Life's Better Outside - May 2014

2014 Land Stewards, conservation news, summer activities, new license plate revealed 
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In This Issue:



Day and Night – Texas Has Great Skies. Video here.

desert sky black and whiteTime for a “Big Sky” break! Sit back for just two minutes and enjoy this quiet video/photo essay, starring west Texas clouds and wild lands. Created by Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine photographer Earl Nottingham, it proves once again that Texas has some of the best skies to be found. (Many of these images can also be seen in “Desert Skies Photo Essay” in Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.) 

Our state is also known for its big dark night skies. Here’s a list of 15 favorite parks for stargazing. 

Don’t know the Big Dipper from your morning coffee mug? Learn more at a state park star party event. 

P.S. Be sure to take the kids. They’ll love getting out in a park at night!

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2014 Lone Star Land Steward Awards Announced

flowing creek with grassy banksThe ability to manage land in good times as well as bad is the mark of a good land steward. The six recipients of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s 2014 Lone Star Land Steward Awards are prime examples. They represent four private ranches in various ecological regions, a landowner cooperative, and an educator.

Congratulations to the 2014 recipients: 

  • Cross Timbers and Prairies – Dixon Water Foundation, Bear Creek Ranch, Parker County
  • Edwards Plateau – Sycamore Canyon Ranch, Val Verde County
  • South Texas Plains – Laborcitas Creek Ranch, Brooks County
  • Trans Pecos – Tanksley Land Company, Brewster County
  • Landowner Cooperative – Hillingdon, Laurels and Leslie Ranches, Kendall County
  • Education and Outreach – Sky Lewey, Nueces River Authority, Uvalde County

Read more about this year's recipients who will be recognized in Austin on May 21. At that time, the 2014 Leopold Conservation Award for Texas, yet to be announced, will be presented to a land steward by the Sand County Foundation.

TPWD is partnering with Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and Sand County Foundation to present the 19th annual Lone Star Land Steward Awards program. Sponsors include Toyota, Colorado River Land Trust/ Lower Colorado River Authority, Luther King Capital Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. Learn more about the program and this year’s sponsors.

Video: 2013 Leopold Award winners Jack and Jan Cato

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Turkey “Tweet-alongs” Help Restore the Species

turkey and handler close up When eastern wild turkeys from Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, Kansas, South Carolina and West Virginia were released into their historic east Texas range this winter, they were wearing GPS transmitters to tell their stories. Researchers will track movements of the birds to test the models biologists have created to identify preferred turkey habitat. Habitat changes, insufficient prescribed fire, and variations in rainfall are possible reasons why the population has not flourished.

This video tells the tale of the arriving turkeys and the biologists helping to restore their habitat.  

Although more than 50 counties in East Texas were stocked during the 1980s and 1990s, only 28 counties have enough of a population to be open for turkey hunting today. Read more in "Return of the Turkeys" in Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine’s May issue. The Texas State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation is playing a significant financial role in footing the bills of this effort as part of the group’s new “Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt” initiative. 

Meanwhile, some resident Rio Grande turkeys in the Hill Country are also providing a “Tweet-along”. Biologists working closely with local landowners have trapped, tagged and outfitted  local birds with GPS tracking devices to identify specific habitat characteristics of nesting, brood-rearing, loafing and roosting sites.

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Life Jackets Save Lives, So Wear It Texas!

family in boat with life vests

“It’s too bulky.”
“It’s too hot.”
“It just doesn’t look cool.”

These excuses can turn a carefree day into an enduring tragedy. Almost 71% of all fatal boating accident victims in 2012 drowned. Of these, 85% of those were not wearing life jackets, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Boating accidents often happen too quickly to grab a stowed life jacket. Whatever water activity your family enjoys, take these steps to help keep everyone safe.

  1. Wear a life jacket.
  2. Supervise children closely.
  3. Know how to swim.
  4. Avoid alcohol.

Share swimming safety tips with friends and family.

Celebrate  National Boating Safety Week, May 17-23. Take Boater Education (available online) which is required for boaters born on or after Sept 1, 1993.

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Healthy Seagrass = $2 Billion in Good Business

underwater picture of seagrassTexas’ great saltwater fishing generates $2 billion annually for local businesses. This popular and lucrative activity is born in the fragile coastal estuaries – nurseries to the shellfish and finned species Texans and tourists love to catch and eat.

Fish need seagrass. Every time a boat propeller cuts a swath through an estuary’s seagrass bed, it nicks this source of recreation and income. Multiply that by hundreds or thousands and the damage adds up to a critical loss of habitat and income.

Help protect this natural resource that is directly tied to our state’s economy. If you boat and fish along the coast, remember to “lift, drift, troll or pole” in shallow estuaries. It’s good business, and it’s also the law.

