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From the Pen of Carter

If I had a nickel for every time I was asked to name my favorite place in Texas, I would be, well, retired. For reasons that readers of this magazine will understand, such a question is much easier asked than answered.

But, when it comes to favorite places, it might surprise some to learn that the Katy Prairie is one of them. Seen mostly by people traveling at breakneck speeds along Interstate 10 west of Houston, the view from the highway gives the impression, if one is made at all, of a flat, featureless plain that looks best from the rearview mirror. Such a perspective would not begin to do it justice.

That being said, my first encounter with the Katy Prairie probably fit just that bill. It was in the 1990s, and I was working for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in our Wildlife Division. I was so low on the totem pole that I am not sure I had an actual title. Rank aside, my position involved, at least in part, traveling around the state helping various wildlife biologists with projects involving everything from bobwhite quail to deer to turkeys to waterfowl. It was a heady time for this aspiring young wildlife biologist, and not only did I learn a great deal, but I got to see the state from corner to corner.

One winter morning found me around Eagle Lake counting geese on various roost ponds in the Lissie Prairie. About lunchtime I got a call on the radio from David Lobpries, a highly respected waterfowl biologist with the department, telling me I was to head over toward the Katy/Brookshire area. Assuming he needed me to check on some ducks and geese on the vaunted Katy Prairie, known by waterfowlers as the epicenter of some of the best hunting around, I headed that way filled with anticipation about what I would see.

The task, as it turned out, had little to do with the Katy Prairie’s ducks and geese, but everything to do with the interstate that ran through it. Apparently, a map was being put together for some important purpose, and those in Austin making said map needed a very quick estimate of the interstate’s relative footprint as it traversed through the Katy Prairie. That is where yours truly came in. In order to generate that information, it was decided (by whom I am not quite sure) that I was to pick a half a dozen places along the interstate and, ahem, “quickly” pace off the width of the highway to get an estimate of the roadway’s impervious cover from shoulder to shoulder.

Twenty some-odd years later, David and I still chuckle at just how expendable I was perceived to be and just how far we have come technologically since then. I’ll also readily confess now that I may have paced off the width of the interstate something a bit shy of the six times requested!

Given my somewhat less than auspicious introduction, it was somewhat ironic that I returned to the Katy Prairie as the first executive director of the newly minted Katy Prairie Conservancy (KPC), a local land trust charged with conserving the area’s wetlands, waterfowl, prairies and wildlife habitats. The wetland wars were in full swing at the time, and acrimony existed aplenty between Houston’s west-side developers and the region’s rather active environmental community. The only thing anyone could actually agree on was that if any of the Katy Prairie was going to be protected, it better happen quickly and through private action.

My immersion into the hidden riches of the prairie’s wildlife habitats came largely through a gaggle of duck hunting guides, rice farmers, ranchers, birders and waterfowl biologists, all of whom took me under their wings to show me what people missed sailing by on the interstate. What I saw back then was simply stunning: tens of thousands of ducks and geese congregating on remote roost ponds; giant kettles of hawks migrating through in the fall and spring; shorebirds and wading birds too numerous to count; vast flocks of sandhill cranes foraging on wheat and ryegrass fields; bald eagles perched around the rice fields and surrounding wetlands, consuming errant ducks and geese; bunches of grassland birds darting around the remnant prairies; and a whole lot more.

It was obviously a special place, and thanks to the committed efforts of many people at KPC over the years, nearly 20,000 acres of that beloved prairie have been protected for future generations. As such, it gives me enormous pleasure to see in these pages one of the prairie’s native daughters, Emily Moskal, write about coming back home after college and developing a newfound appreciation for all that was in her backyard growing up in Katy.

As Ms. Moskal presents so thoughtfully in her piece, it would probably do us all good from time to time to stop and take in all the nature that simply surrounds us, in places big and small, seen and unseen. If you are looking for a place to start, don’t forget about one of your 95 state parks, historic sites and natural areas, or one of your 49 state wildlife management areas!

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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