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TPWD 50th Anniversary — Milestones
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Historic Milestones: 1963-2013
- 1963: With the passage of House Bill 21, the legislature merges the Texas Game and Fish Commission and State Parks Board to become the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, overseen by a three-member commission.
- 1965: First rainbow trout stocked in Guadalupe River, the genesis of the southern-most year-round trout fishery in the nation.
- 1967: The legislature approves the first-ever bond issue for parks, known as the “Connally Bonds.” These raise $75 million to buy land for nine new parks, seven historic areas, and a scenic area. Some of the state’s most iconic parks or historic sites, including Dinosaur Valley State Park, Hueco Tanks, Fort Richardson and Galveston Island State Park were acquired through this bond program. Revenue from park entrance fees helped retire the bonds.
- 1967: First stocking of striped bass in Texas, the beginning of a major new recreational fishery for the state.
- 1969: TPW Commission approves first-ever spring turkey hunting season for 1970.
- 1971: Desert bighorn sheep restoration begins with the release of 20 sheep on the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area.
- 1971: Legislature authorizes game wardens to be fully commissioned peace officers, empowered to enforce all state laws in addition to conservation laws.
- 1972: Technical Guidance Program initiated by TPW Commission to provide dedicated Wildlife Division staff to directly assist private landowners in wildlife and habitat management.
- 1975: The Fisheries Resource Monitoring Program, a standardized statewide survey of saltwater fish populations, begins. This creates a comprehensive data collection program based on random sampling that leads to strategies resulting in the successful recovery of red drum and spotted seatrout populations, a reduction in commercial fisheries for bay shrimp, bait shrimp, crabs and finfish, and a recreational fishery second to none.
- 1976: TPWD begins stocking of rainbow trout in selected water bodies across the state for winter fishing.
- 1981: HB Bill 1000 (Redfish Bill) designates red drum and spotted seatrout as game fish and prohibited their sale. An attempt by commercial finfish fishermen to overturn the law in federal court fails. Also this year, the Gulf Coast Conservation Association leases a $1.2 million red drum hatchery to the department to raise fingerlings to stock Texas bays.
- 1981: TPWD acquires 24,000 acres in the Franklin Mountains in El Paso County, creating the largest urban wilderness park in the United States.
- 1981: Operation Game Thief begins, offering cash rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of persons responsible for fish and wildlife crimes.
- 1983: The state Wildlife Conservation Act gives the TPW Commission authority to manage fish and wildlife in all Texas counties, ushering in coherent and consistent statewide regulations. Previously, county commissioner’s courts had veto power over department regulations in many counties.
- 1983: The legislature turns control of the USS Texas (BB-35) to TPWD. The agency begins planning for an extensive renovation of the World War I-era vessel, the first battleship to be designated as a National Historic Site.
- 1984: Bi-national Kemp’s Ridley Recovery Project is approved. The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle recovery program, in which TPWD has played a significant role, has been an international success. TPWD’s direct funding as well as sponsorship of various grants has resulted in millions of dollars in support of this highly successful bi-national effort. As a result, nest numbers on the turtle’s primary nesting beaches in Mexico have steadily increased, climbing from 702 nests in 1985 to 21,797 in 2012. These efforts also helped establish an important secondary nesting site on Padre Island, where a record 209 nests were documented in 2012.
- 1986: The ShareLunker program begins, originally called Operation Share a Lone Star Lunker, today known as Toyota ShareLunker. The first lunker bass donated for breeding purposes comes out of Lake Fork and weighs in at 17.65 pounds.
- 1988: To reduce the number of hunting and boating accidents, mandatory Hunter Education and Boater Education programs begin. Since then, nearly 1 million students have completed hunter education training with more than 187,000 boater education graduates.
- 1988: TPW Commission authorizes purchase of 215,000-acre Big Bend Ranch in Brewster and Presidio Counties for $8.8 million. It is the largest tract ever acquired by TPWD, and doubles state park acreage.
