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Perry Bass Leaves Texas Conservation Legacy
FORT WORTH, Texas — Former Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission member, chairman, chairman emeritus and lifelong conservationist Perry Richardson Bass died June 1 at his home here at the age of 91, leaving a legacy that will long benefit all those who love fishing, hunting, state parks and the outdoor life.
Bass was appointed to the commission in 1977 by Gov. Dolph Briscoe. He was named chairman in 1979 by Gov. Bill Clements and served in that role until his term ended in 1983. Clements appointed Bass chairman emeritus in 1988, a role now held by his son Lee, also a former commissioner and commission chairman.
Texas conservation veterans remember the “Redfish Wars” as one of the state’s most contentious issues. Bass personally championed the cause, prompting the legislature to designate red drum (redfish) and spotted seatrout as game fish. The passage of HB 1000 in 1983 took redfish and seatrout from commercially overfished species on the brink of collapse to the premier recreational catch on the Texas coast.
Several current leaders of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department were just starting their careers when Bass led the commission, including Executive Director Robert L. Cook, who was a wildlife biologist leading the white-tailed deer program in 1979.
“Mr. Perry Bass was one of a kind, an icon of Texas conservation,” Cook said. “He was kind, considerate, and thoughtful to all people, big or small, young or old, rich or poor. He was a ‘family man’ every day. He was a leader in the business world; he worked hard, earned his way, and was very successful. Perry R. Bass exemplified what Texas Parks and Wildlife is all about. Millions of Texans have benefited greatly from his love for conservation and wild places. He was more than a hunter, more than a fisherman—he loved nature and the outdoors and was a true wildlife conservationist.”
Gene McCarty, now deputy executive director for administration, was a coastal fisheries biologist and hatchery manager during the “Redfish Wars.”
“There was a dedicated few people involved in gill-netting redfish and seatrout; it had been their livelihood for generations,” McCarty recalls. “Mr. Bass was front and foremost in working with conservation groups and legislators and others to explain that those coastal resources were not limitless and needed protection. He lived and breathed redfish and the coast. He had the means to go anywhere and do anything, but he preferred to go to San Jose Island and catch redfish. As chairman, he had a keen interest in the science of conservation, not just a legal or recreational perspective. When he came to the island for the weekend, he came to the hatchery every time and he was keenly interested in what I was doing–he knew brood fish processes as well as I did.”
The Bass tenure included these other achievements:
- Construction of the John Wilson Marine Fish Hatchery in Corpus Christi (the first marine hatchery in Texas), later renamed the CCA-CPL Marine Development Center
- Establishment of a state waterfowl stamp to fund waterfowl habitat acquisition
- Passage of the state Wildlife Conservation Act in 1983, which did away with a patchwork quilt of confusing and sometimes conflicting regulations in each county and led to science-based, statewide regulation and management.
- Creation of the Local Parks, Recreation and Open Space Fund by the Texas Legislature in 1979. Since then, hundreds of city and county parks have been built or improved with TPWD-administered grants totaling close to $136 million.
- Creation of the Operation Game Thief program, providing rewards for information leading to the arrest of poachers.
- The brood stock and spawning research building at TPWD’s Palacios field station was completed with financial support from Bass. This formed the core of a marine research complex later named the Perry R. Bass Marine Fisheries Research Station.
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