A 2017 national survey that included thousands of Texas adults and children showed an alarming disconnect between our increasingly urban citizenry and the natural world. Yet, the study also detailed how Texans highly value parks, camping, and outdoor adventure, and it showed great promise to reconnect people with nature, if the right resources and opportunities are provided.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) would mean transformative change to address this need, scaling up all kinds of outdoor recreation, education, and volunteer efforts across the state. And it would do so in ways that connect with and help more than 1,300 Texas fish and wildlife species of concern and the woods, waters, prairies and coastline they call home.
Up to 10 percent of the estimated $63 million per year RAWA would bring to Texas could be spent to increase public access to and participation in the outdoors, in partnership with nonprofits, local governments, universities and other partners. This could fuel big new opportunities for wildlife-watching, nature photography, camping, kayaking, hiking, and other nature-based recreation.
Right now many Texans are unaware of the wildlife conservation work done by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and others. Funding to improve the existing networks of Great Texas Wildlife Trails, develop new sites, and better communicate access opportunities for the state’s 4.4 million wildlife viewers will help bridge this gap. RAWA could also scale up Texas Paddling Trails to better serve the more than 1 million paddlers in Texas—the program currently collaborates with local partners to manage 135 river access areas that offer paddling, fishing, and wildlife viewing on more than 600 miles of water trails.
Educating audiences that enjoy the outdoors on the importance of habitat conservation while also reconnecting them with nature through outdoor recreation opportunities will improve human health and well-being in Texas, as well as help cultivate the next generation of conservationists.
Texas State Parks and the millions of people who visit them would benefit from RAWA investments. Parks provide vital habitat for species in need, as well as settings for outdoor fun and learning about wildlife. This funding could greatly enhance visitor experiences at Texas’s 95 state parks and natural areas, 47 wildlife management areas and eight fish hatcheries, which today comprise 1.4 million acres managed in the public trust for recreation and conservation.
And, since more than 95% of the Texas landscape is privately owned, expanding successful private land leasing programs, such as the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, would improve public access for outdoor recreation on private lands, with the potential to impact millions of acres for species in need.
RAWA could also scale up partnerships with classroom educators and health and physical education instructors to foster lifelong interest in outdoor recreational activities. Studies have shown that getting kids off the couch and out into nature addresses a host of modern ills, from childhood obesity to attention deficit disorder, improving children’s health and academic performance. And it could expand the availability of training and curriculum tools to educators and conservation partners, educating people about the importance of river riparian zones, habitat connectivity, mountain sky islands, wildlife corridors, and other sensitive habitats.
Photos courtesy: TPWD