Top Texas Conservation Stories of 2002
AUSTIN, Texas -- The year 2002 revealed a suite of milestones large and small
that directly or indirectly affected everyone who loves Texas history, state
parks, hunting, fishing and the great outdoors. In all of it you'll find the two
sides of the conservation coin-you see much left in Texas that is great and
worth saving, as well as the dire threats that could dramatically alter our way
of life for generations to come.
Some stories reported immediate peril, like the record floods of July or the
deadly threat of Chronic Wasting Disease. Others promised happier times ahead,
like the opening of a new state park and a huge volunteer effort to clean up
Texas bays. Some events set the tone for years to come, like the creation of a
sweeping plan to guide Texas land and water conservation for the next decade,
and the appointment of a longtime Texas wildlife biologist to head the Texas
Parks and Wildlife Department. Below is a summary of the top 2002 stories from
Land And Water Resources Plan Provides Road Map For Conservation,
Touted as the most comprehensive inventory of natural and cultural resources
ever compiled in Texas and the state's road map for directing future outdoor
recreation and conservation efforts, the TPWD's Land and Water Resources
Conservation and Recreation Plan was completed in 2002. The plan will guide the
agency during the next 10 years in conserving natural and historic resources and
providing public access to the outdoors. The plan sets forth seven strategic and
measurable goals. They are:
- Improve public access to the outdoors.
- Preserve, manage and operate the best and most complete system of state
- Increase support for conservation on private land.
- Increase hunting and fishing participation.
- Improve fishing in inland and coastal waters.
- Improve science and data collection.
- Maintain sufficient water quality and quantity to support the needs of
fish, wildlife and recreation.
These objectives were identified after a thorough analysis of the state's
natural, cultural and recreational resources, along with extensive public input
during a series of public meetings and direction from a seven-member Strategic
Land and Water Planning Committee. The Legislature had directed the Department
to complete the plan in the Sunset Bill passed in 2001 which re-authorized the
agency for an additional 12 years.
State Addresses Threats From Chronic Wasting Disease
Texas borders were closed off to importation of deer and elk for eight months
in 2002 while state agencies developed a plan to minimize the risk of
introducing Chronic Wasting Disease into the state's wild deer herd. Evidence of
the fatal brain disease, (which affects cervids), in wild deer populations in
Wisconsin spurred TPWD to ban all importation in March. New entry requirements
and a voluntary monitoring program for those with Scientific Breeder Permits
were developed by the Texas Animal Health Commission and a comprehensive
response and management plan in the event of a CWD outbreak was adopted by the
TPWD Commission in November. As part of the plan, wildlife officials also began
a statewide CWD testing program in the fall.
Man Gets 55 Years In Death Of Game Warden
In September, Dennis Mouton III of Port Arthur, received 55 years in prison
and a $10,000 fine after being convicted of aggravated assault on a public
servant (a first-degree felony) in the 2001 death of Texas Parks and Wildlife
Department game warden Michael Pauling. Pauling, 47, was killed Aug. 2, 2001. He
was heading to Pleasure Island to work a law enforcement operation with another
warden. While on Hwy 73 just east of Hwy 82, he stopped to assist a woman
apparently in distress on the shoulder of the road. The woman had been arguing
with Mouton and took refuge in Pauling's vehicle while the warden went to check
on the welfare of the couple's two young children in the other vehicle parked
nearby. According to testimony, Mouton then sped off in that vehicle with
Pauling partially inside. Pauling was thrown to the roadway and killed.
New Worldcom License System Delivers
License buyers saw a different look to their hunting and fishing licenses
this fall with the transition to a new format implemented by WorldCom. Rather
than the sales receipt printout license of recent years, new printing technology
enabled TPWD to provide better graphics and a more user-friendly product. The
new version resembles the traditional Texas license with detachable game tags
around the license. The new system also withstood the traditional Labor Day
Weekend rush on license purchases. TPWD licenses expire on Aug. 31 each year.
Texas issues 3.5 million hunting and fishing licenses and special permits
annually through 28 TPWD field offices, more than 100 state parks and at many
sporting goods retailers across Texas.
