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Corridor Connect
The quarterly newsletter of the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor

This newsletter publicizes activities and personalities of the Friends and of the Santa Ana and Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuges. Quarterly we’ll gather and publish articles from Friends Board members, Refuge staff, Refuge volunteers, and Friends partners.

Thank you for your support, and please Like us on Facebook and visit our website

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Thank you, Supporters!
In each newsletter we thank Supporters who have helped RGV habitat and the Santa Ana and Lower Rio Grande Valley NWRs with a donation during the preceding calendar quarter. This quarter we are especially grateful to:

American Forests
Cynthia Hammond
Eli Ramke Family
Salesforce Foundation
Thomas D. Morgan and Morgan J. Morgan
Valley Coca-Cola Bottling Company
WalMart Store #5809, Edinburg, Texas

Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR Quarterly Update
by Bryan Winton, Refuge Manager
Yturria Conservation Easement. The USFWS has now acquired the 7,428-acre Yturria Conservation Easement abutting our San Perlita and El Jardin Tracts, and these tracts will be critical for facilitating migration of ocelots westward from north of Laguna Atascosa across HW 77 to colonize the northern tracts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR. USFWS traded the 2,701-acre Monte Cristo Tract of the LRGV NWR for the Yturria Conservation Easement. Thanks to the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor (FWC) for financially supporting an event in January recognizing Frank and Mary Yturria for making the conservation easement available to the Service. In addition, FWC provided to the Easement cost $1.2 million in mitigation funds that they were asked to hold and manage for USFWS.
Land Acquisition. The South Texas Refuge Complex continues to evaluate our land holdings and determine land acquisition priorities. Limited land and water conservation funding is available and future land purchases need to satisfy important conservation needs and challenges, particularly in the Cameron County area in the Coastal Corridor between Boca Chica, Bahia Grande, and Laguna Atascosa NWR proper. This zone is under threat with impending projects or proposals for future development for wind energy projects, Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) projects along the Port of Brownsville, and the recently-approved Space-X Launch site in Boca Chica. The ability to protect ocelot from U.S. extinction may hinge on whether we are successful in acquiring lands to link properties within the Coastal Corridor.
Irrigation Fees. The South Texas Refuge Complex owns property within 13 of the 27 irrigation districts in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties. Land owners within an irrigation district must pay an annual assessment based on acreage. The Refuge has determined that there is no need for irrigation water in two of the 13 Districts and, therefore, has submitted petitions to opt out of those districts, reducing the annual assessment fee by $16K.
Willacy Canal. The Otha Holland Wildlife Corridor, formerly known as the Willacy Canal, is the 25-mile canal system owned by Delta Lake Irrigation District, which runs north-south from the Rio Grande through the LRGV NWR Santa Maria Tract north to Monte Alto. The corridor is the only vegetated corridor that runs from the river northward beyond HW 83 (now HW 2). This wildlife corridor includes a 400-foot easement that supports not only the canal system where drinking and irrigation water is transported but also native habitat along both banks of the canal system. With the 25-year water agreement soon to  expire, the Refuge Manager is preparing a revised agreement with the Delta Lake Irrigation District to extend the life of this important wildlife corridor.
Tiocano Lake Tracts. The Tiocano Lake Tracts of the LRGV NWR comprise one of the few freshwater wetlands in the southern three counties of Texas. The Tiocano Lake area is a depression that receives floodwaters during hurricanes. In 2008, Hurricane Dolly resulted in widespread flooding that impacted over 100 residents in the areas surrounding Tiocano Lake. Sonny Phillips, City Manager for City of La Feria, successfully solicited grant funding to retrofit the canal system for Tiocano Lake with a weir system that will give the La Feria Irrigation District and the Refuge better water management capabilities. The weir system will enable better vegetation management within the lake itself. The Refuge and City of La Feria have had discussions about promoting the site to offer future public use, such as visitor viewing opportunities.
LNG Plants. The Port of Brownsville is seeking to develop the ship channel with Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) plants for export to foreign countries via the Port of Brownsville. USFWS has met with three companies and expects to meet with a fourth soon to discuss proposals for development of lands adjacent to the Brownsville ship channel. These development projects could have a significant effect on the Refuges’ ability to meet objectives to save the ocelot from extinction. The Coastal Corridor endeavor is in jeopardy as it currently stands because the refuge still needs to acquire important lands between Boca Chica, Bahia Grande, and Laguna Atascosa NWR.
Emphasis Area. The South Texas Refuge Complex has recently been identified as an “Emphasis Area” by our Regional Directorate leadership team. The importance of our area to future conservation has been identified as a leading justification for focusing limited funds on our region. We expect additional funding and filling of staff vacancies as a positive result of this new designation.
CBP. The LRGV NWR staff continues to work closely with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) regarding routine maintenance and repairs to refuge roads throughout the southern three counties in Texas. The CBP requires regular and routine access to most of the LRGV NWR river tracts to combat illegal traffic and potential terrorism. The refuge has been cooperating with CBP by providing accommodations for CBP equipment at the Marinoff and El Morillo Banco Tracts of the LRGV NWR and throughout many other Refuge properties. CPB equipment possibilities include additional towers, which will afford CBP better coverage along the Rio Grande to discourage illegal activities.

