One of the most biologically diverse areas in North America sits along the border between Texas and Mexico, where the Rio Grande winds its way toward the Gulf of Mexico. The Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) encompasses no fewer than 11 different types of habitat, including tidal wetlands and riparian forest. This variety has led to a wealth of biodiversity; the region is home to more than 1,200 different species of plants, 500 species of birds, 200 vertebrate species and roughly 300 species of butterflies. Several rare, threatened and endangered species call this region home, including the ocelot, jaguarondi and burrowing owl. The ocelot is particularly dependent on one of the area’s native habitats: Tamaulipan thorn forest. In the U.S., ocelots are found only in South Texas, and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department estimates that as few as 35 may remain wild in the state.
Migratory birds also rely on the LRGV during their long trips north and south, and these, combined with the rare birds native to the region, make it one of the favorite destinations for birders in the U.S. The LRGV is part of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, and ecotourism in the region brings the local economy more than $100 million each year.
Over the years, rapid agricultural growth throughout the region has taken a toll on the LRGV — a frightening 95 percent of the native habitat has been cleared away. The remaining habitat exists in unconnected fragments, trapping plants and wildlife in isolated pockets and preventing them from interbreeding and colonizing new areas.
The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is working to prevent further degradation of the ecosystem and to create a corridor for wildlife by connecting the various ecosystem fragments. Their Farmland Phase-Out and Revegetation Program acquires cropland and restores it back to native habitat. This work requires trees — lots of them. For the past 15 years, American Forests has been working with the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR to plant trees to build this wildlife corridor and reconnect the fragmented ecosystem.
In 2011, American Forests planted more than 49,000 trees in the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR, bringing the total amount of trees planted in this project to more than 1.5 million since 1997. As the state continues to recover from a severe and widespread drought, restoration of the native habitat is more important than ever, and American Forests is committed to the continued restoration of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR.