Project Approach

As with many other initiatives in the Galveston Bay area, the Galveston Bay Habitat Conservation Blueprint had its origins in several overlapping and synergistic developments in different sectors of the community.  Shortly after the Galveston Bay Foundation was first formed in 1987, wetland habitat was identified as one of the top three issues of concern for the new organization.

By the completion of the five-year planning period of the Galveston Bay National Estuary Program (GBNEP) in 1994, habitat loss was identified as the number one priority problem for the Bay.  Among the top action items of GBNEP’s Galveston Bay Plan were: HP-1, Restore, create and protect wetlands; HP-3, Inventory degraded wetlands and fund remedial measures; and HP-4, Acquire and protect quality wetlands.

Meanwhile, major funding opportunities were developing, such as Natural Resource Damage Assessment funds for the 1990 Galveston Bay oil spill, and grant opportunities through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.  Yet, without an inventory of projects to help target their use, funding opportunities were lost or delayed.

Development of the Galveston Bay Habitat Conservation Blueprint was a two-year undertaking of the Galveston Bay Foundation.  Its intent was to fill a gap in the information base needed for effective habitat restoration efforts, and to follow up on the Galveston Bay Plan’s identification of habitat loss as the number one priority problem in Galveston Bay.




Description of Project Area

The project area for the Galveston Bay Habitat Conservation Blueprint was defined as the waters and watershed of Galveston Bay within the boundaries of the Texas Coastal Management Plan.  This includes tidal waters of Galveston Bay as well as adjacent habitats, and extends from Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge in Chambers County to Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge in Brazoria County.  The Galveston Bay estuary system covers approximately 600 square miles and consists of four major sub-bays:  Galveston, Trinity, East, and West bays (GBNEP-44).

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The Bay watershed covers 33,000 square miles (12.6% of the surface area of Texas) and includes the state’s three largest metropolitan areas:  Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston.  Galveston Bay harbors the Port of Houston, which ranks first in foreign tonnage, and second overall, in the U.S., and serves as a major petrochemical center (EPA 1992).  The Houston Ship Channel, a principal shipping route, transects Galveston Bay and connects the Port of Houston to the Gulf of Mexico (Martin et al.  1996).  A balanced approach to ecosystem protection and industry may allow Galveston Bay to remain a healthy and biologically productive estuary.


Galveston Bay is one of seven broad, shallow embayments along the Texas coast.  These embayments are situated behind barrier islands, which protect them from the high wave energy of the Gulf of Mexico (Britton and Morton 1989).  Galveston Bay ranges in depth from 6 to 12 feet, except for the navigation channels.  Wind dominates the physical processes of this biologically-rich estuary, and extensive oyster reefs, marshes and open water habitats prevail (GBNEP-44).  The Trinity River provides the bulk of the freshwater to the Bay (GBNEP-44),  mixing with saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico to produce an optimum environment for finfish, shellfish, crabs, and oysters. Consequently, Galveston Bay ranks second nationally in seafood production (TNRCC 1994).

Processes that formed Galveston Bay were set in motion about 30,000 years ago when sea level dropped in response to the last major glaciation.  When much of the earth’s water became tied up in continental ice sheets over a period of 12,000 years, sea level fell more than 400 feet.  During this time, major rivers, including the Trinity and the San Jacinto, carved deep, broad valleys into the soft sediments of the coastal plain (GBNEP-44).  At the end of the last ice age, the melting of the continental ice sheet resulted in a rise in sea level, and the mouths of the ancient valleys of the Trinity and San Jacinto rivers filled with water and sediments (Britton and Morton 1989).  The rate of sea level rise slowed substantially about 4,500 years ago.  These drowned river valleys comprise the contemporary Galveston Bay estuary (GBNEP-44).

Clay and clay loam are the most prevalent soils in the Bay area.  These soils are characterized by low permeability, and are thus poorly drained.  Other soils found here, including silty clay loam, fine sandy loam, and fine sand, are more permeable and are usually better drained than clay soils.  Soils that are periodically inundated by tides are generally saline (GBNEP-44).


