Despite our state’s great size, the rapid development of Texas natural areas is having a deleterious effect on our natural resources and waterways, is jeopardizing Texas’ growing recreation and eco-tourism based industries, and is threatening the beauty, character and rural heritage of the Lone Star State.
As Texas continues its dramatic growth, the stress on our natural areas will only escalate. Every hour, 20 acres of open space are destroyed in Texas to make way for new strip malls and subdivisions. Chronic under-funding of parks protection and open space acquisition have opened the doors to developers to pave over even iconic Texas wild areas such as Big Bend and Caddo Lake. Clearly, Texas has been remiss in its stewardship of our natural heritage.
This report examines specific threats to some of the Texas natural areas at greatest risk and identifies immediate opportunities to help save Texas’ natural heritage.
Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer
Called the “Soul of the City,” Austin’s Barton Springs is known across the state for great swimming and clean drinking water, but encroaching development threatens its future. With at least 7,500 acres of land in the Barton Springs watershed immediately threatened with development, the Austin City Council should include at least $75 million in the November 2006 bond election to acquire sensitive land that will protect this unique natural resource.
Texas State Parks
Already ranked 49th in the nation in per-capita spending on state parks, the Texas Legislature cut $2 million from the budget of the state parks department in 2005. Far from growing to meet the needs of our natural resources and growing population, the parks system is barely surviving. The Legislature should establish sustainable and substantial funding to meet the basic operating and repair needs of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and to support new park acquisition.
Home to beautiful Spanish moss-covered cypress trees and Texas’ only naturally formed lake, the Caddo Lake region has been designated a “Wetland of International Importance” due to its critical habitat for migratory species, such as neotropical songbirds and colonial waterbirds. The U.S. Army has long planned to turn over 2,600 acres of wild areas in the former Longhorn Army Ammunitions Plant to be protected in the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, but a group of developers is seeking instead to use the land to build an industrial park. The development would deeply encroach into the existing wildlife refuge, fragmenting the wildlife habitat. The Army should reject development plans for these critical lands and immediately transfer them to the Fish and Wildlife Service for inclusion in the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
Neches River Bottomland Forests
The old-growth oaks and bald cypress trees along east Texas’ Neches river provide critical habitat to the endangered bald eagle and red cockaded woodpecker and the threatened American Alligator and river otter. However, the area faces significant development pressures and is ranked a “number one priority” for conservation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In March 2005, the agency proposed acquiring up to 25,000 acres of hardwood forests to establish the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, water developers are pressuring Fish and Wildlife to drop plans for the Refuge so they can instead build a reservoir, flooding and destroying the forest. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should move forward immediately with establishing the refuge.
The Padre Island National Seashore hosts the longest remaining stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world and protects dunes, lagoons and rare coastal prairie. However, BNP petroleum is pursuing a plan to drill up to 18 gas wells on Padre over the next 30 years. The federal government should buy out the mineral rights under Padre Island and stop the drilling in this fragile ecosystem.