Altimira Oriole in Santa Ana NWR
by Cristina de la Garza, Park Ranger, Santa Ana NWR
As I stepped onto one of the trails located near the Old Headquarters Building, close to the towers so beloved by many of our visitors, a flash of orange moving in the canopy above caught my eye.  Looking up, I was treated to the sight of an Altamira Oriole flitting busily through branches dripping with the Spanish moss in which this particular species of bird is so often found. The sight of the vibrant orange against the cool gray of the moss was stunning, and I gave myself a moment to drink in the sight before I raised my camera to capture the moment.

The Altamira Oriole (Icterus gularis) is one of the more sought-after birds by visitors who come to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. A Lower Rio Grande Valley specialty, its range only extends into Texas a little farther north than the Rio Grande, and they can be found here year round. They are the largest orioles in the United States, and they weave the longest nest of any bird in North America. Their hanging nests, made of Spanish moss, grass, and other plant fibers, are built on the tip of a branch on tall trees, or on telephone wires in more urban spots. Here in south Texas, Altamira Orioles seem to prefer woodland habitats, though they will venture into more open, suburban areas if there is native habitat nearby. The native thornscrub and riparian forest habitats of the Valley are necessary for the orioles to nest and forage. However, more than 95% of the native habitat of the Valley has been lost to farming and urban development. Not only is this bad for endangered species such as the ocelot, but it can also restrict the range of non-endangered native species such as the Altamira Oriole. This is why places that preserve the habitat for these native species--such as the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Santa Ana, and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuges--are so important. With any luck, continued efforts from refuges and other groups dedicated to the preservation of wildlife and habitat will lead to increased awareness of the value of conservation for both the wildlife and people of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. 

Invasive Species of Concern for the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge
A multi-part series describing the ecology and impacts of invasive species found in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
by Kimberly Wahl-Villarreal, Plant Ecologist, Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR

Brazilian Pepper-tree (Schinus terebinthifolius)
Description: Brazilian Pepper-tree is a broadleaved evergreen that grows as a small tree or shrub. It can grow as tall as 30 feet. Individuals often have multiple trunks and are many-branched with branches intertwining.

Leaves are pinnately compound and alternate. Leaves have 3-13 leaflets, with leaflets 1 to 2 inches long. When crushed, leaves have a turpentine or pepper-like odor.

Brazilian Pepper-tree has small, white flowers arranged in an inflorescence. Flowers have 5 petals and a yellow center. Trees can flower year round; however, flowers are more concentrated September through November and fruits December through February. Fruits are small, red berries about 1/8” to 1/4” in diameter.  Seeds are dispersed over long distances primarily by birds.

Introduction: Brazilian pepper-tree, native to Brazil, was introduced into the United States through Florida in the 1800’s for ornamental trade. Brazilian Pepper-tree is now found in southern, Texas, Florida, and southern California as well as in Hawaii.

Negative Impacts: Brazilian pepper-tree invades disturbed areas such as roadsides, forest edges, drained wetlands, and ditches. Trees form dense thickets and restrict the growth of native vegetation, reducing the diversity of native plants and wildlife. This species is a member of the Anacardiaceae family, better known for poison ivy and poison sumac, and can cause dermatitis in highly sensitive people. Fruit can sometimes be toxic to mammals and birds.

Control: Efforts on the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge have involved rapid assessment and mapping through roadside surveys (2009), mechanical and chemical treatments, and monitoring. Seed-producing stands are treated with a cut-stump method (trees are cut as low to the ground as possible and the stumps are immediately treated with herbicide.) Monitoring and follow-up treatments are conducted to ensure that trees do not re-establish within treated areas. Any new occurrences found by staff are treated, either by hand-pulling seedlings or basal bark treating saplings with a brush specific herbicide. Herbicide use or root removal is necessary to control the species as root sprouts and re-sprouts from the root collar will occur otherwise.
Forest and Kim Starr
Starr Environmental
Dan Clark
USDI National Park Service
Dan Busemeyer
Illinois Natural History Survey
To learn more about invasive species and what you can do to prevent invasive species, visit

