Texas Keeps It Wild
Pineywoods Mitigation Bank to provide restoration of a critical wetland ecosystem
The Texas Land Conservancy is helping to keep part of Texas permanently wild with one of its newest land acquisitions.
Along with The Conservation Fund, the conservancy is managing a more than 19,000-acre mitigation bank in an ecologically important area of the state.
The Neches River ecosystem was listed as one of the most endangered rivers by American Rivers in 2007, but now represents the largest mitigation bank in the state of Texas and one of the largest in the United States. A mitigation bank is a wetland, river or other aqueous region that is being restored to mitigate the effects of development.
The property was previously managed by a timber company, and Andy Jones, director of the Conservation Fund Texas office, said conservation groups have been eyeing the area for years.
“This section of the Neches River has been on the radar for conservation groups since the 1970s for both its biological value and its value as a corridor connection between the Angelina and Davy Crockett national forests,” Jones said.
Reversing years of development
Development in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area has put pressure on the river, as a large demand for water has caused the creation of a series of reservoirs. In addition, long-term timber practices and an invasion of non-native species have taken a toll on the watershed. The goal of the project is to bring the site back to “pre-settlement conditions” within the next 10 years.
Private, industrial and governmental agencies in Texas can purchase credits from the bank to mitigate the effects of their development primarily in the eastern portion of the state’s wetlands. The money from these credits will be used to restore the Pineywoods Mitigation Bank, and developers will be permitted to proceed with construction.
An important corridor
Mark Steinbach, executive director of the Texas Land Conservancy, said the bank is one of the conservancy’s most important easements for many reasons. In addition to connecting two national forests, the easement protects an intact bottomland river corridor. Steinbach also said the opportunity to work on ecosystem-sized projects is rare.
“We hold numerous easements, but trying to create large-scale conservation is difficult; with this project it happened in one transaction,” Steinbach said. “This easement will prevent any development. We are keeping this part of Texas permanently wild.”
Jones added that the area serves as an important corridor for black bears, migratory waterfowl and neo-tropical migratory birds coming from South America to the northern United States via the Neches River Valley.
Restoration of the area will involve the removal of exotic and undesirable tree species, which will be replaced with native species. Species like the Chinese tallow will be removed and replaced with pecan, oak, and other hardwoods. River channel stabilization is also planned, which will help to help slow or prevent any further erosion along sensitive areas of the river.
The Pineywoods Mitigation Bank sits on the eastern edge of the Big Thicket, an area that includes more than 13,000 acres of bottomland wetland forest, complemented by scrub/shrub and emergent wetlands, and areas of open water.
Jones stressed the importance of wetlands to ecosystems.
“Wetlands serve as kidneys to our water system, filtering waste from our water,” Jones said. “They also provide the wet soils needed to keep a diverse ecosystem alive, including flora and fauna.”
A bright future
Steinbach said this project will be threefold in what is accomplishes.
“It permanently protects and restores a critical ecosystem; it creates a revenue stream for more land protection projects; and will eventually provide a direct public benefit in creating a publicly accessible area that the state would have likely never acquired on their own. One of the most desirable aspects of this project is the forethought about what happens when the bank has sold all the credits. This property will eventually be given the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and managed as a wildlife management area (WMA) for the public.”
by Tina Deines
Photos courtesy of Pineywoods Mitigation Bank