Crab Trap Cleanup Was Huge Success
From Feb. 16-March 3, 8,070 abandoned crab traps were removed from Texas bays
by volunteers, TPWD coastal fisheries staff and game wardens as part of the
first coastwide cleanup effort. Prior to this year, only the owners of the traps
or TPWD game wardens could legally remove the traps. The 77th Legislature of
Texas created an abandoned crab trap removal program that authorized a crabbing
closure in Texas waters to remove lost and abandoned traps. A total of 554
volunteers assisted and 223 vessels were used, according to TPWD statistics. The
area where the most traps were picked up was Galveston Bay where 3,214 traps
State Park Operations Affected By Deluge
Operations at more than a dozen state parks in south, central and north Texas
were adversely affected following a week of torrential rains that fell right
before the busy July 4th weekend. Garner State Park near Concan closed for a
couple of weeks after suffering considerable damage from a rain-gorged Frio
River that wreaked havoc on campgrounds, shelters, utilities and other parts of
the park's infrastructure. Repairs to the camping loop along the river are
scheduled to be completed in the spring. Landmark Inn State Historic Site in
Castroville, Guadalupe River State Park near Boerne and Palmetto State Park near
Gonzales were temporarily shut down to visitors but reopened after a few days.
TPWD estimates that there was more than $3 million in damage at 18 state parks.
A majority of that damage was at Garner State Park, which was closed for two
Robert L. Cook Named TPWD Executive Director
Robert L. Cook was named Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive
director on Feb. 4. Cook began his career at TPWD in 1965 as a wildlife
biologist, moving up the ranks to manage the Kerr Wildlife Management Area, and
then head the white-tailed deer program. He left in 1979 to work for Shelton
Land and Cattle Company, managing ranches in Texas and Montana. He returned to
TPWD in 1990 and became Wildlife Branch Chief in 1991, Wildlife Division
Director in 1994, and Chief Operating Officer in 1997. "I appreciate the
Commission's confidence in me and am truly honored to accept this
position," said Cook.
Lake Tawakoni State Park Opens
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department representatives gathered with state and
local leaders March 23 for the long-awaited official grand opening of Lake
Tawakoni State Park, the latest addition to the Texas state parks system. The
new 376-acre park draws most of its visitors from the Dallas-Fort Worth
metroplex, as it is located about 50 miles east of Dallas near Wills Point. The
state park provides access to 36,700-acre Lake Tawakoni, a popular water
recreation destination in northeast Texas. TPWD and the Texas Department of
Transportation spent $2.8 million developing the park that includes 78 multi-use
campsites, hiking trails, 40 picnic sites, swimming beach and boat ramp.
Texas: The State Of Water Initiative Rolls Out
In July, Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine fired the first salvo in a
multi-media communication effort called Texas: The State of Water designed to
inform the public about water as a defining resource for Texas' economic and
ecological future. The 100-plus-page special magazine issue included articles on
Texas rivers, springs, aquifers, wetlands and bays. In other parts of the
initiative, the book Texas Rivers by John Graves with photos by Wyman Meinzer
came out in October, water-related episodes are running on the Passport To Texas
radio series, and a one-hour video documentary done in cooperation with PBS
station KERA in Dallas will air on statewide public television in April 2003.
The initiative is produced by TPWD with support from major sponsor Brazos Mutual
Lake Fork Shines with 200th ShareLunker Entry
A flurry of activity in March that netted three entries in TPWD's Budweiser
ShareLunker program firmly reestablished Lake Fork as the reigning "bass
capital of Texas." Lake Fork produced six entries in the 2001-02 season,
including a 16.12 and 15.85-pound fish that ranked among the top fifty largest
bass ever caught in the state. A third fish caught later that same day marked
the first time in the history of the Budweiser ShareLunker program that three
lunkers were caught in the same lake in a single day. Of the total 342 entrees
in the ShareLunker Program at the end of the season, 201 have come from Lake
Fork. The closest challenger to the Lake Fork title is Lake Sam Rayburn with 19