The Columbia Bottomlands in southeast Texas are home to some of the nation’s most iconic species. American alligators glide through the swampy waters, nesting Bald Eagles make their home in the upper branches of live oak trees along the Brazos River, and hundreds of thousands of migrating birds stopover in this rich wetland ecosystem to refuel after their grueling treks across the globe every year. These open, healthy lands are precious, and they are rapidly disappearing.
“Lands that were once thousands of acres of continuous farms and ranches are now broken up into smaller and smaller lots, for commercial and residential development. With this fragmentation comes a destruction of wildlife habitat, decreased water quality for the rivers and streams that flow into the Gulf, and the loss of the beautiful wide-open views that give Texas her character,” argues Dr. Roel Lopez, Director for the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources.
Flanked by the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge and the Brazoria National Wildlife refuge, the Columbia Bottomlands is a unique ecosystem and an ecological treasure. As with many rural areas that are close to urban centers, the Bottomlands are at risk of becoming overrun.
“Houston is the second fastest growing city in the nation, and as the population grows, so does the development pressure on the areas surrounding the city,” said Dr. Lopez, who is the authority on land use changes happening across the state.
TLC recently completed a conservation easement at Willow Glen Plantation in the Colombia Bottomlands that protects nearly 3,000 acres of pristine habitat in this precious ecosystem. This conservation agreement will ensure that the ecologically sensitive wetlands will be protected from encroaching development of the suburban sprawl of nearby Houston. We began our discussions with the owners of the Willow Glen Plantation in 2012. The family sought to ensure that this environmentally sensitive land would be protected forever. After years of conversations, negotiations with federal funding agencies, and legal preparations, the family decided the best way to protect Willow Glen Plantation is with a conservation easement.
This project was funded through a combination of a grant with the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation program, a donation by the landowners, and support from the Houston Endowment. These kinds of transactions take a lot of time and careful thought, but in the end the effort is more than worth it. The lower Brazos River and the Columbia Bottomlands are a high priority for TLC, and this is one of the most significant conservation projects our organization has completed.