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      Wetlands project to bring birds, tourists to La Feria

      Experts believe that eco-tourism brings an estimated $430 million dollars each year to the Rio Grande Valley.

      But a wetlands restoration projects could bring both birds and tourists to Tio Cano Lake just north of La Feria.

      Located off North Kansas City and Tio Cano Roads, most the 450-acre lake is part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

      Most of the lake is dry and choked with cattails.

      But Jennifer Owen-White with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said they're burning the reeds to create wetlands.

      "We're opening up the area and increasing the diversity of plants here so that more wildlife can use the area," Owen-White said.

      Once it fills with water, the Tio Cano Lake Tract will become home to several new species of birds.

      "Ibis and spoonbill and herons and egrets," Owen-White said. "If it opens up completely, we'll be able to have more ducks and waterfowl and more songbirds using some of the brushland habitat."

      The controlled burn project is now in the third of four phases.

      In addition to creating wildlife habitat, the project is expected to reduce the risk of brush fires in the area.

      But Owen-White said the lake will also serve another purpose.

      "This area really flooded during Hurricane Dolly," she said. "By opening up these wetlands using fire, it can hold more water and protect the community from flooding."

      The final phase of controlled burns is scheduled for early December.