From the Pen of Robert L. Cook
Along about this time of year, with the holiday season and all the friends and family, football games and a thousand good reasons to be outdoors, I wonder, “Where did the year go?” It passes so fast; there is so much to do. So I pause to reflect on our accomplishments of 2004, and I ask myself, “Did we do enough?”
First, we exceeded what I hoped to accomplish on the most critical conservation issue in Texas — water. We have been successful in raising the awareness of the importance of water for fish and wildlife and outdoor recreation in the minds of Texans, and especially in the minds of our constituents who hunt, fish, boat, hike, bike, camp, swim and who appreciate the great outdoors of Texas. Along with lots of help from our partners in conservation, we successfully initiated an understanding of the critical value and importance of good range and habitat management on private land in Texas — and its positive impact on the quality and quantity of water through filtration into the soil, aquifer recharge, rejuvenation of springs and instream flow in our creeks and rivers. An abundant supply of water for fish and wildlife and for all Texans is the single most important conservation issue of the century. Our efforts to keep water issues front and center in the mind of Texans will continue in 2005 with a documentary airing on PBS in February, the water-focused edition of the magazine in July and several other initiatives.
Along with our freshwater fishermen and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, we successfully kicked off the process to replace the 75-year-old fish hatchery at Jasper with the new East Texas Regional Fish Hatchery. The foundation received partnership proposals from seven different communities, river authorities and corporations across East Texas. The Jasper County partnership proposal, which included the city, county, Lower Neches Valley Authority, the Corps of Engineers and Temple-Inland land, valued at approximately $28 million over the 50-year life of the program, was recommended by the foundation to our commission. This new fish hatchery will annually provide millions of fingerling bass and catfish for lakes throughout Texas, ensuring that Texans will have excellent fishing for decades to come.
In June 2004, we celebrated the graduation of 36 Game Warden Cadets and strategically assigned them to duty stations across the state. In September, we funded and selected another class of 40 game warden cadets who will begin their rigorous six-month training and education program in January 2005, which will increase our force of field game wardens to more than 500 for the first time in almost 20 years.
In 2004, we celebrated the grand opening of our wonderful facilities at the World Birding Center Headquarters near Mission, and significant progress at our Sheldon Lake Environmental Learning Center in Houston. We made critical purchases of land to conserve Houston toad habitat while at the same time enlarging Bastrop State Park. We continued our successful efforts and partnerships to re-establish the wild turkey in East Texas and the desert bighorn sheep in West Texas. Finally, with the full cooperation and support of our constituents, we successfully implemented a fee increase for hunting, fishing, boating licenses, and increased our park fees to pay for conservation in Texas. Conservation of our natural resources in Texas truly is a “user-pay, user-benefit” program. These are just a few of our accomplishments, none of which could have been achieved without the support, involvement and hard work of our constituents and the citizens of Texas.