bra 1,4; of local parks per thousand, a level that would put Texas at the75th percentile in national ranking for state parks. “They all sort of point to the same conclusion,” says Texas Tech President David Schmidly, one of the new study’s authors. “None of them are at odds. with one another.” The problem is, the voluminous studies and reports all point down a path that Texas Parks and Wildlife has shown an increasing unwillingness to travel. “We are not going to launch into a great big acquisi tion campaign,” newly appointed TPWD commission chair Katherine Armstrong I dsal told the Austin Arnerican-Statesman after reading the Tech study. “If I could wave my magic wand and realize everything in the Texas Tech study, per haps I would. My goals have to be tempered by reality. We don’t have the resources to do that.” Which means simply that the Texas Legislature has not appropriated the resources to do that. Voters in Florida and California recently approved billions of dollars in spending for parkland and water acquisitions. The last time the Texas Legislature asked voters to approve such acquisition spending, the result was $75 million in bonds. That was in 1967. And nothingnot recent legislative recommendations that stopped just shy of directing a moratorium on acquisitions, not the silence of the three leading gubernatorial candidates on the i s sue, and not the present state of affairs within TPWDwould indicate that anyone expects any of this to change any time soon. So now, with a shrugging of the wand, we have a pretty good idea of whose needs aren’t going to get addressed any time soon. Makes you wonder whose needs are. The action at TPWD is in, on, and about private land. “The greatest threat yet to wildlife in Texas is the continued breakup of family lands,” wrote outgoing executive director Andy Sansom in his farewell editorial in the December 2001 issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. “We must continue the struggle to keep rural landowners on their properties and to strengthen their capacity as good stewards.” Department veteran Bob Cook, Sansom’s successor, concurred: “Let’s face it, if you really want to have an impact on fish and wildlife in Texas, you’re going to have to do it on private land. We could do everything on public land perfectly, absolutely totally perfectly, and it’s still not enough. It’s absolutely critical that we work very closely with and very , cooperatively with private landowners.” There are several reasons for this focus. Foremost, there’s the bald fact that any meaningful attempt to preserve large habitats and ecosystems is going to have to include the cooperation of private landowners, because it is private landowners, by and’ large, who own those large habitats and ecosystems: 94:3 percent of Texas’ 172 million acres is theirs. Another is that TPWD considers programs oriented toward private lands to be the feather in the agency’s cap, particularly during Sansom’s reign over the past decade. They are part of what his friends and colleagues referred to, upon his departure, as his “vision.” Texas’ landowner assistance programssome of the oldest in the countrydate back to the early 1970s, when five wildlife biologists were hired to help private ‘landowners develop voluntary wildlife management plans. Such programs might include anything from advice about cross-fencing to habitat restoration for endangered songbirds. The effort got a boost in the early 1990s, about the time that Sansom left the non-profit Nature Conservancy to take the helm at TPWD. Sansom installed Kirby Brown to head the, agency’s landowner assistance programs, a post that Brown held until recently, when he retired from the department to take over the executive directorship of the Texas Wildlife Association, a private property lobby and hunting advocacy group that works closely with the agency. “We made it a primary focus,” says Brown. “We hired some additional people, gave the entire staff of the wildlife division that focus, and told them to go out and do good things?’ It’s difficult to tell exactly how many private landowners presently benefit from the department’s landowner programs, and exactly how much Of the department’s resources are directed toward theni. “Efforts to assist private landowners in conservation on their property are diverse, making it difficult to pin down dollar amounts,” explains TPWD communications director Lydia Saldalia. The Staff Report on TPWD of 3/15/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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