HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — They are one of the rarest habitats in the world, perhaps the best wildlife habitat remaining in the Rio Grande Valley, and among the most threatened.

These verdant lomas, or little hills, visible from Highway 4 as you travel to Boca Chica Beach are unique geological formations found in only three locations in the world, Australia, Africa, and southernmost Texas.

Formed over centuries from wind-blown silt or clay particles deposited by the Rio Grande, prevailing south wind over time formed small rises which eventually became covered with diverse vegetation and home to many rare and endangered species such as the Texas tortoise.

There are only some 12 of these lomas north of Highway 4, and most are on the vast 40,000-acre Brownsville Navigation District property, currently managed under a lease agreement with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service forming the 4,600-acre Loma Ecological Preserve.

This lease agreement expires in August, however, the Port of Brownsville Board of Commissioners recently passed a decisive resolution acknowledging the “unique geological formations known as Las Lomas,” and further “expresses its strong support for conservation of Las Lomas and directs district staff to take actions, with respect to Las Lomas.”

Of particular concern is the 575-acre Loma Potrero Cercado that was removed from protection in 2012 for the development of a failed liquefied natural gas export terminal. A once flourishing 984-acre loma on the north side of the ship channel on the port property has recently been cleared for Next Decade’s liquefied natural gas terminal.

However, John Wood, secretary for the Brownsville Navigation District Board of Commissioners says it is their intention to save Loma Potrero Cercado from development.

“We are looking at it as something that needs to be preserved,” said Wood.

Ernesto Reyes, with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ecological Services, looks forward to working with the port to protect the remaining lomas.

“This will be worked out during consultations that we will have with the Port of Brownsville on their projects and figure out how to protect these areas thru mitigation,” said Reyes.

Jim Chapman, with Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, applauds the port’s resolution.

“I would encourage the public, people that are interested, to let the port know that they appreciate doing what they did and that they look forward to seeing that permanent protection come about,” said Chapman.