An important priority continues to be the protection of a nine-square mile area on the Katy Prairie. Protecting this area is of great urgency – it is one of the few large, contiguous areas left in this region that is free of roads and lights. These lands are heavily utilized by migratory birds such as the sandhill crane and the long-billed curlew. If these lands are lost to development, birds will have nowhere to stop for the night and could disappear from Houston forever. In addition to the significant role this land plays in wildlife habitat, it is also geographically important, as it forms the contiguous southwest piece of the larger Katy Prairie Preserve. As a regional leader in land conservation, KPC’s long-term goal is to protect an additional 10,000 acres.
Once protected, KPC works hard to restore and enhance these lands. Wetlands, acre for acre, safeguard a greater number of species than any other habitat on the planet and more than one-third of our nationally threatened species call wetlands home. Wetlands provide rich habitat for migratory waterfowl, clean water by removing sediments and pesticides, and hold and slow down floodwaters. Since 1992, the Houston metropolitan area has lost up to 70% of its wetlands and KPC continues to work hard protecting and restoring this important habitat. To date, KPC has restored more than 4,000 acres of wetlands on its preserve system and will continue this work in the year ahead.
Important also in helping with flood control is the restoration of tallgrass prairie, which increases the amount of organic matter in the soil and leads to deep root systems with increased water holding capacity and increased soil porosity. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that every 1% increase in soil organic matter results in the soil holding an additional 20,000 gallons of water per acre. KPC is working on restoring tallgrass prairie and has identified a number of areas in the year ahead that will be restored with fields of grasses and wildflowers.
Extreme weather events have brought to light the need for a comprehensive, regional approach to flood control. KPC is building upon a science-based conservation plan and other completed studies to identify and evaluate nature-based strategies and conceptual designs to reduce flooding vulnerabilities. Through this work, we aim to show that land conservation and prairie restoration can significantly reduce the harmful effects of flooding at a lower initial capital cost and reduced operating cost than gray infrastructure, while also providing critical benefits to the community.
KPC’s education programs, which take place on the prairie and in town, provide an opportunity for young and old alike to learn about the value of the prairie. The public can visit the prairie first-hand at the Matt Cook Wildlife Viewing Platform at Warren Lake or by walking the Ann Hamilton Trail at KPC’s Indiangrass Preserve. When we provide a place for people to connect with nature, they are able to understand the value of the prairie and why it is worth protecting. KPC is excited about its programming in the year ahead and the ways that we will engage the residents, students, teachers, and families in our region.
KPC’s community conservation programming ranges from Youth Waterfowl Hunts and Virtually Wild Field Trips to Unplugged Adventures and Holiday Hikes. A shining example of in-town programming is the Prairie Builders Schools + Parks program, that engages public schools and public spaces, often located in economically depressed areas, to establish on-site pocket prairies. These prairies become bridges for learning about science, conservation, history, culture, economics, and global environmental stewardship. These prairies engage school communities and preserve a lasting location where students can interact with the land. More than 10,000 students have participated in educational programming through this project.
Public Policy and Research
The goal of KPC’s public policy efforts is to encourage conservation of the prairie and ensure that its current and anticipated protected lands are not compromised – either for the wildlife that reside on or winter on the prairie or the people who enjoy the prairie as residents or visitors. KPC is currently developing plans to show how public infrastructure projects can avoid conservation lands while still providing support for a growing population.
KPC’s research programs identify the ways grasslands and wetlands provide natural benefits to a growing region, reintroduce species that were endemic to the prairie, and provide important habitat for the many species that use the prairie. KPC also works with area universities to provide land to accommodate faculty and student research. KPC has completed work with Texas A&M on the Western Chicken Turtle and continues work with the University of Texas Vertebrate Paleontology Lab on a fossil site on the prairie.