October 29, 2020|By Julie Shackelford

Audubon Texas Honors Julie Shackelford, One of our Flock

We checked in with Julie to ask her about her work, what winning this award means to her, and how she has adapted during this global pandemic.

What do you do at The Conservation Fund?

I started in 2004 as one of two conservation real estate staff in Texas. I am still doing that and have loved (almost) every minute of it! My work at the Fund allows me to fulfill a personal passion to make world a better place for the people and animals living in it. I have loved travelling throughout the state of Texas and knowing the permanent impact that my work has for land protection. And I am especially gratified to see the positive economic impact that protected areas have on local communities.

Putting land acquisition deals together is like working on a big puzzle, and seeing all the pieces fall into place is very rewarding. Conserving land up and down the Neches River in East Texas, which I started on when I first joined the Fund, has been some of my favorite work. The Fund’s collective effort resulted in adding the very first pieces of land into the new Neches River National Wildlife Refuge. I have worked to expand that refuge over the years.

10 29 20 Neches riverNeches River. Photo by Jay Brittain.

What are some of the most pressing challenges or issues ahead in terms of protecting birds and their habitats in Texas?

Recent studies have shown that North America has lost about three billion birds since the 1970s. Texas is going to face more conservation challenges as people continue moving into the state—more people means more required infrastructure, and that consumes more land. Then, layer in climate change where hotter and drier weather patterns are punctuated by extreme flooding. We and our partners are doing everything we can to conserve habitat but it’s becoming more challenging with greater pressures on habitat.

We are seeing the diversity of species decline precipitously as their habitats shrink. Bobwhite quail were plentiful decades ago but today you can hardly find them in the eastern half of the state. Many birds with smaller habitat ranges or that are habitat specialists, like grassland birds, have declined the most in Texas and elsewhere in the U.S., many of which migrate through Texas in the fall and spring of each year.

10 29 20 bobwhiteBobwhite quail. Photo by Jay Brittain.

Any conservation project is going to have significant positive impacts on birds. My favorite group of birds are wood warblers, the tiny colorful, hard-to-see birds often found in tops of trees. Texas is a migratory highway for many kinds of birds—providing habitat for them here is a critical part of helping them to arrive safely on their breeding grounds farther north. Stopover habitat on the coast where they can refuel after their long-distance flights over the Gulf of Mexico is especially important. Our land protection work at Anahuac, McFaddin and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuges are excellent examples of stopover habitat for migrating birds.

10 29 20 prothonotary warbler cPeter Brannon AllAboutBirds.orgProthonotary warbler. Photo by Peter Brannon (allaboutbirds.org).

Congratulations on being a 2020 Terry Hershey Award Honoree! This award given by Audubon Texas recognizes the important contribution of Texas women in conservation. How do you feel?

It’s such an honor, and I am so grateful to all my colleagues for nominating me and for so many others who have mentored me throughout my career. Knowing the list of impressive women who have received this award in the past is humbling and a real honor. I am so appreciative of all the folks I have worked with and who have been part of my conservation career in Texas.

10 29 20 julie geese stJulie observing a flock of geese at Sabine Ranch, located in the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge in Texas’ Gulf Coast region. Photo by Shannon Tompkins.

Terry Hershey—for whom this award is named—has been described as “force of nature for nature.” She was known for pouring her passion, time, energy, and resources into significant conservation projects throughout Texas. Can you tell us a bit more about her?

Terry Hershey was an amazing woman! She was passionate and never one to mince words—you always knew exactly what she was thinking and where she stood on issues. I first met her in 1994 when I had just moved to Texas (as a non-Texan!). I was three weeks into my new job at the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, where Terry was a Commissioner. She hosted an event at her house in Houston that I was lucky to attend—I met so many people there whom I still work with. It was always inspirational to be around her and she was a real role model. And she was a hoot.

On another topic… since the pandemic arrived, how have you been adapting? While it’s almost impossible to predict anything today, what may be some of the lasting impacts of the pandemic?

I think we are all learning as we go—how to keep kids occupied, get them educated and manage a full-time job. It’s a real exercise in time management. But we really have been appreciating our backyard and our native landscaping and all the birds we see. I do miss travelling and the ability to explore different places.

Land conservation is always a long-term prospect and we’ll weather this pandemic just like all other challenges. I believe the pandemic has given people a renewed appreciation of parks and open spaces. We see so many more people outdoors as families, and I am confident it has elevated the importance of conserving urban and wild landscapes in the minds of many people. And that’s a good thing.

Find Out More

Watch the video about Julie's award!

Julie Shackelford shares the story of our work on Big Thicket National Preserve and the Neches River. https://www.conservationfund.org/face-of-this-place/julie-shackelford

Written By

Julie Shackelford

Julie Shackelford is the Texas Programs Director at The Conservation Fund, where she has assisted in more than 50 land acquisition transactions that have protected 100,000 acres of land throughout Texas. Julie has always loved nature and being in the outdoors. She spent a college semester abroad in Australia studying marine wildlife in the Great Barrier Reef and exploring national parks, and it changed her life. She came home to the U.S. knowing she wanted to pursue a career in conservation, and for nearly 25 years, that is what she has done. When she's not working, Julie loves birdwatching with her husband and family, hiking, camping, and wildscaping her backyard, which is full of native plants that attract pollinators and other wildlife.