Habitat Restoration and Preservation

North Deer Island

The North Deer Island shoreline restoration project conserves three priority-bird species—the Brown Pelican and the threatened Reddish Egret and White-faced Ibis—and 16 other bird species on this bird island sanctuary. This project also restored eight acres of intertidal marsh which provides critical nursery habitat for commercially and recreationally important fishery species.

The most productive bird nesting island on Galveston Bay, North Deer Island has experienced up to 10 feet of erosion per year. By protecting approximately 1.7 miles of shoreline from erosion, the project assures long-term protection of the birds’ breeding habitat.

North Deer Island has been vital to the recovery of the Brown Pelican along the Upper Texas Coast. In 2009, wildlife managers counted 1,872 nesting pairs—a remarkable progression from the 100 nesting pairs found breeding on the island in 1999 ago. On November 11, 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the removal of the Brown Pelican from the endangered species list.

Photo of North Deer Island

The project, led by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, addressed the region’s habitat conservation goals established by the Galveston Bay Plan. Partners barged in 24,100 tons from a rock quarry in Missouri—using the Mississippi River and the Intracoastal Waterway as a route—to create 7,100 feet of stone breakwater and armored shoreline. The planning, engineering, and construction costs for the eight-year endeavor were over $3.2 million dollars.

This project was the recipient of the Coastal America 2008 Partnership Award. The award recognizes outstanding partnerships that make a significant contribution toward the restoration and protection of our Nation’s coastal environment.  It is the only environmental award of its kind given by the President of the United States.

Conservation Assistance Program

The goal of the Conservation Assistance Program (CAP) is to support efforts to preserve wetlands and important coastal habitats that will protect the long-term health and productivity of Galveston Bay. With the help and consensus of conservation partners, the Estuary Program is working with the Galveston Bay Foundation and Texas Coastal Partners to identify conservation properties; build funding strategies through grant identification and grant writing; work with willing sellers to negotiate prices for fee simple acquisitions or easement rights; carryout legal and title transaction support; and finalize purchase and transfer of title to a third-party conservation/land trust organization or government entity.

Results of the CAP:

  • Preserve coastal wetlands and natural areas that:
    • Possess unique conservation value, such as wetlands, bottomland hardwood forests, floodplains, and associated habitats.
    • Have a direct link to coastal riparian areas, coastal prairies, or Galveston Bay, or are proximate to the state Coastal Zone Management (CZM) boundary.
    • Provide public access, where applicable, to Galveston Bay and its coastal tributaries.
    • Reduce or prevent nonpoint source pollution by providing storm water abatement.
  • Facilitate a conservation work group of local stakeholders for project input and build sustaining support for open space conservation that meets the goals of the CAP, while protecting private land interests and assisting working lands conservation where applicable.
  • Provide technical, legal, and transactional assistance for coastal habitat conservation projects in the lower Galveston Bay watershed. Technical, legal and transactional assistance are considered the steps necessary to identify a conservation property; negotiate a sale; manage potentially multiple funding sources; complete surveys; prepare legal, title and closing paperwork; finalize the purchase; and transfer the title to a third-party trustee.

Protected and restored marsh

Marshes within three major coves – Jumbile Cove, Delehide Cove, Starvation Cove – and at Galveston Island State Park were once nearly lost in West Bay to subsidence and erosion. A major outcome of these award-winning projects includes the re-establishment of seagrasses– an indicator of improved water quality.

    • Since 2000, West Bay habitat conservation partners have:
    • Protected and restored 3,300  acres of wetlands and other important coastal habitats
    • Restored 300 acres of seagrass meadows
    • Stabilized 8 miles of eroding shoreline
    • Protected 3,500 acres of marshes, seagrass meadows, sand flats and colonial waterbird rookeries
    • Permanently conserved 2,400 acres of valuable coastal habitats
    • Protected the most important colonial waterbird rookery on the upper coast, North Deer Island
    • Began restoration efforts at Bird Island Cove and several other coves throughout West Bay.

Galveston Island State Park

Galveston Island State Park, on the west end of Galveston Island, is a 2,013-acre site that was acquired in 1969 from private owners under the State Parks Bond Program and was opened in 1975. Historically, Carancahua Cove, like many Galveston Bay bayous and coves, were once ringed with marshes and filled with marsh-grass-covered mounds, interspersed with tidal pools and interconnecting channels. The shallow waters allowed sunlight to promote a sea grass bed covering cove bottoms and ringing shorelines. Brackish water, marsh grasses and sea grass provided excellent cover for hatching a broad variety of marine creatures and nourishment for growing, fledgling seafood until it was mature enough to migrate into the Gulf of Mexico. But by the 90s, the marshes disappeared, likely due to subsidence and erosion.

In the 1990s, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department made their first attempt to restore the historical shoreline of Galveston Island State Park. A dredge borrowed sandy soil from the cove bottom and deposited it to form earth terraces that protruded above the water surface. Trying to duplicate the successes of similar projects on the upper Texas and Louisiana coast, the terraces were laid out in a regular rectangular lattice work pattern filling the cove; openings were left in the terraces to allow water to form pools within the grid simulating a natural marsh; and volunteers planted marsh grasses on exposed terrace tops. This technique had been successfully applied in several cases, and is most successful when utilized in areas with high clay content in the excavated sediment. However, the sediments at the State Park are mostly sand and silt with very little clay material.  The rectangular terraces have slowly eroded and lost. While the majority of the terraces no longer support vegetation, they are not completely gone. Many of the terraces are still intact but are now subtidal.

