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Friday, October 22, 2010
TPWD News Release about a new proposed Park / WMA - kind of long
By mullet_key @ 12:07 PM :: 1197 Views
 

Devils River Land Acquisition   ---  Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Texas Parks and Wildlife Department considering acquisition of the Devils River Ranch?

  • The vision of this possible acquisition is to see if we can offer additional managed access and opportunities for Texas families to enjoy a wild and scenic part of Texas that most Texans have never had a chance to see, experience, or enjoy. By repositioning our existing assets along the Devils River, we can create a new state park or natural area that offers far superior access for the public to enjoy, in a managed, thoughtful way. We would do this consistent with our mission and the agency Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan, our strategic operating plan recently updated with input from many stakeholders. The plan places a premium on getting Texas families into the out of doors, as well as protecting important resources, and this project would unquestionably further that aim in ways that the current state natural area can never fulfill.

Is this a done deal?

  • No. It is important to understand this is NOT a done deal. We are hosting public meetings, taking comments, answering questions and providing information. All input will be considered before the TPW Commission considers the proposal Nov. 4. And even if the commission authorizes the agency to proceed, that does not guarantee any outcome. As we continue to assess options, there are various reasons this complex transaction may or may not be completed.

What are the relative pros and cons of the Devils River Ranch compared with the existing Devils River State Natural Area?

Here is a side-by-side comparison:
Devils River State Natural Area Devils River Ranch
  • 19,989 acres
  • 2 miles river frontage
  • ~ 2 hours north of Del Rio
  • Relatively poor access
  • Poor internal road system
  • Aging facilities
  • Rock art resources
  • Conservation easement to protect property permanently
  • Adjacent to Nature Conservancy of Texas protected area (Dolan Falls)
  • 17,638 acres
  • 10 miles river/lake frontage
  • ~ 45 minutes north of Del Rio
  • Good access
  • Good internal road system
  • Modern facilities
  • Rock art resources
  • Conservation easement to protect property permanently
  • Adjacent to the 67,000-acre Amistad National Recreation Area

What is TPWD’s position regarding public input on this proposal?

  • The agency believes strongly in public review and input for important decisions, including land transactions.
  • We are working hard to inform people about the proposal, to listen and be responsive, to answer questions and provide information. We have informed elected officials, Devils River landowners, key stakeholder groups and the public about the proposal. Department leaders met personally on Oct. 4 with leaders of key Texas environmental and conservation organizations, and also met later with the Devils River local landowners association. Letters were sent to about 250 people who camped at Devils River State Natural Area in the past year. Email was sent to dozens of statewide and local stakeholder groups, including paddling clubs. We are hosting two public input meetings in Del Rio and San Antonio.
  • We are committed to a process that will allow all parties to ask questions and fully understand the proposal, and we believe our current approach achieves this.

Why is TPWD proposing spending much of its limited acquisition funding to acquire a new state park when the State of Texas is facing a serious budget shortfall?

  • The money we have assembled for this project includes federal Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars, state funds appropriated for park land acquisition and a sizable private donation. All these funds are specifically dedicated for park land acquisition and development, and cannot be spent for park operations, habitat restoration or capital repairs.
  • These are challenging economic times, true, but as a result real estate prices are lower than in past years, so acting now is financially prudent in that sense. We have a responsibility to look to the future, regardless of current conditions, and we believe now is the time to consider this rare, transformational opportunity.

Is TPWD paying appraised value for the Devils River Ranch?

  • Yes. Appraisals have been done on the state natural area and the ranch by certified appraisers with expertise in West Texas ranch properties. The difference in appraised value of the two sites is almost $8 million. The difference in the existing buildings and infrastructure on the two properties represents about $900,000 of that amount.

Why would TPWD spend its resources on a project that results in a net loss of 2,000 acres of park land? Wouldn’t it be better to use limited funds to expand the park system?

  • Numerous studies in the past decade have indicated the public supports increased access to park land. The total acreage available for the public to responsibly experience and enjoy is thus more important than sheer numbers of acres. We believe managed recreational access and opportunity at Devils River Ranch greatly exceed what is potentially available at the state natural area.
  • We have made important strides to expand various state parks across Texas in recent years, including at Palo Duro Canyon, Big Bend Ranch, Garner, Lost Maples, Village Creek, and other sites. Acquiring inholdings and expanding park boundaries where it is strategic and efficient for conservation and recreation remains a key strategy for TPWD.

Doesn’t TPWD have an obligation to the existing state natural area? Does it have unique cultural and natural resources not present on Devils River Ranch?

