Seth Menter, Manager of Forest Restoration

Manager of forest restoration, Seth Menter, in Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Manager of forest restoration, Seth Menter, in Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: American Forests

In the early spring, I headed down to Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley with our director of forest restoration, Jesse Buff, to check out our longest-running restoration project. For the past 15 years, we have partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work in the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge — and there are still many years to go.

This habitat restoration project takes old farmland and restores it to the natural ecosystem called Talmulipan brush. This brushland is a mixture of trees and shrubs that becomes so incredibly dense once it gets to a mature state that it is nearly impossible to walk through. That also makes it the perfect place for the endangered ocelot to make its home, along with several hundred other species of flora and fauna.

The project’s goal has been to acquire 132,000 acres of farmland throughout the region and restore it to its native ecosystem. Such a largescale project has been many years in the making. Already, our 15-year contributions to this project have outpaced every other project in the history of the Global ReLeaf program.

On our visit, Jesse and I visited with Bob Barry of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who showed us many of the fields we have helped reforest over the past 15 years. He took us to tracts of different growing phases to give us an idea of the type of environmental impact our work has had after one, two, three, five, eight, 10 and 15 years. It was quite impressive to see how quickly wildlife returned and how dense the flora became after the tree plantings. We are proud to have played a part in restoring native habitat to one of the most biologically diverse sites in North America.