RIO GRANDE VALLEY (Oct. 21, 2023) — American Forests has been awarded a contract from the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for activities that will conserve the Rio Grande Valley’s unique thornforest ecosystem over the next four years. The work is funded by U.S. Customs and Border Protection through an Interagency Agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

The $10 million award will enable American Forests to restore approximately 800 acres (more than 600 football fields-worth) of thornforest habitat within national wildlife refuges throughout the Valley. American Forests will also lead research into restoration methodologies, including their impact on community and ecosystem resilience. Additional activities will aim to raise awareness about the importance of thornforests and opportunities to steward these critical ecosystems. 

Thornforests, also known as tamaulipan thornscrub, are among the most biodiverse ecosystems in North America, supporting an estimated 1,200 plant species, 519 bird species and 300 butterfly species, along with 45 threatened or endangered species, including the ocelot. Thornforests also provide important social and economic benefits to the surrounding community – cleaning water, reducing runoff and helping mitigate flooding, as well as supporting recreation and ecotourism. Yet today less than 10% of pre-1930s thornforests remain. 

Through the award, American Forests will lead efforts to scale up restoration in partnership. The project team will collaborate closely with local partners in the Valley to successfully develop this work, including municipalities, county governments, school districts, landowners and community groups. Guidance from the region’s multi-stakeholder Thornforest Conservation Partnership will inform restoration activities. Subcontracting through local businesses will also inject much of the project funding back into the local community. 

American Forests has partnered with U.S. Fish and Wildlife on restoration since 1997, planting more than two million native seedlings in the Rio Grande Valley. 

“The Valley’s base of refuge lands are a treasure that is becoming more important by the day as our landscape continues to transform under the pressures of urbanization and the uncertainties of a changing climate,” said Jon Dale, American Forests’ Director, Texas and Mexico. “We’re grateful for this opportunity to advance a holistic approach to conserving such an important part of the region’s natural heritage.” 


About American Forests: American Forests is the first national nonprofit conservation organization created in the U.S. Since its founding in 1875, the organization has been the pathfinders for the forest conservation movement. Its mission is to create healthy and resilient forests, from cities to large natural landscapes, that deliver essential benefits for climate, people, water and wildlife. The organization advances its mission through forestry, innovation, place-based partnerships to plant and restore forests, and movement building. For more information visit: