July 27, 2014
Paula Ann Solis
The border fence running between Mexico and Texas has inadvertently blocked and damaged the Rio Grande Valley range of ocelots.
Celebrated land stewards Karen and Phil Hunke worked for more than a decade to transform thousands of acres in Hidalgo County, known as Tecolote Ranch, into a sanctuary for endangered plants and animals such as the ocelot.
In the Valley, where 95 percent of original Texas brush land has been cleared in the name of progress, their efforts are uncommon.
“Karen and I are just really committed to helping people learn and educating them about how you can conserve land and not over graze,” Hunke said. “You can aid wildlife at the same time and have cattle and make it work together.”
The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental group, took note of their commitment and successful maintenance of critical land during land inventories, Hunke said.
To take their progress one step further, the Hunkes sold 1,119 acres in June to the conservancy at a significantly reduced price, cutting their overall land value. But it was all in the name of nature and charity, Hunke said.
The land is near the intersection of Willacy, Hidalgo and Kenedy counties.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquired the land for $3 million with funds the Department of Homeland Security reserved to combat the negative impacts of the border fence’s construction.