Conservation progress, deep in the heart of Texas

Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission | Public Domain
Caddo Lake State Park

Forward by Douglas H. Phelps:

The Texas Legislature just agreed, with prodding from our state group Environment Texas, to invest $1 billion to create new state parks, subject to voters’ approval in November.

What’s remarkable about this step forward is its deeply bipartisan spirit—and it’s not just that our partnership with a leading conservative activist ignited this effort.

The idea of conserving nature speaks to values that Texas lawmakers and constituents share, no matter their other differences. That’s as it should be. Permanently protecting wild places ought to transcend partisan politics, appealing to conservatives, who care about stewardship, constancy and living within our means (planetary or otherwise) as much as it appeals to progressives, who value improvement, collective action and public goods such as parks.

We hope more leaders of all political persuasions and at all levels of government take note of this progress and follow the Lone Star State’s example.

Luke Metzger | TPIN
Environment Texas Executive Director and Dallas businessman Doug Deason

Main article by Luke Metzger:

We did it, y’all.

In a historic win for nature, this week the Texas Legislature gave final approval to legislation investing $1 billion (billion — you read that right) to create new state parks.

The new Centennial Parks Conservation Fund, if affirmed by voters this November, will help create dozens of new state parks, preserving land for wildlife to live and people to enjoy. And we need those parks. With only 5% of Texas land in public hands, our existing parks are crowded and critters like ocelots and golden cheeked warblers struggle with insufficient habitat. As I told a Senate committee in testimony, “this is an opportunity for a new golden age of park acquisition for the state of Texas, and we think that would be a perfect birthday present for the parks’ centennial.”

When Environment Texas first launched our Million Acre Parks Project last year to secure $1 billion for the state parks, some people thought we were crazy. A legislative staffer told me it was “an unrealistic pie-in-the-sky ask” and urged me to “develop a legitimate and sustainable and realistic plan that’s closer to $75-150 million.”

We listened, but after careful thought, we decided that aiming higher was the right plan.

We knew that the centennial of the state parks system would help us highlight the importance of the state parks. We knew that, having a $32 billion budget surplus, the state had money it needed to spend. And we had a secret weapon.

I had recruited influential Dallas businessman and conservative activist Doug Deason to help with our campaign. He recruited Republican state Sen. Tan Parker to carry the bill and won the support of Lt. Gov Dan Patrick and other state leaders.

So we forged ahead. The bill ultimately passed with overwhelming support from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike, and Gov. Greg Abbott voiced his support for the measure as well.

Now we still have work to do. We need to win voter approval of the plan this November. Polling suggests Texans support a $1 billion investment in state parks, but we’re not taking anything for granted and will campaign hard for passage.


Douglas H. Phelps

President and Executive Director, The Public Interest Network

Doug is President and Executive Director of The Public Interest Network. As director of MASSPIRG starting in 1979, he conceived and helped organize the Fund for the Public Interest, U.S. PIRG, National Environmental Law Center, Green Century Capital Management, Green Corps and Environment America, among other groups. Doug ran the public interest careers program at the Harvard Law School from 1976-1986. He is a graduate of Colorado State University and the Harvard Law School.

Luke Metzger

Executive Director, Environment Texas

As the executive director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air and water, parks and wildlife, and a livable climate. Luke recently led the successful campaign to get the Texas Legislature and voters to invest $1 billion to buy land for new state parks. He also helped win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; helped compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at four Texas refineries and chemical plants; and got the Austin and Houston school districts to install filters on water fountains to protect children from lead in drinking water. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks. He is a board member of the Clean Air Force of Central Texas and an advisory board member of the Texas Tech University Masters of Public Administration program. Luke, his wife, son and daughters are working to visit every state park in Texas.