By: Matthew Jackson
Urban outreach has become a larger factor in the National Wildlife Refuge System’s new vision plan. The vast majority of refuges are located in rural areas, but many visitors come from nearby urban areas. Houston, for example, does not have a national wildlife refuge in the city, but has four of them within 50 miles of downtown. Over 5 million residents living in the metro area are easily within an hour’s drive of a national wildlife refuge! In fact, a large portion of FOAR members live in the city of Houston. For them, traveling to Anahuac NWR or any refuge isn’t always convenient, but that doesn’t mean they can’t experience wildlife right in their own backyard.
Kayakers in Houston's Buffalo Bayou
There are easily over 500 bird species found across Texas. On Anahuac NWR alone, over 250 species can be seen throughout the year from the VIS, in a car on the Shoveler Pond loop, or even in a kayak on East Bay Bayou. The refuge’s 34,000 acres of continuous coastal prairie and marsh habitat make it a prime landing spot for migrating birds in addition to those who live on the refuge year-round.
With Houston being just 50 miles away from Anahuac NWR, seeing many of these birds is common if you know where to look. For those who live “inside the loop” in Houston, places like Herman Park and Memorial Park offer large pieces of habitat. These places aren’t quite as native as a wildlife refuge, but they offer more suitable habitat than surrounding areas. Seeing a decent variety of wildlife at the parks is almost a guarantee.
A common site at Hermann Park
Other great places to view wildlife are the hike
and bike trails along the bayous that criss-cross the city and act as corridors for wildlife to move through the city. Buffalo Bayou Park meanders four miles from Memorial Park to downtown on its way to the Houston Ship Channel and ultimately Galveston Bay. In total, the City of Houston maintains over 37,000 acres of parklands and open space (COH-Parks). That is actually more land than Anahuac NWR! When
you take into account that the parks are
fragmented across the city, much of the wildlife must cross through developed
areas and even your own backyard to reach suitable habitat. Millions of residents visit city parks every year to get outside and enjoy nature. Why not spend a day at a nearby national wildlife refuge and see even more wildlife in its native habitat? Plan a day trip this summer to one of your Houston area national wildlife refuges. MJ
Great Blue Heron in Houston's Brays Bayou