TPWD’s Top 10 News Stories of 2005

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EDITORS NOTE: In this issue of TPWD News, we forsake our usual format for the most part and provide a summary of the top news stories of 2005. Details about these topics can be found in the department’s online news archive. Please note that TPWD will not be distributing weekly news during the coming holidays. News distribution will resume on Jan. 16, 2006. Happy Holidays!

TPWD Aids Hurricane Victims — Instead of gearing up for dove hunting season, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens, biologists and park staff found themselves providing critical help during not one, but two back-to-back major hurricanes in 2005. During Hurricane Katrina, a team of more than 110 Texas game wardens rescued nearly 5,000 stranded victims in New Orleans. Hundreds of evacuees were given free camping at Texas State Parks. Three weeks later, Hurricane Rita tore through East Texas and game wardens were called upon to help with peacekeeping efforts as well as support in delivering food, water and medical assistance. Wildlife biologists also assisted in rescue efforts. In the aftermath of Rita, more than 20 state parks were closed temporarily and wildlife and fisheries biologists began assessing damages to natural resources.

Government Canyon State Natural Area Opens — The much-anticipated opening of the newest member of the Texas State Parks family took place Oct. 15. The 8,622-acre Government Canyon SNA, which sits only 16 miles from downtown San Antonio, represents one of Texas’ most significant conservation stories resulting from a public-private partnership involving municipal, state and federal government agencies, as well as a host of community and environmental organizations. Initially, visitors can picnic, bird watch, shop for souvenirs, view exhibits explaining the natural area’s unique geology and natural and cultural resources, and explore roughly 40 miles of trails available to hikers and cyclists.

New Game Bird Stamps Benefit Conservation — Hunters once again stepped up to the plate in 2005 with financial support for wildlife conservation through their support of two new game bird hunting stamps. These stamps are required to hunt upland and migratory game birds in Texas. The funds generated can only be used by TPWD for habitat acquisition and leasing to conserve resources and expand hunting opportunity, habitat development and management, and research and surveys to benefit specific game birds.

Budget Shortfall Drives Park Transfers, Staff Reductions — Continued budget woes in 2005 led to several difficult cost-saving measures by Texas State Parks, including the transfer of several sites, reduction in operations at others and staff layoffs. Among the sites transferred to other entities were the Bright Leaf State Natural Area in Austin and the Copano Bay Fishing Pier near Rockport. In addition, Matagorda Island State Park was reassigned as a wildlife management area and a proposal is being discussed to transfer the 4,900-acre Lake Houston State Park to local jurisdictions. Thirty-nine filled staff positions and 34 unfilled positions were eliminated in December, following the cutting of 100 other unfilled positions agency-wide in September. No state parks were closed as part of the cutback measures. Elsewhere, the Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg was transferred to the Texas Historical Commission.

TPWD Stocks 4.6 Million Striped Bass Into Texas Lakes — Recognizing the need to compensate for losses sustained during recent golden alga outbreaks and to begin the recovery process on affected lakes, TPWD produced and stocked 4.6 million striped bass and hybrid striped bass fingerlings into 42 lakes during 2005. An additional 2.6 million striped bass and hybrid striped bass fry were stocked into three lakes.

Man Gets Life Sentence in Game Warden Shooting — An Amarillo judge sentenced Seledonio Sanchez Cabrera to two life terms for a December 2004 shooting that left one person dead and a game warden seriously injured. Game Warden Billy Hefley was responding to 911 call near the Canadian River about a woman being shot. The suspect pulled out a .38-caliber revolver and shot Hefley in the cheek and arm. The suspect shot and killed one other person before Hefley arrived. The suspect pleaded guilty to all charges, which were murder and assault on a public servant.

Budweiser ShareLunker Program Peaks, Looks to No. 400 — The Budweiser ShareLunker 2004-2005 season closed April 30 with 24 fish entered, the highest total since 1996. A large measure of credit for the year’s performance goes to Lake Alan Henry. The 2,880-acre lake southeast of Lubbock produced nine ShareLunkers, largemouth bass weighing 13 pounds or more. Perennial lunker haven Lake Fork contributed seven. The program closed out 2005 on the verge of having its 400th lunker donation, and will recognize that benchmark by awarding the lucky angler with a treasure chest of prizes, including a lifetime fishing license and $400 in cash for every pound the fish weighs and more.

Seagrass Protection Given To Redfish Bay — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissions on Nov. 3 voted to authorize seagrass conservation measures to protect ecologically important seagrass beds in the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area near Rockport. The new rules will take effect May 1, 2006. Shallow-water seagrasses in Texas bays provide vital nursery areas for diverse marine life, food and cover for game fish, bottom stabilization, and better water quality. Seagrass has declined in many areas on the Texas coast. In Galveston Bay, 95 percent of all seagrass has disappeared. In the Redfish Bay area, the total acreage of seagrass has declined by 13 percent since 1958. The area marks the northernmost extent of one important species commonly known as turtlegrass. This species is particularly susceptible to propeller damage because of the long recovery time when damaged.

Governor Appoints Three New Commissioners — 2005 marked a changing of the guard for the TPW Commission as three new members were appointed by Gov. Rick Perry. Among the appointments to the nine-member board include, Mark Bivins of Amarillo, T. Dan Friedkin of Houston and Peter M. Holt of Blanco. Bivins, a rancher and partner of Corsino Cattle Company, is director of the Texas Wildlife Association, former trustee of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, and chairman of the Lone Star Legacy Campaign with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. Friedkin is president and CEO of Friedkin Companies, with responsibility for companies and investments principally in the automotive industry. These include Gulf States Toyota, one of the world’s largest privately held Toyota distributorships. Holt is CEO of HOLT CAT, the largest Caterpillar distributor in the United States. He also is principal owner and chairman of the Spurs Sports and Entertainment, and is being reappointed to the commission.

TPWD Shares 30 Years of Coastal Fisheries Scientific Data — TPWD celebrated 30 years of continuous monitoring of the state’s marine fisheries with an eye toward the next 30 years. Information from 40,000 bag seines, 60,000 trawls, 40,000 dredge samples, 20,000 gill net sets and 250,000 angler interviews collected over the past three decades generated millions of data points that make this TPWD database one of the longest, and possibly THE longest, marine resources dataset in the world. Information gained from the database has been the basis for resource management decisions and regulations that have generated an economic impact of almost $2 billion annually in Texas. This information has also been utilized in TPWD’s successful efforts to secure freshwater inflows, and to protect the water quality of our estuaries, which are critical habitats for our fisheries.

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