A Message to the Community:
From the beginning, Save Jones State Forest (SJSF) has only sought to raise awareness of SB 1964 and advocate for opportunities for community feedback to be held locally with the goal of protecting the forest. The SJSF steering committee has not, nor will we, endorse any bill, though individual members may decide to do so as individual members of the community. SJSF will work to research issues, raise concerns, and recommend changes to the bill and subsequent revisions.
On April 21st, members of the steering committee met with Sen. Creighton to discuss the bill. He presented the updated revision to the bill and we expressed several concerns regarding the new language at the meeting. SJSF did not negotiate any part of the language and made it clear that we did not endorse the revised bill. We only requested that he consider our concerns and post the final language publicly to get community feedback.
After having time to review the new language and conduct preliminary research, we would like to raise the following concerns:
To address these concerns we recommend the following:
Our community must also consider that better protections might be offered by not moving forward with any bill at this time. Texas A&M needed a bill in order to develop the forest. The forest may be better protected under the status quo. The process for SB 1964 has been rushed and now we must travel to Austin less than a week after the new language was posted; leaving little time to research and respond. A better approach might be that no bill move forward at this time and our representatives work to develop a better alternative for the next legislature.
Finally, this issue has been shrouded in secrecy. Many do not trust politicians or institutions to act in the best interest of the People. The lack of transparency has only amplified that mistrust. At our last meeting, Sen. Creighton repeatedly said that the actions of SJSF had been ahead of the process and that he always intended to fix the language, but we, the community, is where the process should start. Our representatives should have taken the lead in alerting our community and facilitating the public feedback process locally. Instead, the community has been left out of the process with much of the conversation set to occur in Austin. SJSF appreciates the step forward that the new language represents, but maybe this is the time to slow the process and begin a dialogue with the community to build trust and develop a plan to protect the forest for future generations.
This Wednesday, members of the SJSF steering committee will attend the public hearing in Austin to make personal statements regarding SB 1964. We encourage the community to attend the public hearing, if possible, and leave feedback on Sen. Creighton's Facebook post. After the public hearing, SJSF will continue to work for the protection and preservation of Jones State Forest.
The Save Jones State Forest Steering Committee
As many of you know, just five days ago we had a tremendous outpouring of support from our community. Thank you to the more than 300 people who came in person and the several THOUSAND who watched our event online.
So what's next?
We have spent the past few days researching the various options we have available to Save Jones State Forest. And with that we've come up with three "Essential Elements" moving forward. If the bill is not pulled in some manner we believe it should be amended to do the following:
So What Should I Do Now?
First, continue to speak with Senator Creighton and make clear that these three items must be included in any amendment.
Second, contact the Chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee and express your views on Senate Bill 1964.
Kel Seliger, Chair
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711
Want to Support Our Organization?
Support our movement by purchasing one of our Save Jones State Forest t-shirts. Proceeds from the sales of these shirts will be used to support Save Jones State Forest activities. At this time, we are collecting funds to pay for legal fees associated with filing for non-profit status, as well as supplies for raising awareness of SB 1964 and the threat to Jones State Forest.
I represent The Woodlands GREEN, a grass roots organization providing environmental education and outreach since 1989. I’m here to speak for saving Jones Forest in its entirety.
As the Texas Forest Service states on its website, “The forest’s location and special ecological distinctiveness makes it one of the region’s unique resources for showcasing research and demonstration in urban forestry issues, environmental education, atmospheric studies, … improving communities’ health and outdoor nature connections, and connecting diverse community members to the benefits of natural resource conservation through continuing education.”
Because of residential and commercial development in this area, green space such as Jones Forest is a precious jewel that provides increasingly rare habitat for a protected species, the red cockaded woodpecker. The red-cockaded woodpecker is a cooperative breeder, living in family groups. The home range of one family group can exceed 200 acres, a little more than 10 percent of Jones Forest. This woodpecker is also particular about where it chooses to live, which is why the population in the United States declined by 86 percent from 1966 through 2014. It depends on old growth southern pine forests for food and habitat. Urban and suburban development is not this bird’s friend.
Jones Forest provides much needed habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker, but that bird isn’t the only species that needs this green space. It also provides a much-needed respite for humans.
In reviewing Florence Williams recent book, THE NATURE FIX, Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, the reviewer wrote, “Imagine a miracle drug that could ease many of the stresses of modern life — a combination mood enhancer and smart pill that might even encourage the remission of cancer. Now imagine that this cure-all was an old-fashioned folk remedy: Just take a hike in the woods or a walk in the park.”
