One of the most important functions of the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor is to secure land for the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge (LRGV). When properties come up for sale and the Refuge is unable to purchase in a timely manner (because of lack of funding or a drawn out realty process), the Friends get involved. Unlike the Refuge, the Friends are not confined by Federal realty regulations and can purchase properties more quickly. This ensures land important for wildlife is not sold to another buyer that may develop it. With the Friend's limited funding, we typically focus on small tracts, ones that are significant because they have good habitat and/or they connect existing Refuge tracts.
The Friends have been able to make these small land purchases because of generous funds donated specifically for land acquisition. The Friends used initial funds to identify and purchase a property important for the LRGV. Eventually, we sold the tract to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) for inclusion of LRGV. The revenues from that first sale were then used to purchase a second tract. Profits from this initial purchase have allowed the Friends to continue buying additional lands for inclusion of the LRGV.
In addition to buying land, the Friends also lobby Congressionals in Washington, D.C.and within the FWS to secure land acquisition funding for LRGV. The LRGV is still in an acquisition phase. Of the 132,500 acres the FWS is authorized to purchase in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, 90,000 acres have been acquired from willing sellers.
The LRGV depends on Land & Water Conservation Funding (LWCF) for its acquisition funding. The LWCF is a federal fund that gets the majority of its revenues from oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf and one of its main functions is to serve as the principal funding source for acquisition of federal lands for outdoor recreation. Every year, Congress decides how much money to appropriate to the LWCF.
Since 2001, LWCF monies have declined every year. In FY 2001, the entire FWS received $121.2M for land acquisition, this to be divided among the country's top ranked land acquisition refuges. In FY 2006, the entire FWS received $28M for land acquisition. For the purpose of comparison, the City of Houston received $23M to plant trees along their freeways in 2006.
Since it's creation in 1979, LRGV has consistently ranked as a top priority refuge within the National Wildlife Refuge System's land acquisition program. Out of the 78 refuges that qualify for LWCF in 2008, FWS has ranked LRGV as sixth (Laguna Atascosa NWR ranked seventh). Since 2001, LRGV has received an average of less than $800K for land acquisition every year. With the average acre of farm land costing anywhere between $3K and $23K, this minimal funding limits the Refuge's ability to buy suitable lands from willing sellers. Once realty costs are included, $800K might purchase an average of 100 acres a year. At this rate, it would take the Refuge more than 42 years to reach its completion goal of 132,500 acres.
Not only is the FWS getting less and less funding for land acquisition, lands in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas are becoming less available and more expensive. According to the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, the McAllen-Mission-Edinburg metropolitan area is expected to grow 132 percent during the next 35 years. In 2008, CNNMoney.com ranked McAllen, Texas as the fastest growing real estate market in the United States. Land is not only becoming more expensive, it's being rapidly developed.
This is where you come in. If you have the opportunity or the resources to support the Friend's land acquisition program, we hope you will consider making a donation or including us in your will. As has been proven, generous donors can ensure the protection of a lot of habitat. Know that your money will be used responsibly for many years to secure many acres of habitat and it will help ensure the continuation of one of the most biologically diverse areas in North America.
If you would like to consider donating to the land acquisition program, please call the Friends at 956-784-7502.