loud, I sort of just tend to be loud. My dad would often tell me I was scaring the fish away growing up. As I grew up I often smothered my rather loud personality hoping to appeal more “collected”. Now I realize that my being loud is just the Texan pride within me. The spirit to share, care and do so in a BIG way. I mean everything’s bigger in Texas right personalities, fish, the number of Texas-themed tattoos my brother can fit on one arm, you name it. Texas is such a special place I find it hard to articulate how being Texan makes you feel like you’re part of something special. Steven Rinella once said I love Texas sure it’s a show-offy state but every time I do look in its direction I’m impressed if you tend to look at things from a woods, water, and wild food perspective as I do Texas Pride starts to make a lot of sense and there’s nothing wrong with pride as long as it leads to a tendency to share the source of that pride rather than hog it and bottle it up. Wanting to share that pride with past and future generations of Texans is one BIG reason that I am Texan by Nature.

  9. What Makes Me Texan By Nature – Brandice Nelson

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    After my dad retired from the United States Air Force in 1999, we moved from the tiny island of Okinawa, Japan, to the vast expanse of Texas. As the travel brochures claimed, it was “like a whole other country.” My earliest association with the state was tornadoes. Twister came out in 1996, and I probably shouldn’t have seen it at 5! Later, I came to think of it in terms of flowers—the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush depicted in the Tomie dePaola books I think every Texan should read at least once, the mountain laurels whose two-week bloom is the highlight of my spring, and of course, the yellow rose.

    We settled in Cedar Park when there was little more to the city than trees. My siblings and I went on all kinds of adventures in the wilderness across the street from our house, which we later learned was host to a network of limestone caves. Once, we took backpacks of snacks and a sheet my mom probably didn’t notice we’d squirreled out of the house and set off to create our own post-apocalyptic campsite in the woods based on a reality show we’d been watching. We took our overprotective dachshund, Ella, as our guard dog, but she wasn’t particularly good at stealth and ended up barking at all the wildlife.

    I learned to do life outdoors as a Girl Scout in central Texas. My troop leaders taught me how to pitch a tent and make hot cocoa on a camp stove, which are likely the two most important things you should know if you’re camping in Texas in the early winter. Through my scouting affiliation, I was certified with the U.S. Canoe Association on canoes and kayaks at Camp Texlake. I’ve camped at a few sites in central Texas, but my favorite place has always been Inks Lake. The shenanigans and hijinks of a half-dozen middle and high school-aged girls aside, Inks Lake was the first place I’d ever been able to look up into a dark sky so clear that I could see the Milky Way. The stars at night are big and bright, indeed.

    I am and always have been both a historian and a bookworm. I majored in history at Baylor University and loved it so much I stayed to earn my master’s degree in museum studies. As a graduate student, I was deeply impressed by Freeman Tilden’s poetic prose and passion for historic and environmental conservation in Interpreting Our Heritage. Texas is the perfect place to put Tilden’s lessons into practice—you just can’t tell the history of this place without talking about its natural resources.

    Since then, to quote Stephen F. Austin, “my health and strength and time have gone into the service of Texas.” It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve always been able to find peace in nature. I came across the Balcones Canyonlands Wildlife Preserve purely by accident during one of the most difficult periods of my life, and the time I spent wandering the hiking trails pretending to be a Hobbit and admiring the view of the Hill Country from the sunset deck was truly therapeutic. I even briefly contemplated moving out of state, but ultimately, I couldn’t face the prospect of living somewhere without bluebonnets (or H-E-B).

    At the end of the day, it’s fair to say that I am Texan By Nature because somewhere over the last 20+ years, I grew roots in Texas, and Texas grew roots in me.

     

  10. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Abby McGee

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    By Abby McGee, Texan by Nature Intern 

    I am a first generation born Texan, but my parents both moved to the state when they were young kids, so they were raised in Texas too. While my dad was born in New Mexico and my mom was born in Connecticut., they both grew to be passionate Texans after spending much of their lives in the state, and they inspired the same sentiments in me.

    I grew up in a house that was, quite literally, around the corner from where my dad had grown up in Denton, Texas. I was so lucky to grow up with my grandparents living close by in that same home, and I would frequently bike or walk over. We would spend long afternoons sitting on the porch and playing in their beautiful backyard. In a suburban neighborhood, most of the backyards were fenced in, but I remember finding it so cool how my grandparents’ yard was not. Instead, their house backed up to a creek and the backyard’s natural barrier was the stream running behind it. 

    Along that same creek a mile away in my neighborhood park, I would frequently play with the clay soil whose texture and my imagination allowed me to sculpt it into whatever design I wanted. While I grew up in a cozy suburb that may not have appeared to offer much in terms of nature at surface level, I was mesmerized by every little magical piece of nature I could find. 

    When I think back to my childhood, many of my fondest memories were formed spending time outdoors. I frequently rode my bike to and from my nearby friends’ houses, walked my labrador retriever dogs, Magic, and later, Ella, around the neighborhood, and swam in my backyard pool everyday in the summers. I grew to love being in the water and swimming became my solace in the Texas summer heat. The peace I felt being in the water and the pure adrenaline and joy from practicing my cannonball or racing my sister and friends in the pool were my favorite feelings in the world. My fondness for being in the water stuck and I later swam on my high school swim team, picked up the sport of water polo, and lifeguarded at my local pool.

    Many of my memories growing up center around Texas’ beautiful and plentiful lakes. My weekends were spent riding in my family’s jeep with the top down and country music blasting to nearby Lake Ray Roberts. I spent each Labor Day weekend on a church retreat to Lake Bridgeport, where I remember witnessing the most beautiful sunsets each night. My family landed on Lake Belton as an annual summer getaway spot when I was a toddler because it was located halfway between DFW and Houston, where my mom’s side of the family lived. It was during some of these trips where I first noticed the Texan pride beaming from someone besides my parents. My cousins were proud Houstonians and we would often bicker about whether Dallas or Houston was better (It’s still up for continuous debate).

    I often say that country music was the soundtrack to my childhood — that was when UT or the Dallas Cowboys were not playing. The voices of Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, and more floated through our living room all day long on the weekends. The hardwood floors also became a dance floor for me, my dad, and my little sister as he taught us how to slow-dance to none other than the King of Country Music, George Strait. Nothing beats the sound of a fiddle and a steel guitar, as my dad used to say. To me, country music unites its listeners by representing everyday struggles, life’s tougher emotions and experiences, and by singing all about the many things that Texans know and love (cowboys, dancing, family, football, you name it). I now have a passion for discovering talented Texas musicians of my own generation and I’m slowly crossing iconic Texas venues off of my concert bucket list. 

    I was a very curious and observant child, qualities that are still a part of me today. I watched my hometown develop a lot throughout my childhood. An influx of businesses and attractions popped up over the years, and with them brought new people, and the not-so-fun parts: lots of construction and traffic. We no longer needed to travel outside of town for eating, entertainment, or shopping after a massive town center was built. That also meant that the wildflower fields and longhorn ranches it replaced were no longer. To put the extent of development further into perspective, my elementary, middle, and high schools (all some of the oldest in town) have all been torn-down partially or completely and rebuilt since I attended each of them. There has been quite a lot of change. In contrast, my dad always reminisced on the “good ol’ days”, where had freely rode his horse in the endless stretch of fields where the main roads in town now were. I was curious about why and how these changes were happening, and their impact on the local community and environment as Denton continued to grow. 

    I finally got the answers to some of my many questions, and also added a lot of new ones to the list as I now near the completion of my undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies. A small and friendly campus community and rigorous academics drew me to attend Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX in 2019. The nearby live music scene in Austin and the magnificent beauty of the Hill Country, both of which I had heard so much about but couldn’t wait to experience for myself, were just additional perks of attending school in Central Texas. 
    I took a class called Texas, our(?) Texas during my first semester of college. I was intrigued by this unique class title and wanted to find out what it was all about. Little did I know that it would become what is still my favorite class I have ever taken. I got to write an essay about George Strait (is it obvious I’m a huge fan?), watch the movie Boyhood, and eat Terry Black’s BBQ in Austin — all for class credit. The class unpacked Texas’ unique history, culture, economy, and environment, and I feel like we were just able to scratch the surface. 

    I feel as if there is never a shortage of new places to explore in Texas – new road trips to take, state parks to visit, or quaint, small Texas towns to fall in love with. I am constantly mesmerized by discovering new places and encountering new people in Texas. I will never forget how wonderstruck I was the first time that I visited places like the Pineywoods, Palo Duro Canyon, or overlooked the gorgeous, panoramic Hill Country views on Mt. Baldy or Enchanted Rock. 

