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14 Refuges: South Texas National Wildlife Refuge Complex

South Texas National Wildlife Refuges:
A Complex Issue

As the Rio Grande flows from the mountains of Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico, it’s a natural border, a unique ecosystem, and a lifeline for wildlife and people alike. It runs through wetlands, forests, deserts, and floodplains, providing water for agriculture, and a home for numerous birds, plants, and animals, including half of all butterfly species in North America. In order to preserve delicate habitats and their residents, Laguna Atascosa and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuges were established in the 1940s. The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge was created later to connect pockets of land along 275 miles of the river.

Like other western rivers, heavy water usage and diversion has reduced the Rio Grande’s flow significantly. In south Texas, only 5% of native habitats remain along the lower river and its tributaries. Even with these pressures, the biodiversity is impressive, and the refuges in the complex are critical to the survival of common mammals like the bobcat, coyote, Mexican ground squirrel, and the elusive and endangered ocelot and jaguarundi. Because of the protection of these refuges, the first ocelot den in 20 years was recently discovered at Laguna Atascosa NWR.

Gisela Chapa, Santa Ana NWR Refuge Manager

The residents of south Texas love their wildlife refuges. Within the Complex, there are 70 miles of trails for hiking/walking and biking, tram rides to prevent accidental destruction of habitat and injuries to animals, wildlife photography, year-round special events, family-friendly environmental education programs, some of the best birding in North America, and for our sportsmen and women, limited hunting and fishing. In recent months, USFWS has been working with the city of Brownsville to open refuge tracts in the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR to provide more accessibility to the public, which complements the city’s plan to increase outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship in their park system.

Another initiative that refuge staff have undertaken is connecting the community with stewardship opportunities off-refuge, through the Lower Rio Grande Valley Learning Landscapes program that uses native habitat gardens as outdoor classrooms. These habitats provide hands-on learning opportunities for students, parents, caregivers, friends, and volunteers while enhancing their connection to the unique ecosystem of the valley. The Refuge Association’s Urban Refuge Program is partnering with the South Texas Refuge Complex’s Community Engagement and Partnerships Program and the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor to develop training modules, curricula, and pocket reference guides to help local school districts establish and maintain schoolyard habitats.

Stewardship has never been more important to the South Texas refuges as it is today. While there have always been threats to the river and habitats, the proposed expansion of the border wall has placed Santa Ana NWR on the forefront of the political battle, as the proposed wall would run directly through the refuge, causing harm to the iconic wildlife that call it home. However, the community has stepped up in a huge way to protect one of the crown jewels of the national wildlife refuge system. Residents formed human chains, contacted their elected officials and representatives, wrote op-eds, and teamed up with major environmental and conservation organizations and Friends groups to put a stop to the proposed border wall. The outpouring of support led to a provision added to a spending bill that prevents construction of the wall on the refuge.

While the fight is far from over, one thing is clear – lovers and supporters of this refuge complex remain steadfast in opposition to any actions, policies, or practices that disrupt the environmental integrity, preservation of wildlife, native habitats, recreation and educational opportunities of Santa Ana, Laguna Atascosa, and Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuges.

Kelly Dudzik is a freelance writer/blogger who contributes to NWRA’s Urban Refuge Program’s campaign series.


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/2018/08/south-texas-national-wildlife-refuge-complex/

1 comment

  1. Veronica says:

    Where can I learn more about the “provision added to a spending bill that prevents construction of the wall on the refuge”? Before I start to feel a little better about the wall situation down there.

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