Saturday, April 17, 2010

Final stretch of fence could close Southmost Preserve

Brownsville Herald
April 17, 2010
by Laura Tillman

Max Pons sees more wildlife in one day than most people see in months.

On Friday, Pons watched Black-bellied Whistling Ducks as they conducted reconnaissance to find the best place to build a nest.

He saw Altimira Orioles gathering food, walked along a stretch of sunflowers, Texas thistle, prickly poppies, and guinea grass, and kneeled down to pluck a sample of pepper grass as Indigo Buntings whipped through the air.

While many South Texans manage to get out to the area’s wildlife refuges a few days a month or year, Pons considers it a privilege to call The Nature Conservancy Southmost Preserve his workplace and his home for 18 years.

But after a court order granting possession of 8.31 acres of the land to the U.S. government for construction of 1.5 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border fence, Pons’ idyllic home may be no more. About 95 percent of the Nature Conservancy’s property will fall south of the fence, including one of the last two protected Sabal Palm groves in the United States.

As caretaker of the property, Pons’ home will fall behind the fence, along with the conservancy’s nursery.

“The border wall causes several unique damages and problems for the conservancy, including dangers to protected and rare species,” said Laura Huffman, the Texas director of The Nature Conservancy, an international nonprofit organization. “There are also security and access concerns for what will now be on the backside of the wall, including the Nature Conservancy operations and the home of the preserve manager and his family. A decision has not yet been made as to whether or not the Nature Conservancy can continue at this location.”

The stretch of border fence is among the last to be built in Brownsville, along with a half mile of fence in Lincoln Park, according to Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson Tara Dunlop. Engineers at the Nature Conservancy site said construction on the fence would start on Monday.

“We’re certainly disappointed,” said John Herron, Texas director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy. “We’re very concerned about how a fence will affect our ability to operate our preserve. I think we understand the concern about security and we certainly want to be supportive. But like any landowner we’re disappointed with the fact that the federal government has chosen to take the land.”

Pons takes care to talk with the Border Patrol agents, engineers, and construction staff who are now a regular presence in what remains his home and workplace. He chats with them about the wildlife, weather patterns, and the path of the fence.
“You’re just the messengers,” Pons said members of the Kiewit crew.

Pons walked along the segment of fence that has already been constructed near The Nature Conservancy property and came upon an old shed about 30 feet from the fence line.

“We were hoping they’d have to tear this shed down,” Pons said jokingly, pointing out the shed. “There’s a big bee population living in there they’d have to contend with.”

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