|  TPWD News Releases Dated 2004-12-20                                    |
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[ Note: This item is more than 12 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [TH]
Dec. 20, 2004
Top Texas Conservation Stories of 2004
EDITORS NOTE: In this issue of TPWD News, we forsake our usual format for the most part and provide a summary of the top conservation stories of the year. Details about these topics can be found in the online news archive. Please note that TPWD will take its customary two-week annual hiatus from distributing weekly news during the coming holidays. Unless important news develops that is worth sharing, we are not at this time planning to issue news on Dec. 27 and Jan. 3. Our current plan is to resume news distribution on Jan. 10. Happy Holidays!
When It Rains, It Pours -- Texas' natural resources showed their potential in 2004, thanks to higher than normal rainfall across most of the state. The abundance of water created lush habitat conditions, setting the stage for near-record production among many wildlife species, particularly quail and deer. While hunters were enjoying the rewards of a bountiful season, anglers and park visitors saw newfound opportunities as rivers and streams flowed again and lakes, like Falcon, returned to normal levels.
Rare Species Rebound -- Several high-profile species of concern passed milestones in 2004, including record highs for whooping cranes and Kemp's ridley sea turtles. This winter, the world's last natural wild population of whooping cranes flew past the 200 mark, a landmark event for an endangered bird species that has come back from the brink of extinction during the past six decades. Throughout the summer of 2004, the world's most endangered sea turtle returned to nest on Texas beaches in record numbers. Forty-one Kemp's ridley nests were reported. Also encouraging was the change in status of the black-tailed prairie dog, which was removed from the candidate list of species considered for threatened status under the Endangered Species Act.
Producing and Paying for Fish -- The process to build and finance a new state fish hatchery got under way in 2004, with Jasper getting the nod as the site for the facility. To help pay for the new hatchery, the Texas Legislature created a Freshwater Fishing Stamp, providing the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with an opportunity to reposition its suite of hunting and fishing licenses. The agency eliminated requirements for several specialty stamps and created license packages that better reflect a user-pay, user-benefit philosophy. Also making a big "splash" in a state fish hatchery this year was the donation of a new state record blue catfish to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. The 121-pound behemoth was transported alive to the TFFC where it continues to be on display to the public in the facility's aquarium.
New State Parks Pass Proves Popular -- Close to 60,000 state park fans have purchased the new Texas State Parks Pass that went on sale Jan. 1. The new annual pass is similar in appearance to a credit card and is designed to be easier to use. The Texas State Parks Pass costs $60 for one card and $75 for a two card family membership. It replaced the Texas Conservation Passport. The new pass provides free entry to all state parks and historic sites for members and their guests, camping discounts and "extra perks." *
Birds Take Center Stage -- The long-awaited debut in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of the $7 million World Birding Center drew dignitaries from state and local governmental entities and interested "birders" to the Oct. 23-24 grand opening. The WBC headquarters in Mission becomes the second of eight sites to open along the Texas-Mexico border from Roma to South Padre Island. Another first in the Texas birding community also came along in 2004 with the inclusion of a blind and visually-impaired birding category in the 8th annual Great Texas Birding Classic's team competition, which was held in April along the central and upper Texas coast. The groups identify birds by sound instead of sight. The EspaƱa Tweetybirds beat out two other teams in the category by identifying 40 species. A Texas birding team and a team of young birders from Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and New York tied for first, identifying 359 bird species. A total of 56 teams competed. Winning teams were awarded a total of $51,000 that they then donated to fund Texas coastal conservation habitat projects to benefit birds and birders.
Golden Alga Spreads -- A naturally-occurring toxin that has become deadly to fish in North and Central Texas expanded its range in 2004, hitting Lake Texoma, one of the states' biggest lakes, and spreading into Oklahoma. Resource conservation agencies from Texas and Oklahoma are now combining efforts to research and monitor golden alga there. Since 2001, golden alga fish kills have occurred at two dozen reservoirs in Texas.
Bighorn Sheep Hunt Giveaway Signals Species Comeback -- Coincidentally, a pair of firefighters from different parts of the state were selected in a drawing of all licensed hunters in Texas to receive a complimentary desert bighorn sheep hunt. TPWD sheep census surveys in 2004 indicated record-high populations of desert bighorns and, in a gesture of appreciation to hunters whose license dollars have helped restore this majestic big game animal, the agency decided to give two hunts away.
Justice Served for Nature -- A decades old legal dispute was finally resolved bya mitigation settlement. The case stemmed from mercury discharge into Lavaca Bay by Alcoa and a sister company. Alcoa has already spent $40 million and will spend another $11 million for remaining cleanup. The company will also compensate the public for lost ecological and recreational resources, including adding land to a national wildlife refuge, restoring marshes, creating a new oyster reef and funding a series of fishing piers and boat docks around the bay. Earlier in the year, four individuals who wounded and killed several state-protected trumpeter swans were brought to justice after an extensive and exhausting investigation by state game wardens. Three of the five swans, which are a protected migratory non-game species, died and the other two are being cared for at an Iowa rehabilitation facility. The poachers involved pled guilty to 20 various game law violations and were assessed more than $17,000 in fines and related costs.
San Jacinto Battleground Artifacts Uncovered -- An unprecedented archeological project under way at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site near LaPorte led to the discovery of dozens of battle artifacts such as musket balls, belt buckles and Mexican coins. A display of some of the discoveries, which already are shedding new light on the decisive 1836 battle that led to Texas' independence from Mexico, highlighted the annual San Jacinto Symposium held at the University of Houston April 23. The archeological project is the precursor to the implementation of the first part of a $47 million master plan for the park, which calls for restoring the battleground to its 1836 appearance, a new Visitor's Center and Museum, among other improvements.
* Correction, Dec. 22, 2004: This paragraph has been edited to include more current information. (Return to corrected item.)

[ Note: This item is more than 12 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [RM]
Dec. 20, 2004
Wireless Internet Service Debuts in Five Texas State Parks
AUSTIN, Texas -- TengoInternet and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are starting a pilot program to offer wireless Internet service at five Texas state parks -- Choke Canyon State Park (Calliham) near Three Rivers, Blanco State Park near Blanco, Balmorhea State Park near Toyahvale, Goose Island State Park near Rockport, and Ray Roberts Lake State Park (Isle du Bois) near Pilot Point.
The pilot program is designed to determine visitor interest for Wi-Fi within the state parks system. Wi-Fi, short for wireless fidelity, allows computer users to share a high-speed Internet connection without the cumbersome wires or delays caused by dial-up access. The wireless service will allow park guests to access the Internet to gain park information, send e-mail or pictures, or just surf the Web, without having to plug cables into a network.
The TengoInternet service will be available for park visitors in the pilot parks beginning Jan. 1. Park visitors will be able to use the service for free during a promotional period and then pay for usage later in the spring.
"The State Parks Division is excited to provide wireless Internet to our visitors at some of our state parks in Texas," said Pam Carleton, TPWD's state parks concession manager. "Though we realize many folks want to escape technology while at parks, this is an option for those who want to plan their next camping stop, check weather and get other information online."
"This is a great opportunity for TengoInternet to help TPWD assess interest for Wi-Fi in its parks and to demonstrate our excellent service," said Eric Stumberg, president and CEO of TengoInternet.
TengoInternet is the oldest and largest wireless Internet service provider for the campground industry, enabling campground operators to keep their customers connected. TengoInternet currently provides broadband wireless access service for campgrounds, hotels and apartment complexes throughout the United States.
For more information about TengoInternet's wireless service, please call (512) 750-4979. For overnight camping reservations at a Texas state park, please call (512) 389-8900. For general state park information, call (800) 792-1112.
On the Net:

[ Note: This item is more than 12 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [MM]
Dec. 20, 2004
Valley Reports New North American Butterfly Records
MISSION, Texas -- Hearts of "butterfliers" -- the term for enthusiasts of these winged beauties--are newly aflutter.
Four new genera of butterflies were recently recorded for the first time in North America here in the Lower Rio Grande Valley region of South Texas. Recent sightings at the World Birding Center Headquarters and the North American Butterfly Association International Butterfly Park near here have been seen by devoted followers visiting from as far away as Europe and Canada.
In an area of Texas more popularly known for its bird-watching opportunities, these winged creatures are stealing some of the limelight. One new species first seen Nov. 20 is called the common melwhite, a white sulfur-like butterfly with yellow underside and narrow black edging on the wingtips. Five other species seen here for the first time in recent weeks are the orange banner, cross-barred white, dusted spurwing, east-Mexican white-skipper, and thick-tipped greta.
"Birding has always been a major draw down here but butterflying is becoming more and more popular," said Nancy Millar, director of the McAllen Convention Visitor's Bureau. Millar said wildlife watching brings in $100 million every year to the south Texas economy, and word travels fast among the most avid wildlife watchers.
"Digital photography has made it where people can take wonderful photographs," said Sue Sill, butterfly park executive director. "While visitors are not allowed to catch butterflies, many take pictures to quickly send to experts, and then call friends about the species. "We end up with a group of people from all over North America trying to find this one butterfly," said Sill. The melwhite first showed up in a Mission backyard, then a second, different melwhite arrived at the park the next day.
Since the facility's groundbreaking a year ago, about 10,000 visitors have found their way to the Butterfly Park. Sill says the Lower Rio Grande Valley is a butterflier's dream. In the three southernmost counties of Texas, more than 300 species of butterflies have been seen, which is 40 percent of all the recorded butterflies in the United States and Canada.
Sill pointed out that the Valley's rich biodiversity is due to subtropical, temperate, coastal, and desert ecological regions that converge here. This habitat diversity fosters species diversity and makes the region an attractive habitat for butterflies. Being near Mexico is also important, since "the further south you go into the tropics, the more butterflies there are," she added.
Novice to advanced butterfly enthusiasts visit the park from all over the United States. The butterfliers are often also birders, gardeners or retirees with spare time to pursue the hobby.
Right now the NABA facility is 84 acres that is only partly developed, but they are working on purchasing more acreage and hope to eventually have 100 acres of world-class botanical garden and arboretum devoted to butterfly study and appreciation .
The new NABA butterfly park is just down the road from the World Birding Center Headquarters at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, which hosted its grand opening in October after seven years of planning and work.
Why the sudden interest in butterflying?
"Many people have gotten as many birds as they can, or close to it, on their birding life lists," Millar said. "So what they're doing is turning to butterflies so they have new challenges and new things to see. But usually, it's not either/or, it's both. Birding and butterflying go hand-in-hand, and the common thread is the habitat that attracts both, which in turn attracts the travelers."
On the Net:
North American Butterfly Association International Butterfly Park: http://www.naba.org/nababp/Index.html