Chris Best knows a thing or two about heat. A plant ecologist at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, he spends an inordinate amount of time under the brutal South Texas sun planting trees and shrubs — day after day, acre after acre. The effort is heroic, and it's long overdue.
Like numerous other regions in North America where the soil rewards farmers, the Rio Grande Valley suffers from overexploitation. Native brushlands, scrub thickets, palm forests, and floodplain forests have been decimated over time. What once was a paradise for Ocelots, chachalacas, Groove-billed Anis, and even Jaguars is now no more than isolated patches of remnant habitats, biological islands in a sea of crops and humanity.
But all hope is not lost for the Rio Grande Valley. Chris Best and people like him have a plan to create a more-or-less continuous vegetation belt that stretches from Falcon Dam to the Gulf of Mexico. Even better, their plan is fast becoming a reality.
Support for the wildlife corridor comes from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, conservation groups, local municipalities, and concerned private citizens. One component is habitat procurement. Another is habitat restoration. And while revegetating vast stretches of land with native plants poses more than a few challenges, staffers and volunteers remain undeterred. Some weekends as many as 10,000 new trees and shrubs are added to the Rio Grande Valley.
Of course, similar efforts need to be undertaken in just about every other corner of the continent, reviving grasslands and swamps, thorn forests and dunes. Because wildlife depend not on islands of vegetation but on expanses of it.