LEARN ABOUT KPC & OUR WORK


MAP LEGEND

  • Purple Blocks = Katy Prairie Preserve
  • Light Blue Line = Historic Boundary of the Katy Prairie
  • Orange Flower Icons = Prairie Builder Schools + Parks sites
  • Blue Information Icons = Short video clips that tell our stories

LEARN KATY PRAIRIE HISTORY

The Katy Prairie has been home to bands of Native Americans, hardy pioneers, ranchers, hunters, farmers, and, more recently, suburbanites. The history of the prairie is a spellbinding tale of the connection of people to the land and how that connection has transformed both the landscape and those who live on it.

The Katy Prairie lies in the Texas Coastal Plain and encompasses over a thousand square miles (Wermund, 1994), bound by the Brazos River on the southwest, pine forest on the north, and the city of Houston on the east. Historically, the Katy Prairie has been characterized as a poorly-drained, tallgrass prairie subject to periodic fires and containing a considerable amount of wetland areas.

Archeo-Indians were the first humans to visit the Katy Prairie over 10,000 years ago. More recently Bidais, Karankawa, and occasional Tonkawa Native Americans hunted the prairie, following the bison herds that grazed the area. The standing ponds were frequented by thousands of ducks. Up until the end of the Nineteenth Century, the Katy Prairie remained more or less untouched by Europeans, but feral longhorn cattle and wild mustangs, both European species, started to colonize the prairie prior to the 1820s. Around 1870 the first settlers began to raise corn, potatoes, and cattle on the prairie (Lobpries,1994).

At the turn of the century, rice farmers appeared, creating 30-acre fields harvested by hand. Sportsmen began to take advantage of the hunting opportunities, seeking the indigenous ducks, curlews, and prairie chickens (Gore, 1994). Small-scale agriculture had only a minor impact on the region, and the Katy Prairie remained primarily a prairie ecosystem. In 1914 George Finlay Simmons described the area as still "a coastal prairie region with few farms and ranches; the only timber lies in strips from a quarter-to a half-mile wide along Buffalo and Brays Bayous. The remainder of the country is flat, uncultivated prairie, sprinkled with small ponds and grassy marshes" (Eubanks, 1994).

With the increase in rice farming and a growing population in the 1930's and 1940's came an increase in hunting, bird-watching, and predator control. Ducks remained the most popular species, but hunted species included snipe, cranes, doves, quail, rails, and geese. The presence of ducks and doves increased, directly due to the habitat availability afforded by the flooded rice fields. However, as farming ate up grassland areas, upland species such as the prairie chicken declined drastically (Gore, 1994). Furthermore, the indigenous Red Wolf (Canis rufus) was lost to bounties by the late 1960s, followed shortly by the Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum), a victim of the imported red fire ant's invasion of the Houston region.

Farming advancements during the 1950's and 1960's boosted rice farming exponentially. It was at this time that the snow goose arrived en mass on the Katy Prairie. Historically the snow goose wintered in the marshes and prairies along the coast. Vast amounts of available, open-water habitat combined with waste rice created by modern farming methods made for exceptionally-conducive wintering grounds, and thousands of geese moved inland to the new habitat (Lobpries, 1994). Migratory birds increasingly depend upon The Katy Prairie as other areas along the Gulf Coast have diminished in size or lost to development.

In the '70s and early '80s, developers began to establish residential projects on the prairie. The City of Houston experienced a huge growth spurt and began spreading to the west and northwest. From 1978 to 1983, 100,000 acres of the Katy Prairie were converted to urban use, primarily residential, with some industrial and retail development. This was coupled with a decline in rice farming, with land use for rice falling 59% in Waller County from 1980-1992 (Henry, 1994). These events lead directly to the founding of the nonprofit Katy Prairie Conservancy in 1992.

KPC: THE FIRST 25 YEARS OF CONSERVATION

1992 – KPC is founded under name Katy Prairie Land Conservancy and obtains 501(c)(3) status as a non-profit organization.  KPC participates in National Audubon’s Cypress Creek Bird Count, and will continue to do so for the next 25 years.

1993 – KPC’s Advisory Board is formed to provide additional expertise and support to expand KPC’s reach into a broader community.

1994 – KPC co-hosts the first ever scientific conference on the prairie with Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Trust for Public Land, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the West Houston Association and others interested in the protection of the Katy Prairie to discuss the biology of the Prairie, its needs, and its future.

1995 – KPC receives a challenge grant totaling $225,000 to acquire land or easements on the prairie.  KPC holds its first annual meeting and changes its name to Katy Prairie Conservancy.

1996 – Significant grants received from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and North American Wetlands Coordinating Council to acquire land and conservation easements.

1997 – KPC accepts first conservation easement on an 11-acre property of native prairie remnant donated by Bill Williams.  KPC’s first major acquisition is closed on the 554-acre Nelson Farms Preserve, selected for its prime habitat for waterfowl, songbirds, shorebirds and other species.  KPC hires its first Executive Director, Carter Smith.  KPC develops a mitigation land acceptance policy.

1998 – KPC continues to add land to the Nelson Farms Preserve, including the purchase of the 748-acre Barn Owl Woods and the acceptance of a mitigation donation of 40 acres.  By the end of 1998, KPC has protected approximately 1,500 acres.

1999 – Public access to protected lands is expanded by the construction and opening of a wildlife-viewing platform on the Nelson Farms Preserve.  The site is named a stop on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail – Upper Texas Coast.  Mary Anne Piacentini joins KPC as its Executive Director, and Wesley Newman is named its Stewardship Director.

