Rio Reforestation event set for La Sal del Rey next Sunday

This reforestation effort at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge gives a good idea of what native seed sowing looks like in the Rio Grande Valley. The plastic sleeves protect young trees and shrubs from browsing animals. (Rick Kelley/Valley Morning Star)

Rio Reforestation celebrates its 28th year on Oct. 19 with 17 acres ready to plant with native trees and shrubs at the La Sal del Rey site in northeast Cameron County.

Over the course of its history, the volunteer effort coordinated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has restored 775 acres of the Valley’s wild areas to a pre-agricultural state.

“We have people come to Rio Reforestation every year, so we have our regulars,” said Gisela Chapa, refuge manager at the USFWS’s Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. “And we also have new people that haven’t been to Rio Reforestation. I think that it gives people in the community an opportunity to see that there are areas set aside for conservation that still don’t have the habitat needed for conservation, and that we’re trying to catch up in losing all that habitat many, many years ago. We’re trying to bring it back.”

This year’s planting effort from 8 a.m. to noon on federal land at La Sal del Rey will consist of putting in 12,000 seedlings consisting of 35 different species of trees, shrubs and understory plants native to the region.

Organizers are expecting several hundred volunteers, but there’s plenty of room for more. Volunteers are to meet at a refuge access road on State Highway 186, several hundred feet west of Brush Line Road.

“We are asking people to wear comfortable shoes that they don’t mind getting dirty, a little dirty,” Chapa said. “Make sure that they wear long pants. Sun protection, a hat. Refillable water bottles.

“We’re going to have sports drinks available but we’re trying to make this event as plastic-free as possible,” she added. “We’ve had issues in the past where there was a bunch of plastic bottles left over in the fields so we are going to have water stations for people to refill their water bottles.”

Chapa also recommends bringing your own shovel and a sturdy pair of gloves for planting.

This year Rio Reforestation will actually consist of four days’ worth of planting. The Oct. 19 event will be for the public to participate.

“We’re actually going to start as early as the 16th of October,” Chapa said. “We’re going to do that because we are inviting all the schools that Santa Ana has had a partnership with, including school habitats and the Learning Landscapes” program.

La Sal del Rey is part of the federal refuge system which is open for hiking and wildlife observation. The native seedlings planted during the reforestation effort will benefit a broad variety of insects, pollinators, birds, reptiles and mammals by creating the type of habitat which has been lost in many places in the Rio Grande Valley.

In case of rain, Rio Reforestation will be rescheduled for Nov. 2.

rkelley@valleystar.com