In this book, Ms. Williams describes the findings of researchers working in the field of nature neuroscience. “As little as 15 minutes in the woods has been shown to reduce test subjects’ levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Increase nature exposure to 45 minutes, and most individuals experience improvements in cognitive performance…. Maybe it’s the forest smells that turn us on; aerosols present in evergreen forests act as mild sedatives while also stimulating respiration. Perhaps it’s the soundscape, since water and, especially, birdsong have been proven to improve mood and alertness. Nature’s benefits might be due to something as simple as the fact that natural landscapes are, literally, easy on the eyes.”
Sufficient and appropriate land is available in this area for development that Texas A & M apparently envisions. The Woodlands GREEN strongly encourages the legislature to take no action on Senator Creighton’s bill, leaving Jones Forest as it is.
Also, we encourage Texas A&M and the Texas Forest Service to pursue additional protection for this unique public forest rather than looking at it as a site for future development.
We continue to be hard at work here at Save Jones State Forest, and wanted to share a few updates with you.
First, rumors online last night seem to indicate that Senator Creighton is changing course on SB1964. We hope the Senator has heard from the thousands of constituents who demands he pull Senate Bill 1964 and protect Jones State Forest from future development. To date he has yet to confirm with our organization any change in plans. We will stay vigilant until Senator Creighton publicly announces his intentions and kills SB1964 in its current form.
Second, TAMU has responded to our request that they attend our community meeting this Sunday. Vice Chancellor Tommy Williams, who is our former State Senator, thanked us for the invitation. He noted that the intent of the legislation "was to open up for discussion the purpose of finding a higher and better education use for a small tract..."
Well, apparently the State Senator... Ops, sorry... The Vice Chancellor does not count a community meeting with over 200 people from the area a place to have such an open discussion. No, Tommy Williams thinks the best place for such a discussion is to have it take place in Austin within the State Senate. Nothing like a built in home field advantage for a political insider who is a lobbyist for a school an hour away from where the impact would be felt.
Now it is more important than ever to join our community meeting this Sunday. Hundreds of local citizens will come out to let their voices be heard. Multiple media organization have already confirmed as have many other community groups and local officials.
Let your voice be heard.
The past two weeks has been like driving 100 mph through fog. A bill is filed. No real explanation provided. Changes are coming. Parliamentary procedures to follow.
It is all just downright confusing.
Yesterday Senator Creighton provided an update on Senate Bill 1964 (see below). The good news is the Senator seems to be continuing to improve the proposed legislation through his public statements. However, his statements lead us to continue to ask two fundamental questions:
We understand that procedure in the State Senate may preclude Senator Creighton from changing language today. It does not preclude the Senator from publicly releasing what his amendments to the legislation will be.
All of these recent developments will be great topics of discussion with the Senator at our upcoming community meeting.
Our team here at SaveJonesStateForest.com is hard at work getting all of the details worked out for our Community Meeting on Sunday, April 9th. As we work through this all a question popped in our head-- who is really driving this bus on Senate Bill 1964?
If you remember last week Senator Creighton responded to public concerns with some proposed changes to the legislation. In his Facebook post releasing his response he clearly tells to go call Texas A&M.
Well if you have been following us you know we're pretty proactive. Off went questions to the President of TAMU and several Vice Chancellors, to include one who is our area's former Senator. We received one reply saying our question had been forwarded. But the doozy came from the President's office.
That's right folks. The organization who Senator Creighton says requested the bill and who Senator Creighton says we should contact with questions suggests we reach out to... Senator Creighton.
So, we have to ask... Who actually knows exactly what this proposed legislation does and exactly why it is needed? What is the project TAMU is seeking legislative support for?
We look forward to someone from TAMU and Senator Creighton joining us on Sunday to provide us with any information and hear from local residents.
So, what are we hoping to accomplish with our campaign to Save Jones State Forest?
What we are asking is something very simple—that Texas A&M University System be a good neighbor to our community and that the mission and purpose of Jones State Forest is protected. We have three simple requests:
Article contributed by Gary E. Wise, Ph.D., Professor and Head, Emeritus, Louisiana State University
Nestled within the heart of a rapidly developing area of homes, apartments and commercial enterprises is a haven of solitude and beauty for both wildlife and humans, an urban forest of 1,776 acres located in Conroe and The Woodlands, Texas. The forest, W.G. Jones State Forest, was established in 1924 and is managed by the Texas A&M Forest Service. A busy 4-lane highway, FM 1488, divides the forest into a northern section in Conroe and a much larger section south of the highway in The Woodlands.
