Conservation and stewardship get a boost in the bottomlands

On the Texas Gulf Coast, Friends of Trinity River Refuge rolls out environmental education program

The American alligators and the prothonotary warblers belong. The feral hogs don’t.

In the Texas Gulf Coast region, the Friends of Trinity River Refuge organization knows education, awareness and appreciation of nature are essential to gaining support for future conservation efforts.

That’s why they’re partnering with the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge (TRNWR) and several local wildlife groups to bring the Friends Environmental Education Program (FEEP) to Liberty and Chambers Counties residents.

The TRNWR spans approximately 30,000 acres, protecting the natural bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem and providing essential habitat to many native creatures, such alligators and turtles. longnose gar, frogs, bobcats, beavers and bats. The TRNWR forests are critical habitat for hundreds of migratory and resident bird species; thousands of prothonotary warblers, or “golden swamp warblers,” migrate from Central and South America to the bottoms of the Trinity River to nest each year.

FEEP will provide opportunities for schoolchildren and nearby residents to learn about the refuge, interact with Friends of Trinity River Refuge volunteers, and eventually become better stewards of the environment by taking part in conservation efforts.

Initially, the program will focus on students in Grades 6 through 9, who’ll be eligible for a four-day summer camp. Also, high school students will have service-learning opportunities available to get involved in refuge maintenance activities like trail marking or cleanup. Most importantly, the service-learning will allow for student field-studies on the refuge—students will survey, collect, analyze data, and make recommendations addressing conservation issues on the refuge and in the surrounding counties.

“Our goal is to partner with science teachers in the school districts to organize nature clubs in the district and help coordinate group activities to increase student awareness and concern for critical conservation issues,” says Dr. Gary Holmes, FEEP Project Director. “Our long-term objective is to connect kids with nature—and help them understand their important role in environmental stewardship.”

One program priority is educating students about habitat preservation and invasive species in the area. Some of the most significant invasive species on the Texas Gulf Coast are feral hogs and the Chinese Tallow Tree, an ornamental tree that was introduced to the U.S. in the 1700s.

“A lot of people don’t realize that these trees are invasive, so we want to educate the students and show them why these trees are such a big problem,” says Holmes.

Enbridge is committed to sustainability—supporting conservation and stewardship efforts, while also helping to meet North America’s growing energy needs in ways that are economically, environmentally and socially responsible.

A recent Enbridge grant of just under $5,000 will be used to purchase supplies for students to use as support materials for the programs—with binoculars and cameras helping students take a closer look and record their memories of the environment.

Field guidebooks and online resources will be used to help students identify different plants, birds and insects at the refuge, while new GPS units for the students will be used for onsite exploration and student research.

“One of the activities we’ll do during the programs is to have students count and estimate the number of invasive trees versus native trees during plot surveys,” says Holmes, “so they can see how the invasive species are seriously impacting the environment.”

(TOP PHOTO: thousands of prothonotary warblers, or “golden swamp warblers,” migrate from Central and South America to the bottoms of the Trinity River to nest each year.)