Acting with Environmental Responsibility
Acting with Environmental Responsibility:
While Bois d’Arc Lake will provide an invaluable water source for nearly two million North Texans, the lake will cover thousands of acres of natural habitat. To counteract the loss of habitat and impact on some local streams, NTMWD completed one of the largest environmental improvement efforts in the country.
The District has restored:
- More than 17,000 acres on several sites, including:
- Approximately 15,000 acres of Riverby Ranch
- About 1,900 acres at the Upper Bois d’Arc Lake Creek site
Resource Environmental Solutions (RES), a national expert in environmental restoration, was hired to return these acres to their natural, pre-agricultural condition and to maintain, measure and monitor its success until NTMWD’s permit requirements are met. That could take up to 20 years. To accomplish their work, RES hired a number of local residents to work on the project, and the project team has worked closely with officials in Fannin County.
Status of Environmental Improvements:
The final of 6.3 million saplings were planted in early 2022, and work transitioned from active construction to maintenance the middle of 2022.
RES will remain onsite for decades to maintain fences, monitor and manage invasive species and make any other adjustments to ensure that the habitats continue to thrive.
Prior to becoming a ranch, the Riverby area was originally entirely forested. 6.3 million native saplings were planted for the project at the ranch and neighboring Upper Bois d’Arc Lake Mitigation Area. The trees were added one to two million at a time over four years in early spring. Crews filled in areas as needed to establish resilient, mature forests. To better support streambanks, crews also planted live stakes – specially cut branches from black willows, cottonwoods and sycamores that will grow into new trees. The trees were planted concurrently with work across the site to keep sediment out of the streams, and in turn benefit from water provided by the restored streams.
More than a million more trees were planted than originally planned, due to the need for recategorizing and replanting some habitat areas. The restoration team initially sectioned the restoration areas into 300 larger habitat sections, with trees selected for planting in some of these areas. Ultimately, over 670 habitat areas were identified and individually restored. The result of these careful designations and restoration of trees, rivers and other habitats was a highly resilient landscape that supports a diverse set of inhabitants, including pollinators, predators and birds of prey.
A lot of RES’s ongoing efforts will be related to forestry, developing saplings and live stakes into healthy stands with the correct number and types of trees to meet requirements.
Riverby Ranch is a 15,000-acre former ranch located about seven miles downstream, or northeast, of Bois d’Arc Lake. In addition to planting/creating of millions of trees, thousands of acres of grassland and thousands of acres of wetlands at Riverby Ranch, all stream restoration associated with Bois d’Arc Lake took place on this site.
Improvements are complete at Willow Branch Creek, which runs through the center of the Riverby Ranch area. The creek carries two-thirds of all water that falls within the ranch’s watershed and is the heartbeat of the local ecosystem. The river had been previously channeled, or straightened, to move water off of the land so cotton could be grown. NTMWD’s mission was to return this river to its original, healthy state. This included restoring 1) its wavy, winding configuration and 2) its healthy river profile (the shape of the creek from the side). Here are the key steps:
- Identify where the creek ran before it was channelized and choose how to block off or fill the old channel.
- Decide on the best river profile and how to add back curves to slow water flow and improve water quality.
- Dig out the new riverbed in the identified location.
- Strategically place and cover natural materials to help the restored creek bends hold their shape. This includes hay bales (made of native grass), tree trunks, rock, anti-erosion netting and live stakes (local tree cuttings that will grow into full trees).
- Plant trees roughly 100 feet on either side of the new creek to keep heavy rains from eroding its banks.
Pictures of Willow Branch Creek:
Additionally, some additional, minor improvements were made to Ragsdale Creek, which also runs across a part of the ranch. The restoration work on Willow and Ragsdale Creeks will have two major benefits. It will:
- Provide much better quality water to the Red River—benefitting the watershed.
- Hold rain in the local water table longer to nourish the new wetlands, trees, bushes and grassland elsewhere on the Riverby Ranch site. A healthy river system is key to making sure all other improvements are successful.
Work at Upper Bois d’Arc Mitigation Area
The Upper Bois d’Arc mitigation area contains about just under 1,900-acres upstream of Bois d’Arc Lake, near the city of Bonham. This mitigation site includes primarily the planting of trees, completed spring of 2022.
The Restoration’s Success:
According to Jim Bednarz, Senior Lecturer at the University of North Texas, one of the first signs of successful restoration is a diverse community of birds and animals, especially those at the top of the food chain—the predators. The restored areas around Bois d’Arc Lake are already home to many of these key species.
“Our preliminary data has already shown a huge number of birds of prey,” Bednarz said. Master’s degree students from the university have been onsite analyzing avian life and identified over a hundred bird species, including many that are threatened or protected in the state of Texas. (Watch this video for more on birds flocking back to the area).