March 1, 2019|By Jena Thompson Meredith| Wildlife

This weekend I’m traveling to the southern tip of Texas to join conservation partners and staff from Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge to celebrate Ocelot Conservation Day. This refuge is close to my heart. I spent a bit of my youth there, and going back always sparks nostalgia and admiration for the incredible partnerships forged by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

3 1 19 Laguna Atascosa sign c Jena Meredith 640x480 copy copyThe 97,000-acre Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is home to one of the two remaining ocelot populations in the nation. The Conservation Fund and Dell, through its Plant a Forest initiative, are planting trees at the refuge that will improve habitat for the ocelot and other endangered species. Photo by Jena Thompson Meredith.

The landscape across the lower Rio Grande Valley has changed dramatically over the past several decades. About 95% of the thick brush called Tamaulipan thorn scrub, which is not found anywhere else in the United States, has been cleared to make room for agricultural and urban development. This has had a detrimental effect on the ocelot, a beautiful, leopard-like wild cat that uses the Tamaulipan thorn scrub for sleeping, breeding, hunting and hiding. Because of the loss of habitat in this region, ocelot populations have drastically declined. In the United States, the now endangered ocelot is found only in the southernmost tip of Texas, where an estimated 80 ocelots remain.

3 1 19 Ocelot Cub c Valerie Flickr.com 640x480 copy copyThe ocelot is an elusive and solitary wild cat with markings similar to a leopard or jaguar. Due to widespread habitat loss throughout the southwest, there are only 80 ocelots that remain in the US. Together, The Conservation Fund, Dell and its customers are working to restore ocelot habitat at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, home to one of the two remaining ocelot populations. Photo by Valerie/Flickr.

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, part of the South Texas Refuge Complex and one of more than 560 National Wildlife Refuges administered by the USFWS, is home to one of the only two remaining ocelot populations in the country, making it the center for conservation and recovery efforts. Here, restoring native brush habitat is a high priority. The Conservation Fund has worked at the refuge for more than 20 years and has protected more than 24,000 acres within the lower Rio Grande Valley. 

Protecting land is key; so is restoring the lands you conserve. To lead restoration efforts, we’ve teamed with some of the globe’s most innovative companies, including Dell and many others. A forest conservation and restoration partner since 2007, Dell recently launched Plant a Forest, a first-of-its kind initiative to gift trees to its commercial clients, including Walmart. Dell’s gift will support efforts to plant thousands of trees throughout the South Texas Refuge Complex on behalf of Walmart and Dell’s customers.

3 1 19 Laguna Atascosa NWR c Vince Smith 640x480 copy copyThe Conservation Fund has protected more than 24,000 acres at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge at the southern tip of Texas, along the border with Mexico. With partners like Dell, The Conservation Fund aims to plant thousands of trees here to restore habitat for the endangered ocelot. Photo by Vince Smith.

“We constantly look to collaborate with our customers in ways that add value to the communities we serve,” said David Lear, VP of Sustainability at Dell Technologies. “The Plant a Forest program allows us to support Walmart’s interest in conserving the environment in a region experiencing rapid urban growth. We believe collaborations like this take the customer experience to new levels and have far reaching impact greater than what we could deliver on our own.”

These investments also make a big impact on the local economy. Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is a big draw for eco-tourism, generating nearly $30 million in local economic benefits because of its 300,000 visitors each year. On average, every $1 spent here leverages $37 for the local economy—a dramatic and positive impact on a community where 47 percent of children live in poverty.

Since its launch, Plant a Forest has committed to planting more than 130,000 trees in wildlife refuges and national forests across the country, and Dell aims to expand the program further this year. This builds on the success of Dell’s Plant a Tree initiative begun in 2007, which was one of the first to provide customers the option of offsetting the carbon impact of their IT purchases and has resulted in more than a million trees planted. These trees are helping clean the air we breathe and the water we drink, providing habitat for wildlife, ensuring sustainable supply chains and strengthening local economies.

The Conservation Fund is proud to be working with sustainability leaders like Dell and Walmart. Their efforts are making a significant difference on the ground and are ensuring the ocelot has a chance at a comeback. 

Written By

Jena Thompson Meredith

With more than a decade at The Conservation Fund, Jena Thompson Meredith leads The Conservation Fund’s business partnerships to create positive impact for conservation and communities. She lived on Laguna Atascosa NWR in the early 1990s with her family—an experience that shaped her passion for and commitment to building partnerships that address habitat loss and climate change.