The vision of the late George Mitchell, founder of The Woodlands, was to create a community in harmony with nature. Of the 28,000 acres in The Woodlands, 7,665 acres are now devoted to green space in parks, golf courses and greenbelts. Nearly 8,000 acres (28%) will remain undeveloped green space upon completion of The Woodlands build-out for aesthetics, but also largely to conserve the natural habitat.
It is not difficult to encounter wildlife in The Woodlands with 220 miles of hike and bike paths and 150 lakes; George Mitchell’s intent was that a resident of The Woodlands could walk to a body of water within ten minutes from any point in the area. The close proximity to nature and access to wonderful outdoor amenities is one of the major attractions of The Woodlands, but combining nature and growth is a delicate balance.
According to Chris Nunes, Head of Parks and Recreation of The Woodlands Township, “Being able to see and touch nature has a decompressing effect.” He emphasized though that most nature (wild animals) should be admired from afar. They discourage residents from feeding the wildlife in The Woodlands, particularly waterfowl, as it will cause the animals to develop an inability to survive and a reliance on outside food, as well as high cholesterol. However, there are plenty of ways to appreciate and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Nunes encourages residents of all ages to go out into the preserve or trails, close your eyes and first listen for and experience the sounds of the environment – birds, frogs and insects. Then open your eyes and look for the myriad of nuanced colors; watch for tracks, feathers and droppings along the trails to determine which animals may be in the area. The vast array of wild creatures one can find are all part of the complex ecosystem of The Woodlands and The Woodlands Township Parks and Recreation team spend considerable time and effort educating the public to respect and value all types of wildlife.
Urban Eagles- Bald Eagles Call The Woodlands Home
The most famous wild residents of The Woodlands are undoubtedly the bald eagles that now call our area home. The first eagles were spotted in The Woodlands in 1999. Fred LeBlanc, Environmental Manager at The Howard Hughes Corporation (then Mitchell Energy & Development Corporation) was alerted that a family of bald eagles was nesting in a commercial space that was undeveloped at the time (across from Mitchell Island on East Shore). Bald eagles were protected on the endangered species list and that spurred debate on the path forward.
As a result, the development corporation contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and sponsored a study on eagles with Stephen F. Austin State University. They applied for a 10A permit to continue development with safety provisions. Provided they allowed sufficient buffer zones from the nest, they were permitted to continue construction in the non-nesting period of June through October.
For the following four years, the eagles would come back each year to nest in that same spot. Interestingly, even once construction began in the area, still in compliance with the prescribed buffers, the development company noticed the eagles were not phased by the construction and chose to continue to nest and mate there in spite of the construction. Over the years the eagles have built five nests in various locations in relatively close proximity to that original nest, most recently at Lake Front Circle. Aptly referred to as “urban eagles”, this new breed of eagles seemingly does not seem to mind busy suburban areas such as The Woodlands.
A second nest, or eyrie as they are called, which can be up to ten feet across and three feet deep, appeared a few years later in the Bear Branch area. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are now four nests in the township, although they will not disclose the exact locations. Between the various nests, The Woodlands with its multitude of lakes and abundant pine trees has been home to at least 36 eaglets hatched since 2000.
In 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the Federal Threatened & Endangered Species Act as the eagle population began to rebound across the country. However, they are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagles Protection Act among others, which prohibit harassment of the birds. The bald eagles have garnered quite a following in the area with one local resident, Randy Scott even starting a Facebook page called “Save The Woodlands Eagles” featuring etiquette tips to watch the birds without disturbing them.
On any given day during the nesting period and now sometimes even beyond those times, you are likely to find a plethora of avid bird watchers with high-tech lenses as well as neighborhood residents trying to catch a peek with the naked eye. One of the best viewing locations is the Lake Front Circle location in Hughes Landing adjacent to The Woodlands United Methodist Church parking lot. The beauty and wonder of these majestic birds is definitely a sight to behold and a highlight of the wildlife in The Woodlands. The hope is that these urban eagles will continue to call our area home for many years to come.
Article by: Janelle Romano | Photography: Derrick Bryant