    The friendliness and hospitality that Texans are characterized by is unlike anything I have witnessed elsewhere. Texas is a place defined by innovation, hard work, and pride and recognition for all that came before us, and all that is to come. I am delighted to work for an organization that highlights the various work being done to advance conservation in our state, unites organizations and people of all kinds towards this common mission, and is constantly coming up with new ideas to preserve the beautiful landscape and incredible livelihood of our state. I am proud to be Texan by Nature

  11. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Blair Stewart

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    By Blair Stewart, Texan by Nature Intern

    My family likes to tell people that I’ve always been a Texan, I just didn’t always know it. And I must admit: I agree.

    Texas has a magnetic quality about it. From the ancient and nomadic People of Pecos to the first Anglo-American settlers, for thousands of years people have been drawn to Texas’ pristine waters, fertile soil, and natural abundance. I am another of those wanderers who found myself in Texas, saw what it had to offer, and decided to call it home.

    Throughout my childhood, I lived many places, but nature was a constant. I was born in the Rocky Mountains, sailed through my summers on Lake Michigan, spent endless hours exploring the white beaches and barrier islands of the Florida Gulf Coast, and came of age fly-fishing the rivers of lower Appalachia. My grandmother, who dedicated much of her life to protecting the Indiana Dunes long before they gained national recognition, taught me the basics of gardening, the ecological significance of indigenous plants, the importance of the “leave no trace” ethic, and the necessity for ecosystem management. My dad, a hunter and fisherman who grew up in the wilderness of North Georgia, believed without qualification in the essential role of sportsmen in preserving wild spaces, managing wildlife, and being a conscious steward of the land. Due to both of their influences, I’ve always felt like my connection to nature was one of the defining characteristics of my life.

    As I got older, the scope of my interests and intentions began to solidify, and I found myself seeking a purpose through service. This led me to West Point, believing that a career in the military would allow me to affect meaningful change and provide me the fulfillment that I sought. Additionally, my wanderlust grew, and I began traveling the world in pursuit of both understanding and adventure.

    In college, I focused my studies on urban development, the complex vulnerabilities of populations in sub-Saharan Africa, and community-led solutions for change and development. Upon graduation from West Point, I became a Military Intelligence officer and dedicated the next several years towards issues of national security and dominance in the great power competition, working both in Afghanistan and at home.

    Eventually, my military career brought me to San Antonio, and this is where my relationship with Texas began.

    Soon after I moved here, my (now) husband and I decided upon the goal of visiting all 88 Texas State Parks and Natural Areas. Along our travels, I became enamored by this unique and diverse land, which abounds with beauty from the tall, dense forests of the Pineywoods to the karst wonderlands of Hill County, from the Trans-Pecos’ vast deserts and immense skies to the dramatic landscapes of the High Plains’ caprock canyons. I also fell in love with the vibrance of the cities— seemingly always illuminated with festivities— and the convergence of cultures that brings with it diversity of experience, thought, (and fantastic food). Additionally, I began to foster a deep appreciation for the less glamorous parts of Texas, those small ranching and refinery towns around which Texas’ economy— and that of the United States—relies.

    The one thing that struck me immediately about Texas was that regardless of where you are in the state, the spirit is the same. It’s the spirit, passed down through generations, of a proud and tough people who are ready to take on any challenge and eager to make their mark on the world.

    As I pursue a direction for the next chapter of my life, service is still at the forefront of my mind. But I find myself wanting to plant roots, too, and Texas feels like home in a way that no other place ever has. I also find myself drawn back to my relationship with nature and aware of the immediacy of issues related to our limited and threatened natural resources. Our nation will face many challenges at the nexus of climate change, energy independence, and national security in the coming decades, and I believe that Texas has a critical role in shaping our collective future.

    I take solace is knowing that Texans have what it takes to face the challenges of this generation and beyond, and I have every intention of doing my part to help us face these challenges.

    Texans’ can-do spirit—which makes anything possible— resonates with my own, and that’s what makes me Texan by Nature.

     

     

     

  12. Lights Out Texas 2022 Spring Recap Blog

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    Lights Out Texas is a campaign of education, awareness, and action that focuses on turning out lights at night during the Spring and Fall migrations to help protect the billions of migratory birds that fly over Texas annually. The goal of Lights Out Texas is to reduce migratory bird mortality by increasing statewide participation at the business, local official, municipal, and community levels, as well as collecting and reporting data.

