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Land and Water Plan Shows Texas Conservation Priorities
AUSTIN, Texas Imagine a plan that lays out where Texas needs to be in 10 years regarding land and water conservation and recreation—that means everything from providing great hunting, fishing and birding to protecting the resources that make those activities possible.
Now envision an organization of about 3,000 people that is gearing up to make sure this plan becomes reality, to make it a living document that is revised and fine-tuned to reflect changing situations, to make sure it isn’t just another fat stack of pages sitting on a shelf.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is working to make its Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan a tactical plan that guides day-to-day operations. The plan was published in 2002 and created by TPWD partly in response to direction from the Texas Legislature. The plan’s seven fundamental goals affect all Texans who depend on the state’s natural and cultural resources for livelihoods or life-affirming experiences.
“I take the plan seriously,” said Joseph Fitzsimons, TPW Commission chairman, after commissioners were updated Jan. 28 about what TPWD is doing to implement the plan.
“If there’s something in the plan that we’re not going to do, we should change it. Those seven items are what we’re testing our progress against. Every time I see an item come before us, I want to see it tested, ‘Is it improving outdoor access, is it improving fishing,’ and so on.”
Below are the seven goals, plus examples of progress made on each.
“Improve access to the outdoors by opening a minimum of four, 5,000-acre or larger state parks near the major urban centers.” Planners view this as a long-term goal, one that may take the full 10 years to complete. The reality is there is not enough money in state government right now to buy big chunks of land near urban areas. Nevertheless, progress is being made. One successful model is Government Canyon State Natural Area near San Antonio, where partnerships with local government, other agencies and nonprofits have added 1,162 acres in the last two years, boosting site acreage to 8,201.
“Manage and operate a complete system of state historic sites and address the highest needs for historical interpretation by developing up to three new historic sites.” The Levi-Jordan Plantation project near Houston will be the first state historic site to focus mainly on the African American experience. The site was purchased in 2000 and planning is now ongoing, although additional funding is needed to finish the project.
“Increase support for water and wildlife conservation and increase public recreation opportunities on private land.” With wildlife biologists who offer free guidance to landowners in every Texas county, the Wildlife Division has increased the landscape under wildlife management plans from 9.7 million acres in 2001 to 14.5 million acres in 2003 — a 49 percent increase. More landowners involved in active habitat conservation usually means to increased public hunting and fishing opportunities. Other efforts are underway to open up new public opportunities, including a multi-million dollar series of wildlife driving trails that support landowners getting into nature tourism. Also, the Texas Land Trust Council supported by TPWD now coordinates the activities of 39 non-profit land trusts in Texas, protecting nearly 1.3 million acres.
“Maintain current levels of hunting and fishing license sales by recruiting new participants.” The 7th Governor’s Hunting Heritage Symposium, which was held in Houston last December brought state and national attention to this issue. Dozens of TPWD programs in multiple divisions are doing youth outreach events such as Texas Wildlife Expo and the Texas Youth Hunting Program.
“Improve fishing in inland and coastal waters by determining long-term maintenance requirements of all fish hatcheries.” The Texas Legislature aided this effort by requiring a new $5 freshwater fishing stamp of all anglers starting this September. Money from the temporary, 10-year stamp would be earmarked specifically for fish hatchery renovations and repairs.
“Improve scientific data collection by undertaking a complete review of all TPWD science and conservation programs.” Various efforts are meeting this goal, such as the Wildlife Division consulting with the Wildlife Management Institute, Coastal and Inland Fisheries dealing with the American Fisheries Society and the Resource Protection staff turning to the National Academy of Science for peer review and advice.
“Maintain sufficient water to support the needs of fish, wildlife and recreation by providing the best information available and working closely with other state agencies.” It may be listed last, but this goal is by no means least, and all TPWD field divisions are gearing up to focus on water resources. Land and Water Plan implementation is aligning strategic planning along river basins for the first time. TPWD leaders are directly involved. Fitzsimons sits on a new legislative study commission which is charged with looking at water for environmental flows. TPWD Executive Director Robert Cook is on a state water conservation task force that recently proposed a $10 million public awareness effort.
“We want this plan to be relevant to our day-to-day work,” said Scott Boruff, TPWD deputy executive director for operations, who is leading plan implementation efforts. “We want employees in Austin and in the field to use this as a guiding document as they make plans and budget decisions.”
The department is planning 10 focus groups with employees and a larger meeting with outside constituent groups to get input about how the plan should be updated to reflect current events. By November, which will mark two years since the plan’s creation, a revised plan will be presented to the TPW Commission for approval.
The current plan is on the Internet (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/plan/). Anyone with questions or comments may write to Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, TX 78744.
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