Although Galveston Bay is in the temperate zone, it has a warm and wet climate.  Rainfall, while almost evenly distributed throughout the seasons, is usually associated with thunderstorms  during spring, summer and fall, and with light rains that accompany cold fronts in winter.  Periodically, deluges occur during tropical storms and hurricanes.  Droughts (annual rainfall of less than 33 inches) occur about once every eight years.  Annual precipitation for the lower portion of the Galveston Bay watershed averages about 52 inches (GBNEP-44).

The annual average temperature of the Galveston Bay area is about 70 degrees F.  Temperatures in Galveston generally vary from winter lows in the 40s to summer highs in the low 90s, while temperatures further inland are more variable.  Although winter temperatures are normally mild, occasional arctic cold fronts may bring temperatures well below freezing (GBNEP-44).

Prevailing winds blow from the southeast, although north and northwest winds are frequent with northers in fall, winter and spring.  Circulation in the Galveston Bay system is greatly influenced by these two wind regimes.


Geographic Information System Database

A Geographic Information System (GIS) database was constructed with ESRI ArcView 3.0 software.  In addition to the HCB inventory of candidate restoration/conservation sites, the database contains 37 GIS datasets from various sources, many with multiple layers, including cultural and physiographic features and natural resources (Appendix C).  The database covers the entire project area and is formatted to be consistent with the GIS database of the Houston-Galveston Area Council, a council of local governments.  Metadata files, which describe the contents and format of each GIS dataset, were gathered or prepared.  Text files, with information from the inventory as it appears in  this document, are linked to the spatial data (polygons) of the HCB site inventory.  This means that if someone has the ArcView project file on screen, they can click on any site and bring up the site description and recommended strategies.


Interviews

Candidate sites for restoration and/or conservation projects were identified primarily through interviews with more than 70 people (Appendix D) whose first-hand knowledge and experience in the Galveston Bay area made them excellent resources for locating potential sites for conservation/restoration.  They included representatives of state/federal agencies, local governments, private conservation organizations, academic researchers, private industries, and concerned local residents.  The interviewing process had two automatic results.  Several sites were mentioned in numerous interviews, showing a profound level of interest or concern.  The second was that many of the sites had common problems, reflecting larger scale or regional problems.  The most often cited problem was the loss of tidal fringe salt marshes and more inland, intermediate wetlands, from a combination of historical subsidence and subsequent erosion and/or saltwater intrusion.  GBF staff members made field visits to selected sites to supplement information received in interviews.

The data generated by the HCB team includes individual information forms for the specific conservation/restoration sites, associated with site locations on a map layer for 167 specific sites.  Site information includes location, approximate size, ownership information, a general description of  habitat types and condition, and any impairments or issues of concern.  Suggested conservation/restoration strategies are also included.


Public Meetings

Seven public meetings were held to publicize the Habitat Conservation Blueprint, create awareness of habitat loss, and solicit public input on areas of local concern.  The inventory of site-specific conservation and restoration opportunities in the Habitat Conservation Blueprint was presented at each of the facilitated meetings.  Valuable public input was collected about particular sites and broader issues of concern to the community.

The public meetings were held in seven different areas around Galveston Bay.  Each meeting location was selected for its convenience within the community, suitability of meeting space, and proximity to one of seven sub-bays and major tributaries of the Bay — San Jacinto River (Baytown), East Bay (Bolivar), West Bay (Galveston), Trinity Bay/Trinity River (Anahuac),  upper Galveston Bay (La Porte), lower Galveston Bay (Texas City), and Clear Lake.  Public meeting notices were mailed to all GBF members, over 200 media outlets, area Chambers of Commerce, and local, state and federal governments.


Upon arrival at each meeting, guests were asked to choose a stakeholder group with which they most identified.  The stakeholder groups were:


Of the twenty stakeholder groups, only hunters and navigation & shipping were not specifically chosen at the meetings.  Each guest received colored dots corresponding to their stakeholder group.  Over 180 previously identified sites were posted for participants to review.  Discussion ensued on sites of interest to guests, with presentations being made by participants.  Sixteen additional sites and bay-wide areas of concern, such as blue crab habitat, were added to the list.  After public presentations and discussion, guests were asked to select three individual sites in which they had the most interest, by placing colored dots by the names of sites.

