Luke Metzger and Representative John Sayer
We all know Texas is just wild. No, we are not talking about our politics. And we’re not talking honky-tonks on a Saturday night either.
We are talking about nature: Texas wilderness nature.
We have deserts, mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico – with amazing creatures like bears, cheetahs, dolphins, and eagles. We even have animals that only exist here and nowhere else on earth.
Texas wildlife is so beautiful, so mysterious and downright legendary that people come from all over the world just to hunt it, to hunt it, to look at it through binoculars – just to be near it.
But as our nation grows, we take up more land, use more water, introduce invasive species and even change the climate. This degrades and divides habitats, disrupts ecosystems, reduces local biodiversity and creates competition for scarce water resources. Several species of birds and mammals have already disappeared from Texas and more than 1,300 are endangered.
Take, for example, the Texas Horned Lizard, also known as the horned frog. Its fierce-looking crown of horns and coloration helps it blend into sparse vegetation and serves as a deterrent to eating. He could inflate himself to make himself look bigger and shoot a stream of blood from his eye!
But threatened by habitat loss and invasive species, the Texas reptile population has been in decline for decades. Fortunately, the San Antonio Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center team has been breeding horned lizards since 2017, and this summer welcomed the arrival of the 34 hatchlings, which were later released into the wild lands of owners eager to welcome them.
Texans have shown that with hard work, we can help our creatures. Horned lizard, brown pelican, peregrine falcon, Guadalupe bass and river otters are just a few of the species making a comeback. But hundreds more need help – and that takes money.
Fortunately, Congress is about to pass the most significant wildlife investment program of this century. The Restoration of America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) will send nearly $1.3 billion to states annually. This will bring up to $50 million annually over the next five years to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), which in turn will provide grants to landowners, universities and communities to do high-impact work on wildlife locally.
For example, TPWD wants to use the money to build tunnels under roads deep in south Texas to protect ocelots from vehicle collisions and encourage these wild cats to move to new, expanded habitats. The funding will also go to provide incentives to landowners willing to restore sensitive and disappeared habitats and to get people outdoors in activities such as nature photography, canoeing, and birdwatching.
Since more than 95% of wildlife in Texas is located on privately owned land, this bill ensures that landowners are invited to participate in wildlife restoration and protection on a voluntary basis.
Pride in our beautiful state has long been an established value of Texas and investments stemming from RAWA enjoy broad public support. Statewide polls consistently show that 84% of all voters agree with the statement: “Unless we protect Texas’ natural areas, we will lose the very things that make Texas such a special place to live.”
The bill passed the US House of Representatives this summer, and a bipartisan group of senators led by Sens. Martin Heinrichs (D-NM) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo) is working to pass the bill this month.
Let’s get it done, Congress: The horned lizard—and all of Texas’ wildlife—is counting on you.
Metzger is the executive director of the Texas Environment. Representative John Sayer (R-Lockhart) represents the 17th district in the Texas House of Representatives.