|  TPWD News Releases Dated 2006-07-03                                    |
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[ Note: This item is more than 11 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]
July 3, 2006
Record Sea Turtle Release Marks Kemp's Ridley Comeback
TEPEHUAJES, Mexico -- Mexican and U.S. scientists on June 28 marked the recovery of the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle here with the largest single-day turtle release since the binational recovery project began decades ago, helping close to 240,000 four-inch hatchlings wriggle across the sand and into the Gulf of Mexico.
Even though sea turtle nestings on Texas and Mexico beaches have soared to record highs this year, scientists this week tempered jubilation with caution, saying current levels of funding and work must continue for the world's most endangered sea turtle to fully recover.
"We cannot look at a 2,000-turtle arribada [arrival] on May 11 as okay, that's it, we got it, the turtle's recovered, let's pack it up and go home," said Jaime Peña, conservation biologist with the Gladys Porter Zoo, who has been involved with the sea turtle project since 1994 and is now the U.S. operations director for all the turtle recovery camps in Mexico.
"This is the one yard line-we cannot stop right now," Peña emphasized, borrowing the football analogy of a team about to score. "We have to reach a higher level of nesting. In 1947, they recorded on a very famous film over 40,000 turtles nesting one day in June, so we're not there yet. But we're taking the right steps."
So far this year, close to 100 Kemp's Ridley sea turtles have come in to nest on Texas beaches, twice last year's number, vindicating decades of work by U.S. scientists to establish a secondary nesting location in Texas. But Mexico is still far and away the primary home for the species, with more than 11,000 nestings so far this year within the 125-kilometer stretch of beach where 90 percent of the world's Ridley population nests.
"Tonight is a big event," said Octaviano Perez Tolentino, referring to the record hatchling release June 28. He supervises turtle recovery camps for the Secretario de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, the Tamaulipas state natural resource agency. "Because all camps that are involved with the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle will release many, many turtles and hopefully, in 15 years, these turtles will return to the same area to begin their nesting process."
In 1978, the first year record-keeping began, 924 Ridley nests were recorded in Mexico. The numbers then steadily dropped to a record low of 702 in 1985, the dark days when many scientists believed the turtle was heading for extinction. Mexico had declared Rancho Nuevo the nation's first reserve for sea turtle conservation in 1977. It was here north of Tampico in 1947 that Andres Herrera shot film that rocked the wildlife science world, showing an arribada of an estimated 40,000 nesting females on a single day. But years of uncontrolled human poaching and natural predation had already taken a toll in previous decades. It takes 10-15 years for the turtle to reach sexual maturity. So, even after the nesting beaches were protected, by the mid-1980s scientists were still seeing the lag effect of adult females killed in earlier years.
Still, scientists persevered. In 1981, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asked the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville to administer U.S. field operations in support of the Mexican conservation effort. Early work focused on protecting nesting beaches near Rancho Nuevo, but in 1988, they created a second camp to the south near Barra del Tordo.
Today, a half dozen camps each summer now host dozens of biologists, patrol technicians, grad students and volunteers from both nations, who live in primitive conditions that are nonetheless far superior to earlier decades. Each day they patrol the beaches on All-Terrain Vehicles, looking for nesting females. When they find one, they carefully dig up the eggs and take them back to protected corrals at the camps. About 45 days later, the eggs hatch and teams take the hatchlings down to the shoreline at night and let them crawl the last few yards into the Gulf. In spite of the human helping hand, scientists estimate that less than one percent of the hatchlings survive to maturity.
For many years, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the USFWS have provided funding to help keep the Mexican camps staffed and running, realizing that if Ridleys were to survive in Texas and U.S. waters, the key was supporting the Mexico nesting beaches.
In 1995, a new and unexpected partner emerged on the scene. Dr. Pat Burchfield of the Gladys Porter Zoo had gone to speak at a Texas shrimp industry meeting. This intrigued Les Hodgson, co-owner of Marco Sales, a Brownsville shrimp wholesaler, and he began a crusade to involve commercial shrimp fishermen in the Ridley recovery. Shrimpers had been blamed as one reason for the turtle's decline, and in the 1990s they were required to start using Turtle Excluder devices, essentially holes in shrimp trawls (nets) that allow sea turtles to escape and avoid drowning.
"Pat Burchfield explained to us how important it was to keep a balance in nature," Hodgson said. "How if you lose a specie it has an effect on another specie that has an effect on another specie. And if we want to maintain a good shrimp stock out in the Gulf, we've got to maintain a healthy environment for all the different animals out there."
