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6 months ago

Prairie Home Companion: Walsh Works With BRIT

The Botanical Research Institute of
Texas Works to Conserve the Natural
Wonders of Fort Worth

By Kendall Morgan

 

One of our most important natural resources in Texas, the prairie, serves as the foundation for an ecosystem that supports both human life and livelihood. Once covering almost 40 percent of the United States, these recently developed landscapes have been degraded through settlement, leading to loss of animal and plant populations, erosion and infertile soil.

Founded in Fort Worth nearly 30 years ago, The Botanic Research Institute of Texas (or BRIT for short) was created to protect such lands by understanding the interactions between humans and the environment. Turning information into knowledge through outdoor discovery, discussion, and experiential learning, BRIT scientists travel the globe to investigate habitats and discover rare and endangered plant species. One of the top independent research organizations in the U.S., their work protects both the natural world and the resources residents need to live within it.

brit2

 

“Any functional ecosystem provides services that humans need,”

– KIM TAYLOR

explains Kim Taylor, a research botanist at BRIT for the past six years.
“Even the land that is not developed supports the population. For example, a landscape that surrounds a creek filters water, and if we didn’t have it, we’d spend a lot more money cleaning that water. Other services are stabilization of the soil, so it doesn’t erode or get washed away into the Trinity River and down into the Gulf of Mexico. There’s also plant stabilization. Our goal is to help (developers) understand those services and maintain them,” she says.

Walsh Works With BRIT

For Fort Worth, a city founded on a less-than-verdant plain, the shallow limestone prairie and rocky terrain may make it perfect for raising cattle, but not necessarily ideal for crops or non-native plantings. According to the scientists at BRIT, what it lacks also defines the place itself.

“In the Fort Worth area, we can directly look at the prairie itself and see the link from that to our own cultural past and how Fort Worth got its identity,” says Taylor. “We also have this innate connection with this beautiful thing— you see a blue bonnet and people instantly think ‘Texas,’ so why wouldn’t we want to preserve these areas where these plants naturally occur?“

With this in mind, the Walsh family approached BRIT in 2014 to help assure the ecological integrity of the land upon which the new development resides. Through habitat quality assessment, tree surveys, analysis of vegetation and conservation recommendations, BRIT developed a plan to help maintain the site’s ecology in the most non-invasive way possible.

“We knew the property was going to be developed with or without us,” says Taylor. “We believe there is a way to develop land for human use while maintaining at least some of the ecological services provided by the land. Conservation is not limited to preserving large tracts of land.”

Beginning with recommendations for utilizing plants that were adaptive to the area (and thus not requiring of more water), BRIT gave the Walsh development a recommendation that all green spaces remain as natural as possible. Large tracts of land were also mapped and set aside to remain natural areas for education.

“There’s a lot of value associated with those,” she notes. “They can be like an outdoor classroom.”

Educational materials were also provided for the development’s new residents to allow them a greater understanding of the land’s background and why there should be a limited number of trees. This allows homeowners to make more informed decisions on what plants will thrive and what plants should be avoided, giving them an appreciation for their own backyards.

In other words, the BRIT motto could be “Don’t work against nature, work with it.”

The concept of eco-conscious development is a relatively new one, as the “urban ecology” movement only made its debut in Berkeley, California in 1975. But as the population grows and we continue to push into formerly empty plots of land, the trend of sustainability is more crucial than ever as it helps preserve one of our most valuable resources for future generations. Only through outdoor discovery, discussion, and experiential learning can humans and the lands they have colonized live in perfect harmony.

The work BRIT has done will continue to help Walsh facilitate sustainable decisions, allowing the community to grow without degrading the precious ecosystem.

“Most developments wouldn’t think about the character of the land they’re developing,” adds Taylor. “Walsh appreciates the land for what it is, and they want to maintain that.”