The creativity of environmental entrepreneurs—those using entrepreneurial techniques to support of a mission for the public good—is alive and well in south Texas, and it is exactly the type of activity desperately needed as part of a new approach to sustaining the Parkway we envision through management by a nonprofit corporation under contract with a Joint Powers Authority of Parkway adjacent communities and Sacramento County.
“There is a crossroads in Texas. Down along the Mexican border, in a four-county area, sits the Lower Rio Grande Valley—a merger of tropics and subtropics.
“The region is a convergence of ecosystems and habitats all coming together in a small area,” says Carter Smith, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Chihuahuan desert, Tamaulipan thornscrub, the Central Flyway, and Gulf Coast influences, the Laguna Madre bay system. It is the epicenter of biodiversity.”
“To be more precise, it is the most biodiverse spot in the second most biodiverse state in the nation. And the birds love it.
“So much so, that the Lower Rio Grande is one of those “bucket list” destinations for bird watchers and wildlife viewers. They come from around the world to see nearly 500 species of birds, including Great Kiskadees, Altamira Orioles, Plain Chachalacas, the rare Hook-billed Kites, Ferruginous Pygmy Owls, and the iridescent greens and blues of the Green Jay. In his book, Fifty Places to Go Birding Before You Die, Chris Santella writes that the Lower Rio Grande is “geographically blessed from a birding perspective.” In any given year, a half dozen species of birds not found anywhere in the United States could show up in South Texas.
“The Lower Rio Grande and South Texas also is the land of big cattle ranches. The famous 825,000- acre King Ranch can be found just north of here. And since 95 percent of Texas is privately owned, most of this valued biodiversity is under private stewardship, currently facing huge urbanization pressures.
“The area also is one of the fastest growing regions of the state. Families that have run cattle on these lands for generations confront increasing challenges in keeping up with their management costs. Ranchers do not want these vast stretches of land to be a financial burden on their children and their children’s children. The threat to this special place is not just the displacement of a culture, but the fragmentation and loss of wildlife habitat. Lose the ranch and you lose the habitat.
“A NEW FOCUS
“Fortunately, at this crossroads, stands a group of environmental entrepreneurs taking a free market approach to saving the region’s wildlife habitat and ranches. Led by John and Audrey Martin, landowners in Edinburg, their efforts combine the tradition of Texas hunting leases with the growing popularity of wildlife viewing and nature photography. The solution: Create a steady stream of income for ranchers by day-leasing private lands to nature and wildlife photographers.”