VENT's 30th Anniversary Celebration Benefits Valley Land Fund May 25, 2006

The 30th Anniversary Celebration of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours was held in McAllen, Texas, April 26-May 1, 2006. Featuring 18 field trip leaders, 4 guest speakers, and 103 participants, the event was an exciting, action-filled program commemorating VENT's 30 years of offering international birding tours.

In keeping with our commitment to protect wild birds and their habitats, VENT sponsored an element of conservation in the festivities. The Valley Land Fund (VLF) was identified as the conservation organization we wanted to include and support, as it is an entity of modest means, yet one that accomplishes great things. Included in the celebration fee paid by every participant was a $50 contribution to the VLF. To further the cause, VENT organized a silent auction in which the books, artwork, and photography of Peter Matthiessen, Lars Jonsson, and Robert and Birgit Bateman were featured. The proceeds from the sales of the auction items were earmarked as supplemental donations to the VLF. This endeavor helped raise an additional $8,725 to date, for a grand total approximating $14,000.

The setting for the final evening of the Celebration was the lovely Quinta Mazatlan. In attendance that night was Dennis Burleson, President of the VLF. It was our pleasure to present Mr. Burleson with an initial check for $5,000 toward the Fund's ongoing efforts to preserve and protect native habitat in South Texas.

The Rio Grande Valley is the site where some of the most progressive conservation measures in the United States are taking place. A range of federal and state agencies, and private and not-for-profit organizations such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Texas Parks & Wildlife, Audubon Texas, the Peregrine Fund, The Nature Conservancy of Texas, and the World Birding Center, are all actively involved with public education and land preservation and management.

The Valley Land Fund has emerged as a major player in the South Texas conservation movement and fills a niche not occupied by other organizations. The mission of VLF is to preserve, enhance, and expand the native habitats of the Rio Grande Valley through public education, land ownership, and the creation of economic incentives for land preservation. An annual photo contest is the major fundraising activity that supports the programs of VLF. Wildlife photography is a powerful tool in the effort for conservation. The images produced by photographers allow people everywhere to learn about the natural riches of South Texas and the need to protect its threatened plants and animals. The VLF also works closely with private landowners to preserve the integrity of native habitats.

In some instances the VLF manages land it purchased, while in other cases it provides seed money for the initial purchase, before the property is turned over to a larger organization that is better equipped to manage the property. Examples of the types of projects in which the VLF has played a key role include:

South Padre Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary  VLF purchased six residential lots on the island in 1999 for the feeding and resting of Neotropical migrants. The importance of preserving such chunks of land cannot be exaggerated. The price of land is skyrocketing on South Padre, and the remaining woodlots are rapidly being converted to residential housing.

Quinta Mazatlan  The largest existing adobe hacienda in Texas boasts eight-plus acres is set amid a significant remnant of native woods and brush. A number of South Texas's specialty birds are easily found on the property, and the availability of food and water make Quinta an important refuge for Neotropical migrants. Owned by the City of McAllen with financial assistance provided by the Valley Land Fund, this important location is a satellite site for the World Birding Center.

Chihuahua Woods Preserve  This preserve was the first major fundraising project and the beginning of many successful partnerships in preservation. Owned by The Nature Conservancy of Texas and open to the public, this 243-acre tract lies south of Mission a few miles from Bentsen State Park. It is home to some of the most unique plant life in South Texas.

Llano Grande  The first VLF project in 1986, this 4.25-acre tract on Llano Grande Lake is now part of a larger preservation effort owned and managed by Texas Parks & Wildlife. Without VLF's original purchase, it is doubtful the rest could have happened.