With a deep belief in partnerships for conservation, Richard C. Bartlett, Chairman of The Nature Conservancy of Texas, explores the past and ongoing efforts of individuals and groups—private, public, federal, and state—to save the best of Texas' natural landscapes and the myriad species of plants and animals they support. Drawing on some 100,000 miles of backroads travel, Bartlett vividly describes many of the areas that, through a commitment to partnerships, have already been preserved in their natural state. Fine color photographs by Leroy Williamson provide a striking visual counterpoint to the text.
These words and images give well-deserved credit to the people responsible for saving some of the best of Texas. They also highlight the need to continue to join together to preserve our natural environment so that the beauty and diversity we enjoy today will be available for future generations. It is the author's hope that Saving the Best of Texas will be a catalyst in that process.
In the summer of 1994, along with three of my colleagues from Texas Parks and Wildlife, I had the privileged experience of viewing the last free-ranging herd of bison in the United States. They are in Texas and in danger of disappearing altogether, as the few remaining of our once-numerous vast ranches are themselves an endangered species.
It is because of this remarkable heritage of private land stewardship and a historic partnership with game wardens and biologists of state government that Texas today harbors the most prolific wildlife diversity in the United States. Thanks to enlightened management by private landowners, financing from hunters and anglers, and one of the nation's strongest state conservation programs, Texas has the largest population of white-tailed deer in the country, harvests more wild turkey than existed in the state before World War II, and is the number-one destination for bird-watching in the world.
Ironically, even as we reap the benefits of generations of public-private cooperation, the foundation for our cornucopia of natural diversity is threatened as never before. On one hand, as Texas families continue to migrate away from ancestral holdings, leaving more and more tracts of prime native country to subdivision and conversion, our most productive and diverse wildlife habitat is slowly and relentlessly evolving out of existence. Yet on the other hand, private landowners are more anxious about the role of government in their lives than ever before, and this very anxiety is today as great a threat to the future of natural diversity in Texas as an economic factor.
Such threats to Texas' natural treasures could not come at a more inopportune time. Nature tourism is the fastest-growing sector of the global travel industry, and rural Texas communities in desperate need of economic opportunity offer the best outdoor experiences money can buy. In this decade, for example, the Big Bend region has surpassed the Alamo as our number-one destination for out-of-state visitors. As such resources become more scarce and inaccessible, we lose the promise of new and much-needed wealth to other states with more commitment than Texas to investment in outdoor infrastructure. On a per capita basis Texas, in fact, ranks thirty-first among the states in the acreage of parkland we have managed to preserve, and we are near the bottom in our investment in the outdoors.
Beyond economics—and much more alarming, as Richard Bartlett and Leroy Williamson so eloquently convey on these pages—key components of our Texas natural heritage are already close to extinction, including remarkably diverse bottomland hardwood forests in eastern Texas and critically needed aquifer recharge lands in the Hill Country. Tragically, in a land that was once almost entirely grasslands, only tiny remnants of Texas' native meadows remain today.
Against this sobering backdrop, the most promising possibilities arise from a resurgence of the spirit of partnership, which delivered this great legacy to our time. Today, private organizations like The Nature Conservancy of Texas and the Trust for Public Lands are teaming up with landowners and government in defense of nature. Additionally, many of Texas' largest corporations have become significant and frequent contributors to conservation. The most recent entrant is the Parks and Wildlife Foundation of Texas, which in a matter of months has helped protect two of Texas' most critically threatened river-bottom hardwood forests.
As I read Saving the Best of Texas, I thought of those last magnificent buffalo and wondered whether they and the habitat that sustains them will be there for my grandchildren. The only thing I know for sure is that they will not be unless we work together as partners to save them.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department