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Energy & Environment

Threatened by Sprawling Houston, Wetlands Will be protected by Oil Company’s Gift

A big petroleum company in Houston is giving millions of dollars to save some of our area’s most valuable untouched land.

Prairie that is part of 1,800 acres purchased for conservation
Jerod Foster, Nature Conservancy
A prairie that is part of 1,800 acres purchased for conservation

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Drive south from Houston down highway 288 and you will pass thousands of new homes.

But about half-way to the coast, you'll also pass some of the most environmentally valuable forests, prairies and wetlands anywhere in Texas.

"That's pristine land," says Steve Pastor.

Pastor is president of BHP Billiton's oil operations based in Houston. BHP Billiton is an international mining company headquartered in Australia.

"Clearly as Houston continues to grow, you've got folks moving out to the southwest. We want to make sure we did our part to protect that for future generations," Pastor tells News 88.7.

To that end, BHP Billiton is giving $8 million to buy 1,800 acres of that pristine land in Brazoria County. It's a project by the Nature Conservancy, a national land and water conservation group. Laura Huffman is the group's Texas director.

"This is not going to be a preserve that's closed off. This is going to be a preserve that we want to showcase," says Huffman.

The newly-acquired acreage is part of the Columbia Bottomlands Project
Jerod Foster, Nature Conservancy
The newly-acquired acreage is part of the Columbia Bottomlands Project

She says work is underway to build a pavilion so busloads of kids can see the flora and fauna up close. But it's just a start. Huffman says they have a goal of securing some 36,000 more acres in the area to ensure the delicate habitat is permanently protected from development. But she says that'll only happen with more private funding.

"This is a large gift (from BHP Billiton) that allowed us to achieve large scale conservation. And that would be the encouragement to other companies, think about this at scale. "

The project is officially called the Columbia Bottomlands Project and should be open to the public in about two years.

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