Sustaining Our State’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources

Conservation Delivery Through the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

The Opportunity

Passage of the Recovering America's Wildlife Act would mean more than $63 million in new dollars each year for Texas, transforming efforts to conserve and restore more than 1,300 nongame fish and wildlife species of concern here in the Lone Star State.

It would do this by tapping existing federal revenue from oil and gas production, with buy-in from industries involved—there would be no new or additional taxes. By focusing on species of concern and their habitats, it would keep common species common and avoid the need for endangered species listings by getting ahead of wildlife declines while there's still time to act. That's good for jobs and the economy as well as wildlife, which is why this plan started with buy-in from industry and business. These creatures and their wild homes are the "goose that lays the golden egg" that sustains multi-billion dollar nature tourism industries in our state, clean air and water, and healthy outdoor recreation. This bill would mean millions in new grants to nonprofits, universities, landowners, local communities and others. Besides natural resource benefits, this could also transform nature-based recreation and education opportunities for including children and families. It would be the greatest wildlife conservation breakthrough in decades. 

Background

Our natural resources face many challenges in the years ahead. As more and more Texans reside in urban areas, many are becoming increasingly detached from any meaningful connection to nature or the outdoors.

Our natural landscape continues to change. Farm, ranch and timber land held in families for generations is being subdivided and sold in smaller parcels, resulting in the fragmentation of the natural landscape. Human population growth and concomitant increased demands on water resources threaten to alter natural river flow patterns and habitat conditions for native aquatic species. The proliferation of exotic species threatens to compromise our native species and habitats, particularly in freshwater systems. Working cooperatively with private landowners and other partners will be essential in addressing these and a multitude of other interrelated challenges. As our human population expands, so will the impacts and pressures on our lands and waters. The growing number of Texans seeking outdoor experiences will call for new recreational opportunities. Emerging and expanding energy technologies will require us to balance new energy sources with their potential impacts on fish and wildlife habitats. Conserving adequate water for healthy communities, economies, and our environment will be of paramount importance in the years to come. As we tackle these challenges, we will continue to utilize the best available science-based research and staff expertise and will rely on the input of state leaders and our public and private partners. We are fortunate that so many Texans are passionate about the outdoors. Simply put, we could not do our conservation work alone. In this ecologically diverse state with so much to care for, everyone’s participation and effort counts. Thank you for your interest and for your care and concern for our species of greatest conservation need.

 


The Rich Resources of Texas

Texas holds a special place in the hearts and minds of its citizens. The sheer size of the state and its richly varied landscape and history are among the reasons that Texans feel an incredibly strong sense of place and connection to our lands, water and wildlife. Stewardship of these resources is something Texans take great pride in achieving.

Texas is blessed with amazing biodiversity—home to nearly 800 species of fish, 443 species of butterflies, 639 species of birds, and about 5,000 species of native plants. With 12 distinct ecoregions covering approximately 268,500 square miles, Texas has an astounding array of climates, soils and habitats. High plains, wetlands, mountains, deserts, forests and coastal marshes provide habitat for the fish and wildlife resources that help define the landscape. Texas also contains 191,228 miles of creeks and rivers, including 40,194 miles of perennial, continually flowing waters. These creeks and rivers support 189 species of native freshwater fishes, along with another 38 species of fishes that migrate between rivers and coastal bays and estuaries.

Today, Texas is facing unprecedented conservation challenges. Several species of birds and mammals have already vanished from Texas and many more are imperiled. Such conservation challenges have led to 1,310 species being identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in the Texas Conservation Action Plan (TCAP).

The TCAP is a living document first created in 2005 by a year-long process involving teams of the brightest conservation minds in Texas specializing in various taxonomic groups. These teams met over the course of a year to collectively assess all the species in Texas and determine the species that are in the greatest need of conservation efforts. This effort resulted in the SGCN list that has provided the foundation for conservation strategy since that time. This document was updated, expanded, and refined in 2014 by a similar process over the course of several years. Fortunately, Texans have long recognized the need for stewardship of the state’s land, water, fish and wildlife and have a history of protecting the state’s natural heritage. The TCAP is a roadmap for the conservation community to implement collaborative stewardship.

 


The People of Texas

Not only does Texas support some of the greatest diversity of animal and plant life in the nation, it also supports a diversity of people and cultures. With a total population of over 28 million, Texas has three cities containing over 1 million people. This is more than any other state. These cities are increasingly diverse and the face of Texas continues to change.

