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Luxury "Nature Lodges" Slated for 24 Parks

Austin...In a quiet move to convert the state park and wildlife system into a for-profit operation, Governor George W. Bush has sent out requests for proposal for the construction of 24 privately-managed "nature lodging" projects to hoteliers and resort developers, according to documents released today by Texas Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Texas PEER). Targeted parks include the crown jewels of the state system, such as Davis Mountains, Big Bend Ranch, Guadalupe River, Pedernales Falls, the newly acquired Chinati Mountain lands of West Texas as well as wildlife management areas containing habitat for threatened and endangered species.

Project configuration will be up to developers, but other "nature lodgings" built by the solicited companies feature hotels with rooms renting for $200 a night, conference centers, restaurants and shops. Besides the primary purpose of revenue production, nature lodging is supposed to combine contact with nature and comfortable accommodations.

In a recent University of Texas survey of state wildlife managers, six out of seven opposed the nature lodging concept because it detracted from wildlife conservation and research. Several of the targeted parks are already struggling to reduce human impacts upon threatened resident species.

Noting that Texas has less than three percent of its lands set aside in public parks and reserves, TexasPEER Staff Scientist Dean Keddy-Hector, a former zoologist with the Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife, commented: "Putting hotels in critical wildlife habitats evidences a leadership profoundly unclear on the concept of conservation. This is an irresponsible plan to ‘Disney-fy' the few remaining patches of Texas wild lands."

The Bush plan to transform public parks into privately managed revenue centers follows the prescriptions of conservative think tanks such as the Cato Institute.

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