Taxpayers Get a Nice Present on April 15th

Big cypress tree in the Big Thicket.

The Big Thicket includes some impressive cypress trees and other bottomland hardwoods. Photo by Jim Burnett.

Most taxpayers don't associate April 15th with good news, but national park supporters received a nice present on "Tax Day 2009," thanks to a major donation from the Conservation Fund at the Big Thicket National Preserve.

The Conservation Fund joined the east Texas community and a host of public and private partners [on April 15, 2009] to celebrate and announce the donation of 6,600 acres of bottomland hardwood forest and cypress-tupelo swamp to the National Park Service as part of Big Thicket National Preserve. It is the largest donation of land in the preserve’s history.

Big Thicket includes some very remote areas, but portions of the park are also located near and even within the city limits of Beaumont, making it vulnerable to development. This latest donation will help protect some of that prime real estate along area waterways.

Area conservationists have worked long and hard on behalf of the Big Thicket, and deserve a lot of credit. However, not everyone sees wetlands in quite the same light. Back in the 1980's, a major Southeast Texas real estate developer was quoted in a local newspaper, and my paraphrase of his philosophy sums up the value of this donation to the park: "There's no such thing as 'wetlands'—you either fill 'em or you drain 'em."

Thanks to the work of the Conservation Fund, neither of those outcomes will befall an additional 6,600 acres of the Big Thicket.

Often called the “biological crossroads of America,” Big Thicket National Preserve contains diverse ecosystems—ranging from forested wetlands to open plains—that provide a home for an impressive number of plant and animal species, including 20 different species of orchids and more than 200 species of birds.

The preserve’s 97,000 acres comprise nine land units and six water corridors in narrow bands along the Neches River and Village Creek, two of the most pristine and unaltered river corridors remaining in Texas.

The Conservation Fund acquired the property from a variety of landowners near the Beaumont and Village Creek Corridor units of the preserve. About 4,500 acres came from Temple-Inland, and 970 acres came from Tony and Gisela Houseman. The remaining acreage was a combination of smaller parcels from multiple landowners. The Conservation Fund has been very active in working to expand Big Thicket National Preserve and with this latest donation has added more than 35,000 acres to the park.

Additional land for the park was previously authorized by Congress, but funding is an ongoing challenge. Although the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act were involved in this acquisition, significant contributions were made by the private sector. You'll find the names of major donors in the Conservation Fund's press release.

“This announcement shows that Texans feel strongly about conserving the state’s land, water and wildlife,” said Andy Jones, Texas director for The Conservation Fund. “Even in tough economic times, the east Texas community came together and leveraged resources to complete the biggest land donation to Big Thicket National Preserve. We thank all of the landowners, funders and partners that made this possible.”

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