Demographers predict that by 2040 the population of Texas could reach 45 million people, and more than 53 percent will be Hispanic. Engaging diverse audiences will become even more important in the years to come.

Involving Texans in outdoor recreation is a critical component of conservation. Numerous studies have confirmed that outdoor recreation leads to caring for natural resources. Studies have also confirmed the importance of connecting children to nature. Providing nature-based experiences for the children of Texas is important to their health, education and well-being.

A century ago, most Texans lived in rural areas and were closer to nature. Today, the vast majority of the population lives in large cities and urban areas. As the population increases, so does the demand for more and better access to outdoor recreational opportunities. As more Texans seek outdoor experiences, it is more important than ever to ensure that lands and waters are set aside and managed for fish, wildlife and recreation. Our quality of life and sense of place depend on it.

 


Sustaining Healthy Water and Ecosystems

From spring-fed rivers flowing past towering cypress trees to coastal bays and wetlands teeming with plants, fish and wildlife, Texas waters are a source of beauty and wonder and an essential life-supporting resource for animals, plants and humans. With over 191,228 miles of creeks and rivers, seven major estuaries and approximately 200 major springs, Texas is blessed with a bounty of aquatic resources.

Healthy ecosystems depend on careful and effective land and water management. The population of Texas is expanding rapidly, bringing incredible pressure to bear on all of the state’s natural resources, especially water. Our economy, our natural ecosystems and our quality of life in Texas rely on fishable, swimmable, drinkable water. We need sufficient clean water available to sustain life, not only in our urban centers, but also in the rural Texas countryside. Perhaps more important, Texas needs sufficient clean water, with seasonal variability, to sustain the diverse aquatic and riparian ecosystems throughout Texas and the species such as the Guadalupe bass, San Marcos salamander, or the whooping crane that depend on those habitats.

 


Law Enforcement

Caring deeply about the people and natural resources of Texas comes naturally to Texas game wardens and park police officers. As commissioned peace officers, game wardens provide leadership in conservation enforcement, patrolling the lands and waterways of their communities and enforcing regulations. But their role is even more. Game wardens live in each of our 254 counties. They routinely teach local classes, conduct community outreach, appear in media, and visit area schools.

TPWD’s law enforcement staff interacts with the public through a long-established philosophy of Community Oriented Policing. This philosophy promotes and supports organizational strategies to address the underlying causes of unlawful activity through problem-solving tactics and officer-community collaboration. This helps engender greater support for the protection of SGCN.

As an example, game wardens teaching hunter education courses discuss ethics of shooting game birds but not protected species. The goal is to teach the user well before having to conduct enforcement. Another example is teaching about Turtle Excluder Devices in the bays and Gulf. Wardens routinely conduct visits, inspections, and ultimately enforcement of vessels. Community Oriented Policing upholds proactive partnership before reacting to what cannot be undone. Nothing could be more important than applying this same principle to species whose future is imperiled.

 


Outdoor Recreation

Direct experience with nature is vital to physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and leads to a healthy understanding of our place in the world. Yet, as the population becomes more urbanized and once-vast expanses of open space continue to be fragmented and developed, Texans are becoming increasingly disconnected from the outdoors, and in fact, many children today are growing up without these experiences.

As a result, the work TPWD does with SGCN lacks relevancy to most Texans. Improving existing wildlife viewing sites, developing new sites, and communicating access opportunities for our 4.4 million wildlife viewers and more than one million paddlers will help bridge this gap. Educating these audiences on the importance of habitat conservation while also reconnecting people with nature through recreational opportunities and improved access will improve human health and well-being and help cultivate the next generation of conservationists.

TPWD is uniquely positioned to build support for SGCN conservation through the outdoor recreation opportunities offered at hundreds of sites throughout the state. TPWD currently operates 95 state parks and natural areas, 47 wildlife management areas and eight fish hatcheries, comprising 1.4 million acres that are managed in the public trust for recreation and conservation. Through the Texas Paddling Trails Program, TPWD collaborates with local partners to manage a network of 130 river access areas that offer paddling, fishing, and wildlife viewing opportunities on nearly 600 miles of Texas rivers. Collectively, these sites offer a remarkable variety of opportunities to experience the outdoors. From the desert mountain sky islands of Big Bend Ranch State Park to the cypress swamps of Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area, TPWD provides outdoor experiences ranging from peaceful to exhilarating and from suburban oases to backcountry wilderness all creating opportunities to see and learn about the species in the most need of conservation in our state.

