The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, June 09, 2002

The Real Estate/Habitat Connection
Carol Cullar, Eagle Pass News Guide, June 9, 2002, © 2002, 2003

Have you noticed all the dust lately? It's a sure sign of growth/construction/progress. But it's also a sign of the seven-year drought we are enduring and the lack of awareness of the natural world that is a growing concern in our society. The economy is changing-none will deny, and to say fewer and fewer people are growing up on farms and ranches or raising vegetables in their back yard is so obvious as to hardly need pointing out. We're getting away from our roots. People move to the cities and towns and lose touch with the land and Nature. But does it have to be that way?

People half-joke that the three most important considerations in buying property are "Location! Location! Location!" We want to pick what's ideal for our needs; we all have our comfort zones. When it hits 106º, we retreat to the air-conditioned shade and grab a cold drink. If it ever freezes again around here (and I have my doubts!), we will flick on the furnace and check our weather stripping, dig out a sweater and brew a cup of hot cocoa. But what if we are not so fortunate? What if we are animals?

We all require a place to live that suits our needs. When we are humans, we call it real estate; when we are feathered or furry, it's called habitat. The tragedy is that as real estate grows habitat shrinks.

Steve H. Murdock, research fellow with the Real Estate Center and chief demographer with the State Data Center at Texas A & M University, expects South Texas to have a population of more than 1.7 million by 2010 and nearly 3.5 million by 2030.

South Texas has long been a major wildlife corridor for birds, butterflies, and insects migrating from south to north and vice versa. Over the last decade, The Valley has developed a thriving, multi-million dollar Eco-tourism industry to capitalize on the very birds and animals that are now being driven away by loss of habitat.

In Southern California, Mountain lions get their heads stuck in backyard fences and have to be shot. In South Texas so much native vegetation has been removed for real estate development that the local, native habitat for animals and birds of the region has been pushed back into islands so small that they are no longer inhabitable by native species. South Texas is now one of the most threatened natural habitats on Earth-right up there with the Brazilian rainforest!

The first week in May the Rio Bravo Nature Center welcomed one of Texas' preeminent ornithologists and authors, Tim Brush, to Maverick County. We acted as guides and facilitators for his research into nesting birds and particularly orioles along the Rio Grande. Dr. Brush teaches at Pan American University in Edinburgh and had begun to wonder where some of the disappearing species in the Valley were vanishing to.

Using the Nature Center's canoes, we traveled twenty miles along the Rio Grande observing, recording data, and listening for rare birds. Dr. Brush was excited to find dozens of breeding pairs of Orchard Orioles and even the White-collard Seedeater here in our region. This extremely rare and reclusive bird, whose habitat extends only "a few feet into Texas," is now gone from the Valley because large stands of carrizo have been removed from the riverbanks below Laredo.

It is inevitable that Eagle Pass can expect a spill-over effect from this population explosion just to the south of us. "Great!" we say! We can use a little economic prosperity! We welcome the expansion, the new industry, the sale of real estate, the development of new schools and opportunities for jobs.

But do we have to follow in the footsteps of development to the south? Is there a lesson to be learned from The Valley? Will we wipe out the native vegetation? Bring in trees and shrubs that originated in other parts of the world? Plant vast yards of alien grass that is perhaps native to Florida? And in doing so, wipe out plants that have served as habitat for our local wildlife for thousands of years?

Little ranchitos spring up all over the country. Entrepreneurs name their developments "Linda Vista" or "Cenizo Hills" and the first thing they do is run the bull dozer over every square inch and utterly destroy what the site was named for, destroy forever the native plants that are ideally suited to our drought conditions. Plants that don't need to be watered every evening, that don't die with the first heat wave of summer, plants that are providing shelter and food for many species of wildlife.

Before we reduce what were vast acres of rolling hills and native vegetation to tiny, denuded lots that blow away and will erode down to barren limestone, let's think about the ultimate results. Are we to live in harmony with our world or pave it over to prevent its blowing away?

The logger may fell a tree and cry, "Timber!" But for every tree that falls, there are a dozen little creatures crying, "Home! Home!"


At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cannot agree more wholeheartedly. Here in Dallas, we're trying to save a little piece of land called Dogwood Canyon - a neat place where East and West meet and it almost seems like you're in Austin with the limestone and hills. I guess all over Texas, we're saving bits and pieces of the habitat but it certainly is fragmented to say the least.

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