Kleberg keynote offers big conservation lessons from Texas

Texas offers some unique challenges for conservation. Land ownership is overwhelmingly private in the state, and urbanization and industrial development can leave large footprints on the landscape. But these challenges can also result in some surprising opportunities that can benefit conservation and serve as models elsewhere.

This year’s Caesar Kleberg keynote address at TWS’ Annual Conference will focus on how Texas’s diversity of resources can serve as a model for conservation. Some of the very issues that make Texas challenging can also be surprising sources of support for conservation efforts, said David Hewitt, executive director of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University Kingsville, which sponsors the keynote.

“It doesn’t come to mind to approach energy companies, developers and corporations, but there are all kinds of businesses out there that have an interest in conservation and want to help steer their contributions in ways that would make the world a better place,” he said.

This year’s keynote will be delivered by Joni Carswell, CEO and president of Texan by Nature, a Texas nonprofit founded in 2011 by former First Lady Laura Bush that strives to bring the conservation and business worlds together.

“We really act as a hub and catalyst for groups that are acting on the ground,” Carswell said.

Texan by Nature CEO and President Joni Carswell and former First Lady Laura Bush Credit: Texan by Nature

The organization acts as a nonprofit accelerator, helping conservation organizations get the skills they need—from strategic planning, to networking, to marketing. It also helps connect organizations with businesses interested in investing in conservation work.

“Texas is generally pro-business,” she said. “You have a lot more industry leaders who are also ranch owners, and leaders who are also connected with the land, water and recreation.”

Carswell hopes to share some of the opportunities for conservation from the corporate world and encourage new generations of wildlifers to consider new ways to work with the private sphere. She also hopes to share opportunities in the corporate world that up-and-coming wildlifers may not think about.

Those are important messages to share, Hewitt said.

“There’s a much larger universe of interest to support conservation than we often think about,” he said. “By reaching out and establishing partnerships with some of these other entities, we can do a lot of good on behalf of conservation.”

Some recent projects include a joint effort between Texans for Clean Water, El Paso’s Sam’s Club and BlueTritons Brands, a large bottled water company, to launch a six-month plastics recycling project, and a partnership between oil and gas producer EOG Resources, EcoMetrics and Texas A&M to quantify the environmental and economic value of restoring rangelands after energy development.

“Because we don’t have a huge amount of public lands here in Texas and we have a pro-business climate, it’s kind of logical to pull these different partners together,” Hewitt said. “That’s a conservation funding model that may play a stronger role in some areas than other, but there are many versions of this model that could work in other places.”