Hodgson and others got U.S. shrimpers to buy into the project, including Wild American Shrimp, the marketing arm of the organization that represents shrimpers in eight southern U.S. states along the Gulf and the Atlantic. They approached their Mexican counterparts with the organization CANAINPES about working together.
"They held their next meeting and came back and said only on one condition," Hodgson recalls. "And we said uh-oh what's that, and they said we want to be truly 50 percent partners with you. So together, the Mexican industry bought the property here at Tepehuajes, and between the fishermen from both countries, we spent about two months down here building the 12-bed facility for the biologists that run this camp." Tepehaujes is the second most important Ridley turtle nesting beach.
The shrimpers, nonprofit environmental conservation groups and others also lobbied the U.S. government for continued funding in years when lean federal budgets threatened the project.
In 2000, the TPW Commission passed state regulations that set a seasonal commercial shrimp fishing closure from near Corpus Christi to the Mexican border, extending from the beach out to five nautical miles from December to mid-July. This was done to better manage the shrimp fishery, but it had the effect of protecting turtles during nesting season, which runs roughly May-July.
By the early years of this decade, turtle nestings in both nations had been steadily climbing for years, the fruit of many decades of sustained cooperative work.
In the last few years, the Mexican government, with funding and support from the shrimpers, has been working to involve the local people near the turtle beaches, many of whom lost their livelihoods when turtle egg sales were prohibited. The Tamaulipan governor's wife recently led an effort to bring artists and teachers to the small village near Tepehaujes, looking for a way to bring new tourist dollars tied to the sea turtles into the community. A commercial kiln was funded and today local men, women and children make ceramic sea turtle art objects that are sold at the Gladys Porter Zoo and other locations.
What will it take to declare the Ridley project a true success? The recovery plan approved by government agencies involved calls for a total of 10,000 nesting females to "downlist" the specie from endangered to threatened. Experts estimate that would take about 30,000 total nestings in a single year. Based on current trends, Peña says the project could hit that mark by 2012.

[ Note: This item is more than 11 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]
July 3, 2006
State Park Economic Returns Exceed Operating Costs
AUSTIN, Texas -- The economic benefits from Texas state parks far exceed the cost to operate them. This key finding was highlighted by a university researcher in a recent briefing to the Texas State Parks Advisory Committee, which meets again in Austin on July 14.
John Crompton, Ph.D., a professor with the Texas A&M University Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences, made a presentation to the advisory committee on May 19. The committee was appointed by Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Chairman Joseph Fitzsimons to examine funding alternatives for state parks and other issues.
Crompton and his colleagues were commissioned to study the economic value of 80 state parks across Texas by the Texas Coalition for Conservation, a nonprofit umbrella group formed to support parks and natural resource conservation in Texas.
"I read the 1998 report A&M put out called Texas Outdoors: A Vision for the Future, which had a small blurb on the economic value of parks, and I told [State Parks Director] Walt Dabney that we needed to get the A&M experts to expand on this topic," said George Bristol, Texas Coalition for Conservation director. "The department didn't have the resources to do it, so we raised close to $100,000 to fund the study."
As a result, the A&M team interviewed 11,709 state park visitors for "The Economic Contributions of Texas State Parks" research report issued in 2005.
"Our research proved that state parks attract non-resident visitors to local areas," Crompton said. "These visitors spend money locally, and this new money from outside the region creates income and jobs for area residents."
The 80 state parks in the study generated an estimated total of $793 million in sales, $456 million impact on residents' incomes and an estimated 11,928 jobs.
Crompton emphasized that only expenditures of park visitors from outside the host counties were measured. Spending by local residents and "casual" visitors attracted to the community for other reasons was excluded. The research thus measured only economic benefits drawn to local areas by state parks.
For example, during the study Mustang Island State Park cost $52,000 more to operate than was covered by park revenue from entrance and camping fees- Crompton said this represents the state's net investment. In return, the park generated 47 jobs and more than $1.4 million in income for Nueces County residents.
In a recent survey, Crompton said tourists from outside Texas ranked the things that were most important to them. The top 10 were 1. Pretty Scenery, 2. Historical Sites, 3. Beautiful Beaches, 4. Interesting Wildlife, 5. Opportunities for Adventure, 6. Museums, 7. State Parks, 8. Festivals or Special Events, 9. Lakes & Boating Activities and 10. Good Hiking Trails.
"Tourism is a major component of the Texas economy, attractions drive tourism, and state parks operate more of these desired attractions than any other entity in the state," Crompton said.
