Page 29


John Anderson the 2000 Sunset Advisory Commission \(the legislative panel department landowner assistance programs catered to 10,538 landowners representing 10,420,274 acres with funds totaling $2,364,937. In 2001, by point of comparison, TPWD spent $299,767.35 on land acquisition. One of those programs, the Landowner Incentive Program, has handed out more than $1.7 million in grants for conservation projects since its inception in 1997, according to Saldafia.The program is funded in TPWD’s current budget at $725,000 per annum. The agency has also put its scientists at the disposal of private landowners. Ten technical guidance biologists and ten private land biologists provide free assistance to landowners and develop private land management plans all over Texas. According to Parks, however, many other TPWD employees also provide landowner assistance. In fact, Kirby Brown estimates that today almost 15 million acres of private land are being managed under individually tailored wildlife management plans designed and shepherded by some 150 employees of TPWD’s statewide staff. TPWD distributes a “Making Tracts for Wildlife” newsletter quarterly to thousands of Texas landowners, and its Texas Wetlands Registry “helps pair up landowners who voluntarily want to create or enhance wetlands on their property with available funding sources.” Annually, just so the landowners know they’re appreciated, the department bestows upon a dozen or so of them Lone Star Land Steward Awards. “And,” Brown says, “we have tremendous support from private property rights groups, landowner groups, conservation groups, and environmental groups.” Texas Tech’s study shows that 66 percent of large landowners in Texas are indeed “interested in Parks & Wildlife programs that assist landowners.” But a tellingly similar 64 percent “are not interested in opening up their land to provide more outdoor recreational opportunities for others.” Thirtythree percent, meanwhile, are “very interested in generating revenue from hunting rather than other outdoor recreation activities.” See where this is heading? Access for trophy hunters, and nobody else. Meanwhile, the 2000 Sunset Commission report recommended that TPWD focus harder on private landowner programs.The directive is not lost on new executive director Bob Cook, who confirms that such programs will continue to be the department priority that they became under Sansom:”As much or more, yes.” While no one expects landowner programs to solve the access problem, there’s also not much evidenceat least publicly availablethat they’re good for conservation, either. Private wildlife management plans are, as their name suggests, private, subject to no real oversight but that of the landowner. They are also strictly voluntary, and can be stopped, started, or abandoned at any time, for any reason. There is additionally the issue of gauging a plan’s success, or more to the point, the fact that the department has no good way to gauge a plan’s success. “Well,” says Brown, “what we try to do is we work with that landowner on an annual basis, in terms of the active plans, and if the landowner’s moving forward with his plan, we’ll continue to work with him. So the active status really indicates those people that are making progress. Those people who aren’t making progress, we just drop ’em.” In other words, it’s the mere existence of the plan that qualifies it as a conservation success. Maybe it is. Only Rancher Pete and his TPWD man know for sure. Occasionally though, details do surface, and they’re not entirely encouraging. In 1998, two TPWD employees at Davis Mountains State Park noticed suspicious bulldozing on Limpia Creek near Fort Davis, and reported the activity to the Army Corps of Engineers. What the park employees didn’t realize was that the dozing was part of a TPWD-administered, federally funded landowner incentive program designed, ostensibly, to enhance hawk habitat and promote birdwatching eco-tourism. An activist group called TxPeer 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3/15/02