We Texans love our native wildlife — mule deer and pronghorn in the Panhandle, bass, turtles and catfish in our freshwater rivers, sandpipers and terns on the Texas coast — and everything in between. But we don’t often think about what a major asset fish and wildlife are to our economy.
Outdoor recreation in Texas generates billions of dollars each year and creates 277,000 jobs. Hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching draw people from all over the world, including right here in Fort Worth, with the recent sightings of the protected tundra and trumpeter swans at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge. As you may know, Fort Worth’s own nature center is one of the largest urban nature parks in the country.
Unfortunately, more than 1,300 of our state’s wildlife species are at risk of becoming endangered. One of these is a hometown favorite, the Texas horned lizard, famed among Texas Christian University fans as the “Horned Frog." Once common across Texas, this dinosaur-like little reptile has become increasingly rare.
For the past decade, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists have worked with TCU researchers and the Fort Worth Zoo to explore reintroducing Texas horned lizards into areas they once occupied. Research includes using radio-transmitters to track movements and survival rates of horned lizards on the McGillivray and Leona McKie Muse Wildlife Management Area southwest of Fort Worth.
The lizard and other iconic species, such as wild turkeys and sea turtles, little noticed cave critters, and majestic ocelots, have been identified as species in need of conservation.
Now for the good news! A proposal recently introduced in Congress would fund projects to keep at-risk species off the threatened and endangered list, without any new taxes.
The bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, H.R. 4647, introduced by Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), would direct $1.3 billion annually in existing royalties from energy and mineral production on federal lands and waters to wildlife conservation. Based on our population and geographic size, Texas is eligible for $63 million per year. The funding may be used for wildlife programs, land acquisition, research and habitat restoration for species at risk of becoming endangered. The legislation is based on recommendations developed by a panel of representatives from the outdoor recreation industry, the oil and gas industry, retail and manufacturing, private landowners, universities, conservation organizations, sportsmen’s groups and state and federal fish and wildlife agencies.
These royalties are not currently earmarked for any specific fund or purpose, and we believe it is time to put this money to work for wildlife.
But this won’t happen unless people who care about our fish and wildlife get involved.
The Texas Alliance for America’s Fish & Wildlife, part of a national coalition of businesses and organizations, urges Texans to support H.R. 4647. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act takes an active approach to address species’ needs before they are listed. Energy and business leaders have referred to H.R. 4647 as “preventive maintenance.” When a species becomes endangered, it adds cost and regulatory uncertainty to oil and gas production and other industries. Keeping species off the endangered species list is good for wildlife, good for business and good for the taxpayers.
More information, including how to let your U.S. representative know about the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, can be found at txwildlifealliance.org. To learn more about the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge visit naturecenterfriends.org.
Haily Summerford is the executive director, Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge.