New Park Funding Highlights 2008 TPWD Budget

Tom Harvey, 512-389-4453,

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AUSTIN, Texas — The most significant new funding for state and local parks in decades, money to build a new East Texas fish hatchery and new funds to help game wardens enforce wildlife laws and border security are among the highlights of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department 2008 budget.

The fiscal year 2008 budget approved Aug. 23 by the TPW Commission totals $405.8 million, including $260.4 million for operating (salaries and benefits, equipment and other expenses), $53.9 million for grants (for city and county parks and other programs), $83.7 million for capital (construction) projects and purchases such as vehicles and computers and $7.8 million for debt service to pay back bonds.

In 2007, the budget totaled $295 million, including $223.5 million for operating, $12.6 million for grants, $52.4 million for capital projects and $6.5 million for bond debt service.

Additional park funding is the standout feature of the 2008 budget, thanks to appropriations by state lawmakers in the recent legislative session. This will make possible 229 new employee positions at state parks across Texas, which in turn will mean new or reinstated tours and programs for the visiting public at sites that will be more accessible and open more often (many parks cut operating hours or days of the week in recent years, primarily due to loss of staff positions). There is also new equipment and repair money to keep state park facilities cleaner and in better condition.

“The Texas Legislature increased our appropriation significantly for state parks and appropriated funds for several other important conservation programs,” said Robert L. Cook, TPWD executive director. “Besides park funding, the legislature appropriated millions of dollars for additional game wardens and homeland security, freshwater stamp funds for the East Texas Fish Hatchery, money to repair and dry-berth the Battleship Texas, and funds to support the transfer of the Texas State Railroad to the newly created local rail authority. Bottom line: it is a wonderful set of appropriations that we are very thankful for. We must now work very hard to use these and all funds appropriated effectively and efficiently.”

Part of the park funding still requires voter approval. Legislators provided $44 million in bond authority for major repairs at state parks during the biennium, including $17 million already approved by voters in 2001, plus $27 million that must still be approved by Texas voters in November as part of the Proposition 4 bond package. Another $25 million in bond authority for the Battleship TEXAS must also first be approved by voters in Proposition 4.

Parks were not the only beneficiaries of legislative support. The Law Enforcement Division is getting $1 million in new money in 2008 through the appropriations bill, and will also get an additional $1.27 million in 2008 through the Border Security Initiative, which will fund another 15 game warden positions for the border region.

Also thanks to legislative appropriations, the 2008 budget includes $4.9 million in freshwater fishing stamp funds to begin construction of the new fish hatchery planned for Jasper in East Texas. Construction of the hatchery is currently projected to cost about $26 million.

In the area of water resources, the legislature appropriated funding and three new TPWD employee positions to help categorize river instream flow needs. This is related to a sweeping package of water resource measures, including the omnibus water bill Senate Bill 3, which provides clear direction and new ways to keep water flowing in rivers and into bays and estuaries.

For the Wildlife Division, the legislature gave approval to make use of funds from the Migratory and Upland Game Bird stamps introduced in 2006. This will provide $400,000 in 2008 for mourning and white-winged dove banding studies to determine the population health and abundance of these popular game birds, plus research on the effectiveness of non-toxic shot. Legislators also approved use of money from the sale of deer and horned lizard conservation automobile license plates, providing funds for grants to restore habitat and conduct research. Horned lizard plate funds will also help pay for wildlife diversity (nongame) programs. This will free up other funds to help field wildlife staff across the state deal with rising fuel costs to assist landowners and encourage private land conservation.

The Coastal Fisheries Division will benefit in 2008 from the first year of a $3.2 million, 5-year oyster disaster relief federal grant, part of the 2005 Hurricane Emergency Funding Bill passed by congress after Katrina. This will fund five new employee positions for three grant projects. The first will determine existing reef habitat conditions in Sabine Lake and Galveston Bay, including detailed side-scan mosaics and interpretive maps. The second project will restore reef habitat by buying and placing material on reef sites. The third will help locate and remove debris blocking navigational channels, improving angler access to fishing areas and restoring sensitive habitat areas.