The Big Thicket Area
The Big Thicket has been called the American Ark and the nation’s Biologic Crossroads. The area is the only place in America where so many ecosystems coexist. This convergence of ecosystems took place during the last ice age. It brought together, in one geographical location, the eastern hardwood forests, Gulf coastal plains, mid-west prairies, southwest desert, and southeastern swamp.
What is extraordinary is how many plant and animal species coexist here. There are 85 tree species, more than 60 shrubs, and nearly 1000 other flowering plants, including 26 ferns, 20 orchids, and 4 of the 5 types of insect-eating plants. 186 different types of birds either live here or migrate through the area. There are also 50 reptile species, and a recent survey noted an amazing 1728 species of moths and butterflies.
Photos are more descriptive than words, so here are a few web sites which offer a visual description of the Big Thicket area.
The Big Thicket National Preserve
In 1974 the Big Thicket National Preserve was created to protect and preserve a portion of the Big Thicket area. It was America’s first national preserve and was placed under the administration of the National Parks Service, a division of the US Department of the Interior. The Congressional action creating the Preserve set aside approximately 85,000 acres of land and water units.
In 1981 the Big Thicket National Preserve was designated as a “Man in the Biosphere Reserve” by the United Nations. In 2001 the American Bird Conservancy recognized the Preserve as a “Globally Important Bird Area “.
The land area making up the Preserve is not consolidated but scattered into various units over seven counties in Deep East Texas. In an effort to begin consolidating and linking the various units of the Preserve and afford protection for areas not included in the original legislation, Congress passed the Big Thicket Addition Act in 1993. This Act authorized the addition of roughly 10,000 acres to the original Big Thicket National Preserve but appropriated no money for acquisition of the privately held lands. It was hoped that the desired lands could be acquired by trading federal lands for the privately owned lands. After a number of years, it became apparent that this transaction would not take place.
Recognizing the need to fund the acquisitions, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Congressman Jim Turner introduced legislation in 2002 to set aside five million dollars to purchase a portion of the lands covered under the Addition Act. The final dollar amount approved by a House-Senate Conference Committee was $3 million.
During this same time period, Louisiana-Pacific and International Paper announced they would be selling nearly 1,000,000 acres of forest lands in East Texas. These lands and the manner in which the two companies had cared for them had always provided an environmentally friendly buffer to the Preserve. This buffer protected the Preserve lands from encroachment and adjacent development. The announced sale concerned a number of individuals and organizations who are watchful of events regarding the Big Thicket National Preserve. Led by the Big Thicket Association other conservation groups have sounded the alarm for the rapid acquisition of critical properties to protect and expand the Preserve. The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, The National Parks Conservation Association, Texas Committee on Natural Resources, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, are just a few of the statewide and national organizations concerned that if acquisitions of these critical properties are delayed, the Preserve may incur irreparable damage.
An active market to purchase the LP and IP lands exists and several sales have already taken place. These are not small acreage purchases. Some number in the thousands of acres. Only a rapid concerted effort to fund and acquire the necessary properties to be added to the Big Thicket National Preserve will preserve the valuable ecosystems.