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    For Love of the Land: A Family Restores and Protects Sabine River Basin Habitat

    A lifetime of family memories have cultivated the deep connection that landowners Robert and Tina Rabb and several siblings, cousins, and other relatives feel for their Sabine River Basin property in Texas. It was nearly three-quarters of a century ago when grandparents Daisy Morris Rabb and B.B. Rabb acquired most of the 563-acres that is now permanently protected by a conservation easement. And, it was the grandparents’ love of the land and wildlife—especially Daisy’s—that inspired the family’s decision to seek permanent protection for the property and its abundant wildlife.

    Robert Rabb fondly recalls weekends and summer vacations spent on the property as “an age of innocence,” a time before video games and other things lured kids in from enjoying the outdoors. “We were free to just take off for the day,” he says, reflecting on the special memories the land has for him. “We’d dig in mud holes, swing on grapevines, play in the water,” he recalls, “and my grandparents had horses we could ride, too.”

    And these relaxing pleasures of the property for people are equally matched by its peaceful and idyllic conditions for wildlife. Perennial streams and springs provide the most essential ingredient for wildlife—the certainty of water. Likewise, woods, wetlands, and old-field habitats provide food, cover, and places to nest and den. The Daisy Wildlife Sanctuary teems with birdlife, including indigo and painted buntings, pileated woodpeckers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, crested caracaras, wood ducks, whistling ducks, barred owls, snipe, and even roadrunners. Mammals flourish here, too, including bobcats, coyotes, beaver, and white-tailed deer.

    The Rabbs are working with environmental restoration experts to return the land to the condition it was likely in 150 years ago, before its use for cattle ranching by previous owners. In spring 2012, they planted 55,000 native trees and bushes—elms, dogwoods, elderberries, buttonbushes, and several others—along with native grasses. Summer and fall were devoted to restoring an artificially straightened channel through a pasture to two stream channels that meander back and forth throughout the land, a more natural formation for the area. To strengthen and naturalize the stream banks, tens of thousands of willow stems and other native plants were added along the mile-long streams.

    In all seasons this land is a safe haven for wildlife, and its natural beauty is a source of pleasure for the Rabbs. Whether it is the laciness of redbuds and dogwoods spreading through the understory in springtime or the deepening purple leaves of the black gum trees in autumn, the land gives many reasons to pause and revel in its abundant life forms.

    Recalling the day HSWLT executive director Robert Koons visited to see the property and talk with him about land conservation, Rabb says the two stood on top of a hill and looked out into the woods and wetlands. “Bob saw what I saw,” says Rabb, “and I could tell that. I could tell that he got the uniqueness and nature of this place, and he understood how important it was to save it.”

    Gray Fox Close-Up

    Gray foxes are small, secretive members of the dog family (canines), and the only member of that family that can climb trees.


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