San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge
Migratory birds at San Bernard NWR. Photo by Tim Cooper
Our passion for conservation means we’re dedicated to saving land—no matter how complex the project. That’s why, over the past few years, the Fund has helped expand the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge by more than 5,000 acres.
The San Bernard refuge is located just south of Houston and is one of three refuges that make up the Texas Mid-Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, a beautiful, natural area that supports wildlife, outdoor recreation and the local economy.
A Haven For Birds
Texas’ Gulf Coast, home to the San Bernard refuge, is one of the “birdiest” spots in the world, and wildlife watching in this region brought in $2.9 billion for the state in 2006. San Bernard and the larger Mid-Coast refuge complex include a vital area of coastal wetlands harboring more than 300 bird species. It’s the end point of the Central Flyway for waterfowl in winter and an entry point for neotropical migratory songbirds tired from the 600-mile Gulf crossing from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Saving A Vanishing Ecosystem
The low-lying forests at San Bernard not only are loved by birds, but also help clean the water on its way to the Gulf of Mexico, improving conditions for aquatic life and the multimillion-dollar seafood industry. With Texas drought conditions the worst in years, managing water resources for wildlife and people is more important than ever.
Over the years we’ve completed projects that have added between 50 acres to hundreds of acres to the San Bernard refuge, but our most recent project expanded the refuge by nearly 4,500 acres. In 2011, we purchased this large tract, known as Osceola Plantation, and helped gather funding so that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could then acquire it. The land officially became part of the refuge in February 2012.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considered the tract a high priority because it was part of the Austin’s Woods/Columbia Bottomlands Conservation Plan — an effort to conserve 70,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forests and other associated habitats vital for approximately 29 million migrant birds. Its unique and diverse habitat features one of the largest natural lakes in the coastal region as well as coastal prairie, river bottom forests, freshwater wetland and open water. This kind of habitat is a magnet for migratory land birds, wintering sparrows, shorebirds and waterfowl, including the Mottled Duck, a species in sharp decline.
It also permanently protects a diverse freshwater wetland and the Brazos River floodplain forest surrounding Eagle Nest Lake for wildlife, public recreation and education. It’s a particularly great place for recreational fishing and hunting opportunities for visitors, and educational activities for children.
Conservation Success Through Partnerships
Our work to expand San Bernard is a great example of how, as an organization, we’re able to find solutions to difficult conservation challenges. In order to add the nearly 4,500 acres to the refuge, myriad funding sources needed to be brought together. We were able to make this project possible with funding from our revolving fund, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Houston Endowment Inc. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service designated funds for a conservation easement through its Wetlands Reserve Program and in 2009, the U.S. Congress approved funding for the purchase of the 2012 property through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. A North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant and $3 million from the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission’s Federal Duck Stamp program also were approved for this conservation effort.
One of our core values is working with partners to help fulfill their conservation priorities. The expansion of San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge is a great success story for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as for the people and wildlife of Texas.