Further, he argued that investing in maintaining and improving parks increases their economic value.
"State parks are analogous to retail stores," he said. "Economic success depends on what happens inside the facility. Investments in park services and amenities thus mean more visitors and higher per capita expenditures, which equals higher revenues to the state and more jobs and income for local residents."
Complete economic data for all 80 state parks studied by the university team are on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Web site.
On the Net:

[ Note: This item is more than 11 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [AR]
July 3, 2006
TPWD Game Warden Field Notes
The following are excerpts from recent Texas Parks and Wildlife Department law enforcement reports.
It's some kind of animal, and someone killed it -- On June 20, a Cherokee County game warden received information from his partner about a deer carcass that had been dumped on a county road. The game warden proceeded to contact a local county constable, who had the person in custody for illegal dumping of televisions and the deer carcass. The game warden interviewed the Jacksonville man, who said he found the deer on his property and just wanted it off his property. The game warden went to the subject's house and found where the deer had been cleaned and found quartered deer meat in the freezer. The subject told the game warden the meat was from a butchered cow. He later confessed that he did not shoot the deer but let his friend clean the deer at his house. The game warden and constable made contact with the friend. He confessed to shooting the deer, but said he thought the deer was a goat. Cases pending.
The toughest call a game warden gets -- As marine safety enforcement officers, game wardens respond to all Texas boating accident calls and numerous drownings and near-drownings. The most difficult of those cases to work are the ones involving children. In mid-June, central Texas game wardens responded to a call about a missing 8-year-old boy last seen on a sand bar in Lake Buchanan. Game wardens, LCRA rangers and area dive teams searched lake until dark with no success. The next day at daylight, the wardens were hampered by storms for a few hours then hit the water with drags. A Department of Public Safety helicopter was called in to assist due to shallow and clear water conditions. The young boy surfaced during the search and was recovered by game wardens Saturday afternoon.
Never was much good at math -- On June 16, Aransas County game wardens apprehended a commercial bait shrimp boat with 2,600 croaker over his legal limit of 1,500. When asked how many corake he had, the captain stated that he had exactly 1,500. The game wardens asked him if he was sure, because they were about to count them. The captain allowed as how he might have a few over his limit. Cases pending.
Crowded waterways call for extra care -- On June 4, game wardens from Clay and Wichita Counties responded to a boating accident on Lake Arrowhead involving a 5-year-old boy who was swimming next to a boat while holding on to a ski rope. The rope, which was wrapped around the boy's leg, was caught by another passing boat, causing partial amputation of the boy's leg just below the knee. The game wardens were within 1,000 yards of the accident and assisted the victim and his family off the lake and to the hospital within five minutes of the accident. The victim's prognosis for recovery was said to be good.
Lunker citation for poacher -- In early June a Coryell County game warden received information about a subject who, although under a license suspension for killing a 200-class white-tailed deer at night, had been participating in fishing tournaments. The subject had fished in a tournament on Lake Belton and won first place, and the game warden found that he was going to fish in another tournament June 11th and June 12th. The Coryell County game warden, along with a game warden from Bell County, both were in attendance at the 2 a.m. tournament weigh-in. The subject gave the wardens a written statement, and a Class A misdemeanor charge of fish while license suspended is pending.
Could be they had too much to drink -- Three game wardens stopped a boat on Lake LBJ early in the evening of June 9 and observed 38 empty beer cans in the boat and an extremely intoxicated operator. The subject could not figure out how to put on a suspender PFD and had it on backwards with the collar over his forehead. After assistance from the wardens, the suspect was taken to the bank where he performed poorly on the SFSTs and was transported to Llano County Jail. The passenger was arrested for public intoxication after he was observed to have difficulty just standing in the boat. The operator, the passenger, two dogs (apparently sober), boat, trailer and vehicle all ended up in jail or impound.
That had to be a sinking feeling -- On June 5, the Camp County sheriff contacted the local game warden and requested help in the recovery of a vehicle sunk in Lake Bob Sandlin. The proud owner of a 2006 F-150 Ford pickup had driven to his lake house to retrieve a battery charger. He got out of his truck and turned around in time to see the truck race down the hill and into the lake. The truck floated for a short time before it sank approximately 50 feet from shore in 15 feet of water. The game warden was asked to SCUBA dive and connect a chain to the bumper hitch. When the vehicle was pulled from the lake, it was discovered that gearshift was in reverse instead of park. The vehicle had only 5,000 miles on the odometer and a beautiful leather interior.