Our Texas Wild
Gone to Texas
Preview from the 2012 Wild Guide
By Steve West
The Panic of 1819 was America’s first financial crisis. During the period after the Panic, because of hard economic conditions at home and the draw of free land, a lot of settlers moved to Texas, which wasthen part of the Republic of Mexico. While many people came from theAmerican South, those who left represented most regions of the United States. Abandoning their homes and land, they would mark on their doors or leave a sign on a fence, “Gone to Texas.” The rest is history. After a war of independence from Mexico, Texas emerged as a republic and then ten years later, in 1845, joined the United States as a state.
Today, Texas is the second most populous state, with over twenty-five million people, representing about 8 percent of the U.S. population. For decades now, millionsof people have followed that old adage and moved to Texas. NMWA has followed. We’ve “Gone to Texas.” Our Texas Wild (OTW) was organized to provide a Texas component of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance to promote environmental education, wildlife corridors, and appreciation of wilderness. There are many other worthy and hard-working environmental groups at work in Texas.
But none of them has placed wilderness and wilderness protection at the top of the list. Texas is different from most states. One area is the history of land ownership. In contrast to most of the West, there are not large tracts of Bureau of Land Management lands or U.S. Forest Service national parklands. Texas retained title to unoccupied lands as part of the negotiations with the United States that resulted in its statehood. Following the Mexican War, in exchange for ceding its claims to the lands in present-day New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming to the United States, Texas retained ownership of all unassigned land within the borders of the state.
There are two large national parks in west Texas, the famous Big Bend National Park and the lesser-known but equally stunning Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Scattered here and there are U.S. Forest Service lands, mostly in the eastern part of the state. Federal wildlife refuges, historic sites, and other land set aside dot the state. Much of the private land is now being broken up and developed, much of it becoming what are commonly referred to as ranchettes. Today there are about 144 million acres of rural lands representing 86 percent of the entire state. And most of this land—about 65 percent of it—is identified as “native rangeland.” This provides areas not only for foraging livestock; it also represents a huge part of Texas that is open space and wildlife habitat.
Because of this, and because the State. The first foray toward this end was a NMWA retreat/workshop in Big Bend in January 2010. While this annual retreat also dealt with some New Mexico issues, most of it dealt with Texas and adjacent Mexico. We visited with the park superintendent and other park staff.
Several of us met with Mexican park officials in the quaint border town of Presidio, Texas. Private groups, and Mexican and state officials have moved to protect huge expanses of land south of Big Bend National Park. An international park, along the lines of the Waterston (Canada)-Glacier (U.S.) International Peace Park, has been proposed for this area. While both parks are managed by their respective nations, there is cooperation and trust in making management decisions. We also took a day off, working on removing some of the invasive salt cedar along the Rio Grande. NMWA/OTW followed up on its week in Big Bend in January 2010 with another visit to the park in October 2011. This time the group worked on biodiversity surveys in the proposed wilderness areas in isolated andrarely visited sites. We also continued the invasive salt cedar work along the Rio Grande; that work is never done.Our Texas Wild has also taken part in the discussion revolving around attempts to secure healthy populations of ocelot in the United States.Currently the ocelot is confirmed only in small areas of Arizona and Texas, with no confirmed sightings in New Mexico. At one time the ocelot ranged across Arizona to Texas and north into Arkansas and Louisiana. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently developing a recovery plan for this endangered species, and we are heavily involved.
The concept of Wilderness is so important to protecting large landscapes, Our Texas Wild has stepped forward to address those issues in the Lone Star State. The first foray toward this end. There was a NMWA retreat/workshop in Big Bend in January 2010. While this annual retreat also dealt with some New Mexico issues, most of it dealt with Texas and adjacent Mexico. We visited with the park superintendentand other park staff.
The first Texas newsletter of Our Texas Wild was published in the spring of 2011, and over 30,000 copies were distributed across the state. The first issue covered a wide range of Texas issues. This included proposing Wilderness in Big Bend National Park and a wilderness addition in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. There were also articles about ocelots, wildlife corridors, wild Texas rivers, and—just to be different—an article about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Wilderness in both federal parks in west Texas is at the top of the list of goals for Texas.
Currently Guadalupe Mountains National Park includes about 86,000 acres, 46,000 of which were declared Wilderness in 1978. Previous and current staff at Guadalupe Mountains National Park has studied the idea of additional Wilderness. Building community support for this proposal has been high on the list of priorities.One proposal would add enough Wilderness to Guadalupe Mountains National Park to include about 90 percent of the park—without restricting any access or closing any currently used roads. Big Bend National Park is a large park with over 800,000 acres and not a single acre of Wilderness!
NMWA/OTW continue to work toward establishing Wilderness in an area with an array of concerns. One is the large border with Mexico and working with people and communities to provide input and education on the concept of Wilderness. Current proposals designate more than a dozen areas covering over 600,000 acres—again, not closing any roads.NMWA/OTW continue to work in the park, both with field trips andstaff time.
Texas represents a large part of the United States, with many areas rich in biodiversity. Wilderness designation will help protect these landscapes.Helping to secure protection of threatened and endangered species will help protect the richness of these landscapes. Building community support for Wilderness will enrich the lives not only of Texans but also the hundreds of thousands of people who visit these great places. All this is the job of NMWA/OTW. We will continue to work toward these goals, to protect these special places, as we do in New Mexico. Our Texas Wild has become an important player on these issues. And, as they say in Texas and across the Southwest, we’ll be there“until the cows come home.”