10 Cities Campaign: South Texas Refuge Complex

Video produced for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service by Tandem Stills + Motion in collaboration with The National Wildlife Refuge Association. 


Connect with Nature in a Birder’s Paradise 

A Creative Ocelot Mask Created by an Attendee of Ocelot Conservation Day Credit: USWFS
A Creative Ocelot Mask Created by an Attendee of Ocelot Conservation Day Credit: USWFS

When most people think of Texas, they imagine sun and sagebrush, with sprawling ranches and open plains. In reality, the state is incredibly environmentally diverse, encompassing dramatic mountains and desert rivers in the west, and humid, Spanish moss-draped coastal wetlands in the southeast. The South Texas Refuge Complex (STRC) sits in the latter area, mostly located between the border with Mexico and the Gulf. Though it is far from the sprawl of cities like Houston and San Antonio, the Lower Rio Grande Valley area has lost more than 97% of its native habitats to development, making the Complex an important bulwark protecting the ecological health of wildlife corridors in southeast Texas.

Rio Reforestation Credit: USFWS
Volunteers & USFWS Staff working hard at Rio Reforestation Credit: USFWS

The city of Brownsville and the surrounding area is growing rapidly, but development is not being driven by a speculative real estate and retail expansion; instead, trade and manufacturing industries have driven the exponential population growth. While some people do benefit from this growth, approximately 35% of the population in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) live below the federal poverty line, with nearly three-quarters of households making less than the U.S. median income. Given the economic struggles faced by these communities, it’s understandable that creating access to nature is not a high priority. But that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant.

As one of 14 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) designated regional model urban wildlife refuges, the Complex that consists of three diverse refuges — Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR and Santa Ana NWR — has been working to overcome access challenges by offering culturally appropriate environmental learning opportunities and meaningful experiences to engage the next generation of conservation stewards. To this end, USFWS works in collaboration with the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School Districts (PSJA IDA) to create schoolyard mini-refuges, pollinator gardens where students learn about the monarch butterfly and introduces Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards for educators and parents. Creating these touchpoints with the public is crucial because this land is already at risk and is such an important area to conserve for the future.  

When we look at the benefits Laguna Atascosa NWR offers, home to one of the two remaining breeding populations of the endangered ocelot (Leopardus pardalis).  This population also uses the wildlife corridor created throughout the complex to thrive, often crisscrossing the U.S.-Mexico border.  3 week old male kitten found at den site being checked by biologists / USFWS

These three refuges also provide habitat for migratory birds flying down to winter in warmer places, and many bird-loving tourists travel to the area to see bird species such as the green jay (Cyanocorax yncas), painted bunting (Passerina ciris), and hook-billed kite (Chondrohierax uncinatus).  Birds aren’t the only winged residents of the refuge complex. It is home to roughly 300 unique species of butterfly, including zebra longwings (Heliconius charithonia), blue metalmarks (Lasaia sula), and malachite (Siproeta stelenes).

In addition to STRC’s work to connect with the communities surrounding the Refuge, each year (in partnership with the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor) events and festivals such as Rio Reforestation are held, offering engagement and volunteer opportunities for residents.Another event offered by STRC and local partners – Gladys Porter Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program, and Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refugeis Ocelot Conservation Day.  This year, it’s a day of discovery to learn about elusive ocelots and what USFWS  is doing to save them. Friends of Laguna Atascosa NWR will also be hosting an Ocelot Soiree.

With the proposed expansion of the border wall that would directly impact Santa Ana NWR, all of the inspiring community engagements and hard work put in to conserve and protect this precious piece of our heritage is in jeopardy. The Refuge Associations President Geoffrey Haskett recently joined community, Friends and nonprofit groups for the Save Santa Ana NWR” rally in opposition to the proposed border wall. Therefore, it is crucial that we continue to support the protections and educational opportunities of STRC and the rest of the Refuge System protecting the remaining 5% of native habitat for native flora and fauna and migratory species that depend on the land that’s left.

This is an article by NWRA’s Communications & Outreach Intern, Eden Taylor.


Check out Things You Should Know About The South Texas Refuge Complex Below!



South Texas National Wildlife Refuges


NWRA’s Urban Refuge Program – Protecting our Conservation Future strives to reach beyond refuge boundaries to engage with and connect people of all ages to nature and our Refuge System.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2018/01/10-cities-campaign-south-texas-refuge-complex/

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