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Parks and Wildlife Agency History

The State of Texas has given the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) the responsibility for the management and conservation of the state’s wildlife and fish resources; provision of outdoor recreational opportunities to the public; acquisition, development, and operation of wildlife management areas, fish hatcheries, state parks, historic sites, and other public lands; conservation education and outreach; cultural and historical interpretation; and the regulation of fishing, hunting, and boating activities. The department is composed of ten major divisions which carry out the functions and duties of the agency: Wildlife, State Parks, Coastal Fisheries, Inland Fisheries, Communications, Law Enforcement, Infrastructure, Administrative Resources, Legal, Information Technology, and Human Resources. The Parks and Wildlife Commission selects an executive director to administer the department. In 2014 the agency employed the full-time equivalent of 3,109 people.

The Parks and Wildlife Commission governs the agency. It was initially composed of three members, increased to six members in 1972, and after 1983, contains nine members, appointed by the governor with approval of the senate. Members serve six-year overlapping terms. The governor appoints the chair. The commission meets quarterly or more often as needed, primarily to adopt policies and rules to carry out the programs of the TPWD.

The TPWD had its beginnings in 1879. The 16th Texas Legislature authorized the governor to appoint a fish commissioner to ensure compliance with an Act for the preservation of fish and to build fish ways and fish ladders (Chapter 92, 16th Legislature, Regular Session). In 1881 the Office of the Fish Commissioner was established (Chapter 78, 17th Legislature, Regular Session). It was created for the “propagation and preservation of fish and to build fish-ways and fish-ladders…,” and existed through 1885. The commissioner was appointed to a two-year term by the governor, with the approval of the senate.

In 1895 the 24th Legislature created the Office of the Fish and Oyster Commissioner (House Bill 55, Regular Session) with the commissioner appointed by the governor as before. The duties included the protection of fish, turtles and terrapin of the bays and coastal waters of the state, protection of natural oyster beds and reefs, and the protection of the location of private beds. The commissioner had the authority to appoint deputy commissioners to assist in carrying out the duties of the office. In 1907 protection of wild birds and wild game was added to the responsibilities of that office, which became the Office of the Game, Fish and Oyster Commissioner (House Bill 379, 30th Legislature, Regular Session). This commissioner appointed deputy game commissioners to assist in carrying out the duties of the office.

A six-member commission replaced the single commissioner in 1929 and the agency became the Texas Game, Fish, and Oyster Commission (Senate Bill 83, 41st Legislature, Regular Session). The commissioners were appointed to six year terms by the governor with the approval of the senate and were selected from different sections of the state. The chair was appointed by the governor. Duties of the commission included administering the state’s laws relating to game and fish; preventing pollution of streams; issuing hunting, trapping, and fishing licenses; collecting fees, taxes, and fines; conducting research; and proclaiming and enforcing open seasons and bag limits on game and fish. The commission also operated fish hatcheries and sanctuaries, administered game and hunting preserves, supervised oyster beds in the state, controlled and exterminated predatory animals and fish, and educated the public in the preservation of wildlife and fish and game resources of the state. It had the authority to create rules and regulations as necessary to carry out its duties. The name was changed to the Texas Game and Fish Commission in 1951 and the size of the board was increased to nine members (Senate Bill 463, 52nd Legislature, Regular Session).

The state created the Texas State Parks Board in 1923 (Senate Bill 73, 38th Legislature, First Called Session) to investigate prospective park sites in the state and report to the legislature with recommendations, and to solicit and accept donations of land for state park purposes. The State Parks Board was initially composed of five members, appointed by the governor with the approval of the Senate to six-year terms, and they were to be state officers. The number of board members increased to six in 1937 (Senate Bill 484, 45th Legislature, Regular Session). This board was to begin locating sites for the establishment of the state parks system. It directed and managed state parks, except the historical parks which were managed by the Board of Control and/or several separate commissions. The Parks Board was charged with locating, designating, and marking historic grounds, battlegrounds, and other historic sites in the state, and erecting markers and monuments at such sites. The board also had the authority to create rules and regulations as necessary to carry out its duties. The primary function of the board between 1923 and 1933 was to acquire lands for parks through donations. In 1933, federal funds became available for state park development and the board worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the National Park Service for the development of better park sites for a state parks system. The CCC provided labor during the 1930s to improve state park lands and facilities. The state transferred control of historical parks to the State Parks Board in 1949, except for the San Jacinto Battlefield, the Battleship Texas, and the Fannin Battlefield, which were still controlled by their respective commissions: the San Jacinto Battlefield Commission, the Battleship Texas Commission, and the Fannin Battlefield Commission (House Bill 120, 51st Legislature, Regular Session). Jurisdiction over the Fannin and San Jacinto Battlefields was transferred to TPWD in 1965 (House Bill 102, 59th Legislature, Regular Session). Battleship Texas was transferred to TPWD in 1983 (House Bill 586, 68th Legislature, Regular Session).

The State Parks Board and the Game and Fish Commission were merged in 1963 to form the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (House Bill 21, 58th Legislature, Regular Session). The Historic Structures and Sites Act was passed by the 60th Legislature (House Bill 58, Regular Session) in 1967 charging the Parks and Wildlife Department with stewardship of the state’s cultural heritage sites. In 1983 the 68th Legislature passed the Wildlife Conservation Act (Senate Bill 94, Regular Session), giving the agency the authority to manage fish and wildlife resources in all Texas counties. Prior to this act county commissioner courts set game and fish laws in many counties, and other counties had veto power over department regulations. In 1985 the 69th Legislature granted the agency authority over shrimp and oysters (Senate Bill 609, Regular Session).

The Parks Division protects, interprets, and manages cultural and natural resources and provides recreational opportunities to the public on land owned or leased by TPWD, which includes 119 state parks, historic sites, and natural areas. The division also provides planning assistance and administers matching grants to local communities and counties for park acquisition and development, public boat ramps and other facilities, and outreach. In the early years of TPWD the Parks Division also investigated potential land acquisitions for state parks and historic sites, negotiated and prepared contracts for the donation or purchase of land, researched title information, constructed new park facilities and did renovations and repairs in existing facilities. In 1963 the division developed a statewide comprehensive outdoor recreation plan – the Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan. This plan was updated every five years. Master plans for state parks were begun in 1965. During a brief period in the 1990s, the Parks Division was known as the Public Lands Division, whose duties included the management of some wildlife areas in addition to state parks, historic sites, and natural areas. Land acquisition activities are currently handled through the executive office and the Infrastructure Division handles design and construction of new facilities, repairs of existing facilities, and development of TPWD lands. Wildlife areas are managed by the Wildlife Division. The Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan has been incorporated into the more comprehensive Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan prepared by the agency. The 77th Legislature (Senate Bill 305, Regular Session) required that Texas Parks and Wildlife Department prepare (to be adopted by the commission) the Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan by October 15, 2002. The plan was adopted and the latest version (2015) is on the website of the TPWD (

The Wildlife Division manages and conserves all the state’s wildlife resources. Its responsibilities include wildlife planning, research, inventorying wildlife resources, monitoring population dynamics, regulating game seasons and bag limits, conserving non-game and rare species, habitat conservation and acquisition, providing technical assistance to land owners, operating and managing 52 wildlife management areas, and assisting with the management of 123 state parks. The division also uses state-owned and operated lands to conduct wildlife research, field tours, seminars, wildlife management operations, and offers public access to these lands for public hunting and other recreational and education uses. Most of the work done by the division is eligible for reimbursement under the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, also known as the Pittman-Robertson Act.

The Coastal Fisheries Division manages the marine fishery resources of Texas’ four million acres of saltwater, including the bays and estuaries and out to nine nautical miles in the Gulf of Mexico. Management strategies are designed to sustain fisheries harvest at levels necessary to ensure replenishable stocks of important species and provide balanced food webs within the marine ecosystems. The division conducts monitoring programs year round to gather technical data to assess population levels and develop fishing regulations. The division operates three hatchery facilities to enhance populations of several species of game fish, through increasing abundance of the fish and offsetting impacts of natural catastrophes. The Coastal Fisheries Division is advised and guided by the recommendations of the Artificial Reef Advisory Committee, the Oyster Advisory Committee, and the Shrimp Advisory Committee. Over the years committee members consisted of representatives from various groups, including the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Gulf Coast Fisherman’s Environmental Defense Fund, the Attorney General’s Office, the Texas Shrimp Association, the Texas General Land Office, and the West Gulf Maritime Association.

The Coastal Fisheries Division also operates the Artificial Reef Program. In 1989, the Texas Legislature directed the TPWD to develop the artificial reef potential of Texas (Senate Bill 5, 71st Legislature, Regular Session). The Texas Artificial Reef Plan was adopted in 1990, creating the Artificial Reef Program. The basic activity of the program is to acquire surplus ships, barges, oil rigs, and other material that is then deposited on the sea floor to form artificial reefs. These reefs increase the diversity of marine organisms at those locations. The program oversees the development of three types of artificial reefs: Rigs-to-Reefs, Near-Shore/Shallow Reefs, and Ships-to-Reefs, which are funded by the Texas Artificial Reef Fund. An advisory committee was formed in 1990 to aid the program in fulfilling its obligations to the state in building reefs that are in the best interest of the citizens of Texas. The Artificial Reef Program Advisory Committee is a 10 member panel appointed by the TPW commissioners. According to the Parks and Wildlife Code (Section 89.021), the committee members represent the interests of the following groups: salt water sport fishing, offshore oil and gas producers, Texas tourism industry, the General Land Office, the Texas university system, environmental groups, a shrimp organization, a diving club, and the Attorney General’s Office. The Artificial Reed Program is guided by both the Texas Artificial Reef Plan and the Artificial Reef Advisory committee’s recommendations.

The Inland Fisheries Division manages the freshwater fishery resources of the state, which consist of 626 public impoundments and 80,000 miles of rivers and streams covering 1.7 million acres. The division activities include fisheries management and research, fish production, angler education and information, fishing access projects, and aquatic habitat management. As of 2016, the TPWD operates the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center which includes a fish hatchery, and four other hatcheries statewide.

The Infrastructure Division administers TPWD’s Capital Program, which includes all new construction, restoration, renovation, maintenance, and repair projects. It is responsible for all design and construction contracts for the department, and it provides professional design, construction, and project management services to state parks, wildlife management areas, hatcheries, and other department facilities. In particular, the Construction Design Management (CDM) Branch’s mission is “to manage the planning, design, and construction of TPWD facilities in a creative manner that complements and preserves the natural and cultural resources of Texas for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations.” The division is also TPWD’s liaison with the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

The functions of the Resource Protection Division were absorbed by other program divisions following an agency-wide reorganization in 2004. While the division was active its duties included protecting fish, wildlife, plant, and mineral resources from degradation or depletion; investigating environmental contamination that might cause the loss of fish or wildlife; providing information and recommendations to other government agencies; and participating in administrative and judicial proceedings concerning pollution incidents, development projects, and other actions that might affect fish and wildlife. It reviewed permits proposed for wastewater discharge and hazardous waste disposal by the then-Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission and the Railroad Commission of Texas. The division also investigated fish kills, attempting to determine responsibility for the kill and recovering the economic value of the fish and other lost aquatic life from the polluter. It also assessed injury to fish and wildlife resources from oil and hazardous chemical releases and sought restoration from the responsible party. The division represented the department in the Interagency Council for Oil Spill Response Planning and the Coastal Coordinating Council, a multi-agency body that reviews and coordinates state and federal laws and actions affecting the Texas coast. The division worked to protect sensitive ecological habitats and rare, threatened, or endangered plants and animals and it worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect wetland areas and to dispose of dredge material from Texas navigable waters. The division’s Resource Conservation Branch worked with the governor’s Texas Review and Comment System (TRACS) by reviewing and commenting on various projects that may have an environmental impact on state resources. It also supported the Geographic Information Systems Laboratory. The GIS lab is operated by the Executive Office and provides specialized training and spatial analysis as part of its support of agency-wide efforts to develop, manage, and maintain digital maps and natural and cultural databases which allow biologists and resource managers to more effectively manage state resources.

The Communications Division manages internal and external communication and marketing for the agency. External products include the Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine, a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) television series, and the “Passport to Texas” radio series. The division also produces print and video news releases, hunting and boating safety education programs, and employee newsletters; and continues to develop and enhance the agency’s web site. The division also operates the Texas Conservation Passport program and its consumer research group, which produce information about the state’s natural and cultural resources.

The Law Enforcement Division provides a comprehensive statewide law enforcement program to protect the state’s natural resources and environment. It provides safe boating and recreational water safety on public waters by ensuring compliance with state laws and regulations. The game wardens of the division are responsible for the enforcement of the Parks and Wildlife Code, all TPW regulations, the Texas Penal Code, and selected statutes and regulations applicable to clean air, water, and hazardous materials. To fulfill these duties, the wardens educate the public about the laws and regulations, conduct high-visibility patrols to prevent violations, and apprehend and arrest violators.

The Executive Office is headed by an Executive Director who is responsible for the administration, operation, and planning functions of the Department. He keeps the Commissioners, legislators, and Governor informed of upcoming meetings, hearings, topics of importance, and routine matters. Inquiries sent to these individuals regarding Parks and Wildlife projects and areas of concern are often referred to the executive director for a response. The Land Conservation section of this office is currently responsible for all land appraisal and acquisition activities for the agency, a function formerly handled largely by the Parks Division (Public Lands Division).

The Administrative Resources Division is responsible for the financial services of the agency, the agency’s information systems, print shop, maintenance, and security for the headquarters building. The division also issues hunting, fishing, and other licenses; and handles the registration and titling of boats and outboard motors. The Human Resources Division handles the personnel needs of the agency. The Information Technology Division supplies employees in the agency with the necessary technology resources.

(Sources include: Enabling legislation numerous years; Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, Title 2; Guide to Texas State Agencies, various editions; Texas Parks and Wildlife website (, accessed April 6, 2016); Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Self-Evaluation Report (2007, accessed April 7, 2016); and from information found in Texas Parks and Wildlife records.)

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