The Nature Conservancy, well known for protecting habitat for threatened plants and animals, is taking a fresh look at ways to fulfill its mission. Surprisingly, gas drilling on one of its preserves seems to make a lot of sense right now.
The Galveston Bay Prairie Reserve near Texas City was donated to the conservancy in 1995 by Mobil Exploration & Production US, Inc. It provided badly needed habitat for the nearly extinct Attwater’s prairie chicken. In fact, biologists estimate that of the 46 remaining wild birds, 28 of them make their home on this 2,263-acre site. In order to ensure the prairie chicken’s survival, however, a wild population of more than 3,000 is needed. The current preserve can only support about 50 birds, which means the Nature Conservancy needs more land.
Money for the purchase of additional land could come from gas wells on the existing preserve. The conservation group has granted permits to two companies for exploratory gas drilling. Strict safeguards have been put in place, although some risk to the birds does exist. Still, the conservancy is willing to take that risk as the project could provide as much as $5 million to finance the acquisition and restoration of more habitat.