Traveling to each of the wildlife management areas covered in this book brought home to me a sobering fact: Texas may be a big state, but it has precious few wild places left, and compared to the whole they are tiny and scattered. Highways, shopping malls, and subdivisions gobble up wildlife habitat at a fearsome rate, chopping the leftover parcels into isolated islands where wild things, cut off from other animal populations, are in danger of withering away as castaways.
Texas has already lost almost all of its wilderness. In geologic time this tragedy has taken only seconds, but its consequences will last eons, if not forever. The limited life span of a human prevents us from appreciating the magnitude of change, because what we see in old age is only incrementally different from what we experienced in youth. If our life span was 200 years, how different might our view of changes in the environment of Texas be!
Like all humans, we wear blinders. Consider the words of Black Hawk, chief of the Sauk and Fox, over a century ago: "Our village was healthy and there was no place in the country possessing such advantages, nor hunting grounds better than those we had in possession. If a prophet had come to our village in those days and told us that the things were to take place which have since come to pass, none of our people would have believed him." Aldo Leopold put it even more eloquently: "It is a kind providence that has withheld a sense of history from the thousands of species of plants and animals that have exterminated each other to build the present world. The same kind providence now withholds it from us."
Texas without wild things and wild places would be a sad place. Wild places have a way of helping us understand our own place in the world. This book is an attempt to get more people involved in the outdoors by encouraging them to visit Texas wildlife management areas to camp, hike, bike, bird, hunt, and fish. Why? The best reason again comes from Leopold: "We grieve only for what we know." Those words underlie this book's mission: To help insure that future generations enjoy our outdoors, not grieve for its loss.
Texas' wildlife management areas and other public hunting lands are preserves not only of wildlife but of outdoor tradition and the opportunity to learn, develop, and apply woods skills as well. Here are places one can teach a youngster the art of reading tracks and signs, the skill of stalking, the science of understanding one's quarry and its habitat, and the pleasures of being outdoors under a clear blue sky with the sun-warmed aroma of freeze-dried grass rising to the nose. Here one can still hear the very real calls of the wild—the snort of a doe catching human scent on the breeze, the howl of coyotes at dusk, the thunder of quail rising to the sky, the haunting cry of sandhill cranes seeking sanctuary.
The lack of affordable places for outdoor recreation, particularly to take youngsters hunting, is oft-lamented in Texas. Yet this is a problem only if one thinks strictly of hunting deer and other big game on leased land. When it comes to hunting small game, and places where one can take a youngster to hunt without paying one thin dime for access for him or her, the story is quite different. Every single person in the state of Texas lives within a half-day drive of at least one public hunting area, many of which allow small-game hunting year-round. And for the two-thirds of Texans who live within the triangle bounded by Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas-Fort Worth, there are multiple choices.
Lack of available, affordable land is simply no excuse for not introducing young people to the outdoors or for not enjoying the outdoors ourselves. Overlooked outdoor recreational opportunities are on all our doorsteps. Texas wildlife management areas provide the opportunity. This book provides the where-to, the when-to and the how-to.
Ironically, one of the biggest benefits of visiting wildlife management areas is meeting the people you find there. Mark Twain once said that America has no native criminal class except Congress. It might be argued that Texas has no native altruistic class except wildlife biologists. While working on this book I was struck over and over by the concern these individuals displayed for the land under their care and all the plants and creatures on it. The value of their assistance in the preparation of this book, and their contribution to preserving our wild places, cannot be overstated.
Jolting down rocky roads in search of whiptail lizards and sitting on the back porch of the Black Gap WMA bunkhouse late into the night talking conservation with college students doing baseline inventories of plant and animal species convinced me there is hope for the future. Our wide-ranging discussions revealed that a generation just beginning to become familiar with Aldo Leopold's writings has already inculcated many of the basic points he raised. The problem with Leopold's teachings, as with most great ideas, is putting them into practice. On this point Leopold was pessimistic, and while I am afraid that once again he was prescient, I remain hopeful that future generations will prove him wrong.
It is for them, and their kind, that this book was written.