With a few exceptions, meetings were primarily attended by local area residents, and the sites of greatest concern/interest were local.  The greatest information sharing occurred, however, when attendees were from different regions of the Bay.  Stakeholder concerns did not appear to be defined geographically or by habitat type, with the exception of federal resource agency representatives, who expressed especial  interest in West Bay sites, in land trust sites, and in marsh sites.  The sites with the greatest diversity of stakeholder interest were the Christmas Bay seagrass beds, the I-45 corridor marsh, the Baytown Nature Center, the Follet’s Island marshes and rookery, the Smith Point Island bird rookery, and the Goose Creek Stream Project.


To ensure that each stakeholder interest was fairly represented in the discussion, the meetings were facilitated by Resolution Architects, a professional service from Austin.  The facilitator, Mr. Mel Waxler, led group discussions, building team enthusiasm and creating group energy.  At each meeting, five to ten sites that received the most interest became the focus of more detailed examination.  Guests broke up into stakeholder groups, which discussed the merits of the sites and electronically ranked the top sites according to the following criteria:

    1) Community value

    2) Environmental Value

    3) Sustainability

    4) Feasibility

    5) Risk to Habitat

In some cases of widely divergent views, discussion ensued among stakeholder groups, enabling  participants to learn about the criteria in relation to specific sites.

Because the site preferences tended to be localized at each meeting, only nine sites were mentioned at more than one meeting.  Yet seven of those nine were also among the highest ranking sites in the evaluation.  A  few sites that initially held a significant level of interest by participants ended up with lower scores once the criteria were applied.  Redfish Island was a good example of this phenomenon, with great interest on the part of boaters in its restoration, but the problems of feasibility and sustainability lowering its score relative to other sites.  On the other hand, some sites with less interest among different groups scored well in the evaluation relative to other sites.  Armand Bayou Nature Center, the Galveston Bay Coastal Prairie Preserve, Galveston Island State Park, Bay-wide oyster habitat, the Double Bayou riparian woodlands, the Clear Creek shoreline, the Trinity River cypress swamps, and the Baytown Wetlands Education Center marsh, all fell into this category of ranking high in terms of the criteria.


The sites with most concern and greatest ranking when evaluated on the criteria (scoring an average of  8 or more out of 10 on each criterion) were as follows (in alphabetical order):

The public input gathered at the meetings will allow GBF to match a community’s high priority projects with available resources (capabilities, expertise and funding).


Technical Advisory Committee

Throughout the Blueprint project, a number of advisors provided valuable input.  These advisors were recruited from among GBF’s advisory trustees, resource agency staff, and other partners.

The first set of advisors could be considered the 70 interviewees, who provided the basis for the inventory from their knowledge of specific sites and projects.

Following completion of the basic inventory, an “Advisory Committee” was established to review the text of the public document, the “Habitat Conservation Blueprint.”  This committee was composed of individuals from diverse perspectives--local government, federal agency, state agency, industry, nonprofit organization, academics, consulting, and public relations--to help ensure that the document was readable, believable, and understandable.

After the inventory list was considered to be inclusive of all sites of community interest, another Technical Advisory Committee (see Appendix E) was formed to provide an external review of the descriptions and conservation/restoration strategies for all sites in the inventory.  This group was composed of state and federal agency representatives with the greatest on-the-ground familiarity with most of the sites on the inventory.  They met four times, and their suggestions were incorporated into the descriptions and strategies that appear in this document.


Assessment of Project Strengths

To provide a preliminary indication of the relative strengths of the proposed restoration/conservation strategies, a series of questions was developed and applied to each site’s strategies, in each of three categories:  conservation, education, and economics.  Project strengths in each category were ranked on a scale of 0 to 3.  While the assessments are subjective, they are based on the data collected during the project, and they were remarkably consistent when performed by different staff members with varying levels of familiarity with specific sites or strategies.  The assessments are intended as a first-cut evaluation to assist those looking for projects to meet particular interests.  The different project strengths may hold different appeals to various community members and/or funders.

