Drought, Wildfires Strain Texas Parks Budget
It looks like it will be a tough 2013 for Texas state parks if the drought and heat continue to keep people away. That’s what park officials told state lawmakers today at hearing on how to maintain long-term funding.
“If we are going to keep these special treasures for all Texans to use and enjoy, we need to raise $4.6 million,” Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Carter Smith told lawmakers today. Last month, the agency launched a public fundraising campaign to fill a significant department deficit.
“The consequences of us not being able to realize those revenue targets are real,” Smith said. “They’re tangible. And we absolutely may be looking, particularly at 2013, at further cut backs and that could include things as drastic as closures and looking at transfers again.”
Last year, the Legislative Budget Board proposed transferring the control of seven state parks to local counties as a way to cut the state’s parks budget. To date, only one park has been transferred in Seguin, because many counties weren’t financially ready to maintain a new park.
At the hearing Tuesday, Evelyn Merz of the Texas Sierra Club, offered a proposal that would allow people to immediately purchase special license plates when they buy a new car.
“Give people an opportunity to buy them when they purchase a new car instead of having them have to purchase regular plates and then exchange them which is very time consuming,” Merz said.
Lawmakers also discussed trying to find a way for retail and recreation stores to sell passes to State parks. State park visitation was down 25 percent in the month of August alone, partly due to the extreme heat and drought conditions that forced burn bans across the state.
And if predictions of La Niña’s extended stay play out this spring, increasing the number of state park visits and revenues could remain difficult. That’s because La Niña brings dry weather and can extend the drought even further.