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From the Pen of Robert L. Cook

I like history, especially history about fish, wildlife and parks in Texas.

Early in 1836 Davy Crockett wrote home to the folks in Tennessee that Texas was … “the garden spot of the world.” History also tells us that between 1844 and 1853, a trading post in Waco shipped 75,000 deer hides to New York in addition to “large numbers of buffalo, bear, and small pelts.” In 1861, our state’s first game law closed the quail season on Galveston Island for two years. In 1874, the Legislature passed the first laws protecting saltwater fish. The state’s first fish hatchery was constructed at Barton Springs near Austin in 1881. By 1885 the last wild bison had disappeared, the last grizzly bear was killed in 1900, and in 1904 the last jaguar was reportedly killed near Goldthwaite. In 1903 the hunting season on pronghorn antelope was closed.

One hundred years ago this month, in 1907, a “game department” was added to the Office of Fish and Oyster Commissioner, creating the Texas Game, Fish and Oyster Commission, charged with the conservation of fish and wildlife in Texas, and Texas game wardens were empowered to enforce all state game and fish laws. The first hunting licenses were required in 1909, and 5,000 licenses were sold that year. By that date, however, many fish and wildlife populations in Texas were at an all-time low, and they continued to decline through the early 20th century. In 1919, six game wardens patrolled the entire state, so it is safe to say that we still had a long way to go.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, we made measurable progress. In 1923, the State Parks Board was created, which marked the birth of our current system of state parks and historic sites. In 1927, 24 state park sites were donated and accepted by the 40th Legislature. By 1929 we had 80 game wardens patrolling Texas, deer trapping and restocking had begun, and we had six fish hatcheries in operation. During the 1930s, 31 state parks were developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps and other federal work programs. In 1937 the U.S. Congress passed the Pittman-Robertson Act, which earmarked an 11 percent excise tax on firearms and ammunition for fish and wildlife research and management through the state game and fish agencies.

We completed our first game warden training school in 1946, and in the late ’40s acquired our first wildlife management areas for research and demonstration purposes. In the early ’50s, Congress passed the Dingell-Johnson Act, requiring an excise tax on sport-fishing equipment, which continues to provide funds for state fisheries research and management. By the late ’50s, we had 210 game wardens, a dozen large wildlife management areas and 58 parks … but we had also seen the last native desert bighorn sheep in Texas disappear due to diseases brought in by domestic sheep.

The State Parks Board and the Game and Fish Commission merged into the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1963. While many fish and wildlife populations were recovering, the red wolf disappeared from Southeast Texas in the 1970s. In 1983 the Legislature passed the Wildlife Conservation Act, placing total authority for managing fish and wildlife resources in all Texas counties in the hands of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Today TPWD operates 112 state parks/historic sites, 52 wildlife management areas, five freshwater fish hatcheries and three saltwater fish hatcheries. Texas’ state parks, historic sites, wildlife, fisheries and law enforcement resources are among the best in North America. We work closely with other state and federal agencies and with private landowners across the state. However, there is much to do and many concerns. We need every Texan to be involved and to be part of the solution … or it won’t happen. The jaguar and the red wolf are probably gone forever, but working together, we have successfully restored many species. Habitat conservation on an ecosystem scale benefits many diverse species of plants and animals.

Get involved. Be part of our conservation history, and best of all, Get Outdoors.

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