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A look back at the top outdoors stories of the year
By JIM DARNELL - SMDR Outdoors Columnist
Posted: Thursday, Jan 05, 2006 - 04:30:07 pm CST

With the year 2005 now history, several top outdoor news stories stand out. Let's review.
1. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Just at the time that Texas game wardens would have been getting ready to work the opening of dove season they found themselves in the flooded, stressed filled city of New Orleans rescuing stranded victims.
Three weeks later, Hurricane Rita tore through East Texas and game wardens were called upon to help with peacekeeping efforts as well as support in delivering food, water and medical assistance. Wildlife biologists also assisted in rescue efforts. In the aftermath of Rita, more than 20 state parks were closed temporarily and wildlife and fisheries biologists began assessing the damage.
2. New member of Texas State Parks Family: The opening of the 8,622 acre Government Canyon State Natural Area took place October 15. Located only 10 miles from downtown San Antonio, this acquisition was the result of cooperation and partnership between municipal, state and federal agencies, was well as many community and environmental organizations. Some 40 miles of trails are already available to hikers and cyclists.
3. Hunters - Texas Primary Conservationists: In 2005 hunters again stepped up to the plate with financial support for wildlife conservation by purchasing two, new bird-hunting stamps. (Stamps are just another word for taxes). These stamps are required to hunt upland and migratory game birds in Texas. The funds generated can only be used by TPWD for habitat acquisition and leasing to conserve resources and expand hunting opportunity, habitat development and management, and research and surveys to benefit specific game birds.
4. Budget Woes for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department: There's never enough money. In 2005, 134 unfilled staff positions and 39 filled positions were eliminated. No state parks were closed but Matagorda Island State Park was reassigned as a wildlife management area and the Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg was transferred to the Texas Historical Commission.
5. Major Striped Bass Stockings on Texas lakes: The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department produced and stocked 4.6 million striped bass and hybrid striped bass fingerlings into 42 lakes this year. In a few years Texas anglers will be catching plenty of these popular, powerful fish.
6. Texas Game Warden Shot: While responding to a 911 call about a woman being shot near the Canadian River, game warden Billy Hefley was shot in the cheek and arm with a .38 caliber revolver by Seledonio Sanchez Cabrera. The suspect had already killed one person before Hefley arrived. Cabrera was sentenced by an Amarillo judge to two life terms.
7. ShareLunker Program Peaks: The 2004-2005 ShareLunker season closed April 30 with 24 fish entered. This was the highest since 1996. The program accepts bass over 13 pounds from December through April. The lunkers are kept for research and spawning. The lucky angler receives a free fiberglass mount of the fish.
Lake Alan Henry near Lubbock led the pack this year with nine ShareLunkers. Perennial lunker producer Lake Fork contributed seven.
8. Seagrass Protection for Redfish Bay: If you fish Redfish Bay near Rockport-Aransas Pass get ready to do more wading or poling your boat. Boat propellers have done severe damage to Seagrass beds in this area.
Shallow-water seagrasses in Texas bays provide vital nursery areas for diverse marine life, food and cover for game fish, bottom stabilization, and better water quality. Seagrass has declined in many areas on the Texas coast. In Galveston Bay, 95 percent of all seagrass has disappeared. In the Redfish Bay area, the total acreage of seagrass has declined by 13 percent since 1958. The new rules will take effect May 1.
9. TPWD Shares 30 Years of Coastal Fisheries Scientific Data: TPWD celebrated 30 years of continuous monitoring of the state's marine fisheries with an eye toward the next 30 years. Information from 40,000 bag seines, 60,000 trawls, 40,000 dredge samples, 20,000 gill net sets and 250,000 angler interviews collected over the past three decades generated millions of data points that make this TPWD database one of the longest marine resources dataset in the world. Information gained from the database has been the basis for resource management decisions and regulations that have generated an economic impact of almost $2 billion annually in Texas. This information has also been utilized in TPWD's successful efforts to secure freshwater inflows, and to protect the water quality of our estuaries, which are critical habitats for our fishermen.
Jim Darnell is an ordained minister and host/producer of the syndicated outdoors show God's Great Outdoors.
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