How the growing population of Texas has ignited a fight for more public lands for Texans
There’s something special about Texas that draws people here. People have always been magnetically pulled to Texas, with the first mass migration peaking in the 1830s to the present day. From 2020 to 2021, Texas gained over half a million new residents, the most significant population growth of any other state, and currently, an estimated 1,000 people are moving into Texas daily. But this increase in population has put massive strains on public lands in Texas. This means the battle for growing and protecting public lands in Texas has begun. Texas needs more public lands, not less.
This reality came into focus in January 2023 when it was made public that a Texas State Park would be developed into a massive subdivision and golf course. Fairfield Lake State Park was leased at no cost by Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) from the energy company Luminant. Luminant listed the property for sale and quickly went under contract with Todd Interests, a large development group located in Dallas. At the time, TPWD was unable to make a bid and purchase the land. This led to a deadline being established for the park closure and a frantic battle to save the park. For the first time in 50 years of Texas State Park history, Texas was about to lose a park.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, and other Texas conservation organizations rallied around the battle cry of “Save Fairfield Lake State Park!” This makes sense as Texans rallied around the loss of the Alamo to defeat the dictator Santa Ana and the fascist Republic of Mexico, yelling, “Remember the Alamo!” as they won independence at the Battle of San Jacinto. Luckily, we have not lost Fairfield Lake State Park, as TPWD used eminent domain to keep the land, but this does not mean our fight for our public land is over.
There are currently 15 State Parks that TPWD leases throughout the state. These parks are leased from entities such as energy companies (2), river authorities (1), city and county governments (3), the U.S. Department of the Interior (1), and the U.S. Army Core of Engineers (8). Will we likely see all of the parks sold off for housing developments? Lake Colorado City State Park is the most likely. The Texas Electric Service Co. owns the State Park with a 25-year lease to TPWD that began in 1972. Only time will tell, but the population of Texas is increasing, and it looks like it will continue for a while. As conservationists, we must step up to protect our public lands.
Texas needs more public lands, not less; fortunately, we are seeing progress in this area. Two new State Parks and four State Natural Areas will be opening in Texas. Most recently, two significant acquisitions by the state are adding just under 18,000 acres of public land. These land additions were made possible through multiple conservation organizations and private landowners. This shows the importance of collaboration between conservation groups and landowners to grow, protect and conserve Texas’s wild places. Grahame Jones, retired TPWD Director of Law Enforcement, “Our public lands and what they encompass is the most important issue we face. It relates to our lives and our society. It’s an investment in the future.”
How will we answer the need for more public lands in Texas? We can stand to the side, watch, and hope that someone somewhere will do something. Or, as conservationists before us, we can join the fight for public lands for our benefit and the future of Texas. As Texans, we remember the Battle of the Alamo for what it did to ignite the Texian Army to win independence. We must use almost losing a 50-year-old State Park to ignite conservationists to continue protecting, preserving, and growing our public lands in Texas. The Texas BHA Chapter is committed to conserving our existing public lands and increasing future public lands for all Texans.
Join BHA today to help us win the battle of Texas public lands.