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Additional wetlands protection provides defense against flooding

From The Conservation Fund -

Today The Conservation Fund, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), announced the expansion of the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) to include a critical component of the largest connected coastal freshwater wetlands in Texas. 8,169 acres of coastal prairie and marshlands that make up two-thirds of Sabine Ranch have been protected thanks in part to funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. Additional funding is still needed to complete the effort.

Located 30 miles southeast of Port Arthur and bordering McFaddin NWR, the 12,376-acre Sabine Ranch has been the USFWS’s top conservation priority for the upper Texas coast because of its highly productive wintering waterfowl habitat, the new public recreational access it will provide to the Refuge, and the essential hurricane and storm surge buffer it offers. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an acre of wetlands can typically absorb and store 1-1.5 million gallons of floodwater. On Sabine Ranch, approximately 12 billion gallons of rainwater of the roughly nine trillion gallons that fell on the Houston area were absorbed during Hurricane Harvey.

The Conservation Fund purchased the entire Sabine Ranch property in September 2016, protecting the wetlands and watershed from the threat of subdivision and development. The national nonprofit has been holding the property until funding becomes available to transfer the land to the USFWS in phases. Additional funds are needed to permanently protect the remaining acreage at Sabine Ranch, which has added significance of being the final unprotected portion of the former 106,000-acre McFaddin Ranch, which is now McFaddin and Texas Point NWRs, Sea Rim State Park and the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area.

“Sabine Ranch contains exceptional and rare habitats that will enhance the conservation potential of McFaddin NWR. We are very excited to have an opportunity to have a significant amount of wet prairie and freshwater habitats added to the refuge,” said Tim Cooper, Project Leader at the Texas Chenier Plain NWR Complex, which includes McFaddin NWR. “Upon taking ownership, the USFWS will provide public access, including waterfowl hunting, to the Ranch after they evaluate the property for recreational usage potential and timing.”

“Once in federal ownership, Sabine Ranch’s extensive wetlands will forever protect inland residents from hurricanes and storm surge, absorb floodwater, protect our coastal wildlife and filter fresh water as it runs into the Gulf of Mexico,” said Callie Easterly with The Conservation Fund. “We are working together with local foundations and others to help raise the final $12 million to transfer the rest of the property to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But we still need support from individuals and groups to make this happen.”

The addition of 8,169 acres to the McFaddin NWR of Sabine Ranch was possible with $10 million from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, $10 million from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund—via sales of Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as Duck Stamps—and support from the Meadows Foundation. Congressionally-authorized, the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund provides grants to protect migratory bird habitat throughout the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System. The Texas Congressional delegation representing the McFaddin NWR includes U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and U.S. Representative Randy Weber.

Sabine Ranch offers outstanding breeding, migration and wintering habitat along the Central Flyway for hundreds of thousands of shorebirds, wading birds, marsh birds and waterfowl, including reddish egret, woodcock, northern bobwhite and northern pintail. In the winter, waterfowl populations on the Sabine Ranch are among the highest along the Texas Gulf Coast, with dense populations of mottled duck. Threatened and endangered species found on the property include whooping crane, Sprague’s pipit, black rail and alligator snapping turtle.

“The permanent conservation of the Sabine Ranch will help keep intact critical fish and wildlife habitat and preserve the largest remaining coastal freshwater marsh in Texas,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “Sabine Ranch is truly a gem for Texas and for the entire nation, and we are proud to have partnered with the State of Texas, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Conservation Fund to protect this vital habitat for migratory waterfowl, shore birds and marsh birds.”

The northern half of Willow Slough, which provides important headwaters for the wetlands within McFaddin NWR, is located within Sabine Ranch. Managed and enhanced by the previous owner Bill Wilson for more than 10 years using best conservation practices, the marsh and coastal prairies found on the ranch also facilitate the drainage of waters from upland into the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Conservation Fund was there at the right time, and they were fully flexible and capable of putting the transaction together that will eventually transition all of Sabine Ranch into U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ownership,” said Bill Wilson.

“The Meadows Foundation is pleased to be a part of this project because it protects McFaddin’s source of freshwater, thereby assuring the quantity and quality of the refuge’s water in perpetuity, in addition to preserving additional habitat for migratory and native birds,” said Bruce Esterline, Senior Vice President of the Meadows Foundation.

About The Conservation Fund

At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect nearly 8 million acres of land, including more than 235,000 acres in Texas. www.conservationfund.org


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