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Report Toxic Scenes to the Kills and Spills Team

lake shore, 2 individuals studying dead fish

Everyone plays a part in protecting our water supply and wildlife. Natural events or human activity can cause a die-off of aquatic species or a decline in water quality.

If you see a group of dead fish in a stream, river or lake or suspect that a public water body is polluted, report it to the Kills and Spills team right away. This group has spent over 40 years investigating fish and wildlife kills and pollution in Texas. 

The Kills and Spills Team can also respond to harmful algae blooms.

If possible, make a note of the following when reporting a sighting:

  • Location, date and time
  • Water color, clarity and any odor
  • Number, size and species of affected organisms
  • Recent weather
  • Condition and behavior of animals or organisms
  • Are plants or other organisms affected?

Prompt notification is a key to a successful investigation. The sooner team biologists arrive, the better the chances to collect useful evidence. 

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Try Three Great Summer Pastimes

woman and girl paddling a canoe

Summer magic begins with great summer pastimes. Try these three for some old-fashioned fun.

May – Picnicking 

Give Mom wildflowers, blue skies and butterflies for Mother’s Day by taking her and the family for a picnic in a Texas state park. Picnics are a great way to enjoy the outdoors any time of year, so make note of this starter list of recipes.

June – Fishing

Celebrate Free Fishing Day (June 7) when anyone can fish without a fishing license. You don’t ever need a fishing license to catch fish in Texas state parks. (Park entrance fees and fishing regulations still apply.) Find parks where you can fish and check the calendar for Go Fish! Learn-to-Fish and other fishing events. Find places to fish statewide.

July – Paddling

Texas has miles and miles of paddling trails, so there’s probably one close to you. Canoe and kayak rentals (also called “liveries”) are often available on-site or in the nearby community. Get answers to frequent questions about paddling trails; then wade right in and learn to paddle at one of these events.

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Boaters: Protect Your Texas Lakes

zebra mussels attached to motorAs the heat rises, Texas lakes call with dreams of leisurely fishing, kayaking or boating the day away. However, these summer destinations are under attack by destructive zebra mussels. Zebra mussels spread from lake to lake by catching a ride on boats like yours, leaving damaged aquatic life, boats, pipes and water systems in their wake. See zebra mussels in action in this video.

But you can prevent this from happening. Clean, drain and dry your boat every time you leave a Texas lake. 

Additionally, in 47 North and Central Texas counties, boaters are required to drain all water from their boats, including live wells, bilges, motors, and bait buckets when approaching or leaving public waters.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission has approved for public comment a proposal to require that all boats operating on all public fresh water in Texas be drained after use to help combat the further spread of zebra mussels. The public may comment on the proposed rules online, in writing to Ken Kurzawski, TPWD Inland Fisheries, 4200 Smith School Rd., Austin, TX 78744, or by email at

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5 Things to Do While Waiting for Fall Hunting

Texas map showing public hunting locations

Getting antsy for the new hunting season? Here are five activities to help pass the time:

  • Sharpen your aim. Sign up for the Austin-area Operation Game Thief’s Clay Stoppers Shootout May 30 to test your sharpshooting skills and help protect Texas’ wildlife resources. (Entry fees $250/individual or $1000/team, Lewis class scoring.) Or practice at your local shooting range.  These two resources help you locate a range near you: National Shooting Sports Foundation's Shooting Range Finder and Texas State Rifle Association’s Range List.
  • Take Hunter Ed. No time like the present to take your required hunter education certification class, now more accessible than ever with online classes available. Check it out.
  • Plan to take part in the Public Hunting opportunities. The Public Hunt Draw System for 2014 will be available online only beginning in July. It provides low-cost, high-quality public hunting opportunities throughout the state. Individuals are drawn for a Special Permit by random computer selection from a qualified pool of applicants.
  • Hunt what’s in season year-round. Landowners will be happy to see fewer feral hogs rooting up their crops, pastures and forests, and you can cook up some wild boar schnitzelRead up on other species in season now.
  • Report poaching. Report poaching or related suspicious activity to Operation Game Thief (OGT). Text a confidential tip: in the “TO:” box, enter 847411; in the text box below start with TPWD and your message and hit “Send”. You can also call 1-800-792-GAME (4263) any time, day or night. See how community input helps in this video.

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New State Park License Plate Announced

license plate, camping scene

The newest conservation license plate from Texas Parks and Wildlife celebrates camping in state parks! The first new state park plate in a decade evokes memories of those fun nights outside – the campfires, ghost stories, Dutch oven meals, stargazing, nature and wildlife, shared moments with family and friends, and, of course, all the s’mores. Check it out and make plans to get one

Each plate costs $30 of which $22 goes directly to benefit Texas State Parks.

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