Sand dune
Photo of Sand dune

In the interim, many other West Bay coves were being restored using more natural mounds, with very gradual slopes, which have been demonstrated to be more stable, resistant to wave action, and conducive to establishing a wide marsh fringe.

In 2010, TPWD and partners implemented a new restoration plan at the State Park, restoring approximately 198.5 acres of inter-tidal marsh complex utilizing dredge material from a 100-acre nearby borrow site.  This plan built upon the existing marsh terracing restoration project constructed in 1999-2000.  This project employed the marsh mound technique. Portions of the dredge material were placed above intertidal elevation for restoring salt flat marsh/sand flat habitat in addition to intertidal Spartina marsh and allow for the migration of intertidal marsh to higher elevations.

Savannah Oaks Ranch Conservation Easement

The West Bay Conservation Initiative made great strides in 2012 with the groundbreaking purchase of a conservation easement at Savannah Oaks Ranch near the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge.

This event marks the first time that a Purchase of Development Rights agreement has been issued through the Texas General Land Office’s Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program. It is also the first conservation easement purchased by the Estuary Program and the TCEQ.

Savannah Oaks Ranch—a fifth-generation family farm—is a 700-acre rice farm situated at the convergence of Austin and Flores Bayous in Danbury, Texas.  Its rice fields provide excellent wildlife habitat for a variety of shorebirds and waterfowl, including the mottled duck population—an Audubon’s WatchList species in decline.

Through this conservation easement, the landowners, Rody and Donna Kuchar, will maintain the property’s current use as a working farm while preserving its wildlife values in perpetuity.  In fact, Mr. Kuchar and Ducks Unlimited, the conservation organization responsible for holding and monitoring the easement, are already developing plans to further increase the property’s wildlife value and reduce runoff pollution.

Clear Creek Water Quality Protection and Habitat Conservation

The Estuary Program partnered with City of League City to enhance and restore freshwater wetland, riparian forest, coastal flatwood, and coastal prairie areas within the Clear Creek Nature Park – located next to the tidally influenced reaches of Clear Creek, a tributary of Galveston Bay.

The property, purchased in 2002 by the City of League City, preserves wetlands and natural space. This allows public access and low-impact use of the park and surrounding areas. Partners enhanced and restored the area by removing invasive species, such as the Chinese tallow and Chinese privet. Partners also placed interpretive signage at the park, and hosted events guided by naturalists, to inform park visitors of the ecological and economic dangers posed by invasive species, and the benefits to humans and wildlife of maintaining healthy native ecosystems.

East Bay, Chambers County

Restored an unprecedented 17,002 feet of the East Bay’s northern shoreline and protected 8,000 acres of coastal habitat at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge—an ecologically rich and diverse system of wetlands and prairies. The Department of Interior awarded the East Bay Wetland and Water Quality Protection Project team with a Cooperative Conservation Award at a ceremony in Washington for its outstanding partnership efforts to protect an ecologically rich and diverse system of wetlands and prairies at the Wildlife Refuge. The wetlands provide vital fish and wildlife habitat, supporting the recreational and commercial fishing, hunting and tourism industries, essential to the region’s economy.

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
Photo of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

Coastal Prairie Wetland Restoration at Sheldon Lake State Park

Sheldon Lake State Park & Environmental Learning Center is a 2,800 acre outdoor education and recreation facility located in northeast Harris County. Sheldon Reservoir, located on Carpenters Bayou, a tributary of Buffalo Bayou, was constructed in 1942 by the federal government to provide water for war industries along the Houston Ship Channel. TPWD acquired the reservoir in 1952 and designated it as the Sheldon Wildlife Management Area, opening to the public in 1955.  Sheldon Lake was designated a state park in 1984. Formerly in the “country,” Sheldon Lake has survived a tremendous influx of urbanization over the past 50 years as Houston has grown. Sheldon Lake is now a green and blue “oasis” for wildlife and people on the edge of Texas’ largest city.  Sheldon Lake State Park was once coastal prairie and pine/oak savanna dotted and crossed by circular and linear marsh basins.  Rice farming and reservoir construction filled or drained almost all of the prairie wetlands in the park area. TPWD, in partnership with Extension, is now restoring the Park’s agricultural lands to pre-settlement condition prairie and wetland for the conservation of native plant and animal populations, and to restore ecological functions, including water quality amelioration.

Phase I of the Restoration project was an experiment to test the feasibility of reexcavating buried marsh topsoils. We carefully removed fill material to expose the original wetland topsoil and restored hydrology to 10 acres of marsh within 100 acres of prairie, in 2004. The wetlands and surrounding uplands were planted with native vegetation. All excavated soils were used on-site or placed in upland areas within existing agricultural fields.  Phase I of the restoration was successful and is now the template for regional wetland mitigation projects.  As part of the on-going restoration and education effort, Phase 1 is visited by hundreds of Houston area students and citizens each year.

Phase 2 and 3 of the Sheldon Lake Wetland restoration were funded in 2010 and 2011, and completed in 2012.  Phase 4 is the final segment of restoration for the Park’s southern management units.  The completion of all 4 phases of this project will have measurable impacts on the water quality of Carpenters bayous and the receiving water bodies.  Very importantly, a significant piece of habitat critical to this region will have been restored.

SheldonLake by Steve Upperman

Photo of Sheldon Lake project by Steve Upperman

For more information on the Sheldon Lake project