Mission and goals: The mission of the Katy Prairie Conservancy (KPC) is to protect a sustainable portion of the Katy Prairie for the benefit of its wildlife and all Texans forever.
Long-term goals are to:
- protect at least 50,000 acres of the Katy Prairie;
- provide access and programming to allow the public to enjoy the Katy Prairie;
- manage protected land to preserve and enhance its natural resources;
- restore and improve habitat for upland- and wetland-related species;
- offer programs that educate participants on the importance of conserving the prairie;
- conduct and facilitate research that helps KPC achieve its mission; and,
- involve a broad spectrum of organizations and individuals to meet KPC's objectives.
Organization: The Katy Prairie Conservancy (KPC) was founded in 1992 as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization focused on preserving at least 50,000 contiguous acres on the prairie. KPC is making significant progress toward this goal, with nearly 18,000 acres now protected – 13,000 acres through direct ownership and the remaining acreage through conservation easements, purchased development rights, and public ownership.
Importance of the Katy Prairie: The Katy Prairie was once part of a vast North American tallgrass prairie system that stretched from the Gulf Coast up through Canada. Before European settlement and the westward growth of Houston, the Katy Prairie encompassed between 500,000 and 750,000 acres, starting at what is now Loop 610 and going all the way west to the Brazos River. Only a fraction of that prairie remains intact today - much of it as farm and ranch land. Yet the prairie serves as the winter home to one of the densest concentrations of migratory waterfowl in North America. More than 300 species of birds, over 100 species of other wildlife, and approximately 300 species of wildflowers and grasses are found on the Katy Prairie.
But, what remains of the historic Katy Prairie is threatened as never before by the growth and westward expansion of the Houston metropolitan area. In the last 25 years, more than one-half of the working farms and ranches on the Katy Prairie have been lost. The West Houston Association projects that “…the West Houston Region in 2050 will have a total population larger than San Jose and Dallas today – 2.2 million people, a 120% increase from 2000.” A recent study prepared for the Katy Area Economic Development Council anticipates that by 2035 all currently vacant land in Western Harris County will be developed for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes. The principal exception will be land that the Katy Prairie Conservancy protects today. As west Houston becomes more populated and densely developed, the Katy Prairie will become an essential oasis for the residents and wildlife of the region.
Past generations of Houstonians showed remarkable foresight in setting aside irreplaceable tracts of land like Hermann Park, Memorial Park, and Cullen Park. Today, without a similar vision, urban sprawl will quickly swallow up the Katy Prairie, and its ecological assets will be lost forever.
Yet KPC must work quickly if it is to achieve its long-term goal of creating a major anchor park and preserve system of regional ecological significance.
Who will benefit from KPC’s work: The people of Texas will benefit from the conservation of the Katy Prairie as will the wildlife that winter or reside on the Katy Prairie. In addition, the prairie’s natural ability to detain storm water offers significant flood protection benefits to downstream residents and businesses. The prairie also aids in recharging groundwater and improving water quality through the extensive wetlands found on the prairie.
The Katy Prairie also offers recreational opportunities to residents and visitors alike, including hunters, nature viewers, and bird watchers from all over Texas and through North America. The prairie also draws local hikers and bicyclists on weekend rides and welcomes the MS 150 biking event to its scenic roads each year. KPC’s field studies program helps educators teach students how wetland and prairie systems impact nearby residents and the environment. KPC also works with its conservation partners to provide summer and winter youth programs, including hunting with the Texas Wildlife Association, field days for Future Farmers of America with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and wildlife habitat identification opportunities for 4-H through the Texas Agrilife Extension.
Land Conservation Tools: KPC uses a variety of land protection methods, including fee simple acquisition (full sale and bargain sale), land preservation agreements (conservation easements and purchase of development rights), land donation of conservation and trade lands, and acceptance/creation of wetlands projects meeting KPC’s conservation criteria. Protected lands are managed in an ecologically sound manner with special attention paid to the need for wildlife habitat, current land uses and practices, recreational opportunities, and preservation of ecologically sensitive areas.
Programming: KPC offers outreach and educational programming to introduce the public to the importance of conserving the prairie. KPC also hosts tours, events, and special programs that allow the general and school-aged public an opportunity to visit the prairie and enjoy its beauty and its wonders. While many of KPC’s programs are guided by naturalists, KPC offers self-guided tours weekly and opens its wildlife-viewing platform at Nelson Farms from dusk to dawn 365 days a year. The platform is Site 100 on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail - Upper Texas Coast. KPC is planning a second wildlife-viewing platform at Site 99 – the Warren Lake – this fall. Look for more information soon.
Budget and Funding: KPC’s 2009 budget is projected at just under $3 million in revenues and expenses. The land acquisition component of the Katy Prairie Conservancy’s efforts to protect at least 50,000 acres will extend over multiple years and will require substantial outlays for land purchases beyond this base level of fiscal activity.