Area river refuge acquires additional land, strengthens plan to protect habitat

by Jo Anne Embleton

JACKSONVILLE – Acquisition of approximately 100 aces of bottomland hardwoods adjacent to the Neches River cements the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge as a place that supports “unbelievable wildlife habitat” while offering a wonderland for visitors who want to get close to nature.

“I have stayed impressed with the continual acquisition of land for the Neches Refuge by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the past 10 years with the establishment of our refuge,” said Michael Banks, a refuge volunteer who also serves on the board of the Friends of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge.

“This land has unprecedented quality with outstanding hardwood bottoms, established pine plantations and Neches River frontage which translates into unbelievable wildlife habitat. The wonderful aspect of (USFWS) is that it maintains the wildlife habitat for the benefit of people,” he said. “There is no place on earth like the Neches River bottom – that's a fact!”

In 2021, USFWS added nearly 7,000 acres of public land to the National Wildlife Refuge System in Tex-as, at 19 national wildlife refuges and three national fish hatcheries.

“These public lands offer access to a host of popular activities like hiking, hunting and fishing, while also providing vital habitat for thousands of wildlife species,” said Amy Lueders, the Service’s Southwest regional director. “Conservation stewardship and increasing equitable access to public lands are essential components of the America the Beautiful initiative.”

Approximately 4,000 to 6,000 people visit the Neches refuge annually, enjoying the approximately 20 miles of hiking trails, kayaking, fishing, wildlife watching and photography, and – when the season – hunts offered by refuge manager Leo Gustafson.

“There are many activities people can do at the refuge,” he said, noting that it was important to protect the river habitat and flood plain because they contribute to microcosms supporting “all kinds of (creatures) living there – things that you don’t see, and the things that you can see.”

“Everything you can associate with that kind of environment, you can expect to see here,” he said.

Simply put, “we have a good ecosystem here – if you protect the habitat, you protect the animals of the habitat,” Gustafson noted. “That’s what makes it so important to acquire those tracts around the water.”

The recent acquisition of property now gives the refuge 7,200 acres at the Cherokee-Anderson counties boundary.