TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was established by the Fifty-eighth Legislature in 1963, consolidating the operations of the Texas Game and Fish Commission and the State Parks Board. The department was governed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, which was appointed by the governor, and was headed by an executive director, named by the commissioners. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was divided into six major divisions: Parks, Wildlife, Fisheries, Resource Protection (added in 1985), Law Enforcement, and Administrative Services. In the 1960s the immediate challenge for the department was to improve the state park system by refurbishing existing facilities and acquiring new land. In 1967 voters passed a $75 million bond package to assist in parkland acquisition. Park entrance fees were instituted the next year to help retire the bond. In 1971 the legislature approved a one-cent tax on cigarettes to generate funds for park development. Between 1968 and 1976, the total amount of parkland owned by the state nearly doubled, from 62,000 acres to nearly 117,000. During the 1960s the department was made responsible for the administration of the Texas Water Safety Act and for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Also during the 1960s the state joined the Federal Aid to Commercial Fisheries research and development program, and the department renovated several of its fish hatcheries. In 1965 the department changed the name of its magazine from Texas Game and Fish to Texas Parks and Wildlife. When the Texas Endangered Species Act was adopted in 1973, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department implemented it; by 1978, forty-six species were listed as endangered, and eighty-one were protected. In 1983 the legislature passed the Wildlife Conservation Act, giving the Parks and Wildlife Commission the authority to manage fish and wildlife resources in all Texas counties, without being subject to review by local county commissioners as it had previously been in some areas. In 1985 the department began Project WILD, a conservation-education program for public schools.
By the late 1980s the Texas parks system included 129 parks, natural areas, and historic sites, totaling more than 433,000 acres. The department was responsible for the protection and management of the fish population in more than 600 public reservoirs, 16,000 miles of streams and rivers, and 370 miles of coastline. It investigated any pollution that might contribute to the loss of fish or wildlife and participated in both administrative and judicial proceedings involving pollution, development, or other actions that might affect fish or wildlife. The department employed more than 500 game wardens to enforce hunting and fishing regulations and park-safety laws; in addition, wardens helped maintain order and provide aid during natural disasters, and also presented programs to school and civic groups. In the 1990s more than 20 million people visited Texas parks each year. At this time the state legislature appropriated more than $102,000,000 annually to finance the operation of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The department was scheduled for review under the Texas Sunset Act in 1997.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Conservation Chronicle (Austin: Texas Parks and Wildlife, 1990). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.