90 million acres of longleaf pine forest once stretched across the American Southeast – from Virginia into east Texas – but centuries of timber extraction and poorly-planned development have left only a fraction in place. In 1936, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the opening of four national forests in east Texas, including one named Angelina.
Catahoula Preserve, TLC’s first property and an inholding in the Angelina National Forest, was purchased in 1984. Our founder, Ned Fritz, raised $108,000 from individuals and groups throughout Texas to fund the acquisition. The names inscribed on the plaque at the entrance to the preserve memorialize the effort required to buy this 101-acre parcel.
That same year, the Upland Island Wilderness was created in Angelina. It’s one of five wilderness areas in the national forests of east Texas meant to provide permanent protection for unique and threatened ecosystems, like the longleaf pine. If you go to the Handbook of Texas, an online encyclopedia of Texas history, to read the entry for “Texas Wilderness,” you’ll see it was written by Ned. He led efforts to get congressionally-designated wilderness areas in Texas forests.
TLC’s Catahoula Preserve is surrounded on three sides by the Upland Island Wilderness. It juts into it like a finger and serves as a rare example of a private wilderness area. Decades of fire suppression led to a landscape choked with invasive species like yaupon holly. Catahoula Preserve is a key link for the U.S. Forest Service to conduct prescribed burns within the southeastern part of the Upland Island Wilderness, and we’re starting to see evidence of a healthy forest with the clearing of the understory and regeneration of the long-leaf pine ecosystem. The purchase of Catahoula and the restoration of the natural fire regime have taken time, but started to realize this goal. To learn more about the importance of prescribed fire on this property, check out our article entitled A Forest That Needs Fire.
“Humans have constructed so many mighty works and occupied so many lands that the most momentous achievement remaining to accomplish is to preserve examples of the plant communities which remain unimpaired,” reads the Catahoula dedication plaque.
At the edge of the Catahoula Preserve is a gated cemetery. Within it, you can find the grave of Dessor Ree Frazier. She is buried along with her parents, Harrison and Mary Frazier, and grandparents, James and Emma Runnels. Her grandfather James was a former slave, and settled in the African American community of Boykin Settlement. In 2001, Dessor Ree Frazier donated 20 acres just a few miles from Catahoula Preserve to TLC as the Frazier-Runnels Wildlife Preserve in honor of her family. She was born in 1918 near the tract and spent her early life cultivating the same land her grandfather had first purchased. Her wish was that TLC manage it “so that future generations of Americans might come here and enjoy this wild place and the wildlife that lives here.” This property is another inholding within the National Forest. Through the generosity of Dessor Ree Frazier, TLC has been able to partner with the Forest Service to preserve another example of longleaf pine habitat.
Conservation starts with community, from the people who donate land or money to those of us lucky enough to walk in the woods they helped preserve. It’s a gift given from one generation to another, and one that we reconfirm with our ongoing support for organizations like TLC. While TLC began with a 101-acre parcel called Catahoula, we now have 126 properties and conserve 91,539 acres of Texas (as of April 2019). Over time, the community that Ned started has grown with additions from Dessor Ree Frazier and many, many others. These properties not only help us conserve the lands and waters of Texas, but also preserve the history of our neighbors that lived and worked in these places, too.