    This effort was originally launched in 2017 by Houston Audubon and American National Insurance Company following a major bird collision event involving 400 birds in Galveston. Right around this time, Cornell Lab of Ornithology developed their BirdCast migration forecast maps using historical radar data. Later, Lights Out Texas took hold in Dallas-Fort Worth, led by Texas Conservation Alliance, The Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and Dallas Zoo with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Colorado State University supporting efforts and Texan by Nature helping with outreach in Fall 2020. Throughout 2021, Texan by Nature (TxN) collaborated with these leading organizations to facilitate Lights Out Texas at the statewide level in order to standardize the approach to messaging, communication, and volunteer efforts across all Texas organizations. In 2022, the management of Lights Out Texas for Spring of 2022 was co-facilitated by Texan by Nature and Audubon Texas, with a total transition of the statewide initiative to Audubon Texas in the Summer of 2022.

    As fall bird migration quickly approaches, please save the date for going lights out at night:

    • Full Fall Migration Period: August 15 – November 30
    • Critical Peak Migration Period: September 5 – October 29

    We hope you will join us in turning out lights at night from 11 pm to 6 am throughout fall migration and celebrate the success from spring bird migration below.

    Spring 2022 Lights Out Texas Campaign by the Numbers

    • Social media and outreach toolkits were distributed to 115+ conservation organizations across Texas.Outreach to media outlets resulted in  67 earned media placements receiving 680,846,200 impressions.
    •  627 earned social media posts reached 9,055,537 accounts, receiving 51,823 likes/reactions and 8,419 shares.
    • Through email outreach efforts, 800+ businesses operating in Texas were targeted with Lights Out Texas messaging and 57 businesses confirmed participation in turning out lights at night for migrating birds.
    • 11 cities and 2 counties made proclamations.
    • Individuals, municipalities, and businesses made 440 Lights Out Texas pledges through Texas Conservation Alliance’s Lights Out for Wildlife Certification, and an additional 299 pledges were made with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
    • Four organizations conducted on-the-ground volunteer efforts to understand bird-building collisions, 124 people contributed 1,212 volunteer hours and documented 362 bird casualties.

    Media Highlights

    Check out these social media posts, quotes, and articles featuring Lights Out Texas from this past spring.

    City of Dallas Proclamation- Mayor Johnson: On Earth Day, Mayor Johnson proclaims ‘Lights Out Nights’ in Dallas to help migratory birds,” was featured on medium.com  


    Conservation Organizations

    Conservation organizations across Texas conducted volunteer efforts in conjunction with Lights Out Texas to better understand bird-building collisions and bird-migration dynamics. Texas A&M University, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Oklahoma State University, Texan by Nature, Houston Audubon, Texas Conservation Alliance, Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and Travis Audubon collaborated to develop standardized volunteer guides and training videos to guide statewide efforts.

    Municipal Participation

    Eleven cities and two counties across Texas made Lights Out Texas proclamations:

    • City of Austin* (Spring 2022)
    • City of Buda (Spring 2022)
    • City of Dallas* (Spring 2022)
    • City of Dripping Springs* (Perpetually) 
    • City of Fort Worth* (Spring 2022)
    • City of Houston (Spring 2022)
    • City of Kyle (Spring 2022)
    • League City Texas (Spring 2022)
    • City of San Marcos (Spring 2022)
    • City of Wimberly (Spring 2022)
    • City of Woodcreek (Spring 2022)
    • Hays County (Spring 2022) 
    • Travis County* (Spring 2022)

    *These cities made proclamations in Fall 2021 as well.

    Texas Conservation Alliance Volunteers

    Thank You!

    A special thank you to Heather Prestridge, Curator, Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections, Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology at Texas A&M University for providing support, expertise, and expediting permits and sub permits needed for volunteers to collect specimens and to Tania Homayoun, Ph.D, Texas Nature Trackers Biologist at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for support, expertise, and for creating an iNaturalist project for Lights Out Texas.

    A big thank you goes out to the following organizations that made Lights Out Texas possible for the 2021 Spring campaign:

    Lights Out Texas Founding and Coordinating Organizations

    Lights Out Texas Supporting Organizations

    Austin

    Houston & Gulf Coast

    Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex

    San Antonio

    West Texas

    Statewide

    National

    Learn More

    In 2022, the management of Lights Out Texas for Spring of 2022 was co-facilitated by Texan by Nature and Audubon Texas, with a total transition of the statewide initiative to Audubon Texas in the Summer of 2022. Learn more and see the latest Lights Out Texas Resources at tx.audubon.org/urbanconservation/lights-out-texas 

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