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Ray Sasser: Bill would redirect $1.3 billion to wildlife conservation

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Ray Sasser, Outdoor Writer

A recently introduced bill, H.R. 4647, is being compared to two other landmark funding bills that protect America's fish and wildlife, one passed in 1937 and the other in 1950. H.R. 4647 is a bipartisan bill introduced by U.S. Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, a Nebraska Republican, and Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat.

Also known as the Recovering America's Wildlife Act, H.R. 4647 would redirect $1.3 billion per year in existing royalties from energy and mineral development of federal lands and waters and invest the money in fish and wildlife conservation. The money is not currently earmarked for a specific use.

Under the RAWA formula, based on a state's population and land mass, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department would receive the maximum 5 percent of the royalties, about $63 million a year. TPWD's annual operating budget is about $358 million.

"For Texas, RAWA would mean transformative change for people and wildlife," said TPWD executive director Carter Smith. "It's the kind of breakthrough that comes once in a generation."

In 1937, Congress passed the Pittman-Robertson Act, which created an 11 percent excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition. It has raised more than $7 billion for wildlife efforts. The 1950 legislation was the Dingell-Johnson Act, which levied a tax on fishing tackle, pleasure craft and a portion of motorboat fuel tax. It has raised more than $18 billion to fund fishing programs. Debbie Dingell is the daughter-in-law of John Dingell Sr., who co-authored Dingell-Johnson.

Tracking wood duck numbers is difficult

Wood ducks are in Texas year-round, thus hunters believe these ducks never migrate. Kevin Kraai, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's waterfowl program leader, said wood ducks are considered radial migrators, meaning they may move east or west as well as north or south. Kraai said a wood duck hatched in East Texas during the spring or summer might wind up in Canada or Mississippi by fall.

It's hard to count wood ducks because duck counts are mostly done by aircraft. Wood ducks prefer habitat with dense overhead cover, making them hard to see. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service figures the Texas wood duck numbers at about 380,000 and holding steady.

Kraai said a cold winter such as last year's could result in half a million wood ducks in East Texas alone. After decades of a two-wood duck limit, FWS in 2009 increased the limit to three. The change has not impacted the wood duck population.

Residents encouraged to explore state parks

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department encourages residents on Monday to begin a year of healthier lifestyles by participating in a First Day Hike at state parks across Texas. Last year, more than 3,700 First Day Hike participants combined to walk, paddle and pedal 7,600 miles.

Each park's hikes are themed to showcase the property. For details, visit https://tpwd.texas.gov.

Participating Dallas-Fort Worth parks are Cedar Hill State Park, Ray Roberts Lake State Park's Isle du Bois Unit, Cleburne State Park, Dinosaur Valley State Park, Bonham State Park, Meridian State Park, Cooper Lake State Park's South Sulphur Unit and Eisenhower State Park.

Calendar

SATURDAY, DEC. 30 -- Dallas Fly Fishers fly tying session 10 a.m.-noon at Orvis Dallas, 8300 Preston Road. 214-265-1600.

THURSDAY-SUNDAY, JAN. 4-7 -- Dallas Safari Club Hunting Expo at Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, 650 South Griffin Street, Dallas. biggame.org.

SATURDAY, JAN. 6 -- Dallas Fly Fishers fly tying session 10 a.m.-noon at Orvis Dallas, 8300 Preston Road. 214-265-1600.

MONDAY, JAN. 8 -- Monthly meeting of Dallas Fly Fishers at the Wyndham Hotel, 7800 Alpha Road. Rex Walker, a casting instructor certified by Fly Fishing International will present two programs. A fly fishing demonstration is set for 5 p.m., followed by a social hour. The main program "Using Video to Improve your casting", is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. This program is free and visitors receive a free fly. Richard Johnson, 469-877-0695

THURSDAY, JAN. 11 -- Coastal Conservation Association Dallas Chapter meeting 6:30 p.m. at Tailwaters Fly Fishing Shop, 1933 East Levee Street, Dallas. Program by Lane Robinson, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's deputy director for the Coastal Fisheries Division. He will present an overview of coastal fisheries with an emphasis on game fish. matthewscherer@ryan.com.

SATURDAY, JAN. 13 -- Dallas Fly Fishers fly tying session 10 a.m.-noon at Orvis Dallas, 8300 Preston Road. 214-265-1600.

SATURDAY, JAN. 20 -- Dallas Fly Fishers fly tying session 10 a.m.-noon at Orvis Dallas, 8300 Preston Road. 214-265-1600.

SATURDAY, JAN. 27 -- Dallas Fly Fishers fly tying session 10 a.m.-noon at Orvis Dallas, 8300 Preston Road. 214-265-1600.

FRIDAY-SUNDAY, FEB. 2-11 -- DFW Boat Expo at Dallas Market Hall, 2200 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas. dallasboatexpo.com.

THURSDAY-SUNDAY, FEB. 22-25 -- Dallas RV Super Sale at Dallas Market Hall, 2200 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas. dallassupersale.com.