Virtually nothing will change when The Galveston Bay Foundation acquires and conserves 4,650 acres of wetlands near Chocolate Bay. Officials say that is the best part.

The board of National Fish and Wildlife Foundation approved $10.5 million worth of funding for the foundation to acquire the land, which is in Brazoria and Galveston counties, foundation President Bob Stokes said.

“It’s at a scale that we have not been able to operate in the past due to lack of funding,” Stokes said.

The land is predominantly in Galveston County, but split with a tract owned by Lyme Timber Co., a conservation-oriented real estate management company, he said.

The company manages about 1.2 million acres of land in the United States, Lyme Timber Managing Director David Hoffer said. Lyme Timber manages these 9,500 acres in cooperation with Eco-Capital Advisors, an advisory firm with expertise in ecosystem services, according to a news release. The land was previously known as Alattar Ranch and is onshore of Galveston Bay, Hoffer said.

Lyme Timber is still waiting on official authorization for the use of their western portion of the property as a mitigation bank, which offers credits to restore or improve wetlands in the area if a project is going to impact wetlands in another area, Hoffer said.

The real estate agency entered into an agreement with the foundation about a year ago, giving the foundation the right to purchase the eastern half of the property, he said.

Lyme Timber worked with the foundation to apply for National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund money, which was set aside from the Deepwater Horizon settlement to protect and enhance environments affected by the oil spill, Hoffer said.

The funding application’s approval will allow the purchase sometime next year, he said.

The land acquisition will cost $10 million and there is another $500,000 of funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for habitat restoration, transactional expenses and establishing a conservation easement with the Katy Prairie Conservancy, according to a news release.

Lyme Timber and Galveston Bay Foundation plan to convey a conservation easement to the foundation on the half Lyme Timber is retaining, Hoffer said. The foundation will have some oversight of the conservation of the entire property, not just the half it’s purchasing, he said.

Lyme Timber is excited to work with Galveston Bay Foundation because of attractive conservation aspects of the property, Hoffer said.

Maintaining water quality and wildlife habitats are the two main purposes of the land conservation, said Matt Singer, director of land conservation for Galveston Bay Foundation.

Waterfowl and wading bird habitats are prevalent throughout wetlands like this area near Chocolate Bay, which is what Chocolate Bayou flows into, he said. Fisheries and habitats will be managed in perpetuity, Singer said.

People won’t necessarily see any difference from outside the tract since it will retain its current condition, he said. A benefit of the large purchase is that it will never be divided or changed from what it is today, Singer said, adding that it’s better to conserve it in one big piece than subdivided.

This land helps to naturally filter water before it flows into Galveston Bay, Stokes said. It’s a buffer to keep the water quality high, he said.

“Really nothing is going to change … nothing will change, ever,” Stokes said. “It’s a really exciting opportunity for us.”

Maddy McCarty is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0151.

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