Why A Conservation Group Needs Millions In Less Than A Week To Preserve Prairie

Conservationists are trying to keep an untouched grassland area in Deer Park from being developed into a residential subdivision. They are trying to buy the land from the developer but time is running out.

“So we are at the heart of Deer Park, Texas. This is the Deer Park prairie.”

Jaime Gonzalez is the conservation education director with Katy Prairie Conservancy, a non-profit land trust.

Deer Park may be known to most as housing dozens of oil refineries. What few know is that it also houses what Gonzalez calls the “platinum standard of prairies.”

“This is we think the most diverse 50-acre patch of prairie left in the greater Houston area. A lot of people don’t know that Houston really wasn’t founded on a swamp, it was founded on very wet grasslands known as coastal prairies. There were some swamps, but this was the predominant landscape type in the Houston area historically.”

Jennifer Lorenz is with Bayou Land Conservancy. She says Conservation groups discovered the site and its significance less than two years ago. They contacted the owner of the land, who agreed to hold off on developing it until the groups could raise enough money to buy the grassland.

But that all changed earlier this month when the developer gave them an Aug. 20 deadline to come up with the money.

“The issue is, is that, the hot housing market that we have right now. This is the last largest piece of land left in Deer Park, and it’s near all of these refineries that are booming. It’s 3.6 miles from the Shell and Dow refineries. It’s right next to all the industrial areas that are booming right now. And so right now is the press for him to be able to sell it.”  

She says the landowner has been very patient with her group and is even willing to sell it to them for less than what some other developers are bidding. But if the group can’t get together $4 million in donations by next Tuesday, the many different plant and animal species will have to make way to streets and houses.

It’s not what Kurt von Boeckmann wants to see, who lives just across from the prairie on East Purdue Lane.

“I don’t want all the traffic that housing will bring and the flooding it’s probably going bring, ‘cause (if) they build that up, all the draining is going to come right here down the street. And if it does happen, I’m probably going to move.”

Boeckmann says he’s lived there for more than 20 years and his kids used to play on the prairie all the time.

Jennifer Lorenz has organized a desperate last-minute campaign to get, as she says, “a few millionaires” to help raise the money.

Several big donations between $10,000 and $50,000 have already come in and Lorenz says some even larger donations are pending — but there still is a wide gap.

For more information on the prairie and how to donate, go to www.bayoulandconservancy.org

Bio photo of Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Reporter/NewsLab Coordinator

Florian Martin is the KUHF NewsLab Coordinator. While guiding and overseeing interns, he works on his own stories and is always on call to cover breaking news and other media events...