Texas Has World's Biggest `Last Great Place' BYLaurel Shaper Walters, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THE Texas Hill Country Bioreserve is one of 12 international sites in a worldwide conservation initiative.

The Nature Conservancy launched the project - known as "Last Great Places: An Alliance for People and the Environment" - in May 1991. It seeks to integrate ecosystem conservation with human use of land and resources.

The 12 sites, which are in North and South America and the Caribbean, include such diverse ecosystems as coastal sand dunes, tropical rain forests, deserts, wetlands, and prairies. Eight are in the United States.

The locations were chosen because of their concentration of rare or endangered species. Each is considered to be a fragmented, yet salvageable environment.

The strategy for each site involves creating a core natural area to shelter the most critical habitat and species in the ecosystem. A buffer zone surrounds the core.

At more than 18,000 square miles, the Texas Hill Country Bioreserve is the largest of the projects.

Designation of the region as one of the "last great places" on earth is causing some lifelong residents of the area to take a new view of their surroundings.

"When you look at something from so close up all the time, you see the cedar trees, you see the rocks, and you forget that there are other forces at work and other species that are less visible and, in fact, unique in the larger scheme," says Robert Ayres, managing partner of Shield Ranch, just outside of Austin.

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