Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rio Reforestation!

As you advance in birding in the ABA area, you gradually learn that the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas is amongst the top birding locations in all of the United States. With many Mexican species that just barely spill across the Rio Grande, as well as the confluence of two different migratory bird pathways, plus numerous species at the eastern or western edges of their ranges, the area has one of the most diverse avifaunas in the USA. Many exotic or tropical looking species like Green Jays, Great Kiskadees and various Orioles jump out of the pages of many birding books and magazines enticing birders to visit this part of the country.

One thing birders may not learn is that the natural habitats of this area are amongst the most endangered in all of the U.S. In fact numerous sources estimate that over 95% of native Tamaulipan brush habitat (the dominant habitat type of the LRGV) has been lost on the U.S. side of the border. That means that so many of the species of birds that thousands of birders travel to south Texas to see each year are pushed onto a tiny network of fragments of remnant habitats (primarily Santa Ana NWR, Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park and a few other tiny areas of public land owned by other conservation minded organizations and agencies).

Not all is doom and gloom however. The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which is a collection of many different tracts of land stretching across all four counties that make up the valley (and currently covering over 90,000 acres) is attempting to create a "wildlife corridor" linking the best remaining areas of native habitats in the valley.

Many of these tracts are areas of reclaimed farmland that no longer support native vegetation. Because of this the LRGV NWR has developed an interesting revegetation effort. Native plant species are grown by the refuge or a collection of local farmers that help the refuge in return for the ability to farm certain areas. These native plant seedlings are then planted at refuge tracts in an attempt to restore the dense native brushlands required by much of the valley's wildlife species.

Currently researchers at the refuge are trying to determine the best mixes of native plants for quickly and effectively restoring native brushlands. Many factors come into play. Invasive Asian grasses are a constant threat to native plants in this area and quickly creating a native plant canopy to shade out the grass is one technique that may prove successful. Only time and careful research will tell what strategies will prove most effective for restoring quality wildlife habitat in the region.

With the help of farm crews, local school children and of course the biologists of the LRGV NWR, some of the fields of the Lower Rio Grande Valley may soon be restored to native brushlands supporting birds, Ocelots and other wildlife species. Hopefully the restoration of a viable wildlife corridor in the area will provide quality habitat in the valley for generations to come!

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