Together, we can advance conservation

The Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation is a leader in conservation. Their programs for water, sustainability science, clean energy, and natural gas show their commitment to improving our land. And the personal and touching story of how Cynthia and George developed the Cook’s Branch Conservancy highlights the responsibility we all share to be conservationists.  

All Texans have a stake in the future of our land, water and wildlife.  No matter where we live, in the city or in the country, our lives depend on the quality of our ecosystems. While modern life, with its double-paned glass, digital thermostats and multi-story parking garages, insulates us from nature, it doesn’t remove our dependence on the bounty of the natural world.  Our open spaces are home to the ecological processes that provide clean water and air, as well as the basics of life—food, clothing, and shelter. 

In Texas, our legendary wide open spaces are disappearing. The Lone Star State is losing productive, open space land faster than any other state in the nation.  So, over two years ago, I helped start a non-profit, Taking Care of Texas, with a group of committed conservationists. 

Taking Care of Texas is dedicated to finding new and innovative ways to protect our state’s natural resources.  Founded on the belief that collaborative partnership efforts are the best way to meet conservation challenges, we focus on can-do conservation and collaborative conservation efforts. 

For instance, in the midst of one of the largest oil plays in the world, Taking Care of Texas organized a cooperative group of oil & gas companies who are drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale. We are working with contractors, landowners, and wildlife and habitat experts to proactively address the ecological issues surrounding Eagle Ford development. And we are facilitating conversations with each party on erosion control, topsoil preservation, and native plant reseeding on properties large and small. 

We are on the frontlines striking the balance between society’s needs for energy and its need for productive land, wildlife and water.  Finding answers that lead to balance is not easy or neat, but it is vital to the future of our state. 

When we think of the environmental challenges that we face—locally and globally—we have three options. We can throw up our hands and panic. We can bury our heads in the sand and hope that the challenges go away. Or we can collaborate—bringing the brightest businesspeople, academics, private landowners, environmentalists, and agency personnel together to ask:

How do we protect the natural beauty of Texas? And how do we help our state’s environment flourish for our children and our grandchildren?  

One answer, and one of our first tasks, is to instill a love of Texas outdoors in our children and to future generations.   

Today, though, research shows that children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 7.5 hours a day—over 50 hours per week—connected to televisions, computers, video games and other electronic media. A child is six times more likely to play a video game than go outside and ride a bike.

We know that children who get outside are “healthier, happier, and smarter.” Active nature play improves physical conditioning, and has a positive effect on emotional wellbeing and child development.  Nature play increases self-esteem, reduces stress and stimulates creativity. Schools using environmental themes report improved academic performance. Children who play in nature are more likely to become tomorrow’s conservation leaders, and we need leaders in every field.

These statistics on children and the outdoors came from The Texas Children in Nature Strategic Plan. Taking Care of Texas helped launch this important initiative dedicated to connecting children and families to the outdoors. Since the plan’s release in 2010, Texas Children in Nature has welcomed 260 partner organizations and established regional collaborations in Austin, San Antonio, Houston, North Texas, South Texas and the Caprock.  

Imagine the impact of 260 organizations—with different resources, different visions and different expertise—all pulling toward the same goal. But taking care of our state requires the participation and collaboration of everyone. Your role can be as simple as planting a native plant in your backyard, or as grand as building a native garden in your community or restoring native wildlife habitat on a Texas ranch.

When George and I bought our ranch in Crawford, one of our first tasks was to restore the native prairie that once flourished in that part of the state.  We began by planting native Texas seed on a strip of land at the edge of an old cattle watering hole.  The wild and rangy grasses took, and today Prairie Chapel Ranch has over 100 acres of native prairie grassland.  

George and I have enjoyed seeing the land flourish, and wanted to share this piece of Texas with the public.  In the fifteen-acre public park surrounding the George W. Bush Center, we have planted native Texas trees and wildflowers and a new blend of native grass, developed by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. We also collect water in a giant cistern for irrigation—my mother was the one who gave me that idea.  She used a giant garbage can in the backyard to catch whatever she could from our Midland rains.  

In the middle of Dallas, the Bush Center’s revitalized grounds will attract butterflies, and a red-tailed hawk has already made its home in the parkland.  

Together, we can advance conservation and restoration projects that care for the wildlife, water, and landscapes in our communities, in our own backyards, and across the “miles and miles of Texas.”   

If we make it a priority to conserve our own property and then to introduce the natural wonders of our state to our children, love for our land becomes a way of life. And by our example, we teach our children how to be careful stewards of Texas.  

I like to imagine searching for birds in the trees and the brush with my new grandbaby, Mila.  And I like to imagine other Texas parents and grandparents, with their children and grandchildren, enjoying the outdoors.  

My hope for every Texas child is that he or she comes to know the joys and simple pleasures of the outdoors, with clean air, clean water, and pristine land. I hope you will join me in taking care of Texas.

 

Mrs. Laura Bush is the former First Lady of the United States and founder, Taking Care of Texas. For additional information, visit www.takingcareoftexas.org or follow on Twitter @TakingCareofTX.


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© 2012-2017 Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.