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, the prevailing south wind over time formed small rises which eventually became covered with vegetation.

Acre for acre these scattered Lomas are perhaps the most diverse habitat in South Texas. Benito Treviño, renowned naturalist and plant expert, recently visited the Lomas for the first time and was astounded at the abundance of plant life, likely exceeding 2,000 plants per acre.

“I am very impressed with this habitat, Richard, it is like…I have never seen quite anything like this,” said Treviño

There are only some 12 of these Lomas north of Highway 4, and most are on Brownsville Navigation District property, managed under a lease agreement with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service forming the current 4,600 acre Loma Ecological Preserve. This protective lease agreement expires in 2023, and thus far port officials have shown little inclination to renew Loma protection.

With the sprawling development of Space X and rapid expansion of Port of Brownsville, including a new road linking the port to Highway 4, the historic Lomas are threatened.

Dr. Chris Gabbler, Assistant Professor with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Biology Department, is hopeful the rare Lomas can be saved as more than 95 percent of the Rio Grande Valley’s native habitat has vanished.

“People often think that nature and development are decidedly at odds, and that is not true. We can do this the right way. We can continue to grow our economy, grow our region, while we still respect and protect these last few gems,” said Dr. Gabbler.