In South Texas, urbanization continues to result in the rapid depletion of the Tamaulipan thornscrub habitat, which provides sanctuary for a diverse wildlife population — where over 44 reptile, 45 mammal and 417 bird species call home. There are 11 threatened and endangered species in the area, including the ocelot, which has been severely affected by the habitat destruction.
Over the last few years, Land Life Company and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have been working together to reforest and restore the struggling landscape.
“Together, we have planted over 260,000 trees in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and we aim to continue regenerating this biodiversity hotspot in the years to come,” said Willemijn Stoffels, Chief Operations Officer at Land Life Company.
While working in Texas, Land Life realized the demand for reforestation far exceeded what the local tree nurseries could supply. The shortage limits the amount of thornscrub restoration that can be completed each year. In order for projects to scale up, the availability of native seedlings needed to increase.
A partnership was formed with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) in 2018, which allowed graduate students to use Land Life’s planting sites for research and to monitor project performance. This year, we teamed up with UTRGV to build a tree nursery to address the local seedling shortage.
The construction has already begun on campus in the historic city of Brownsville. With the help of student volunteers and Christopher Gabler, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator of Sustainable Ag. & Food Systems B.S. at UTRGV, the nursery will be completed this summer, and the seedlings will be ready for this year’s fall planting season!
“This year, we are growing 100,000 seedlings spanning 16 different native thornscrub species in the new UTRGV nursery. Our hope is, as we produce and share information on production methods for native species with the public, that it will help existing growers produce more native plants and will encourage new growers to begin production. Either of these things could substantially increase the availability of native plant seedlings for restoration, and may create new economic opportunities and jobs in the Lower Rio Grande Valley,” explained Gabler.
UTRGV and Land Life complement each other well. “This project opens up opportunities to learn about which practices help increase the success of seedlings in the nursery and trees in the field,” said Stoffels.
On top of addressing climate change and restoring nature for local wildlife, this effort will provide research opportunities for students and will provide an economic benefit to the UTRGV. This project has been a big success, thus far, and we look forward to seeing future outcomes!