Year 1 VISTA Intern, Karen Ceballos (front), leading a Bilingual birding tour at the Refuge.
Here are some of the projects the Friends of Laguna Atascosa has recently worked on:
Friends has been assisting the USFWS with purchasing key properties that are within the Bahia Grande Coastal Corridor. To date, we have acquired 50 acres of property. These pieces of property have been identified as key in creating a wildlife corridor in Cameron County and in connecting the patchwork of properties currently part of the refuge or in the process of being acquired. These properties are usually smaller plats but at risk of becoming developed rather than becoming sites for habitat restoration for many of the refuge's wildlife, including the Ocelot and the Aplomado Falcon. Smaller properties are generally not purchased by the various conservation groups that work with the refuge on land acquisition, and often the owner is ready to sell. The Friends can act quickly to close the sale. If you are interested in donating to our efforts to conserve land, check out our Legacy Fund:
South Texas Angler Education and Outreach Project- Family Fish Camps
Through a partnership with the USFWS, Fishing’s Future, Brownsville ISD, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Brownsville Coastal Fisheries office, with funding from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Community Outdoor Outreach Program, Friends is hosting a free fishing education program at the Bahia Grande. This program involves hosting free family fish camps for 400+ participants and students from Brownsville ISD, and an angler education certification program for ten Brownsville ISD teachers. During the family fish camps, participants learn about fishing etiquette, fishing gear, fish habitat and coastal ecology, and state rules and regulations. The event also includes catch and release fishing at the Bahia Grande.
Bahia Grande Parking and Signage
With funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Friends is helping the Refuge with critical infrastructure needed to open the Bahia Grande Unit to the public. Through this program, Friends assisted with the installation of a caliche parking area, an entrance sign, and a kiosk and interpretive sign for the Bahia Grande Unit of the Refuge.
AmeriCorps VISTA Visitors Services Intern
Through a partnership with the Conservation Legacy Program- Stewards Individual Placement Program and the AmeriCorps VISTA program, Friends has been able to provide an AmeriCorps VISTA intern for the Visitors Services Program at the Refuge for two years. AmeriCorps VISTA interns build institutional capacity, develop community relationships, and support ecosystem health. This internship provides individual opportunities through service that build career-based experience, strengthen communities and preserve our natural resources. Our AmeriCorps VISTA’s have helped provide more programming both on and off the Refuge that are reaching more diverse audiences, assisted with volunteer recruitment and retention, and have initiated an internship program with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Aplomado Falcon Habitat Enhancement in South Texas Phase III
Through a cooperative agreement between the USFWS and the Friends, this project will work on public and private lands in south Texas to enhance habitat for aplomado falcons. It is anticipated that most of the work will involve brush management and prescribed fire. Brush control will be accomplished through mechanical and chemical means, as well as, using prescribed fire in addition to other conservation actions. Aplomado falcons require large tracks of open grasslands with scattered yucca to persist. Aplomado falcons do not construct their own stick nest; therefore, they utilize platforms built by crested caracara, white-tailed hawks and Chihuahuan ravens. In south Texas, aplomado falcons use gulf cord grass, and sea-oxeye daisy dominated flats. Gulf cord grass areas are prone to encroachment by huisache and mesquite brush if not maintained with fire. In addition, gulf cord grass can become dense enough that it impedes the ability of aplomado’s to successfully pursue and capture prey; therefore, these areas require periodic prescribed fire to maintain their open nature. Periodic prescribed fire also rejuvenates the coastal prairie making it more attractive to grassland avian and terrestrial species therefore, increasing prey.
Bahia Grande: The Largest Wetland Restoration Project in Texas
Friends has been raising funds for completion of a documentary about the Bahia Grande restoration project. The primary objective of this project is to increase awareness of this historic 10,000-acre restoration in creating a vital estuary and highlighting the cooperative efforts of state, federal and private entities that have worked together for more than a decade to bring this vital project to fruition. Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is the largest parcel of native habitat open to the public in South Texas, and the Bahia Grande Unit will be an integral part of the refuge system available for public recreation for generations to come.
