Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rare palms moved for border fence

San Antonio Express-News
June 10, 2009
by Lynn Brezosky

BROWNSVILLE — Some 300 rare sabal palm trees are being extracted and relocated to save them from being killed for the government's border fence, the Nature Conservancy of Texas said Wednesday.

The trees, some a century old, are among the last remaining from a palm forest that once flourished along the Rio Grande but was felled for farmland and development.

Most of the remaining trees are now under the stewardship of the Nature Conservancy and Audubon Texas. The latter group maintains a 557-acre sanctuary along the fence path.

With funding and manpower supplied by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies, the trees are being replanted to other properties owned by the Nature Conservancy and Audubon, including properties that will end up south of the fence.

“For the time being this will at least provide them with a fighting chance,” Nature Conservancy spokesman Paco Felici said. “The alternative is to cut them down.”

The federal government is funding the undertaking, which Nature Conservancy state director Laura Huffman said was a way to “create as much good out of the situation as possible.”

Litigation is pending concerning the fence's path through Conservancy and Audubon properties, Huffman said.

In the Conservancy's case, 700 of 1,200 acres will be cut off by the fence. Questions regarding access and security on the south side haven't been answered.

Huffman said she feared the on-site caretaker could no longer live in an area severed by the fence, and lack of oversight could open the preserve to tree poachers.

“If we cannot continue to protect the sabal palms and the habitat, then the conservation goals have in effect been compromised,” she said. “Owning the tracts and not being able to protect the species is a problem.”

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