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Greater Houston Adding More Protected Greenspace

A local conservation group says especially native soil and plants can help with future floods.

Florian Martin/Houston Public Media
Native soils and plants are good at absorbing water.


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Since Harvey hit in 2017, Greater Houston added nearly 150,000 acres of protected land, according to conservation group Houston Wilderness.

More than 12%, or 608,000 acres, of the eight-county region are now protected greenspace, according to the group.

That's halfway to Houston Wilderness' goal of 24% greenspace in the region by 2040, as part of its Gulf-Houston Regional Conservation Plan.

"We weren't surprised because of the federal and state funds that have started to flow in to see a bump," Houston Wilderness President and CEO Deborah January-Bevers said. "We were a little surprised the bump was as high as it was, but we don't expect that, a 3% bump, every year."

The group is working with local governments and utility companies to help reach its goal. In some cases, the new space comes through buyouts from homeowners in the floodplain.

"Nature-based infrastructure," as she calls it, has several benefits, January-Bevers said.

A big one for a flood-prone area like Houston is that it absorbs water, and it's especially true for native soils and plants.

"Our native grasses and our trees and our soils themselves, the type of soils that we have, which are very clay-based, they are able to hold water longer than some traditional other types of soils in other parts of the country," January-Bevers said.

Another benefit is carbon absorption.

Houston Wilderness, together with others, has ranked all native trees by their ability to absorb carbon, particles and water.

"The loblolly pine tree is actually a high carbon absorber," January-Bevers said. "So that would be one that we could particularly concentrate on as a species. It's already prevalent in the area. We would be adding to that for purposes of carbon sequestration."

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