Ocelot Recovery and Translocation Project
In the fall of 2017, Friends entered into a 5-year cooperative agreement with the USFWS to work on ocelot recovery and translocation. Funding will be used by the Friends to contract researchers and other personnel to conduct monitoring and translocate ocelots from larger populations in Mexico to Texas, as well as for the restoration of areas in Texas to provide additional acres of habitat for the endangered ocelots currently in Texas. Although a few ocelots are currently being monitored in Arizona, a female ocelot has not been documented there in over 30 years. Texas, meanwhile, has two populations that range in number of about 50 individuals that are breeding but also in need of assistance for recovery. The Service is working with multiple partners to acquire and protect existing habitat, restore habitats, increase connectivity across the landscape, build functional wildlife crossings, work with international partners to document the status of ocelots across the landscape, and exchange ocelots between countries to maintain a higher genetic diversity than exists in Texas today. The severity of inbreeding caused by low population numbers due to the loss of ocelot habitat is a significant concern raised by the Ocelot Recovery Team and numerous partners. The low genetic diversity represented in the Texas populations could result in significant reproductive challenges and weaknesses in combating naturally-occurring diseases. Translocation from the more robust populations in Mexico has been identified as the best means to reduce the threats posed by low genetic diversity.
Ongoing Commitments of the Friends Using Self-Generated Funds
Support for Ocelot monitoring at Laguna Atascosa NWR
Support for Student Interns working with the Ocelot Program and Visitor Service Program
Support for Student of the University of Texas at Brownsville engaged in environmental research at Laguna Atascosa NWR
Support for public hunting program at Laguna Atascosa NWR
Initiation of the "Save Texas Ocelots" State of Texas specialty vehicle license plate that was unveiled in November 2013
Holly Beach Restoration and Outreach Project
Through a grant funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, in 2018, the Friends will be working with the USFWS and The Conservation Fund to protect, restore, and provide public outreach opportunities at Holly Beach.The project area contains 1,542 acres of estuarine wetlands, the 80-acre El Tular Lake, upland cord grass prairie, and Tamaulipan thornscrub in two tracts; the 1,300- acre north tract and the 242-acre south tract. This habitat is important for wildlife such as wintering waterfowl, aplomado falcons, Mexican crows, ocelots, and other reptiles, mammals, and birds. These tracts are an essential piece to connect previously acquired lands to create the Bahia Grande corridor; preserving unique habitats of the South Texas and contributing to the hopeful recovery of the endangered ocelot. These tracts have been impacted by illegal dumping, offroading, debris from past land ownership, and invasion of coastal prairie habitat by trees such as mesquite and huisache. In this project, the Friends will 1) begin habitat restoration of coastal prairie habitat across a 1,542 area; 2) cleanup debris and prevent additional dumping and offroading; and 3) educate the public about these unique tracts, the Refuge, and the recreational opportunities they provide through 3 volunteer cleanup events.
Bahia Grande Outreach Events
Through a grant from the National Environmental Education Foundation, Friends will be partnering with the USFWS and Fishing's Future to provide 3 family events at the Bahia Grande in the Spring of 2018. On January 13 and 27, Friends will partner with Fishing's Future and the USFWS to host Family Fish Camps. These events will be the inauguration of the Take Me Fishing™ First Catch Center. The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) has selected the U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge as an ideal location to host First Catch Center events to kick off the 2018 season. RBFF has teamed up with Fishing's Future, who will be hosting the Family Fish Camps. Parents and kids will work together to learn fishing knots, TPWD Fishing Rules and Regulations., fish ID, local habitat, angler ethics, proper fish handling techniques, water and boat safety, different types of fishing equipment, environmental stewardship, tackle box basics and some of the local tips, tricks and techniques used to catch fish. On February 3, 2018, Friends and the USFWS will host the Bike the Bahia Grande. At this event, visitors will have the opportunity to see this area as it’s being restored. A 5 mile caliche road will be open for visitors to ride their bicycles down and back. They will pass through coastal prairies, salt water bays and some freshwater wetlands.
A South Texas Treasure Documentary
This project, made possible by a grant from the James A "Buddy" Davidson Foundation, will result in a documentary on the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) located in deep South Texas in Cameron County. The 30-minute documentary will feature the unique wildlife and varied habitats that make the Refuge a South Texas treasure. In addition to focusing on the wildlife of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, the documentary will also describe the vital importance of private landowners, particularly those adjacent to the Refuge, to the conservation of wildlife. The vast majority of wild lands remaining in Texas are in the hands of private landowners and cooperation between ranchers, state and federal agencies is the key to wildlife conservation. The documentary will be targeted for showing at the Refuge visitor's center as well as for distribution to every school in the Rio Grande Valley (Region I) that includes approximately 600 schools. The documentary will also be shown on local broadcast television and various PBS stations. Internet viewing will also be made available. This documentary will be premiered at the Ocelot Soiree on March 2, 2018.
$98,000 grant from National Park Service in 2008 for construction of wildlife guzzlers and remote cameras for monitoring wildlife usage
$70,000 grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife in 2009 for construction of the Lakeside Trail at Laguna Atascosa NWR
$5,000 grant from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in 2010 for implementation of a kayak program in the Laguna Madre