TPWD’s Top 10 Texas Conservation News Stories of 2008
Texas state parks, which recently received a welcome shot in the arm in the form of additional funding from the Texas legislature, made two important acquisitions during 2008. In September, TPWD acquired the approximately 2,900-acre Fortress Cliffs Ranch, protecting some six miles of Palo Duro Canyon rim. In November, the Nature Conservancy of Texas acquired the 7,000-acre Fresno Ranch, with plans to transfer it to TPWD to become part of Big Bend Ranch State Park. Fresno Ranch was the largest remaining inholding in Texas’ largest state park.
2. Hurricane Ike Rocks Texas Coast
Hurricane Ike made landfall at the eastern end of Galveston Island in the early morning hours of Sept. 13, the ninth named storm of the 2008 Atlantic Hurricane System. Ike was the third-costliest hurricane in U.S. history, with damage to U.S. coastal areas estimated at $27 billion. The storm is blamed for the deaths of 82 people in the United States, with more than 200 still missing. More than 6,000 storm evacuees sheltered in Texas state parks and hundreds of Texas game wardens performed search and rescue missions after Ike’s 12-17-foot storm surge rolled across southeast Texas. In the days following the storm, search and rescue and the distribution of food and water gave way to the grim task of search and recovery. Ike’s impact on the coastal environment was profound, but by no means entirely negative. We’ve highlighted some Ike reports below. For images, see: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/newsmedia/news_images/?g=hurricane_ike_-_high_resolution
3. Final State Park in World Birding Center series opens
Resaca de la Palma State Park, the second new state park TPWD opened in the Valley this decade, and the largest of nine sites that comprise the World Birding Center in the lower Rio Grande Valley, officially opened Dec. 6. The 1,200-acre park, like other units in the World Birding Center, shows-off the region’s spectacular diversity of bird, butterfly and dragonfly species. Resaca de la Palma was made possible in part by increased funding provided by the Texas Legislature in 2007.
4. State-of-the-art Fish Hatchery Under Construction
Officials broke ground on a $27 million freshwater fish hatchery in East Texas this November. The facility, when completed in 2010, will double the state’s freshwater fish production and will replace the 70-year-old hatchery at Jasper.
5. Game Wardens Work To Stop Illegal Deer Trafficking
Texas game wardens, often working undercover, this year cracked down on the illegal trapping and smuggling of white-tailed deer. A series of high-profile arrests sent a strong warning to those who may want to profit illegally from public wildlife resources.
6. Man Convicted in Game Warden Killing
A Wharton County jury took just two-and-a-half hours Nov. 3 to return a verdict of “guilty, capital murder” in the trial of 27-year-old James Garrett Freeman, of Lissie, who shot and killed Texas Game Warden Justin Hurst March 17, 2007. Seventeen Texas game wardens have died in the line of duty since 1919.
7. Biologists to Manage Deer According to Biological Communities
TPWD wildlife biologists this year proposed a number of deer hunting regulation changes that reflect a broader move away from managing deer according to political boundaries such as county lines. Instead, biologists have identified 33 unique resource management units across the state, part of a continuing effort to base Texas wildlife conservation on the best available science. Lands within each RMU have similar soils, vegetation types and land use practices. Scoping of the potential regulation changes is underway now and a comprehensive set of proposals will be presented to the TPW Commission in January.
8. Wetlands Restoration Completed
Brown pelicans, reddish egrets and white-faced ibises received a reprieve when a coalition of conservation organizations and local businesses finished restoring 1.7 miles of North Deer Island shoreline this year. The island, in Galveston Bay, is the most productive bird nesting island on the Texas Gulf Coast, with up to 30,000 pairs of nesting birds resident each year. Partners barged in 24,100 tons of rock from a quarry in Missouri-using the Mississippi River and the Intracoastal Waterway as a route-to create 6,450 feet of stone breakwater and armored shoreline. The planning, engineering, and construction costs for the eight-year endeavor totaled more than $3.2 million dollars.
9. Bear, Bighorn Comebacks Hopeful Signs for Texas Wildlife
Some of the Lone Star State’s largest animals are making a comeback – some with a little help, some on their own. The desert bighorn sheep, extirpated from its native range in Texas in the 1950s, is now being observed in the highest numbers seen since the late 1880s. Thanks largely to efforts by TPWD, private landowners and the Texas Bighorn Society, wild sheep in Texas this year increased to a record nearly 1,200. Black bears, once common across the state, largely disappeared by the 1930s due to habitat loss and unregulated hunting. Now, resident and reproducing populations are found in far West Texas, with increasingly frequent sightings of bears in the East Texas Pineywoods and in South Texas.
10. Outreach Efforts Entice Urban Texans to Outdoors
Several programs designed to reconnect an increasingly urban population with the outdoors gained traction in 2008. TPWD’s Outdoors Family weekend workshops expanded into state parks, giving families with children between the ages of 5 and 12 more chances to explore the great outdoors and learn skills like camping, fishing, kayaking and archery.
Also in 2008, TPWD partnered with the City of Arlington to open the first Texas Paddling Trail in North Texas and the first in a major metropolitan area. The nearly-11-mile-long route on Lake Arlington is the eighth inland paddling trail in Texas and the 15th designated Texas Paddling Trail.
The department also expanded a program designed to make fishing more accessible, especially for young people, the Neighborhood Fishin’ Program. In 2008, TPWD and the Travis County Parks Department added Bullfrog Pond in Travis County’s East Metro Park to a list of more than a dozen sites in nine urban areas where the department stocks fish regularly throughout the year.
As outdoor traditions have faded in an increasingly urbanized Texas, so have the skills needed to participate in some traditional sports, such as hunting. TPWD pilot-tested a new program to address the issue this year-the first mentored hunting workshop to teach hunting skills, safety, ethics, game processing and preparation, and elements of habitat management.