Land purchase, conservation easement add more protection to East Texas river

JAY BRITTAIN/THE CONSERVATION FUND/COURTESY the purchase of boggy slough by T.L.L. Temple Foundation and a conservation easement through The Conservation Fund adds additional protection to the Neches River.

Updated March 21, 2016 for clarification.

Although it hasn’t been impacted the way Texas’ Big Four of Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio, the Pineywoods does have a different look than it did 50 years ago.

Change has come in the form of larger towns, reservoirs, fragmented land holdings, land use shifted from timber to cattle and changes in timber management practices.

The amount of forested land has actually grown slightly in recent years, but the amount of old growth forests, hardwoods and mixed woods bottoms have decreased.

One of the least impacted areas is the Neches River bottom. From its headwaters in Van Zandt County to where it dumps into Sabine Lake at Beaumont the Neches bottom is still much the same as it has always been. Two exceptions, of course, are Lake Palestine and B.A. Steinhagen Lake in Tyler County.

Large private landholdings along with National Forest Service lands and other government properties have kept the Neches a more primative river.

Long-term preservation of the Neches got a big boost late last year when the T.L.L. Temple Foundation completed a complicated land purchase that returned ownership of the 19,000-acre Boggy Slough area in Trinity County to the foundation created by the Temple family, long-time owners of the property until 2007.

Temple Inland, under the direction of the late Arthur Temple, once owned more than a million acres in East Texas. Following a corporate reorganization the company’s land, along with the highly managed Boggy Slough, was sold to Campbell Global. The tract was in turn purchased by International Paper in 2013 when it bought other Temple assets.

The Temple Foundation was able to repurchase the area last year, and working with The Conservation Fund recently completed a conservation easement that will protect the land from development in perpetuity.

“Buddy Temple (the late son of Arthur Temple) wanted to protect the land for the conservation value,” said Julie Shackleford, Texas Programs Director for The Conservation Fund, who worked with the Temple Foundation in setting up the easement. “They are taking their time on deciding how they are going to manage it going forward. I do know they want to do restoration of the habitat including some burning and invasive species management. Their goal is to get it in prime condition.”

The Conservation Fund has long had an association with the Temple family. Arthur Temple was one of the early supporters of the organization’s move into Texas. A $10 million donation from the Temple Foundation has helped the The Conservation Fund purchase property from willing landowners that will ultimately be donated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the proposed 25,000-acre Neches River National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge helped stop construction of another Dallas-planned reservoir on the Neches.

For The Conservation Fund Boggy Slough becomes another link in the protection of the Neches River Bottom. Primarily gained by the easement is protection of 18 miles of river frontage on the property’s eastern boundary. It makes a nice package with Boggy Slough being bounded by the Davy Crockett National Forest to the north and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Alabama Creek Wildlife Management Area to the south.

“The Neches River has been a huge emphasis for our organization since we have been in Texas. We don’t typically hold easements, but the size of Boggy Slough was important,” Shackelford said.

Working with government agencies and private landowners the organization has helped protect more than 100,000 acres along the river.

“It is one of the least impacted by humans river bottoms in Texas. It is relatively intact. There are still a lot of large land holdings. It is not as impacted by dams as other rivers and most of it is still forested,” Shackelford added.

Shackelford said protection of the Neches is made easier because of the amount of public property that straddles it. Besides the Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others have interests along the river.

All of that could help an attempt currently in Washington to have the Neches named a national Wild and Scenic River, keeping it pretty much a free-flowing river and protecting at least one part of East Texas from urbanization.

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