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Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - October 2010
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Texans losing touch with rural roots of Lone Star state
Polk County Enterprise



LIVINGSTON — The Lone Star State may soon reach a point where most native Texans have never been on a farm or gone hunting or fishing. Already there are far more Texans who spend six hours or more every day using an electronic device — a drastic change from the early 20th century when nearly everyone lived on a farm or ranch. Andy Sansom, former executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, used those statistics to call more than 300 Master Naturalists across the state to help preserve the state’s ecological traditions. Sansom was the keynote speaker for the annual statewide meeting of Master Naturalists held in New Braunfels last weekend. Ten members of the newly formed Piney Wood Lakes Chapter that includes Polk County were among those attending. The urbanization of Texas has helped earn a new designation — the highest incidence of obesity in the United States. Sansom says the key to preserving the natural history of Texas is working to prevent the breakup of large family farms. Last year, 1.5 to 2 million acres were converted into shopping malls or other developments, Sansom said. That development diminishes watersheds and recharge zones for aquifers as well as eliminating wildlife habitat. “We’ve already given away rights to withdraw more water from our rivers than is in them,” Sansom said. “All the things we feel strongly about are threatened,” Sansom said. When Texas came into the United States, it retained ownership of its public lands, unlike other western states, Sansom said. It has financed much of its development by selling off that land. “They built the capital by trading 3,000 acres of land in the Panhandle,” Sansom said. Despite the challenges facing Texas in this new century, Texans have shown they can overcome threats to natural resources. “There was a time when white tail deer were almost extinct,” Sansom said. “Now there’s almost an overpopulation. We hunt more wild turkey every year than existed prior to World War I.” “Our water is cleaner than it in the 1950s and the landscape is better than the turn of the 20th century,” Sansom added. Between 1885 and 1905 most of the timber had been cut in East Texas and overgrazing had caused most of the soil to wash away. Springs were drying up. “Thanks to the efforts of the Extension service, Texas Parks and Wildlife and the conservation service working with landowners we ended up improving the land and its better than it was in 1900,” Sansom said. Much of Texas’ ecological future may hinge on how the state ultimately addresses groundwater issues. Eighty-five percent of all the water rights are held by agricultural users, according to Sansom. As an example, Sansom said much of the water that flows down the Blanco River near New Braunfels goes back into an aquifer to Jacob’s Well and then down Cypress Creek through Wimberley and Blanco. “If you applied for a permit to take water out of the river near Wimberley, it would take 10 years and hundreds of thousand of dollars and you still wouldn’t get it. But if you go above Jacob’s Well you can pump out all the water you want to,” Sansom said. The jury is still out on how groundwater rights will ultimately be determined. “Stakeholders and scientists are going to have to combine their efforts to decide how much flow is needed to maintain the ecosystems,” Sansom said. “It’s inconceivable to think of the Guadalupe River wouldn’t be there, but just a few years ago the Rio Grande stopped flowing into the Gulf,” he said. Conservation will play a large part in meeting future water needs, according to Sansom. San Antonio has reduced its water needs by 40 percent while experiencing phenomenal growth. Meanwhile water demands in the Dallas-Fort Worth area continue to increase per capita at a time when we don’t know where the water will come from, Sansom said. The great debate on water issues is not likely to be resolved in the upcoming session, Sansom said. Texas has a long tradition of postponing addressing the issue. During his tenure as chief of TPWD, Sansom said he went to see former Lt. Governor Bob Bullock after legislators took away one-fourth of the agency’s budget. Samson went to Bullock to attempt to get the funds from cigarette taxes restored to the parks department. But the chainsmoking official was determined to redirect the funds to cancer research. I told him that makes sense, but we couldn’t go cold turkey. When Sansom asked what his alternatives were, Bullock answered, “Suicide.” A total of 361 Master Naturalists from across Texas attended the three-day seminar addressing a wide variety of topics including bugs, butterflies and tips for educating youth on ecological subjects


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