Conservation in South Texas 

By Faith Humphreys



Tag Archive: Yaupon AgWorks

  1. Conservation in South Texas

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    Texas is a popular state. In fact, nearly 1 in 10 Americans lives in Texas. There is a lot to love about the Lone Star State, including its sense of pride, deep history, diverse landscapes, and delicious Tex-Mex cuisine.

    However, popularity can be a burden. As Texans grow in number, the state’s native plants and wildlife take a toll. In the last decade, Texas gained nearly four million people, the highest number of any state in the country. Consequently, from 2012 to 2017 alone, over 1.2 million acres of working lands were converted to non-agricultural uses. That’s a rate of over 650 acres per day! Texas’s exploding population has resulted in increased land development that impacts its native wildlife and plants. As of September 2023, 203 plant and animal species are listed as endangered or threatened in Texas.

    The South Texas Plains is the state’s most biodiverse ecoregion and simultaneously home to 3 of the top 25 fastest-growing counties in the state. Fragmentation of the region’s expansive ranches into smaller parcels has been identified as the most significant threat to its wildlife. However, despite many land changes, it remains a haven for many rare species of plants and animals.

    This haven didn’t happen on its own. Conservation organizations in South Texas have worked tirelessly to protect the region from development’s impacts. From education to boots-on-the-ground conservation to policy transformation, the region’s ecosystems have greatly benefited from their efforts.

    Here are some of our Conservation Partners in South Texas!

    Overlook of the Rio Grande Credit: RGISC

    Overlook of the Rio Grande Credit: RGISC 

    RGISC: Chartered by the State of Texas in 1994, RGISC is Laredo’s leading environmental nonprofit. Our mission is to protect and preserve our only source of drinking water, the Rio Grande, and our local environment through research, outreach and awareness, policy advocacy, binational partnerships, and environmental youth education.

    Over the past three years, RGISC has moved strategically to build new Water Security and Climate Adaptation programs focused on data analysis, coalition building, and cultural organizing to implement innovative solutions that will make our region greener and climate resilient. We’re also leading campaigns and coalitions on complex issues that include ethylene oxide, and visionary plans for a 6.2-mile binational river conservation project.

    Overlook of thornforest Credit: American Forests/ Ruth Hoyt
    Overlook of thornforest Credit: American Forests/ Ruth Hoyt

    American Forests: American Forests is a nationwide organization whose mission is to create healthy and resilient forests, from cities to wilderness, that deliver essential benefits for climate, people, water, and wildlife. In Texas, American Forests is focusing its efforts in the Rio Grande Valley region to restore native thornforest, Texas’s most species-diverse ecosystem. Through funding and seed collection efforts, American Forests has developed the region’s first native community forest, formed the Thornforest Conservation Partnership, and provided support for restoration outplanting at Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR and Laguna Atascosa NWR.

    A heifer and her calf in a meadow of prickly poppy Credit: East Foundation
    A heifer and her calf in a meadow of prickly poppy Credit: East Foundation

    East Foundation: Advancing land stewardship through ranching, science, and education, the East Foundation works on behalf of landowners and managers to discover, develop, and document management outcomes benefitting livestock, wildlife, and rangelands while maximizing the long-term value of a ranching operation. As the first recognized Agricultural Research Organization in the U.S., East Foundation utilizes its diverse South Texas rangelands across six ranches as a living laboratory to advance land stewardship by conducting partnered research, developing conservation-minded leaders, and investing in future professionals through K-12 education programs, internships, graduate student training, and close engagement with university programs.

    Established in 2007 and building on an established reputation for innovative research and education programs, East Foundation is a working cattle operation focused on improving sustainable beef production in order to maintain the ecosystem services provided by intact rangelands. The Foundation’s ranching operations also encompass the conservation of the largest known population of the American ocelot – a small, secretive, and rare wild cat species. East Foundation is an engaged partner in the groundbreaking monitoring and recovery effort with the goal of recovery of the species – primarily on private lands – while also maintaining traditional land use and ownership rights.

    Brown butterfly with several large white spots on a twig Credit: National Butterfly Center
    Brown butterfly with several large white spots on a twig Credit: National Butterfly Center

    National Butterfly Center: Located in Mission, Texas, the National Butterfly Center is a 100-acre wildlife center with the greatest volume and variety of wild, free-flying butterflies in the nation. The Center is dedicated to the conservation and study of wild butterflies in their native habitats. A primary focus of its efforts is educating the public about the value of biodiversity, the beauty of the natural world, the wonder of butterflies, particularly, and the powerful role they play in maintaining healthy ecosystems and sustainable food resources. The Center hosts the Texas Butterfly Festival every fall.

    Focused in the foreground a branch of Yaupon and blurred in the background two people examining a branch of Yaupon Credit: Yaupon AgWorks
    Focused in the foreground a branch of Yaupon and blurred in the background two people examining a branch of Yaupon Credit: Yaupon AgWorks

    Yaupon AgWorks: At the northern edge of South Texas lies a portion of the Post Oak Savannah ecoregion. Yaupon, a native evergreen shrub, has overtaken much of the native grasslands characteristic of the Post Oak Savannah. After sustainably harvesting wild yaupon for tea for the last decade, Yaupon AgWorks realized a need to incorporate grassland restoration in order to move the needle in overall land restoration. Although in its infancy, Yaupon AgWorks envisions a more sustainable and vibrant future with strong partnerships and eager landowners.

    Deep in the Heart Film

    Defenders of Wildlife: Founded in 1947, Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. Defenders of Wildlife protects and restores vulnerable wildlife populations by transforming policies and institutions and by promoting science-based, innovative solutions. In South Texas, its focus is on the fewer than 60 ocelots left in the United States. Defenders work to raise awareness of ocelots’ presence on the landscape and best practices for coexisting with them. Additionally, Defenders is fighting the construction of industrial infrastructure that would undermine ocelot recovery.

    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.

    These organizations are doing spectacular work to conserve and protect South Texas’s unique flora and fauna. If you are interested in supporting these organizations and the important work they’re doing in South Texas, consider visiting their website for ways to get involved.

    Texas is popular, and its popularity continues to grow by the minute. Protecting native plants and wildlife is more important than ever! With our Conservation Partners’ dedicated work, Texans will have the opportunity to enjoy them for generations to come.