The forest is home to a variety of wildlife such as deer, bobcats, and gorgeous butterflies such as the Palamedes Swallowtail. Most significantly, it has over 250 species of birds including the Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Black-Bellied Tree Duck and various warblers. Above all, it houses a variety of woodpeckers such as the Pileated Woodpecker (a magnificent bird that looks as if it came from Jurassic Park), Hairy and Downy woodpeckers and the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. It is this last bird, the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker (RCW) that makes this forest unique from a wildlife point of view because it is one of the largest concentration of this endangered species within Texas (Eubanks, T.L. et al., Finding Birds on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, p. 77, 2008, Texas A&M University Press).
The Endangered Species Act was enacted in 1973 and the RCW was one of the first birds to be designated as an endangered species. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administer recovery programs for it in accordance with the Act. The habitat for the RCW is a longleaf pine ecosystem (a mature pine forest) which also is rapidly disappearing from the southern United States. The Endangered Species Act requires that the habitat for the RCW be preserved.
Within Jones State Forest there are 24 RCWs. They have several nesting areas within the forest, 2 in the northern section and at least 4 in the southern section. Initially, there had been 2 in the southern section but at least 2 more sites are developing. These nesting areas occupy a goodly amount of acreage in the forest, but that is only a portion of the acreage the RCWs need. Each cluster of RCWs require at least 100 acres for forage (the birds eat insects, including insect eggs and larvae) but given that some of the forest does not have pines that are yet sufficiently mature, the acreage may be greater than 100. Moreover, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say that typically the territory is 125-200 acres with upper extremes of 600 acres being reported.
Of the sites in the southern section of the forest, one is between Middle Horsepen Road and Lower Horsepen Road. This is of significance because the proposed Texas A&M campus would be near this area. Although it likely would not be built upon the site, it would have a negative impact by both reducing the amount of forest needed for forage and by generating both noise and light. The birds are sensitive to noise and light and any buildings (commercial, educational or residential) that abut the forest are a threat to the RCWs survival. Moreover, the encroachment of buildings makes it very difficult for the Forest Service to conduct controlled burns to eliminate the brush under the pines. In brief, any bill that would reduce or destroy the acreage of this forest would affect the habitat of the RCWs and thus, such a bill would be in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Finally, it should be noted that the RCW is an economic boon to both the state and the local areas surrounding the forest. As noted in the book by Eubanks et al. (ibid), tourists from all over the world come to visit Jones Forest to see the RCWs. In addition to being a tourist attraction, both nationally and internationally, the forest and the RCWs contribute to the image of the local communities by demonstrating that an urban forest enhances the lives of all who wish to embrace it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary E. Wise earned his PhD in Zoology from the University of California at Berkeley and completed an NIH postdoctoral fellowship in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is Professor and Head, Emeritus, of the Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences within the School of Veterinary Medicine at Louisiana State University. Although now retired, his NIH-supported research investigated the molecular basis for tooth eruption, bone resorption and formation, and the regulation of osteoclastogenesis. He also holds 2 patents pertaining to the enrichment of stem cells from adult tissues.
One of the great things about our country and our community is the ability for everyone's voices to be heard when policy changes may have a big impact.
With this in mind the team from Save Jones State Forest have come together to plan a community meeting for Sunday, April 9th. We have invited Senator Creighton, Texas A&M, and many other community leaders to come hear from anyone potentially impacted by Senate Bill 1964.
Visit our event page to let us know you are coming. Can't make it? Just mark 'No' and we'll be sure to keep you updated!
So Senator Creighton has taken a step in the right direction. His updated plan calls for only 10% of Jones State Forest Park to be eligible for development by the Texas A&M University System-- a big improvement from the initial blank check approach. But how much are we really talking here?
TAMU was kind enough to publish a map indicating the area they would like to use. Roughly 178 acres in total on the south side of the park, right next to 242. Well we at Save Jones State Forest Park thought it would be a good idea to put that in perspective with three landmarks in the area.
As you can see 178 acres may not sound like a lot of land, but it is a great deal of land. Some examples: