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Wild Times May 2024

Dan Oko is an environmental and adventure travel writer based in Houston, and over the last 20 years, his work has appeared in a wide range of outlets including Texas Monthly, Adventure Journal, Outside, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Highways and Garden & Gun. Along the way he has mountain biked, hiked, backpacked, kayaked and fished his way across Texas.

Dan and his wife and daughter love to escape the big city by spending time outdoors, and they’ve made many memories together in Texas State Parks. Living in one of the largest cities in the country, there’s no escaping the impact of a growing Texas population and the attendant pressure on natural resources not only around Houston but also across the state.

"We're facing a big fight to save what's left. My passion to be a writer grew out of a notion that my voice could provide an opportunity to conserve what's left.”

This year, Dan added his voice as a We Will Not Be Tamed ambassador for Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF). We Will Not Be Tamed calls us to appreciate the wildness of Texas, the vastness of our Texas spirit and why we should be inspired to conserve it. For Dan, becoming an ambassador will give him another platform to share his passions and find new places to roam.

"I think access to public lands in Texas is crucial. I think the expansion of public lands is crucial. I feel like I’ve been an ambassador in an unofficial capacity for a long time. So, the ability to talk to people about what's important to me is absolutely simpatico with everything that I've been interested in for decades."

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  Story #2: Win everything you need to enjoy your next outdoor adventure!  

Expert outdoor enthusiasts like Dan Oko know that having the right stuff on hand can make the difference between a good outdoor outing and a great one. That’s why TPWF has partnered with Texas Trailblazing partners who know their way around a campground, a hiking trail or a hunting camp. These partners share our passion for conserving the wild things and wild places of Texas and they want to encourage you to do the same by becoming a TPWF member.

And to share their appreciation for what TPWF members do to conserve the lands, waters and wildlife of our state, they’ve collaborated on a package of outdoor items that will sweeten your next outdoor adventure.

  March Membership Promotion  

If you join or renew your membership by April 9, you will be entered in a TPWF drawing* for a chance to win Vaquero chair, Keeping It Wild coffee and T-Shirt from our Texas Trailblazing Partners CHAMA, Frame Coffee and Hiking Texas!

Join Now

 *The price of membership pays for TPWF membership only and not for the chance to win the Vaquero chair, Keeping It Wild coffee and T-Shirt. Members who join or renew between January 1 and April 9 are automatically entered in the drawing.
  Story #3: Living with Black Bears in West Texas  

For those who appreciate the wild things and wild places of Texas, the recolonization of black bears in West Texas is thrilling news. Black bears were extirpated from the Trans-Pecos region of Texas by the 1950s but began recolonizing the area, including Big Bend National Park, in the 1990s. As bears have moved into areas where they interact with humans, inevitable conflicts have occurred

The Borderlands Research Foundation and the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) at Sul Ross State University are partnering with TPWF to raise private funds for BRI’s Human-Black Bear Coexistence project. The project aims to help scientists better understand the region’s black bear populations and habitat needs, monitor their range expansion and foster that expansion by reducing human-black bear conflict.

"There’s a lot of excitement in West Texas about the return of this beloved but rare native species,” said Borderlands Research Institute Director Dr. Louis Harveson. “Most people don’t know how to live in bear country and simple things like bear-proof trash cans aren’t top-of-mind for folks yet. We hope that education and outreach strategies along with more research studies will help us coexist with black bears as they return home to their native range.”

TPWF is working to raise funds for the project, and you can help, too.


  Story #4: Gear Up for Game Wardens Equipment Plays Critical Role in Turtle Rescues  

Texas Game Wardens were on the frontlines of the herculean effort to rescue cold-stunned sea turtles up and down the coast during the February deep freeze that engulfed the state.

According to the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network (STSSN), more than 12,000 turtles were affected. That number is triple the number rescued during the winter of 2017-2018, which had been the largest cold stunning event since STSSN was established in 1980.

Texas Game Wardens had access to some equipment this time that they haven’t had in the past. Two specially rigged airboat trailers and a Utility Terrain Vehicle (UTV) provided through Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s (TPWF) Gear Up for Game Wardens program were critical elements of the Texas Game Warden response.

“We were able to move airboats around easily and for that reason, we got to a lot more turtles than we would have otherwise,” said Texas Game Warden Captain Ben Baker.

Texas Game Wardens also patrolled hard-to-reach areas onshore with a UTV, also provided through Gear Up for Game Wardens. TPWD game wardens and coastal fisheries staff rescued more than one thousand turtles, and Texas Game Warden Major Ellis Powell estimates the number would have been half that without the equipment provided through Gear Up for Game Wardens.

"To have the citizens of the state of Texas step up and get behind our game wardens to provide these specialty tools we wouldn’t otherwise have is wonderful,” said Powell. “Whether it's search and rescue of people or search and rescue of turtles, this equipment is making a big difference in how we can meet our mission.”

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  Story #5: Eagle Scout Supports Texas Game Warden K-9 Team  

Shane Menz has spent more than two-thirds of his young life as a Boy Scout, and he has recently attained the coveted rank of Eagle Scout. It’s been a 12-year journey that culminated with 21 merit badges and a service project that will benefit the Texas Game Warden K-9 Team.

"I’ve always had an interest in training dogs because my dad is a police officer and works with K-9s,” said Menz. “About the time I was thinking about what I would do for my service project I met Texas Game Warden Scott Kirkpatrick and his K-9 Partner, Ray.”

For his project, he built 15 scent boxes that will be used for K-9 training across the state. Because of COVID, Menz raised the dollars for the project through an online fundraising platform. As it turned out, Home Depot ended up donating most of the supplies, so Menz ended up with a surplus of close to $700. He decided to donate those funds to Gear Up for Game Wardens.

"We were thrilled to hear about this donation, and we’re earmarking the funds to benefit the K-9 Assistance Fund,” said Austin Taylor, who manages the Gear Up for Game Wardens program for TPWF. “The K-9 Assistance Fund provides the resources to replace retiring K-9s on a schedule that will allow for continuity within the K-9 Unit.”

Menz and his parents met Kirkpatrick recently to hand off the 15 scent boxes, which will be distributed to K-9 Teams across Texas.

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  Story #6: Preview Visit to Palo Pinto Mountains State Park with Dan Oko  

One of the perks of being a We Will Not Be Tamed ambassador is participating in a photoshoot with a professional photographer in a fabulous Texas location. For ambassador Dan Oko, that involved a trip to Palo Pinto Mountains State Park. The park will open to the public once a $9 million private fundraising effort led by TPWF is completed. We’re about halfway there, and road and utility construction are now underway. Dan offered to share his experience with all of us and penned this blog post about his recent visit to Palo Pinto Mountains State Park.

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