HIGH ISLAND — A nonprofit group is expected to close today on the acquisition of 1,350 acres of key birding habitat on Bolivar Peninsula, removing prime, undeveloped beach front from the hands of commercial developers.
Arlington, Va.-based The Conservation Fund is acquiring the land on the site of what’s known as the Cade Ranch from PNL Cos., a Dallas-based real estate investment firm. The transaction is valued at $3.8 million.
In 2007, PNL Cos., in a venture with Provident Realty Advisors, purchased nearly 2,600 acres of raw Cade Ranch land, snapping up one of the largest remaining beach-front tracts on the Texas Coast. The company at the time would not divulge the purchase price.
The Dallas group acquired the tract from Crown Team Texas, which had put about $30 million into acquiring and developing peninsula land and infrastructure during the heady boom days when investors were flocking coastward with plans for high-dollar waterfront projects.
The Cade Ranch site, which is northwest of the intersection of state Highways 124 and 87 near High Island, has more than 13,000 feet of frontage on the Gulf of Mexico and Intracoastal Waterway.
The Dallas group had platted the land as a beach-front retreat and marina before Hurricane Ike struck in September 2008. The storm coincided with a national real estate meltdown, followed by a stubborn recession that chilled the second-home and resort markets, which only now are recovering.
More buys planned
The Conservation Fund, which has protected 7 million acres in all 50 states, plans to convey the Bolivar Peninsula property to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to become part of the Anuhuac National Wildlife Refuge.
In today’s transaction, The Conservation Fund will buy 350 acres of the property with Coastal Impact Assistance Program funds administered by the Texas General Land Office, and 1,000 acres with money from the North American Wetland Conservation Act, along with a donation from the nonprofit Knoblock Foundation.
Next year, the The Conservation Fund intends to acquire additional Cade Ranch land as funding allows, Andy Jones, director of the fund’s Texas office, said. The organization hopes to use money available through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment program set up after the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in which an estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico for 86 days before energy giant BP could finally cap the well.
Jones said it would be fitting for some of that oil-spill money to help The Conservation Fund buy the remaining Cade Ranch land. Tar balls and oil from the BP disaster reached Bolivar Peninsula, which is renowned for abundance and diversity of shorebirds. The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network identified the peninsula as a site of hemispheric importance.
Important ‘fallout’ area
The Cade Ranch site is an extremely important migratory bird habitat, Jones said.
Many species of birds, called Neotropical migrants, nest in North America and winter in Latin America. Twice each year, the birds migrate long distances between wintering grounds and spring nesting sites.
During the spring migration from early March to mid-May, strong, turbulent north winds and rain sometimes trigger a phenomenon called a “fallout,” according to the Houston Audubon Society. Wind and rain impede the migrating birds, causing them to rapidly use up stored energy, according to the society. The exhausted migrants are forced to seek shelter and food as soon as they reach the coast. Quality fallout habitat is important to their survival, according to the society. Once they re-energize, the birds fly on, Jones said.
Acquiring the Cade Ranch land will eliminate the risk of habitat destruction by development and protect migratory fowl, shorebirds, wading birds and landbirds on the peninsula, Jones said.
Good for people, too
The Cade Ranch land is adjacent to coastal prairie and maintained agricultural fields and is surrounded by the Chenier Plain Refuge Complex, a vast system of high quality and permanently protected and managed coastal wetlands including the Anuhuac, McFaddin, Texas Point and Moody National Wildlife Refuges, according to the The Conservation Fund.
Because of its exceptional wetland habitat for migratory birds and waterfowl, Cade Ranch was a high priority acquisition for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jones said. While the acquisition is good for the birds, it’s also good for people, Jones said
Residential and commercial development in an area so vulnerable to storms can be costly to taxpayers when it comes to catastrophe cleanup, Jones said.
“We won’t have to continue paying for catastrophic events,” he said.