Federal wildlife officials acquire nearly 5,000 acres of land along Texas Gulf Coast for migratory birds
In late December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquired 4,628 acres of coastal bottomlands forest along the Texas Gulf Coast.
According to the federal wildlife agency, this newly acquired land is the largest contiguous “old-growth” forest tract remaining in the Columbia Bottomlands habitat that had not yet been conserved. “Old-growth” refers to ecosystems that tend to have older trees that have largely been undisturbed.
It’s also the first refuge tract in Wharton County.
Columbia Bottomlands supports reptiles, amphibians, and mammals, including swamp rabbits, white-tailed deer, and red-eared slider turtles. It’s also a major stopover habitat for migratory birds.
“The Columbia Bottomlands ecosystem is a critically important area for millions of migratory birds that use it as a staging area between their wintering habitat in the Caribbean and South America,” said Heather Snow, the realty chief of the Fish and Wildlife Service in the Southwest region.
Snow said that’s what attracted federal wildlife officials to acquire the land mainly through grants.
“What makes this very unique is the Fish and Wildlife Service was able to fund this acquisition with about $11.5 million of the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which is put toward acquisition for migratory birds along with just over $2 million of private funds provided by the Knobloch Family Foundation, The Brown Foundation, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Bezos Earth Fund,” added Snow.
The land will now be a part of the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, which is currently located in Brazoria and Matagorda counties. The nearly 70,000-acre refuge includes forested wetlands, and was established in 1968 as a wintering habitat for waterfowl and other migratory bird species.
“The newly acquired land is named the McNeill-Peach Creek Unit, and it contains an extensive amount of frontage on the San Bernard River to the north and east, as well as Peach Creek, which roughly bounds the southern extent of the property,” said Snow. “But, Bottomland hardwood trees dominate the property, in addition to being a major migratory bird stopover area.”
The Columbia Bottomlands once covered over a thousand square miles of floodplain forest along the Brazos, San Bernard, and Colorado Rivers.
Today, just 150 square miles remain that haven’t been impacted by agriculture or development.
Houston Public Media’s Katie Watkins contributed to this report.
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