Threats to Texas Parks Continue, But Funding Still Lacking

Media Contacts

Environment Texas

AUSTIN – Pointing to a continuing crisis with Texas parks and natural areas, Environment Texas called on a legislative task force to finally meet and develop a plan to stop raiding parks funding for other purposes. The group also delivered to Lt Gov Dewhurst petitions signed by more than 2100 Texans calling on him to support a “long-term solution to give Texans the world class parks system we deserve”.

“With severe damage to several parks from Hurricane Ike, sprawling developments threatening natural areas, and years of funding shortages leaving our parks in disrepair, now, more than ever, our state and local parks need proper funding,” said Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger. “What’s infuriating is, the money is already there, it’s just being diverted to other purposes by the Legislature”. 

Since 1993, the state of Texas has funded the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) in part through a tax on sporting goods. Although this tax produces more than $100 million in revenues per year, legislators in 1995 capped the funding for TPW at $32 million per year – unadjusted for inflation. In 2007, the Legislature used mainly general revenues and new voter-approved bonds to almost triple funding for the parks for two years. However, they did not lift the cap permanently, deferring to an interim committee to decide its fate. With just a few months left before the Legislature convenes again, that committee has not convened even a single meeting.

A new report released by Environment Texas today evaluated the experience of 15 states in securing reliable funding for open space programs.   According to Preserving Our Natural Heritage, America lost 21.6 million acres of forests, fields, and farmland to development from 1992 to 2003 – an area larger than the state of Maine.  To stem this tide, several states set up programs to buy up remaining open space before it is lost to the next subdivision. For example, since 1991 the state of Florida has provided more then $2 billion in funding to protect natural areas as part of the successful Florida Forever program.

In contrast, in 2006 a state parks task force reported that Texas had not had a major land acquisition program since 1967. In 2007, the Legislature only appropriated money for acquisition of new parkland from the sale of existing parkland and appropriated some funds to add land to existing parks. 

“With the real-estate market still reeling, Texas has a chance to protect our cherished landscapes at bargain prices,” said Metzger.  “But without stable funding schemes, we are missing this historic opportunity to protect our natural heritage.”

Funding shortfalls at TPW affect the ability of local governments to protect open space as well. Historically, TPW has devoted just over one-half of its revenues from the sporting goods tax to provide grants to local governments for the acquisition and development of local parks facilities. However, since 1993, TPW has had to reject more than 60 percent of applications (for a total of $185 million in unfunded requests), because of a lack of funding.  

Environment Texas called on the Legislature to create stable and substantial funding for state and local parks by permanently removing the cap on the sporting goods tax and creating a major land acquisition program to meet the state’s growing demand for outdoor recreation and to protect critical natural areas and water resources.