Pollinator garden project underway at BJ Bishop Wetlands

Samantha Perez of Project Homeleaf and Lynette Brehm helped plant the Big Bend Conservation Alliance’s pollinator garden at BJ Bishop Wetlands last Saturday. Photo by Sam Karas.

PRESIDIO — Last Saturday, local green thumbs gathered to help plant a pollinator garden at BJ Bishop Wetlands. The Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA) spearheaded the effort — the plants chosen will hopefully attract birds and insects, adding more diversity to the already-unique wetlands project. 

The BJ Bishop Wetlands represents a collaboration between multiple conservation groups, birding enthusiasts and the landowners — the Bishop family. Prior to the historic 2008 flood, the land was a golf course; in 2015, Terry Bishop worked with the City of Presidio to design a creative reuse for the city’s treated wastewater. 

Used — but clean — water now enters the river though the Bishops’ land, and a unique wetland ecosystem has emerged. Historically, when there was more water in the Rio Grande, numerous wetlands dotted the floodplain, but they’ve become a relic of the past. Now, migratory species have fewer options for places to rest and refuel on their journey south. 

In recent years, the BJ Bishop Wetlands has become a popular spot for birders, who recognize the significance of the desert oasis. The bird nerds have paid it forward — the new pollinator garden at the wetlands was paid for by grants from the Great Texas Birding Classic, American Bird Conservancy, Texas Audubon and Trans-Pecos Audubon chapters. 

Saturday’s project involved planting the garden around the wetlands’ welcome sign according to a design by Patty Manning, who also grew the plants for the project. Eventually, the site will be self-irrigating with a drip system, but for now volunteers will oversee its maintenance. The BBCA will keep a close eye on what species seem to take to their new home and which can’t survive an environment known for extremes. 

Karen Chapman of the American Bird Conservancy was on site Saturday to help with the planting effort. She wrote the grants that got the initial wetlands project off the ground. Chapman describes her ecology background as “self taught” — for her, it’s all about connecting people with nature. “I really want to preserve these areas that are so special to everybody — not just the wildlife, but people too,” she said. 

The pollinator garden — stocked with species from desert willow and datura to different types of wildflowers — is all about the birds and the bees. “These are pollinators, meaning they would bring in butterflies, bees and other insects that pollinate plants,” Chapman explained. The garden is designed to also attract hummingbirds — popular picks for birders to cross off their lists. 

Lynette Brehm and her son decided to spend a morning digging and mulching in the name of community spirit. “I really enjoyed working with the group — it was my first time meeting a lot of those people,” she said. “When it comes to digging in the dirt and creating pollinator gardens, that’s my style.”

Brehm — a recent transplant from San Antonio — has been trying to establish her own garden at home, stocked with tomatoes, pumpkins, carrots and peppers. “I’m still getting used to the desert climate,” she said. The pollinator garden project provided useful experience — not just in climate-appropriate gardening, but in building a social network with like-minded people. 

The pollinator garden project — staffed by volunteers from the Big Bend Conservation Alliance and Project Homeleaf — is just the first of a few grant-funded initiatives coming soon to the BJ Bishop Wetlands. The latest round of funding will also see the construction of bird blinds and public programming, allowing more opportunities for locals and tourists to engage with the site. 

Chapman hopes the site will eventually provide a slice of just how diverse the natural world around Presidio used to be. Declines in the river — as well as the destruction of grasslands further north — have led to an overall decrease in the biodiversity of the area. The wetlands were intended to provide animals, insects and people a place to rest and take in the natural beauty of the desert. “Everyone benefits from it,” she said.