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Laura Bush Wants You to Help Preserve Texas' Natural Beauty

Be the Change, Inc./flickr
The former First Lady heads up an organization that's encouraging landowners to implement conservation measures on their private properties.

From Texas StandardAs enormous as the state of Texas is, 95 percent of its land is privately held. So if you're serious about conservation, any efforts on publicly held land are just a start. The next step is convincing private landowners to embrace best practices, too.

That's where a new group called Texan by Nature comes in: trying to spark a movement in citizen conservation. It's not just another non-profit, either. It's headed up by former First Lady Laura Bush. She says the organization is reaching out to all Texas private landowners to let them know what they can do to conserve their own property.

For example, Tuesday the group is hosting a Monarch butterfly event at the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the SMU campus.

Bush spoke to the Standard from her office at the center, which provides an example for Texas land conservation techniques.

“I'm looking at the native Texas prairie that we put in around our presidential library and museum on the campus of SMU,” she says. “The use of native plants in our state has been championed by other first ladies – Ladybird Johnson.”

Bush says the Bush Center partnered with the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center to develop the landscape. It’s a mixture of five Texas native grasses: three different types of gramascurling mesquite and Buffalo grass.

“It makes a really wonderful, big lawn that doesn't need to be watered very often or mowed very often,” Bush says.

The former first lady says she’s been interested in conservation her whole life. “That idea of conservation in my home, in West Texas, where you really do need to conserve – there's very little water,” she says. “It’s drought. And the only plants and trees that do well are the ones that are native, that are used to that kind of arid, dry landscape.”

She says when George Bush was Governor of Texas, before ascending to the Presidency, they hosted an opening luncheon for Ladybird Johnson and the Wildflower Center on the Governor’s Mansion lawn.

“I was always proud of Ladybird – that she saw the beauty in our state and in our country,” Bush says. “When I came home from Washington, I joined with a group of my good friends… and we started this Texans by Nature to use the platform that I have to reach all the different partners across the state, to encourage people to use native plants and to conserve our land. And the best way to do it is to use the things that are native here."

The group is also trying to get people in the fracking industry to save the ground dirt that they’re displacing in the process of oil extraction. Through the project, in the Eagle Ford Shale area of the state, the group has organized a cooperative of oil and gas companies, contractors, landowners and wildlife and habitat experts.

"There are a lot of ways companies can also join us in our efforts,” Bush says. “When pipelines are laid, for instance, if you just roll that topsoil over – and it is more expensive, and it is slightly more time consuming to lay a pipeline that way – but if you roll the topsoil over, lay the pipeline and then roll the soil back, you've really made much less of an impact on the property.”

There are other approaches to conservation, of course, like asking the state or federal government to intervene. Bush says that option doesn’t work well in Texas.

"Texans know and care for their own property in way that they don't think outsiders would,” she says. “Texans want to know what they can do to restore prairie, to hear quail again on their ranches or their farms, to see the migratory Monarch butterflies in their own yards or on their own property. In our state – because we are a private property state – what works best is private landowners taking care of their own property, and I truly believe that's what Texans want to do.”

The first lady’s advice for those at-home backyard gardeners without a ranch or farm to call home?

"Plant native plants in your backyard," she says.

Emily Donahue is a former grants writer for KUT. She previously served as news director and helped launch KUT’s news department in 2001.
David entered radio journalism thanks to a love of storytelling, an obsession with news, and a desire to keep his hair long and play in rock bands. An inveterate political junkie with a passion for pop culture and the romance of radio, David has reported from bases in Washington, London, Los Angeles, and Boston for Monitor Radio and for NPR, and has anchored in-depth public radio documentaries from India, Brazil, and points across the United States and Europe. He is, perhaps, known most widely for his work as host of public radio's Marketplace. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of moving to Texas full-time in 2005, Brown joined the staff of KUT, launching the award-winning cultural journalism unit "Texas Music Matters."
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