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Tough times for Texas parks

Between the drought and the budget cuts, Texas parks are hurting.

Image source: TPWD

Dry weather and depleted lakes and rivers from the prolonged drought mean fewer folks are visiting parks or buying hunting and fishing licenses, the head of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department told a legislative committee Tuesday.

If the drought persists, the department may have to temporarily shut down two of the state’s eight fish hatcheries. And some parks could close if the agency’s budget doesn’t improve, Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Carter Smith warned.

“State parks are in a particularly dire situation,” Smith told the House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee.

Revenue from park visits last year dropped $1.2 million from about $39 million the previous year, he said. The decline has continued during the first three months of the new budget year with $928,000 in lower revenue – or down 8.4 percent. Revenue from fishing licenses dropped about 30 percent, or $1.1 million and hunting license revenue declined 5 percent, or $976,000.

The TPWD gets a percentage of the revenues from the sale of sporting goods as well. As the story notes, State Rep. Lyle Larson (R, San Antonio) introduced a bill last session, which he says he will introduce again next year, that would direct all of that revenue to TPWD. That’s all fine and dandy, but as long as revenues dedicated to the TPWD can be hijacked for budget “balancing” purposes, the effect will be limited.

The state still lacks adequate funding to maintain state parks and has virtually no money to buy new park land. Texas ranks last in the country in both state park land and per-person funding for state parks.

“It’s distressing that we are at the bottom of the list. We ought to do better,” former Texas land commissioner and former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior Bob Armstrong told the committee.

I’m a city boy. I don’t do outdoorsy stuff. What’s happening to the parks doesn’t affect me except to the extent that it reflects badly on all of us. I agree with former Commissioner Armstrong, we should do better than that. If you want to do something about that right now, the TPWD needs $4.6 million just to keep from having to close stuff down. Go make a donation online or when you renew your car’s registration. And don’t be like me: Go visit a park, they need all the visitors’ fees they can collect. At least the Lege lets them have that.

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