By Christy Esmahan and Mark Wilson
If you haven’t gone down to bird at Bentsen State Park World Birding Center, get there fast! According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, those 570 acres of subtropical resaca woodlands “support 370 species of birds, many of which are subtropical species typical of eastern Mexico and not found north of the border beyond extreme southern Texas.”
After February, 2019, TPWD will have to chop off the last four words of that sentence. Current plans call for a border wall to be built next year that will cut off most of the park’s property from the Visitor Center and the public. According to a memo by Carter Smith, TPWD Director, to the TPWD Commission, this border project will negate the agreement between the State of Texas and the family that donated the land, and result in park closure. In addition, the same construction will cut off access to over 75% of the land owned by the National Butterfly Center and all of Anzalduas Park, frequent destinations for birders and naturalists in the LRGV.
In response, the Travis Audubon Advocacy Committee is working to bring our concerns on this pressing issue to the attention of Rep. Mike McCaul, Congressional District 10, who also serves as the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. His committee has an important role in oversight of border issues. Our group, mostly made up of District 10 constituents, presented Rep. McCaul’s staff with over 45 signed letters from Travis Audubon members opposing the proposed wall project. In addition, a representative of Texas Audubon offered his organization’s concerns. We hope to continue meeting with McCaul’s office– nine Travis Audubon members have met with him to date.
What is at stake? The land that is now visited by birders like you and me, from all over Texas, the U.S. and the world, thrilled to see their first Plain Chachalaca or admire the brightly colored Altamira Oriole and Great Kiskadee, or maybe thrill at the sight of a Common Pauraque, cleverly hidden in plain sight at the edge of a path, may find bulldozed tracts south of the proposed wall.
The Advocacy Committee welcomes participation of Travis Audubon members of every political persuasion in this effort to find solutions to border security that do not involve extensive destruction of critical habitat in the LRGV or closure of the wonderful parks and preserves that have been enjoyed by us all. Republican Congressman Will Hurd, from the West Texas region, has advocated for ‘Smart Wall’ solutions that avoid seizure of private lands and closure of public parks. These are the kind of ideas we are bringing to Congressman McCaul. Opposition to the border wall last year stopped plans to close Santa Anna NWR– your voice can be heard and have a powerful effect!
You can join us at one of our meetings at Rep. McCaul’s office. We also welcome letters, postcards and personal stories from birders and naturalists who share our love of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. We will be glad to take these with us to the meetings. There are many ways to be involved. Contact Mark Wilson atif you would like more information.