Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Texas
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Texas Project

Assessment and monitoring at TPWD public river access leases to guide sustainable management

August 2015 - July 2017


Participating Agencies

  • Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Healthy, naturally-functioning rivers provide clean drinking water, flood abatement, habitats for fish and wildlife, paddling, fishing and other recreational opportunities, and support numerous other societal and economic benefits. Texas has over 191,000 miles of rivers and streams, and although the majority of Texans live within a mile of a river or stream, many do not realize the central role that these treasured landscapes play in quality of life for their communities. Unfortunately, when people do not feel a connection between their community and their hometown river, they’re less likely to care for it. To better link communities to their rivers, instill a sense of stewardship, and promote broad-based support for river conservation in the state, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) launched the Texas Paddling Trails Program. The program has now supported the development of 41 river paddling trails (utilizing existing public river access areas such as riverside city, county, and state parks) that offer family-friendly recreation such as kayaking, fishing, and wildlife-viewing. However, access to high quality recreational opportunities in Texas rivers continues to be limited, with the vast majority of riverside properties in private ownership. In 2011-2012, TPWD developed the River Access and Conservation Area Program (RACA), focused on expanding recreational access to rivers and streams across private lands. Projects implemented through RACA have involved long-term lease agreements (5-20 years) between TPWD and private landowners. Habitat and infrastructure improvements have then been completed at the access areas that demonstrate riparian and watershed best management practices. In addition, management plans have been developed for the new access areas in cooperation with private landowners and local community partners (e.g., fishing or paddling clubs, non-governmental organizations, watershed alliances) to support sustainable use of the properties and the river. Initial funding to implement RACA was made available through the US Department of Agriculture Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (i.e., $150,000 in 2011-2012), which resulted in seven new river access areas along the banks of the Brazos, Colorado, Guadalupe and Neches rivers. These sites provided access to more than three miles of new bank and wade fishing opportunities and opened access to more than 25 miles of river for kayak fishing, paddling, and wildlife viewing (through strategic placement of the sites and their upstream/downstream connections to other new or existing river access areas). A variety of habitat and infrastructure improvements were completed at the new access areas including removal of more than 100 tons of illegally dumped trash; development of improved parking areas and trails; installation of kiosks that promote riparian conservation messaging; installation of fencing and gated entries to prevent illegal activity and separate cattle and other livestock from fishing areas and sensitive habitats; and prescriptive guidelines that ensure sustainable use and avoid negative impacts to sensitive habitat features (e.g., limits on the number of vehicles that can access the sites per day). In 2015, TPWD received additional funding from the US Department of Agriculture Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program necessary to secure 10 additional river access areas. In selecting these 10 new river access areas, TPWD will place a priority on access areas and associated segments of river that (1) contain high quality riverine and riparian habitats (or that present a habitat restoration or enhancement demonstration opportunity), (2) have high recreational potential (e.g., unique paddling or sport fishing opportunity), (3) currently have limited public access, (4) are strategically positioned to provide upstream or downstream connections to other public river access areas (e.g., expansion of a current Texas Paddling Trail, connection to city or county parks), and (5) where a leased-access agreement of 10 years or more can be secured with the participating private landowner. River access areas secured in rural landscapes will be used to demonstrate agricultural best management practices conducive to healthy rivers and streams (e.g., vegetative buffers adjacent to row crops, alternate shade and water sources for livestock, preservation of springs and recharge features). River access areas secured near urban centers will be used to demonstrate and promote urban best management practices (e.g., riparian buffers, improved stormwater management techniques, natural channel design approaches to stream restoration). In general, TPWD will work with partners to implement habitat best management practices designed to reduce erosion, improve water quality, restore and preserve native plant communities, contribute to functional riparian zones, and support healthy instream habitats for fish and other aquatic resources. Construction of infrastructure improvements will also be supported through the program, such as parking areas, river access trails, and signage and kiosks that educate and inform visitors on habitat best management practices and recreational opportunities offered at the sites. Although general site management plans were developed for each of the river access areas secured through RACA in 2011-2012 and related informational resources were provided to the public (e.g., web pages that convey guidelines for public access and use, on-site kiosks that discuss the importance of staying on trails and conserving riparian buffers, reservation systems and/or local caretakers established to control use), no resources were dedicated by TPWD to quantitatively monitor the effects of increased recreational access on streamside lands and aquatic and fishery resources. TPWD has received anecdotal reports from landowners, fishing guides, and anglers regarding recreational pressure within these river segments and related impacts to natural resources. However, the data and information necessary to quantitatively assess impacts and support adaptive management (e.g., habitat management, special angling harvest regulations) are currently unavailable. In order to support sustainable, science-based management of streamside lands and aquatic and fishery resources at existing and planned river access areas secured through RACA, baseline assessments and monitoring must be completed of riparian and instream habitats, biological resources, and public use.