Prairie Support: Making an Impact
Beth Robertson’s Passion for Prairies and their Restoration
When Beth Robertson was on the UH Board of Regents in the 90s, she wasn’t aware of the UH Coastal Center. But, that changed in 2018.
“Mary Ann Ottinger of NSM’s biology & biochemistry department invited my daughter to come out to the Coastal Center; I joined them on the trip,” Robertson said. “It was particularly interesting to me at the time because The Cullen Foundation was part of the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium which amassed real data to help guide decision-makers in redevelopment after Harvey and the historic flooding in Houston.”
Through the Consortium, Robertson had learned of the importance of open spaces and natural areas, particularly prairies, for holding water and reducing runoff into floodways. She immediately realized the value of this precious coastal prairie and the need to restore it.
“The idea of restoring prairies in more open areas would be a big benefit, especially as the Gulf coast gets wetter and wetter,” Robertson said.
Located near League City about 45 minutes from campus, the Coastal Center’s mission is to support environmental education, research and outreach on the Texas coast. Its 925 acres include 200+ acres of pristine never-plowed coastal prairie, coastal prairie under renovation, and adjacent wetlands.
The importance of the UH Coastal Center was recognized by the 2017 Texas Legislature, designating the Coastal Center as the Texas Institute for Coastal Prairie Research and Education. Although 9 million acres of coastal prairie once blanketed southern Texas and Louisiana, less the 0.1% remains and only about 247,000 acres exist in Texas.
“The UH Coastal Center is positioned to be ‘the’ Texas center focused on the study of the unique characteristics of coastal prairies and the best methods to restore them,” Robertson said.
Robertson’s support for the Coastal Center and its prairie includes gifts for graduate research, habitat restoration projects, a national prairie conference held at UH-Clear Lake (North American Prairie Conference), staffing and a new tractor.
Already the Coastal Center is providing faculty from UH and around the country with a large secured natural area where equipment and experiments can be deployed with access to a highly endangered coastal prairie habitat. In addition, seeds from the Coastal Center have been used to restore coastal prairie at the San Jacinto Battlefield and collected for the Sheldon Lake Park restoration.
“Another important reason to support the Coastal Center is that UH is the only academic entity in Texas to hold such a prairie,” Robertson said. “Through my work with the Consortium post Harvey, I realized there is a need for more robust ecological research at Texas universities here in the Greater Houston area, in our state and nationally. I personally think that UH and UH-Clear Lake can be leaders in this important field.”
Robertson’s enthusiasm and generosity are paving the way for additional habitat management, field studies and restoration efforts.
“The plan is to expand the scale of activities at the Coastal Center several-fold over the coming decades,” Robertson said.
Kathy Major, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics