Laura Bush celebrates newest Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler

McALLEN – Former First Lady Laura Bush was in the valley on Nov. 8 to celebrate the Lower Rio Grande Valley Learning Landscapes Collaborative’s designation as the newest Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler.

Founded by Bush in 2011, Texan by Nature connects communities, conservation groups, and corporations to establish conservation initiatives.

Bush visited Geraldine Palmer Elementary in Pharr to see first-hand what these students are doing to be leaders in conservation, then attended a special luncheon at Quinta Mazatlán and recognized the five valley school districts making a commitment to create native gardens on at least 50 percent of their school campuses.

The school districts honored were Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD (PSJA), McAllen ISD, Donna ISD, Harlingen ISD and IDEA Public Schools.

The LRGV LL Collaborative is a community-based effort to establish a network of organizations working together to engage students, teachers and administrators throughout school districts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley to incorporate native habitat gardens as outdoor classrooms.

Another objective is to inspire a deep appreciation of the natural resources of the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV), and to instill cultural pride in the many natural wonders of the region for local youth and members of the community.

The project initially began as collaboration between the PSJA ISD and the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge to create National Wildlife Federation Certified Schoolyard Habitats across the district.

Today, the collaborative is composed of Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, Quinta Mazatlán, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District (PSJA ISD), and the South Texas National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Collectively, they support the creation of Schoolyard Habitat Districts – a program from the National Wildlife Federation.

Texan by Nature’s Conservation Wrangler Program highlights the very best Texan-led conservation projects occurring in the state. Texan by Nature became aware of the collaborative’s efforts to restore native habitats while creating project-based learning environments in school districts throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

To receive a designation as a Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler, the collaborative must meet a range of objectives.

A partial list includes providing a range of essential resources such as: guidance and technical expertise to school district staff for creating Learning Landscapes on school campuses; support for the development of science curricula in lesson instruction; and developing and facilitating workshops for administrators, teachers and grounds crews to incorporate Learning Landscapes into their school districts.

McAllen ISD, Donna ISD, Harlingen ISD and IDEA Public Schools will work with the collaborative to create native gardens on at least 50 percent of their school campuses.

They will become Texan by Nature Conservation Wranglers as they pursue certification for each of their campuses as schoolyard habitats by creating learning landscapes to use for educating their students.

Curricula are scheduled to be available in the spring of 2018.

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District (PSJA ISD) has already made significant progress and is expected to be the first school district in Texas to be a National Wildlife Federation Certified School District.

The commitment over time will create learning landscapes on at least 50 percent of the school campuses in the five districts.

There are 151 school campuses in the five school districts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Establishing native gardens at 50 percent of these schools means creating 75 new pollinator gardens throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley. This means that over 3,750 new native plants will enter the local ecosystem.

The LRGV Learning Landscapes Collaborative is made possible by its members that are promoting environmental stewardship in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

The members have committed to a range of activities such as providing: native plants, promotion and marketing activities, development of tailor-made curricula, implementation of “how-to” workshops for grounds crews and school administrators, organizing fund raising events, and many other required resources.

This is an excellent example of what great vision followed by partnerships between communities, corporations, conservation organizations, and individuals can achieve.

The collaborative’s efforts to educate and restore habitats for native wildlife will serve as a template for school districts, communities, and private partners that can be replicated across the state of Texas.

Texan by Nature believes that conservation is not only the responsibility of governments and environmentalists; the private sector must also be a key player.

Corporate activities have an immense impact on nature and on the state of the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems.

Corporations are now recognizing that conservation practices are good for business. There is growing acceptance that business and society share a joint responsibility for the conservation of biodiversity and managing the use of ecosystems in a sustainable way is now widely supported.

In its role as a connector and catalyst, Texan by Nature is working to build a culture of conservation and partnership that benefits all Texans.