From the Pen of Carter P. Smith
I fell in love with the Katy Prairie the moment I saw it. There were raucous processions of geese and sandhill cranes passing overhead, ready to light in the seemingly never-ending fields of crop stubble. Rafts of puddle ducks covered the potholes and submerged rice fields. Shorebirds and wading birds of all kinds sifted through the shallow wetland depressions. Northern harriers by the dozens drifted over the prairies and pastures looking to make a meal out of careless fur or fowl. Short of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world, I thought it was one of the most magical wildlife spectacles I had ever seen.
For two years, I had the good fortune to call the Katy Prairie home. I served as the Katy Prairie Conservancy’s (KPC) first executive director, working to ensure some of the area’s unique lands and waters did not get entirely gobbled up by Houston’s inexorable western growth. At the time, developer and environmental interests were embroiled in numerous complex and contentious battles over the area’s wetlands and waterfowl habitat. Common ground was in short supply.
The organization’s board, a mix of landowner, hunter, business, scientific and environmental interests, took a chance on me. They had a vision for finding the proverbial balance between growth and conservation. I was young, inexperienced and optimistic to a fault. I was also irrepressibly passionate about the future of that special place. I still am.
What has happened on the Katy Prairie is a symbol for what is happening to more than a fair bit of Texas. A former rural area once predominated by working rice farms and cattle ranches, the region is now a bustling suburb of Houston. Where wetlands and native prairie once stood, malls and subdivisions now loom large. It has changed. Some say for the better. Some say not.
Fortunately, a little bit of that wildness remains. Thanks to a KPC-led coalition, including rice farmers, developers, flood control interests, hunters, birders and conservationists, nearly 20,000 acres of that area’s rice fields, wetlands, creeks, woods and pastures are conserved for future generations to enjoy and appreciate. Rest assured, the value of that accomplishment and investment will only appreciate with the passage of time.
Texans from all corners, including the Katy Prairie, are united by their commitment to a sense of place. Your lands, waters, fish, wildlife and parks help make those places special. Thanks for taking care of them.