San Antonio, TX (Vocus) June 28, 2007
The Nature Conservancy has donated its 1,500-acre South Padre Island Preserve to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for inclusion in the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, officials with the non-profit conservation organization announced Thursday. The preserve, on the northern end of South Padre Island adjacent to the Mansfield Channel, provides habitat for endangered species including Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, piping plovers and brown pelicans.
"The decision to donate the preserve land was made after long deliberations about the best way to manage habitat for endangered species while addressing public access and law enforcement issues," said Carter Smith, The Nature Conservancy's Texas state director.
The Conservancy originally purchased the land in 2000 as part of a larger purchase of 24,500 acres with the original intention to transfer all or part of the land to the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Of the original purchase, about 23,000 acres was conveyed to the refuge in 2003, with the Conservancy retaining approximately 1,500 acres as a nature preserve. The recent donation included that 1,500 acres.
The Conservancy's South Padre Island Preserve was the subject of a proposed condemnation effort by Willacy County in November 2005, when the county announced plans to initiate proceedings to acquire the Conservancy's preserve using eminent domain to create a county park in order to provide public access to the barrier island from Port Mansfield via boat. However, condemnation proceedings did not commence.
"The Conservancy's decision to donate the land was a prudent business- and conservation-management decision," Smith said. "The location of South Padre Island Preserve on the Texas coast created unique management issues for us.
"Increasing demand for public access and the need for law enforcement at the site -- and the impact of both of those issues on endangered species management -- have been a growing concern for our staff. In addition, uncontrolled public access issues arise at this site because state law provides access to the preserve's beaches through the Texas Open Beaches Act," he said.
Smith pointed out that The Nature Conservancy's mission is to preserve ecologically important habitat for a diversity of plants and animals. At this time, the organization does not have the necessary staff and resources to manage South Padre Island Preserve's highly sensitive habitat for public access, he added.
"We believe the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the best organization to provide the services and personnel needed to protect this critical wildlife habitat. As private property owners, the Conservancy is exercising its right to donate this land for inclusion in the national wildlife refuge for the public good. We have always considered this exceptional wildlife habitat on South Padre Island to be a public treasure, and fulfillment of our mission requires we ensure its protection."
The Nature Conservancy is the leading conservation organization working to protect the most ecologically important lands and waters around the world for nature and people. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 15 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 102 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at nature.org. In the Lone Star State, The Nature Conservancy of Texas owns 35 nature preserves and conservation projects and assists private landowners to conserve their land through more than 70 voluntary land-preservation agreements. The Nature Conservancy of Texas protects 250,000 acres of wild lands and, with partners, has conserved close to a million acres for wildlife habitat across the state. Visit The Nature Conservancy of Texas on the Web at nature.org/texas.
Niki F. McDaniel, 210-224-8774, ext. 217
The Nature Conservancy of Texas