The Neches River National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), encompasses some of the best remaining bottomland hardwood forest land left in the country, providing crucial habitat for migratory birds and native wildlife. Located in the heart of Central Flyway, the Neches River Refuge is a vital resting spot for the migratory waterfowl and songbird species that fuel a multi-million dollar outdoor recreation industry along the Texas coast. It is home to a host of wildlife species. The Neches Refuge provides habitat for several endangered or threatened species including the Wood Stork, the Neches River Rose Mallow, and several species of freshwater mussels. The refuge also has enormous potential as an outdoor recreation site, to connect families and groups to nature, educate future generations about conservation and the natural world, and generate revenue for area communities through nature tourism. Texas Conservation Alliance (TCA), and the Friends of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge work with USFWS on projects to improve habitat and provide recreational access to the refuge.
Project Description & History
TCA plans a number of specific projects to enhance habitat and expand recreational opportunities on the Neches River Refuge. This includes restoration projects, including planting native species and eliminating invasive species. They are also helping purchase wildlife watching blinds, wood duck and songbird nest boxes, and directional signage. They have repaired three out-of-use hog traps to begin a removal program for invasive feral hogs. They are assisting USFWS in the removal of invasive Chinese tallow trees.
TCA is working with the refuge manager to implement a hunting program. The program is expected to begin with a Youth Hunt, and encompass an archery hunt, three weekends of gun hunting for deer and feral hogs, and a seasonal waterfowl hunt.
A major undertaking TCA has begun is getting the Neches River segment along the border of the refuge designated by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as a State Paddling Trail. The stretch of river along the refuge is 15 miles long, with a put-in/take-out point midway for those wishing a shorter paddle.
The refuge serves as a place for area schools, scouts, church groups, garden clubs, civic organizations, chambers of commerce, tourist bureaus, and outdoor recreation clubs to volunteer or to plan an outing that is fun, educational, and connects them to nature. TCA has hosted a group of middle school students who threw seed balls which they had created to restore prairie plants that would attract pollinators along a pipeline right-of-way. For events, TCA has recruited graduate students at the Center for Environment, Biodiversity, and Conservation of the University of Texas at Tyler, an area paddling club, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) staff, and others to lead nature walks, seine and identify “critters” in the backwater sloughs, and give plant identification, wildlife photography, and other nature-related talks.
The refuge is easily accessible to nearby urban areas in Texas and Louisiana. It is only an hour away from Tyler and Longview, and two hours from Dallas and Shreveport. The people living in these urban areas will greatly benefit from a natural area close by that provides numerous recreational opportunities such as hiking, photography, wildlife watching, paddling, and hunting.