Protecting, enhancing and increasing recreational opportunities throughout the state play an important role in the agency’s mission and serve to engender support for SGCN conservation. TPWD will continue working to ensure that all Texans have access to the outdoors for education, recreation and rejuvenation. In short, we hope to inspire appreciation for and love of the outdoors, and create a willingness to protect and conserve it.

 


TPWD Allocation Strategy

Our strategy is extrapolated from the 2015 Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan and is focused on the milieu of dimensions impacting SGCN. This section describes how TPWD would prioritize and allocate potential funding should passage of the Recovering America’s Fish and Wildlife Act result in an influx of resources to manage, conserve and restore SGCN populations and habitats.

The strategy is arranged into three overarching goals along with communication plans to inform and engage the public in support of the strategy. The goals and objectives are intended to promote stewardship on public and private lands and waters; protect our SGCN populations and habitats; encourage partnerships with all stakeholders; utilize science as the backbone of decision-making; promote participation in the outdoors; instill appreciation of nature in our citizens, young and old; and promote business approaches that leverage industry standards and best practices to support our mission.

Though the task force attempted to maintain accuracy when projecting costs of the various initiatives, projects, or potential plans, it is important to acknowledge there is uncertainty in such a planning effort. The plan does not attempt to capture the level of detail required to list all of the support divisions and staffing within TPWD (and other conservation partners) necessary to realize such broad and visionary goals. The plan also does not attempt to list every project, program, or species that could receive funding.

 


Goal 1: Practice, encourage, and enable science-based stewardship of SGCN

Texans will strive to conserve, manage and restore SGCN as listed in the Texas Conservation Action Plan. Science and experience foster understanding of natural systems and help the Texas conservation community anticipate changes and address emerging issues that impact SGCN. Relevant science informs the TPW Commission and focuses the actions of staff, constituents and partners. Through agency operations as well as partnerships with the conservation community, TPWD would invest approximately 70% of potential funding toward stewardship of SGCN.

  • A. TPWD will practice, promote and support protection of SGCN populations and their habitats

    There are many vehicles by which SGCN populations may be protected from the myriad threats that exist today. Protecting landscape-scale, contiguous habitats is paramount to the stability of SGCN populations. The tools to accomplish such protection could include land acquisition, purchasing or transferring development and/or water rights from willing cooperators, establishing conservation agreements with landowners, and embedding the needs of SGCN into land use, watershed and municipal planning as well as permitting and environmental review processes.

    Finally, protecting SGCN would not be complete without targeted, proactive law enforcement. With additional focused enforcement, illegal wildlife traffickers could be discovered and prosecuted, thus deterring future illegal take and protecting our rare resources.

    Actions:

    1. Encourage landowners to cooperatively establish conservation agreements to protect contiguous habitat for SGCN
    2. Establish and maintain cooperative strategies to incorporate long-term SGCN needs in all statewide, regional and local land use and watershed planning, permitting, and environmental review processes
    3. Implement programs to purchase land or purchase/transfer development rights from willing property owners to benefit SGCN conservation
    4. Implement programs to purchase/transfer water rights to protect SGCN populations and habitats
    5. Supply equipment, training, and operational support to protect SGCN through proactive law enforcement
  • Spotlight: Protecting Environmental Flows
  • B. TPWD will practice, promote and support exemplary management of SGCN populations

    TPWD along with the conservation community will manage existing habitats and populations well to ensure resilience and stability of SGCN for current and future generations. To accomplish this, we must understand SGCN requirements and distributions, habitat/watershed conditions and natural/anthropogenic stressors, and actively manage our lands and waters to improve conditions thus allowing SGCN to thrive where they occur. Likewise, we will support, encourage, and enable private landowners and other conservation partners to do the same.

    Actions:

    1. Conduct, coordinate or promote strategic surveys or mapping of SGCN, habitats and ecosystems on public and private lands and waters
    2. Conduct, coordinate or promote strategic research on SGCN, habitats and ecosystems on public and private lands and waters
    3. In cooperation with public and private landowners, manage habitats, watersheds and hydrologic conditions to support healthy SGCN populations
    4. Conduct, coordinate or support conservation actions that mitigate threats to SGCN such as invasive species, fragmentation, climate change, energy development, industry, and other environmental and anthropogenic stressors
  • Spotlight: Prairie Streams Initiative
  • C. TPWD will practice, promote and support introduction or restoration of SGCN populations and habitats

    Unfortunately, examples exist across our state where suitable habitat has been lost and populations of SGCN have been extirpated. In such cases, TPWD would work with public and private landowners as well as other conservation partners to restore habitats and reintroduce populations where appropriate. Such an undertaking will require in-depth understanding of species requirements and calculated application of habitat restoration / enhancement methodologies, propagation and husbandry techniques in well-designed facilities, and thoughtful release / monitoring protocols in well-suited areas to maximize success.