- 1990: Texas Artificial Reef Program begins. Since then, more than 4,000 acres of artificial reef structures have been created within Texas Gulf waters. From more than 100 obsolete oil and gas platforms to sunken vessels, these reefs provide new habitat for a wide range of marine species, plus enhanced opportunities for fishing and diving.
- 1990: TPWD designated as a State Natural Resource Trustee by the Governor pursuant to the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, giving the department an important to role to direct millions of dollars in toxic spill and other mitigation funds to restore and improve habitats.
- 1991: Texas Big Game Awards Program is established to encourage quality private land management and promote recruitment of new and young hunters. Also this year, nonprofit Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation is created to raise private donations to support department conservation efforts.
- 1992: Texas Wildlife Expo begins, running through 2008. The Expo becomes the largest free family-oriented festival of the outdoors in the nation, inspiring a host of similar events in other states.
- 1993: Legislature passes HB 706, a pivotal park funding bill switching the revenue source for state and local parks from the declining state cigarette tax to a draw from the general sales tax attributable to sporting goods, capping the amount of funding for parks at $32 million per biennium. In connection with this, the Legislature creates the Texas Recreation and Parks Account to be funded through a portion of the sporting goods tax. Since then, TPWD has awarded millions of dollars in matching “local park grants” to eligible local governments to develop city and county parks and facilities.
- 1994: Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail is funded with a $500,000 federal highways grant to promote nature tourism and habitat conservation. The trail links more than 200 sites along 500 miles of coastal highways from Beaumont to Brownsville and becomes a national model duplicated in other states.
- 1994: The Lone Star Land Steward Awards program is established to recognize the importance of private land stewardship in Texas.
- 1995: Texas voters approve Proposition 11, allowing for the agricultural appraisal of land used to manage wildlife. This created an important new tax incentive for private landowners to manage, create or improve wildlife habitat. Since passage of Prop 11, more than 3 million acres of Texas land now fall under wildlife valuation.
- 1995: TPWD adopts and expands statewide the Buffalo Soldiers program from the Soldiers in Blue Foundation in Abilene. Portraying African-American cavalrymen who helped tame West Texas in the late 1800s, TPWD staff and volunteers provide some 30 programs a year in an ongoing effort to reach non-traditional state park users and give all Texans a better understanding of the role diverse cultures played in the development of the state.
- 1996: Sea Center Texas in Lake Jackson and the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens open. These novel facilities combine state-of-the-art fisheries research and hatchery production with educational visitor facilities such as aquaria, touch tanks and youth fishing ponds.
- 1996: Texas Youth Hunting Program begins, providing hunting opportunities for young people while passing on the heritage of conservation ethics and hunter safety.
- 1996: TPWD begins a commercial shrimping license buy-back program to improve coastal game fish populations by reducing by-catch loss. By 2012, $13.9 million had been spent to purchase and retire 2092 commercial bay and bait shrimp fishing boat licenses. Additionally, $1.7 million has been spent to buy 52 commercial crab fisherman licenses since that program began in 2000 and 236 commercial finfish fisherman licenses since that aspect of the program began in 2001.
- 1997: Legislature passes historic water reform law (SB 1), creating a bottom up, stakeholder-driven approach to water planning. For the first time, this brings wildlife and environmental interests to the table where water allocation decisions are made, alongside municipalities, agriculture and industry. TPWD has been a key player in implementing this and two related reforms in subsequent legislative sessions. SB2 in 2001 starts the Texas In-Stream Flow Program to decide how much water should flow in rivers and into bays and estuaries to keep them healthy. SB3 in 2007 creates science and bay/basin stakeholder groups and processes to set environmental flow standards.
- 1998: The World Birding Center, actually a series of nine facilities including three state parks, begins operation in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
- 1998: The Texas State Bison Herd is created when some of the last pure Southern Plains wild bison are donated to TPWD and moved from the JA Ranch in the Panhandle to Caprock Canyons State Park.
- 2001: Texas voters approve Proposition 8, an $850 million bond package that includes the largest bond issue in TPWD history, up to $100 million for repairs and improvements at state parks, wildlife management areas and fish hatcheries. Similarly, in 2007, Texas voters approve Proposition 4, a $1 billion bond package for nine state agencies, providing $27 million for major repairs at state parks across the state and $25 million for long-term preservation of the Battleship Texas.