2000 – KPC acquires the 722-acre Hebert I Preserve. KPC accepts mitigation donations and continues to increase the acreage of Nelson Farms.

2001 – KPC acquires 155 acres, to be used as field office on the foothold to eventually become the Indiangrass Preserve. KPC accepts the mitigation donation of Jack Road North (266 acres), and purchases Jack Road South (511) acres and Mary Manor (630 acres).

2002 – An additional 954 acres are acquired to expand KPC’s Indiangrass Preserve, and the 323-acre Cypress Creek Preserve is acquired.  KPC becomes a 23% owner of the historic Warren Ranch, which is a working cattle ranch encompassing 6,500 acres that includes cattle production, hunting, and farming as well as important ecological areas.

2003 – KPC acquires the 511-acre Jack Road South Preserve.  The first Coastal Prairie Management Conference is held, with presentations on KPC’s educational programs and the history of KPC.

2004 – KPC acquires an additional interest in Warren Ranch, becoming the majority (over 70%) owner of the ranch and its farming and ranching operation.  Prairie Dawn is identified on Warren Ranch, and a monitoring protocol is developed to protect the endangered species.  360 acres are protected on the Walter property through the donation of a conservation easement to KPC.

2005 – 876 acres on the Freeman property are protected through a conservation easement to KPC.  The remaining ownership interest in 500 acres on Warren Ranch South are purchased by KPC and placed under permanent protection.  The 11-acre William Prairie is donated to KPC, and the final tracts are donated to complete the Schlipf Road property.  Texas Prairie Wetlands Projects are completed in cooperation with Ducks Unlimited.

2006 – Protected lands are increased to 17,500 acres.  KPC develops a Texas Coastal Prairie Seed Nursery at the field office at Indiangrass Preserve to provide seed to restore additional lands to tallgrass prairie.

2007 – The critical habitat of Prairie Dawn, an endangered prairie species located on Warren Ranch, is protected through funding from US Fish and Service. A 313-acre conservation easement is donated to protect the Tucker South property.  KPC expands its educational offerings to train leaders regarding prairie systems, the Bio Blitz which collects and identifies over 200 species, and online educational videos.

2008 – KPC initiates Prairie Builder Schools to help communities implement prairie restoration projects and raise the profile of prairies with the Houston public.  Public activities increase on the preserve, including the Warren Ranch Birdathon and Family Day on the Prairie.  An additional 313 acres are protected on the Tucker North property through a donated conservation easement.

2009 – KPC intensifies efforts to restore significant portions of its conservation lands to a state that more closely resembles their historic character as grasslands and wetlands, while also working to maintain ranching and agriculture as viable land uses.  KPC establishes a stream mitigation bank to raise funds in connection with its stream restoration efforts.  KPC establishes Summer Science Nights on the prairie.

2010 – Matt Cook Wildlife Viewing Platform is completed – a public venue open to the public 365 days a year.  Inaugural Katy Prairie Bash is held.  KPC undertakes first prescribed burn on KPC lands. Nelson Farms encompasses over 1,700 acres of protected lands, and trails are laid out and constructed at Barn Owls Woods.  KPC expands public outreach, hosting more than 100 public events, including tours, classes, workshops, field trips, and workdays. 

2011 – The 962-acre Live Oak Creek Ranch is protected through the donation of a conservation easement to KPC.  KPC begins to offer Unplugged Adventures to give people directed, exclusive access to activities on KPC preserves such as kite-flying and stargazing.  KPC purchases 345 acres to augment the Indiangrass Preserve.  KPC develops the exhibit Coastal Prairies: Houston’s Heartland in conjunction with the Coastal Prairie Partnership, the River Oaks Garden Club and Green Club of Houston; the exhibit debuts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and travels to local schools and nature groups.

2012 – National Audubon designates KPC preserves as a Global Important Bird Area, the highest designation that may be assigned.  The 364-acre Hebert II Preserve is acquired by KPC.  Warren Ranch implements a sustainable grazing plan.

2013 – KPC establishes a wetlands mitigation bank to support its wetlands restoration efforts.  A trail system is added to the Indiangrass Preserve.

2014 – 641 acres are acquired as the Chase East Preserve.  Mitigation projects result in the protection of the 174-acre Bridgeland, the 149-acre Hornberger, and the 10-acre Parkside properties through conservation easements.  KPC becomes actively involved in planning to eliminate proposed routes for Highway 36A that would negatively impact prairie lands.

2015 – KPC successfully opposes the construction of transmission lines across preserved lands, and monitors proposed routes for bullet train.  Mammoth fossils are discovered on preserve lands.  Virtually Wild, a virtual field trip program, is initiated in conjunction with partners at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Urban Program for students in the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

2016 – KPC becomes accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.  Studies conclude that the Western Chicken Turtle is found only on KPC properties.  KPC fights roadway expansion efforts and successfully deletes many of the proposed one-mile grid road system through KPC’s preserves.  The 321-acre McAnelly Preserve is acquired by KPC.  An additional 77 acres are protected on the Hornberger tract through a conservation easement. KPC begins selling grass-fed, naturally raised beef from Warren Ranch.

2017 – KPC is awarded a capacity grant to increase its staffing resources for the protection of additional lands.  KPC engages in an Economic Impact and Benefit Analysis to document the economic importance of the coastal prairie.