    Actions:

    1. In cooperation with public and private landowners, create or restore habitats, watersheds and hydrologic conditions to support healthy SGCN populations
    2. Assist habitat and population restoration efforts through propagation and reintroduction of SGCN as appropriate

 


Goal 2: Increase access to and participation in the outdoors

Access to a variety of outdoor experiences is critical for human health and quality of life. Since the vast majority of Texans reside in urban areas, there is a great need to ensure the availability of affordable and accessible outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. Charged with this task, TPWD along with the conservation community must engage citizens from all places and all walks of life while maximizing the use of limited public lands and incentivizing public access to private lands. Through agency operations as well as partnerships with the conservation community, TPWD would invest approximately 10% of potential funding to increase access to and participation in the outdoors.

  • A. TPWD will increase and facilitate access to public and private lands and waters for recreation

    Numerous opportunities exist to enhance wildlife recreation opportunities by increasing access to public and private lands and waters in Texas. For instance: the Great Texas Wildlife Trails connect the public to wildlife (including SGCN) through viewing opportunities on public lands. Public boat ramps facilitate access to statewide canoe and kayak paddling trails and, through paddling recreation, encourage and engender an appreciation of native habitats and SGCN. Investing in urban conservation projects can create networks of natural destination areas within easy access of the majority of the citizens of Texas. Finally, considering more than 95% of Texas is privately owned, expanding successful private land leasing programs, such as the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, improves public access for outdoor recreation on private lands and has the potential to impact millions of acres containing SGCN.

    Actions:

    1. Provide and/or assist parks, local communities, and private property owners in providing economically viable recreational venues for activities such as wildlife-watching, stargazing, photo safaris, camping, kayaking, hiking, and other nature-based recreation
    2. Construct, provide, or support facilities and amenities to broaden access to the outdoors and enhance the quality of experience for people of all ages, abilities and interests
    3. Partner with federal, state and local agencies and cities to provide increased access to public lands and waters
  • B. TPWD will encourage people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to experience the outdoors and participate in outdoor recreation

    The conservation challenges facing SGCN today cannot be met by TPWD alone, or even by the combined efforts of multiple conservation agencies and institutions. These challenges require leveraging the collective force of average citizens who are trained, empowered and mobilized to contribute toward SGCN conservation. To accomplish this, a keen understanding of participant motivations must be developed and applied through targeted human dimensions research. Armed with such understanding, TPWD and the conservation community would support and/or encourage well-designed programs/activities deploying volunteers to fill SGCN data gaps, monitor SGCN populations on our lands and in our waters, and implement conservation projects benefitting SGCN. With such keen understanding, TPWD would also more effectively provide and/or support outdoor experiences that inspire and motivate citizens toward supporting SGCN conservation.

    Actions:

    1. Encourage volunteerism and citizen science in support of SGCN conservation and outdoor recreation
    2. Organize, coordinate, support and/or invest in programs, activities, or events that foster and enable active participation in outdoor recreation

 


Goal 3: Educate, inform and engage Texas citizens in support of outdoor recreation and SGCN conservation

Texas has a vast diversity of ecosystems and natural resources, many of which are unique to Texas. These landscapes transcend political and ownership boundaries. As a result, wide-ranging awareness and cooperation are critical for effective stewardship of natural and cultural resources. It is essential to develop an array of public and private strategies that build broad-based support for successful and adaptive management, restoration and conservation. Through agency operations as well as partnerships with the conservation community, TPWD would invest approximately 20% of potential funding to educate, inform and engage citizens regarding SGCN.

Actions:

  1. Team with classroom educators and health and physical education instructors, to advocate for a lifelong interest in outdoor recreational activities
  2. Expand the availability of training and curriculum tools to educators and conservation partners
  3. Advance public awareness and understanding of the significance and benefits of SGCN habitats and populations
  4. Educate citizens on the importance of riparian zones, habitat connectivity, mountain sky islands, wildlife corridors, and other sensitive habitats for SGCN conservation

 


Commitment to Transparency

The conservation community in Texas works to address a multitude of challenges in many unique ecosystems. Large nonprofit organizations, small land trusts, research institutions, and private land managers are vital to recovering SGCN conservation but come to the table with different resources. With such diverse interests, no single funding strategy will be appropriate for all SGCN populations and all partners. TPWD is committed to ensuring a collaborative, open process through which new conservation funds are shared. TPWD will use new and existing granting programs, cost-sharing strategies, partnering opportunities, and open calls for proposals to develop solutions for SGCN conservation.

