IT SEEMS THAT NOBODY Austin has read any of the previous columns or heard my radio shows any of the previous times I’ve written and talked about this. So, I’ve bought a bigger tambourine, built a taller soap box, and planted myself on this busy corner for one more attempt to offer a plausible solution to a couple of problems.
Situation 1: The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, one of the best of its kind in the nation, lacks critical funding for infrastructure maintenance in state parks, vehicle maintenance throughout its fleet of vehicles and boats and ATVs, law enforcement personnel and the equipment they need to do their jobs safely and completely.
Situation 2: The future of outdoor resources and outdoor recreation depends heavily on recruitment, and not only of the children of adults who already hunt and fish and hike and watch birds and like a good summer picnic.
Collective solution: Create a “Work for your license” program that enables anyone willing to invest some time into making state parks and other facilities better to earn a fishing license, a hunting license, or maybe even an annual pass into our state parks.
Ideally, when we visit one of Texas’s magnificent state parks, its buildings would shine, its trails would be maintained, its vehicles would run, and its personnel wouldn’t be overworked.
Ideally, to ensure the future of our state’s wildlife and fisheries, recruitment into the outdoors would be a heavily funded, high priority line item.
Ideally, there’d also be ample revenue to cover the costs of additional law enforcement, hatcheries, biologists to monitor populations, and everything else it takes to oversee the incredible natural resources of a state larger than most countries.
In reality, however, the state’s wallet isn’t deep enough to hire additional personnel or maintain its vehicles and buildings.
And, important to this whole piece, significant numbers of families don’t have enough money to license all their members for lawful participation in Texas’s woods and on its waters.
Why is it, then, with all the brain power in Austin, that none of our lawmakers has seen the forest for the trees and proposed some sort of program, anything, through which people willing to invest some old-fashioned “sweat equity” in the state could earn a fishing or hunting license or camping permit.
Paint a building. Mow a pasture. Change the oil in a truck (that’s probably got 300,000 hard miles on it). Sweep a floor. Answer phones. Make a park or historical site or other state-owned structure look more presentable.
Or make its guests feel more welcome. Work in a gift shop. Stock shelves. Help the people who work there full-time, so they can do the jobs they’re paid to do instead of being overworked. The state doesn’t have the money to hire more people, which makes it tough to devote much of anything to recruitment of new outdoor enthusiasts.
I’ve written and spoken about this for the better part of 20 years. I’ve shared it over those years with more than a couple of people who I thought would make good their promises to look into its feasibility.
Nothing. Not a peep.
Maybe there’s a downside. Insurance?
Have program participants sign release waivers. Insist that they show proficiency in the operation of any machine they volunteer to operate, be that a mower or grader or paintbrush or broom.
Surely the state has insurance policies already in place to protect it from accusations of negligence. Extend the coverage to “Work for access” volunteers. Work it out.
Come up with something, anything that would allow people who want to hunt and fish—but cannot currently afford licenses—to earn that paper in an afternoon or a weekend.
For the physically challenged, who certainly deserve consideration, perhaps some answering of telephones to get questions answered faster. Or perhaps anyone who can’t do physical labor could coordinate the scheduling of other license-earning projects.
I don’t know how much it costs to hire painters or mowers, electricians or plumbers, cashiers or mechanics. But I know the state needs them, desperately. I know there are thousands of Texans who would work a reasonable number of hours doing whatever work is needed for the chance to go fishing without having to look over a shoulder for the game warden (who isn’t likely to show because he or she already is spread too thin).
It’s highly unlikely that a program such as this would need to be sweetened with further incentives, but how much more work might get done if, for all those who earn their license by working to improve Texas’s outdoor resources, there were an annual drawing for a lifetime license or trophy deer hunt. Surely there are members of the outdoor industry who would step up and throw down other prizes.
All it takes, as with anything, is two things—thought and action. Here’s hoping both get started soon to generate a way for “economically challenged” Texans to become licensed hunters and fishermen.
Email Doug Pike at [email protected]