American Forest’s Continuing Support for LRGV NWR  
by Sharon Slagle, Secretary, Friends of the Wildlife Corridor
In late December 2014, American Forests announced a 2015 Global Releaf grant to the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor of $20,000. The grant will fund purchase of 20,000 seedlings to be planted in the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge as part of the Refuge Farmland Phase-Out and Revegetation Program. The Re-veg program was initiated in 1984 to restore native habitat on cropland acquired by the Refuge to form a wildlife corridor linking habitat fragments along the Rio Grande and throughout the Rio Grande delta region. American Forests began supporting the Re-veg program 1997, and 2015 marks the 17th year it has funded seedlings for re-establishing LRGV native habitat.
In 2014, American Forests produced this short video on the Re-veg program and the work accomplished by the LRGV NWR with its funding help.
Restoring Habitat in Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR
American Forests video, Restoring Habitat in Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR
The Friends of the Wildlife Corridor has recently upgraded its administration of supporters, partners, grantors, and donors. Thanks to an in-kind donation from the Salesforce Foundation ( ), we now have licensing for document- and donor-management software plus specific license-support service valued at $2,900/year. Our thanks go out to this new FWC partner! 
by William A. McWhorter, Program Coordinator, Military Sites Program
The Texas Historical Commission (THC), in conjunction with local co-hosts the USFWS's South Texas Refuge Complex and the Cameron County Historical Commission (CHC), and with support from the Brownsville Historical Association and Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park (NHP), will co-host Park Day at Palmito Ranch Battlefield National Historic Landmark (NHL), known as the last land battle of the American Civil War.

WHO: THC, CHC, Palo Alto Battlefield NHP, the South Texas Refuge Complex, and Brownsville Historical Association. Free and open to the public. Bring sunscreen, work cloths, and hat. Bottled water, disposable gloves, and trash bags will be provided for free.

WHAT: Activities include a trash pick-up and an historic interpretation of Palmito Ranch Battlefield NHL, as well as a presentation on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s conservation efforts at the South Texas Refuge Complex.

WHEN: Saturday, April 11, 10 a.m. until noon (possibly 1 p.m.).

WHERE: The Palmito Ranch Battlefield NHL core battlefield area is located 16.3 miles east of Brownsville on State Highway 4 (Boca Chica Hwy).

BACKGROUND: Park Day is an annual event sponsored by the Civil War Trust and the History Channel, which seeks volunteers to clean and repair the grounds of Civil War battlefields. At each site, volunteers receive a free T-shirt and patches (while supplies last), and have the opportunity to hear historians interpret the battle. Palmito Ranch Battlefield NHL lies in the Texas Tropical Trail Region, which showcases the heritage, natural beauty, and rich culture of South Texas for the benefit and enjoyment of Texans and travelers.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, the Little Refuge with a Big Goal
by Gisela Chapa, Refuge Manager, Santa Ana NWR
When you hear of a National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) that is only 2,088 acres, you may not be too impressed when comparing it to the hundreds of thousands of acres of other Refuges. At least not until you visit Santa Ana NWR. Nestled by the winding ways of the Rio Grande along its south border, this little Refuge is full of vibrant history, astonishing landscapes, awe-inspiring wildlife, and memories created by hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Santa Ana NWR was created due to the growing concern of a few individuals who observed the rapid conversion of the lush native vegetation of the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) into farming and other development. Established September 1st, 1943, by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, Santa Ana was the first National Wildlife Refuge in the area to ensure that the best remaining habitat north of the Rio Grande, and the unique wildlife that depend on it, be preserved in perpetuity. Perhaps it is my biased opinion as the Refuge Manager, but I like to think of Santa Ana NWR as the catalyst that sparked the conservation movement we still pursue in the LRGV.

As the LRGV continues to be one of the fastest growing metros in the nation, the need arises once more for the Refuge to be an agent for change. Since its creation, Santa Ana NWR has offered valuable wildlife-dependent recreation to residents and out-of-towners alike. Still, with a growing constituency of approximately 1.3 million, Santa Ana has adopted a new “Big Goal” – environmental awareness and education of an urban community.

Santa Ana operates under the guidelines of the recently established Urban Wildlife Conservation Program (, where engagement of urban residents in nature-related activities is essential in order for them to foster an appreciation for it – a sense of stewardship towards what is ultimately theirs. Youth, without a doubt, is the driver to our new focus. You don’t need to be in the Refuge business to recognize the growing dependency of younger generations on technology and their detachment from nature. Nonetheless, all it may take to shift their preference and spark their interest in conservation is a positive experience in nature, in a place such as beautiful Santa Ana NWR.

The road in the pursuit of the “Big Goal” is challenging and requires a steep learning curve. Luckily, with the support of partners and individuals like you, we will grow our capacity to reach the masses about conservation in the LRGV.


You can help us safeguard the future of the wildlife habitat in the Rio Grande Valley; all it takes is a small donation.


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