Kayakers paddle through marsh off the coast of TNC's Powderhorn Ranch, near Port O'Connor, Texas.
Powderhorn Ranch Kayakers paddle through marsh off the coast of TNC's Powderhorn Ranch, near Port O'Connor, Texas. © Carlton Ward Jr.

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Statement on Proposition 5 from Laura Huffman, Texas state director for The Nature Conservancy

If you care about a healthy and thriving Lone Star landscape, you need to care about parks.

Austin, TX

Over 25 years ago, the state of Texas passed legislation to ensure a dedicated stream of revenue to support our state parks and wildlife areas through a sales tax on sporting goods. But guess how much of that earmarked funding actually went to support our park system? Less than half.

Texans can fix this by voting YES on Proposition 5 on November 5.

Prop. 5 would ensure these sales tax dollars we’re already paying can only be used for our state and local parks, natural areas and historic sites. And in passing it, we can positively impact the stewardship of our state’s landscapes and natural resources for generations to come—without raising taxes or adding any additional fees.

Just think about what this investment could mean for a state like ours. Texas is unique in that it’s one of the few places in the country where you can hike a mountain in the West, hunt in a pine forest in the East, enjoy the sun and surf fishing on the coast, ride horses across wide open grasslands and catch glimpses of endangered whooping cranes, aplomado falcons or golden-cheeked warblers in one of our birding hot spots. Iconic as they are diverse, our parks encompass each of these uniquely Texan landscapes and experiences.

And parks offer us so much more than beautiful places to spend time outdoors, soaking up nature with the people that we love. Both state parks and local neighborhood greenspaces provide habitat for native wildlife, safeguard watersheds, benefit our physical and mental health and simply let nature do what it’s meant to do, which is increasingly important as our climate changes. There’s also an inherent connection between safeguarding our natural resources and safeguarding our economy. It’s clear that our parks impact virtually every aspect of our lives as Texans.

But our parks are also in a position of ever-increasing vulnerability. Just two percent of the land in Texas is publicly accessible through parks and other protected areas—and with visitation in Texas nearing 10 million visitors per year, that’s a lot of visitors checking into this small percentage of untouched Texas. As our population skyrockets, more people are getting outside and connecting with nature at parks across the state—and this can only be seen as a good thing—but at the same time, the sheer volume of visitors coupled with chronic underfunding is straining our aging parks system to its core.

By voting YES to Prop. 5, we can ensure all Texans—those who’ve been here for generations and those new faces arriving each and every day—can continue to experience our state parks and wildlife areas and the tremendous benefits they offer.

What we know is this: the needs of our state parks have expanded beyond a handful of non-profit and governmental organizations. They need the support of each and every Texan voter—and clocking in a YES vote on Prop. 5 at the ballot box is as good an opportunity as any to stand with nature and make a difference.

What do I mean by make a difference? Consider Powderhorn Ranch. It’s one of the largest remaining undisturbed tracts of native coastal prairie habitat left in the state, and in 2014, we were part of a coalition of partners who assisted the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in protecting it, in what is likely to be the largest conservation deal in Texas history. The goal at the time was to eventually develop out at least part of Powderhorn Ranch as a publicly accessible state park. And if together, as a state, we’re able to pass Prop. 5 and secure a steady stream of funding for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, we could see that public park at Powderhorn Ranch come to fruition.

50 years from now, our state’s population is going to be around 50 million—that's higher than the states of New York and California combined. Imagine if, when we get there, we’re still a state where a kid can experience the magic of sinking her toes in the sand and feeling the tug of a fish on her line; the awe of hiking up a mountain and only seeing the sky; the excitement of chasing a monarch at a local park—and the uniquely Texan feeling of never seeing the same thing twice.

A vote YES on Prop. 5 could make that future a reality.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.