Call to Action

Texas is blessed with a rich natural heritage. Conserving this rich heritage will require concerted effort in the face of immense challenges. As the state’s population increases, so does land fragmentation, competing demands for water resources, loss of open space, genetic isolation, habitat degradation, and other impacts to our lands, waters, and fish and wildlife resources. Invasive species are disrupting ecosystems and reducing native biodiversity. Drought has become a persistent problem. We face daunting conservation issues that compel us to adapt and innovate to conserve the natural resources that define our state’s proud heritage.

Yet, conservation success stories such as the recovery of endangered brown pelicans, reintroduction of peregrine falcons, and restoration of Guadalupe Bass throughout its native streams of the Edwards Plateau ecoregion provide reason for hope. Polls and surveys consistently show that Texas citizens strongly support land, water and wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation.

Resources to address these conservation challenges are limited, so we must work collaboratively and creatively to ensure that our imperiled populations and habitats persist into the future. No single organization or government entity alone can do what is needed. Individual action is important, but when we work together, the results can be transformative.

For Texas, the Recovering America's Wildlife Act would indeed mean transformative change for people and wildlife, the kind of breakthrough that comes once in a generation. But it won’t happen unless people who care get informed, get involved and work together to conserve the best of Texas. For more information about what this would mean for our state, and to find out how to help, visit the Texas Wildlife Alliance website.

 


Spotlights

Spotlight: Protecting Environmental Flows

Natural river ow patterns are critically important to healthy rivers, bays, and estuaries and the diverse populations of fish and wildlife they support. However, flow patterns have been altered in all regions of the state due to groundwater pumping, surface water diversions, dam operations, increases in impervious cover in urban areas, and water consumption by invasive plants. By partnering with a variety of non-governmental organizations, river authorities, water utilities, and landowners, we can restore and protect our rivers and streams. Working together, we can ensure that the ecological, recreational, and economic values associated with Texas rivers, bays, and estuaries are maintained for current and future generations.

Spotlight: Prairie Streams Initiative

The upper reaches of the Brazos, Canadian and Red Rivers represent some of the last remaining strongholds for native fishes once abundant throughout rivers of the Great Plains. One of the most significant threats to these rivers is encroachment of saltcedar, a highly invasive woody plant that forms dense thickets in stream corridors. These thickets displace native streamside plants and alter habitats for fish and wildlife, including turkeys and quail. Saltcedar also degrades river function, such as the ability of rivers to transport flood waters. Saltcedar now covers more than half a million acres of the Tex- as panhandle. Efforts to control saltcedar will improve habitats for fish and wildlife and ensure healthy river function.

Spotlight: Restore Iconic Species

The Texas Horned Lizard or “horned toad,” once plentiful across the state, has disappeared from much of its historic range. The loss of this and other iconic species erases our natural heritage. However, we can restore these species to their historic prominence. With propagation facilities producing lizards and landowners who are willing to manage for reintroduced populations, we can allow our children and grandchildren the eye-widening privilege of seeing such a fantastically unusual, yet tranquil lizard quietly waiting to eat ants in the backyard.

Spotlight: Engage People through Wildlife Recreation

The exploding growth of paddle sports presents a major opportunity to educate more people about the need to conserve rivers and bays for people and wildlife. Providing and communicating better access and opportunities for the more than one million kayakers and canoers across Texas will help connect an ever-growing urban audience with hands-on experiences in nature and improve awareness of the need to conserve fish and wildlife habitat.

Spotlight: Engage and Empower Citizens

Texans want to help the land, water and wildlife of our great state. By growing programs like Texas Nature Trackers, Texas Waters Program and the Texas Master Naturalist Program, an army of citizens can be equipped and empowered to play a critical, active role in caring for the wild things they love.

Spotlight: Connecting Children and Nature

Studies show children and families are increasingly disconnected from nature, threatening the Texas economy, ecology and human well-being. Research also shows children who have daily connection with nature are happier, healthier and smarter, and that kids who learn about wildlife are more likely to care for our environment as they mature. Expanding the Texas Children in Nature Campus Campout and Outdoor Skills program will help connect schools and youth groups with wildlife and habitat conservation.