  • We are committed to the continued conservation of the existing natural area property under any scenario. It may well have unique resources that are not present on the Devils River Ranch. In any case, the conservation easements on both properties would ensure that the natural and cultural resources are protected into the future.
  • The existing state natural area would remain protected from subdivision and development through a conservation easement held by the Nature Conservancy of Texas. This gives the Conservancy as grantee the right to monitor plant and wildlife populations and natural habitats, including the right to enter and inspect the property with advance notice to verify use of the property consistent with the terms of the easement. We have a large body of scientific information collected about the natural area. Under the terms of the easement, ongoing monitoring would be able to continue.
  • The Devils River Ranch has not been afforded the same type of scientific study, so if the proposal is approved, we could be able to extend the same level of scientific rigor to an additional property of similar size along the river.

Has TPWD estimated the costs of operating the new property alongside expected revenue from it? Would it mean an increase in operating costs?

  • While the state natural area currently generates about $12,000 to $15,000 in revenue annually, it has an annual operating budget of about $250,000, which includes four staff positions. We believe this amount would pay for adequate operation of the new site until we have a master plan, which would identify future operational costs for the new site. We envision a collaborative master planning process that may take a year or two.
  • Ultimately, we anticipate there would be increased operating costs at the new site, but these may be wholly or partly offset by increased revenue-generating activities.

Would the agency allow off-road vehicle use at the new site?

  • No.

Would the proposal limit public access while the new site is in transition?

  • Only about 1,200 to 1,500 people visit the state natural area annually. The agency would make every effort to provide controlled access to the new site as soon as possible. For example, scouting or school groups may be able to visit on a guided basis until a master plan and public use plan are complete in a year or two.

Would the cost of planning and developing the new property in effect mean taking money from existing Texas state parks?

  • No, at least not in the short-term. Once development and public use of the new site begins in coming years, we may need increased agency resources there. Each year, we prioritize staff and resources at all state parks to address the most important needs, and this site would become part of that mix.

How does this acquisition meet TPWD’s stated goals to add park land that is closer and more accessible to Texas population centers?

  • While we are committed to try to acquire new recreational opportunities close to urban centers, that is not our exclusive focus. The Devils River is a pristine resource that cannot be found elsewhere in Texas, and this proposal would offer greater public use and enjoyment than the existing state natural area.
  • Also, we are considering other projects to address the needs of urban centers. For example, we have funds from the sale of former Eagle Mountain Lake State Park that are dedicated for the purpose of creating a new state park within an hour or two of Dallas-Fort Worth. And, we are considering accepting a gift of almost 4,000 acres of land within 30 miles of San Antonio.

Would the proposal limit public opportunity to paddle the entire Devils River? Specifically, won’t this in effect rule out paddling the upper river from Baker’s Crossing to the existing state natural area?

  • This is a legitimate concern that TPWD shares. We are committed to a collaborative process to find creative solutions that could maintain paddling access while protecting private property rights. We would bring together a task force that would include landowners, paddlers, businesses, elected officials, non-profit partners and others to work together and seek solutions that address the recreational interests of river users as well as the property rights of adjacent landowners.
  • The Devils River Ranch property would actually increase responsible and controlled paddling opportunities for a wider array of visitors, including families. The new site would allow us to offer multi-hour floats for the average Texan within park boundaries.

If greater proximity and accessibility from Del Rio is a key advantage of Devils River Ranch, doesn’t Amistad National Recreation Area already provide recreational opportunity close to Del Rio?

  • Devils River Ranch would afford an entirely different array of recreational opportunities than Amistad NRA, including paddling the river, fly fishing, primitive camping and backcountry hiking. The new site has multiple canyons where campsites could be placed so that each has privacy and unspoiled views.

Why wouldn’t TPWD take some of the almost $8 million it proposes to spend on the transaction and use it to improve access to and public opportunities at the existing state natural area?

  • As stated earlier, the money we have assembled for this project includes federal Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars, state funds appropriated for park land acquisition and a sizable private donation. All these funds are specifically dedicated for park land acquisition and development, and cannot be spent for park operations, habitat restoration or capital repairs.

Did TPWD follow its land transaction policy guidelines in providing advance public notice of the Devils River Ranch proposal?

  • Yes. The TPW Commission was briefed at the May and August commission meetings. Key officials were notified in September. The public notification process began Oct. 4 with a briefing of our key conservation and recreation partners. The following week, notices were placed in newspapers around Texas, letters were sent to about 250 people who camped at Devils River State Natural Area in the past year. Information, photos and maps describing the project have been placed on the TPWD website. Email was sent to dozens of statewide and local stakeholder groups, including paddling clubs. Agency leaders also met with the Devils River landowner association to explain the proposal and solicit their input. And we are hosting two public input meetings in Del Rio and San Antonio prior to the Nov. 4 commission meeting.
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