The keys to the assignment of the rankings are the answers to the questions applied to each category.  Anyone may use the questions, or others of their own choosing, to perform their own ranking evaluation when comparing projects of interest.  The questions used for the HCB assessment are listed below.


Conservation Value

1)    Does the Project reduce or remove a threat of further degradation to the habitat?

2)    Does the Project increase or protect habitat quality (and/or diversity)?

3)    Does the Project have a good likelihood for long-term success with little or no maintenance?

4)    Does the Project provide greater areal extent of habitat value? p;             

5)    Does the Project provide a buffer zone or otherwise contribute to improved water quality?

6)    Does the Project provide shoreline protection to reduce loss of habitat?


Economic Value

1) Does the Project provide shoreline protection to reduce loss of land?

2)    Does the Project have current or potential benefits for recreational or commercial harvesting of fisheries/wildlife?

3)    Does the Project have or provide access for public use and eco-tourism benefits?

4)    Will the project have little or no maintenance costs?


Education Value

1)    Is the Project close to population centers or highly visited areas?

2)    Does the Project have proximity to public roads, parking, viewpoints, and/or access by water?

3)    Does the Project offer educational value as an example of pristine quality, diversity of habitats, or other habitat value?


Land Ownership

Property ownership data was compiled for the four counties in the project area, using different methods based on the type of information available in the particular county.  In Galveston County, the data was available through school district tax information on CD ROM in a geographical information systems database, supplied to GBF by the Galveston County Appraisal District.  Information was obtained from hard copy records in Brazoria and Chambers Counties.  Harris County property ownership data was available on the Harris County Appraisal District’s web site (http:\\www.hcad.org).  Differences in map projections, however, between the Harris County web page’s maps and GBF’s GIS database maps may have caused slight discrepancies in land ownership data in Harris County.

Land ownership information for the HCB sites is approximate, because the boundaries of the sites are approximate and not surveyed.  An approximate count of property owners was reported instead of a specific listing of current property owners, due to the immense number of property owners for several sites, the likelihood that ownership would change over time, and a desire to provide some level of privacy for private landowners.  Whether the land is in public, private or nonprofit ownership was also determined for most sites, along with contact information when public or nonprofit.  Specific land ownership information is available at local county offices, with much of the information also available at the GBF office.


Resource Matrix and Funding Categories

Funding information was researched, and a total of 100 resources were identified.  Of these, 47 were found in Funding for Habitat Restoration Projects: A Compendium of Current Federal Programs with Fiscal Year 1996-1998 Funding Levels , a publication produced by Restore America’s Estuaries.  Other major sources of information included:  EPA’s Catalog of Federal Funding Sources for Watershed Protection , GBNEP’s Funding Strategies for the Galveston Bay Plan , and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Final Habitat Stewardship Program: Texas Chenier Plain .

After the research process was completed, the funding programs were compiled into a matrix which  provides information on the program purpose, source, legal authority for the program, type of funding, eligibility criteria, sample projects, and contact information.

Because of the extensive nature of the list of funding programs, they were not assigned to individual projects.  Instead, funding programs were placed in one or more categories which best described their particular objective(s):  Agriculture, Damage Assessment/Response, Education, Habitat-Coastal, Habitat- Endangered Species, Habitat-Fish & Wildlife, Habitat-Wetlands, Habitat-Unspecified, Planning/Research/Monitoring, Recreation, and Set-asides (by easement or acquisition).  Many of the programs were, however, quite broad and were listed under several categories.

The categories were then also related to sites, according to the restoration/conservation strategy for the project at that site.  By first finding a particular site in the table that matches sites and categories, the reader can then refer to the summary of programs to identify the funding programs that address the categories for that site.   The matrix can then be reviewed for more program details, including eligibility criteria and contact information for application requirements.

The goal of the resource matrix and associated tables is to make public and private landowners aware of the enormous amount of financial and technical support obtainable to them for restoration and conservation, and to assist in the implementation of the Habitat Conservation Blueprint.