The final 1,360 acres of Powderhorn Ranch have been donated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, completing the transfer of the 17,351-acre Calhoun County property, which is one of the last tracts of unspoiled coastal prairie in the state, into public hands.
Nearly 15,000 acres of the property were transferred to Texas Parks and Wildlife in 2018 to establish a wildlife management area. Since then, that land has been opened to the public on a limited basis for hunts in the fall and winter and for birding, which primary takes place in the spring.
The acreage donated most recently will one day become a state park, according to a news release from Texas Parks and Wildlife, although the development process typically takes “many years.”
“Powderhorn Ranch conserves pristine wildlife habitat in an area of Texas that is facing increasing development pressure,” said Carter Smith, executive director of Texas Parks and Wildlife, in the release. “The investment in this property forever protects a remarkable diversity of species and habitat and connects a patchwork of protected lands from the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to Mad Island Wildlife Management Area and the recently expanded Matagorda Peninsula Coastal Management Area that are vital to the resilience of a healthy Gulf Coast ecosystem.”
Powderhorn Ranch was purchased in 2014 through a public-private coalition that was led by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and funded in large part by a restoration fund created in the aftermath of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The cost of purchasing the land, funding initial habitat restoration and establishing an endowment for long-term maintenance amounted to nearly $50 million.
In the years afterward, conservationists have been working to restore native grassland and savanna habitats and enhance existing freshwater habitats on the property.
Since the establishment of the wildlife management area, the property has become a birding hot spot and a way station for migratory species including the endangered whooping crane. A 2019 bird count documented 164 species within a 15-mile circle that included the ranch.
Meanwhile, spots for public hunts are determined through an online drawing, with those selected able to hunt for white-tailed deer, sambar deer, axis deer, feral hogs and turkeys.
“This transformational project conserves irreplaceable wildlife habitat and brings an exciting new recreational opportunity to the people of Texas,” said Dan Friedkin, chairman emeritus of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, in the press release. “It demonstrates how Texas’ community of conservationists can work hand-in-hand with the state to preserve an extraordinary piece of our natural heritage for generations to come.”