The double life of urban ranger George Garcia

December 31, 2018 GMT

LOS FRESNOS — One foot in the city, the other in wild places.

George Garcia’s working world as an urban ranger with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is split between the City of Brownsville and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Garcia says it makes perfect sense: Slowly introduce city-dwellers to nature in parks and then gradually bring them out to one of the truly wild places left in South Texas, the wildlife refuge along the gulf coast.

“The hope is just a little taste of the wildlife will get them hooked, since a lot of people just don’t know given city life — not that Brownsville is a big city, because it’s not in comparison to major metropolitan areas,” Garcia said. “But you have the mall, you have the movies, you have parks.

“For them, a park is a green space, which to them is ‘OK, I’m outside,’” he added. “In truth it’s really not. You come outside where its trees all around you or you’re having to squat down a little bit just to walk the trails, now that’s fun. A lot of people don’t get that full experience — they can’t in Brownsville.”

This day Garcia is in his wild spot at Laguna Atascosa.

One of his primary responsibilities is educating young people in the ways of nature and in the woodcraft embraced by those who spend time outdoors.

“I’m really focused on teaching the youth the values of the outdoors, fishing and hunting,” he said. “During summer camp, I had five different classes which were fishing, hunting, camping, bird and mammal ID and archery, that one the kids loved, they had a blast.”

Garcia is philosophical about human nature, too.

A deeper appreciation of natural areas among young people may be the only way to ensure those wild places will be protected and will endure.

“You can’t tell somebody, ‘Hey you need to fix this problem, you need to care about this,’ if they don’t love it,” Garcia said. “Nobody would do that. You’ve got to teach them to love it and they’re going to care about our future and they’re going to be putting more into conservation and preservation.”

For Garcia, the idea of having a boot in both urban and wild worlds is the most natural thing there is. To fully embrace the concepts of treasuring and preserving natural areas, small steps on the right path can lead to bigger things.

“If you come out here and you don’t love it already, you’re going to hate the mosquitoes, you’re going to get sweaty and you’re going to get a little muddy and you’re not going to enjoy it,” he said of Laguna Atascosa. “But if you already have joy for it, and you have that understanding, you come out here and you’re in love.”