We all knew the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was on the chopping block amid sweeping state budget cutbacks. The only question was how much of a bite would be taken from the agency’s dwindling pie.
Now we know, and like other state agencies forced to tighten their belts, it will leave a less than desired aftertaste.
The TPWD Commission on Thursday approved a $332.3 million budget for the first year of the 2012-13 biennium. By comparison, the agency’s budget the first year of the 2010-11 framework was $468.8 million. Like other state agencies, TPWD seeks appropriations from the Texas Legislature in two-year increments and the agency had asked for about $700 million to operate during the next two years. It got about $150 million less than what it sought.
Two years ago, TPWD dealt with state-mandated 5 percent cuts and curbed a number of what most Texans may consider non-essential services. However, facing what effectively are cuts four times that much now, the outlook certainly won’t be as rosy.
TPWD’s 2011 fiscal year budget of $423.2 million was divided up much the way previous allotments had been to fund a variety of programs across the state, most notably the agency’s state parks division. This year, state park spending totaled $110.5 million, 26 percent of the overall budget, while capital construction accounted for about 23 percent and consisted mostly of unused balances on bond propositions targeted for a variety of statewide repairs. The law enforcement division received $58.4 million (13.8 percent) while the wildlife and inland and coastal fisheries divisions comprised 16.5 percent of the budget. Wildlife received $30.3 million while inland fisheries received $20.1 million and coastal fisheries got $18.9 million.
A further breakdown of the budget shows what likely could be an area that sees the heaviest reductions: Personnel. Thirty-five percent of the budget or almost $148 million went toward salaries for more than 3,000 employees.
TPWD is funded through a mix of general revenue, federal and other funds, including through the Game, Fish and Water Safety Account, also known as Account 9. That revenue is generated through hunting and fishing license and stamp and permit sales, as well as federal funds appropriated specifically for hunting and fishing restoration purposes and boat registration and titling fees. This year, Account 9 accounted for $129 million, or 30.5 percent of the budget, its largest revenue stream. Another general-revenue dedicated account, the State Parks Account, brought in $45.4 million and accounted for 10.7 percent of the budget. Account 64 generates those funds through entrance and use fees at state parks as well as receiving a portion of state sales tax revenue on sporting goods purchases.
The other large revenue stream for the agency is the General Revenue Fund, which consists mostly of allocations of sporting goods sales tax. This year Fund 1 accounted for almost $114 million.
It’s clear that the future of TPWD operations continues to rest with hunters, anglers, state park users and others who pump revenue into funding the pursuits they enjoy, but how much of an effect that will have on improving the budget situation is murky at best. It increasingly has become evident that may not be enough to avoid losing out on some of the best opportunities the state has to offer.
I’ve always said that those of us who partake in outdoor pursuits are the best conservationists. At least for the next couple of years, that statement truly will be put to the test.
Waterfowl seasons: The TPWD Commission also finalized duck, goose and crane seasons for this fall and winter. The frameworks are similar to this past season and the High Plains Mallard Management Unit again will see the longest waterfowl seasons. Duck seasons here will run Oct. 29-30 and Nov. 4 through Jan. 29 with dusky duck seasons again beginning a week later and running through the end of the regular waterfowl date. The daily bag for ducks remains six, with a max of five mallards, only two of which can be hens. The other limits are three wood ducks, two scaup, two redheads, two pintails, one canvasback and one dusky duck. For any other species the daily limit is six per hunter.
The goose and sandhill crane frameworks in the western zone and zone A, which includes the Rolling Plains, again will run concurrently from Nov. 5 through Feb. 5. The daily limit on light geese in these areas is 20 while hunters may harvest five dark geese in the aggregate with no more than one white-fronted goose. The daily limit on cranes again is three with a possession limit of six birds. The light goose conservation order will run Feb. 6 through March 25 and again features no bag or possession limits to go along with more liberal hunting methods, such as the use of electronic calls.
Check for bands: Dove season begins Thursday across much of Texas and TPWD biologists have one message for hunters: Check the legs of birds you harvest for metal bands. The bandings are part of an effort to study the effect of hunting and habitat change on populations. Mourning doves and white-winged doves have been banded by biologists with a unique identification number and hunters are urged to report that data either by calling 800-327-BAND or by visiting www.reportband.gov.