The Texas Wildlife Association (TWA) applauds the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s decision to reject the Zavala County Local River Access Plan. If accepted, this plan would have opened up a 13-mile stretch of the fragile Nueces River to motor vehicles.

“We are pleased that the experts at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department concurred that the Zavala County Local River Access Plan was deeply flawed and rejected it,” TWA Executive Vice President Kirby Brown said. “As it was written, the plan did not meet the tests set forth in law. With this decision, TPWD upheld the law and protected one of the state’s most fragile natural resources.”

Brown continued, “From TWA’s standpoint, this controversy was not about denying reasonable public access; it was about protecting natural resources from irrevocable, preventable damage.”

In 2003, the Texas Legislature passed SB 155. The law, which was prompted by overuse of riverine corridors, expresses the Legislature’s position that the “beds, bottoms, and banks of navigable rivers…are precious and irreplaceable state resources that deserve protection” and “the protection of public access should not come at the cost of uncontrolled damage to the (rivers)…or at the cost of infringing on private property rights.”

But the Legislature did not completely deny public access. Local governments can develop and adopt river access plans to provide limited vehicular access to riverbeds. The plans must, among other things, 1) protect fish, wildlife, water quality and other natural resources; 2) provide for adequate enforcement; 3) coordinate with adjacent and overlapping jurisdictions; and 4) protect private property rights. Once the plans are adopted at the local level, they must be approved by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

According to the Department, the Zavala County Plan was not acceptable because:
1) it would have created a motor vehicle trail instead of providing limited vehicular access;
2) numerous public access points eliminated the justification/need for driving in the riverbed;
3) the location of the gradient boundary would have forced vehicles to drive either on private land or in the riverbed;
4) the location of property boundaries were not clearly marked, nor was there money available for professionally surveying the necessary boundaries;
5) no provisions were made for funding public services;
6) no cap was placed on the number of vehicles allowed to access the river;
7) no public comment opportunities were provided.