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May 6, 2008

McKinney Leaves Environmental Legacy at TPWD

AUSTIN, Texas — Dr. Larry McKinney, known affectionately as "Dr. Doom" for his candid, outspoken approach to addressing environmental issues, is leaving the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department a legacy not built on despair, but on hope.

For more than 20 years with the department, McKinney has championed endangered and threatened species and served as a proponent for resource conservation, water resources in particular. McKinney, director of Coastal Fisheries and senior director of Aquatic Resources for TPWD, has been named executive director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. He assumes his new role in July.

"All of us at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will miss Dr. McKinney’s extraordinary leadership, scientific acumen, vision, and conservation ethic while serving as Director of Coastal Fisheries," said Carter Smith, TPWD executive director.

"During his nearly 25 year tenure with the agency, he has been at the forefront of innovative conservation efforts to protect our seagrass meadows, to ensure adequate freshwater inflows into our bays and estuaries, to enhance our sport fisheries, and to conserve our unique fish and wildlife resources along the Texas coast," Smith said. "His ability to work effectively and collaboratively with divergent and sometimes competing constituent groups on a wide range of coastal and water related issues has served this department and the state of Texas very well. Larry has been a friend, mentor, and trusted advisor to many of us in the conservation field, and we wish him all the best as he assumes this critically important leadership role at the Harte Institute."

McKinney has been carrying water for fish and wildlife since day one. During his tenure at TPWD, he has been a major force behind research and recommendations to provide freshwater inflows to estuaries and in-stream flows for rivers and reservoirs; wetland conservation and restoration and other issues related to the ecological health of Texas aquatic ecosystems.

"When we started in 1985, environmental review of water permits and consideration for fish and wildlife did not exist," said McKinney, who noted back then only two permits in the entire state included environmental provisions. "Today every water permit includes such consideration and the passage of SB-1, SB-2 and especially SB-3 will put into place the policy framework that if adopted by the legislature will assure water for fish and wildlife on a statewide basis."

As director of the agency’s now defunct Resource Protection Division, McKinney advocated working with private landowners to provide conservation for threatened and endangered resources. He was able to influence significant revisions of the federal endangered species act to better work with private lands and through cooperative efforts.

He was also responsible for the development of a civil process and valuation system for fish and wildlife to recover the value of fish and wildlife resources lost to illegal activity (poaching, pollution, etc), which has meant millions of dollars to wildlife and habitat restoration.

As director of the agency’s Coastal Fisheries Division, McKinney lead the development of programs to address aquatic vegetation management, invasive species, shrimp aquaculture and disease management, vehicle traffic in riverbeds, paddling trails, and offshore aquaculture. He oversaw the development of the State Wetlands Plan and the Seagrass Conservation Plan and was able to accelerate and will soon bring to conclusion the shrimp license buyback program. This program has been the fundamental conservation tool in maintaining the health and productivity of our recreational fishery.

"Texas is the only state with a significant saltwater angler population that has seen positive increases in numbers over the last 5 years — a 25 percent gain," McKinney noted. "Florida and California saw an 18 percent drop over that time and all other Gulf states declined sharply. Not only that but our anglers are fishing twice as much and the economic benefits to Texas include the creation of over 5,000 jobs during that time. The action we have taken like regional regulations and the continued emphasis on ecosystem management has put our fisheries in their best condition in the last 30 years."

McKinney earned his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University in 1976 and is a recognized authority on the habitats of amphipod crustaceans in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. In 1976, McKinney was a Smithsonian Fellow and from 1977 to 1980 he was a research associate and instructor at Texas A&M University-Galveston. Prior to joining TPWD, McKinney was director of the Texas Environmental Engineering Field Laboratory in Galveston where he worked on water issues including the diversion of the Mississippi River.

The Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies is an endowed and developing research institute that supports and advances the long-term sustainable use and conservation of the Gulf of Mexico through a tri-national approach between the United States, Mexico and Cuba. The Institution was created in 2000 by a $46 million endowment from Edward H. Harte, philanthropist and former publisher of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

TH 2008-05-06

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