Columbia Bottomlands added to San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge

A critical block of Texas bottomland hardwood forest has been added to the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, The Trust for Public Land and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced today. Protecting the 498-acre property near West Columbia conserves a prime tract of the Texas Gulf Coast’s Columbia Bottomlands and provides habitat for migratory bird species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has long sought conservation of the property to meet the strategic goals of the Austin’s Woods Conservation Plan, which aims to protect the Texas Gulf Coast’s Columbia bottomlands hardwood forest. The property’s location along the Central Flyway will draw migratory waterfowl in the winter and neotropical songbirds.

In 2010, The Trust for Public Land negotiated a purchase agreement for a portion of the Brothers Ranch property. It is located near Highway 36 between Brazoria and West Columbia.

In addition to its ecological and recreational value, the property is notable for its ties to the first Anglo-American colonial settlement in Texas. The property was part of a Spanish land grant to American settlers. Three hundred families were led to the region by Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas,” in 1822 and received land from the Spanish Crown. What later became the Brothers Ranch was part of the acreage awarded to Austin. The Trust for Public Land has since conveyed a portion of the Ranch to the USFWS.

“We are honored to conserve this property for the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge,” said Scott Parker, senior program director for The Trust for Public Land. “This was a rare and remarkable opportunity to preserve an important tract of rare hardwood forest and rolling meadows less than two hours away from downtown Houston.”

“The Refuge has worked for almost a decade to bring this important property into protected public ownership,” said Jennifer Sanchez, Project Leader for the Texas Mid-Coast Complex. “With support from Congress, flexibility from the Brothers family, and with the assistance of The Trust for Public Land, we’re excited to add this key parcel to the Refuge.”

The support of numerous community partners including Friends of Brazoria Refuges, Friends of the River, Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter and Houston Regional Group, Houston Wilderness, Houston Audubon and others was critical to the success of the project.

Funding for the purchase was from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the federal government’s main source of funding for protecting public land. It is funded not by taxpayer dollars, but by royalties paid by energy companies in exchange for oil and gas extraction from federal offshore leases.

The Trust for Public Land is a national, nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and other natural areas. Since 1972, The Trust for Public Land has completed 4,500 projects in 47 states, protecting more than 3 million acres. The Trust for Public Land depends on the support of individuals, foundations, and corporations.