For immediate release:
February 17, 1999
SUIT TO AIR "SECRET" WILDLIFE PLANS
PUBLIC FUNDS USED FOR PRIVATE SCHEMES
Austin.... Texas Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Texas PEER) today filed suit against the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) for refusal to disclose the agency's secret "Wildlife Management Plans" with private property owners. The documents requested under the Texas Open Records Act concern TPWD's administration of the Landowner Incentive Program (LIP), a federal-state cooperative program designed to assist landowners in conserving and enhancing endangered species habitat.
The lawsuit grew out of an incident involving the destruction of critical migratory bird habitat by the very agency charged with protecting that habitat. Last summer complaints from scientists alerted Texas PEER to the bulldozing of Common Black-hawk nesting areas as part of a project to "channelize" Limpia Creek near Davis Mountain State Park. LIP funds financed this project to increase public access to the blackhawk nest in order to promote "ecotourism" by birdwatchers on the land of one rancher.
The damage from the bulldozing was so extensive that well-meaning TPWD employees at Davis Mountain State Park, unaware of the involvement of their own agency, notified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the disruption of the stream and the hawk's nest. The Texas PEER lawsuit, filed by local attorneys Chuck Herring and Tim Sims, challenges TPWD's claim that the so-called "Combs Law" exempts these records from disclosure because they pertain solely to private property interests.
"The public has a right to know how their money is being spent" commented Texas PEER Staff Scientist Dean Keddy-Hector, a former endangered species specialist with the agency "The bulldozing of Limpia Creek is a perfect example of what can go wrong when a state agency hides its plans from the public, prevents peer review and enjoys complete freedom to cut special little deals with favored landowners."