- 2001: A new $5 Texas Freshwater Fishing Stamp goes on sale, providing much-needed funding for a new East Texas fish hatchery and improvements at other hatcheries.
- 2002: The first special water issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine, “The State of Water,” hits the newsstands. At 116 pages, it is the largest issue in the magazine’s history. This sets the stage for subsequent annual special issues covering springs, rivers, aquifers and bays. Marks the start of a 10-year multi-media public education campaign that ends with the July 2011 special water issue.
- 1992: The first urban wildlife biologists are stationed in Texas cities, bringing a traditionally rural-based effort to metropolitan zones where most people now live. Out of the urban wildlife effort came the Texas Wildscapes program to connect with homeowners and Texas Master Naturalist Program, which has since grown to 27 other states as a way to enlist and train a corps of citizen naturalists to aid conservation causes.
- 2002: The first crab trap cleanup is held to remove derelict traps from bays, reducing navigational hazards and aquatic organism mortality due to ghost fishing. Since then the annual event has removed more than 30,000 abandoned crab traps from Texas bay systems, preventing the waste of marine life and making boating safer.
- 2003: First donation is made to the Texas Water Trust, set up under SB1 in 1997 to provide water for wildlife and the environment. West Texas attorney Kit Bramblett donates water rights through TPWD totaling 1,236 acre-feet per year of water in the Rio Grande between El Paso and Big Bend National Park.
- 2005: Government Canyon State Natural Area opens near San Antonio, setting a new model for multi-partner land acquisition to protect water quality and critical habitat as well as provide outdoor recreation.
- 2005: Protection of ecologically vital seagrasses increases on the Texas coast when it becomes illegal to uproot seagrass anywhere within the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area near Rockport.
- 2005: Legendary TV newsman and native Texan Walter Cronkite narrates a TPWD water resource video documentary called “Texas: the State of Water—Finding a Balance” that airs in evening prime time on all Texas PBS stations. It’s the second of five such documentaries TPWD produced over several years.
- 2005: In the first out-of-state use of TPWD law enforcement personnel, Texas game wardens deploy to New Orleans to assist with rescues in and around that flood-stricken city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
- 2006: The first inland state paddling trail opens at Zedler Mill near Luling, joining seven coastal paddling trails. This ushers in a boom era of dozens of new freshwater paddling trails across Texas in following years, creating more lake and river access for canoes and kayaks.
- 2008: The Texas Game Warden Training Center moves from an aging 1970s era facility in Austin to a new 220-acre property in Hamilton County, and the 54th Texas Game Warden Academy cadet class begins training at the new site. Over the next four years, private donations helped provide more than $20 million to build a nationally recognized conservation law enforcement training facility.
- 2008: The Texas Outdoor Family Program kicks off to foster increased participation by urban families in outdoor recreation, particularly camping. Since its inception, 2,708 families have participated in the one- and two-day programs held at dozens of state parks. The program teaches families how to set up camp, cook outdoors and identify night sounds, and introduces participants to a wide array of outdoor recreational pursuits, such as fishing, kayaking and geocaching.
- 2010: Private donations make possible acquisition of the approximately 18,000-acre Devils River Ranch to create the new Big Satan Unit of Devils River State Natural Area, adding 10 miles of new river frontage to the state natural area.
- 2011: More than 3,300 acres of ranch land is purchased in Palo Pinto County to create a new state park near Dallas-Fort Worth. Proceeds from the sale of Eagle Mountain Lake State Park near Fort Worth are used for the purchase, fulfilling a promise to use the proceeds to create a park near the Metroplex.
- 2012: The new John D. Parker East Texas State Fish Hatchery opens in Jasper County below Sam Rayburn Reservoir, replacing the 70-year-old Jasper Fish Hatchery. The facility is expected to produce four to five million fish fingerlings of various species. It is named for the late TPW Commission member from Lufkin who was instrumental in securing regional support for the project.
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