Texas joins 'Partners'

BUDA, Texas — The Texas Federation Nation and 38 other groups joined forces in February to cooperate in achieving conservation milestones within the state.

 Texas Outdoors Partners is designed to allow diverse groups representing hunters, anglers and conservationists to focus their efforts more efficiently, Texas Federation Nation Conservation Director Tim Cook told BASS Times.

 "Each organization will continue to represent itself, but Texas Outdoors Partners will help identify issues and help direct the individual organizations," Cook explained.

 Cook said major groups involved in the coalition include the Coastal Conservation Association Texas, Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. More than a million members are collectively represented by the member groups, Cook said.

 The coalition formed in large part because of frustration with the way the state legislature funds the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), Cook noted.

 "The need has been identified in Texas to finally do something about the way our sportsmen's dollars are being spent," Cook said. "Our legislature puts a cap on the amount of money our agency can receive from the money the federal government returns from taxes on outdoor goods."

 The legislature appropriates only about $32 million to TPWD coffers annually from the $108 million returned to the state as part of the Federal Aid in Sport Fishing Restoration and Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration programs, in which federal excise taxes on outdoor supplies are returned to the state of origin, Cook said. All money granted to states through these programs must be dedicated to fish and wildlife conservation or access work.

 "We're not at all getting the amount of funds we should," he said.

 The coalition expressed concern in an open letter to state Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden that federal grant money not sent to the state conservation agency would divert to the federal government.

 All 39 member groups signed the open letter to Ogden asking that the funding issue be addressed.

 Cook said the letter also asks that freshwater stamp proceeds be used as promised when the permit was first created two years ago.

 "We agreed on a freshwater fishing stamp to generate money to construct the Jasper fish hatchery, buy fish for stocking and remodel our other hatchery facilities," he said. "Once that stamp was issued and the money began to come in, the legislature decided it needed to have that money in an account to make the budget look balanced."

 TPWD officials were forced to issue bonds for the work, which means interest will have to be paid on the debt.

 "All we're asking for is what we thought we always paid for," Cook said.

 Other issues that will be tackled by Texas Outdoors Partners include water allocation for fish and wildlife and water access.

 "Defending our rights to fish and hunt on public waters has been identified as an area of concern," Cook said.

 Cook's co-chair, Kirby Brown of the Texas Wildlife Association, said every group can decide individually which issues to support but that the coalition already has reaped benefits in addition to the letter to Ogden.

 "We have a barrier reef issue on the coast, and the Texas Wildlife Association is going to sign on to that letter [to the legislature] because it creates better habitat," Brown said. "Before, we probably wouldn't have said anything about that.

 "This gives everyone a chance to sign on and support one another with the goal of producing better hunting, better fishing and better habitat."

 Cook agreed, adding that he was proud the state Federation Nation chapter will take a leading role in demanding conservation and habitat concerns be addressed adequately.

 "Federation Nation anglers make up a sizable portion of the outdoors community in Texas," he said.

 He hoped involving Federation members will inspire other anglers to flex their combined strength.

 "The freshwater fishing community has probably been the least active when it comes to voicing its concerns," Cook said. "About 1 million licenses are sold in the state: That's more than enough to get things done."

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