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LIVING OFF THE LAND

August 26, 1997

New laws affecting agriculture
become effective September 1


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AUSTIN, August 26, 1997 - Commissioner Rick Perry recently reminded Texas farmers and ranchers that several new laws impacting agriculture are set to become effective Sept. 1.

"From private property postings to fire ant research to horse theft prevention the 75th Legislature passed a number of bills that producers and landowners need to know about," Perry said.

The following is a summary of legislation passed during the 75th Legislature that affects Texas agriculture and becomes effective Sept. 1:

Pesticides: House Bill 1144 consolidates the state's pesticide and herbicide legal codes, strengthens the enforcement of the state's pesticide laws and streamlines regulatory requirements.

Water: One provision in Senate Bill 1 expands an agricultural loan program - the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority's Linked Deposit Program - that lends money to farmers and ranchers who implement water conservation initiatives such as converting to more efficient irrigation equipment, building or improving stock tanks or clearing brush.

Agricultural Loans: House Bill 2499 increases the maximum loan amount available to buy farm or ranch land under the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority's Farm & Ranch Finance Program from $150,000 to $250,000. House Bill 933 increases the maximum loan amount borrowed under TAFA's Young Farmer Loan Guarantee Program from $50,000 to $100,000.

Fire Ant Research: A provision in the state appropriations bill, House Bill 1, provides $2.5 million each year over the next biennium for research into long-term, cost effective and ecological methods of controlling fire ants. Funding also will be used to organize community-wide fire ant management programs and to educate the public about effectively controlling fire ants.

Private Property Notices: House Bill 793 allows landowners to use purple paint marks on trees or posts as no-trespassing notices.

Confidential Water and Soil Plans: Water quality management or soil conservation plans developed by landowners or tenants in cooperation with local or state soil and water conservation districts will not be subject to the Texas Open Records Law under House Bill 1808.

Liability Limits: House Bill 2664 clarifies previous liability legislation by specifying that limited liability applies only to owners of "agricultural land used for recreational purposes." The bill also protects landowners from unlimited liability for non-paying as well as paying invited guests who visit agricultural lands for recreation such as bird watching, hiking and hunting.

Agricultural Improvements: House Bill 2945 allows agricultural landowners to construct barns, pens, equipment sheds and fences on their property without fear of liability as long as the structures do not affect public health or interfere with the flow of water, light or air to other agricultural lands.

Poaching: House Bill 1941 provides additional penalties for poaching that include suspension or loss of fishing or hunting licenses.

Livestock Inspections: House Bill 1823 allows livestock slaughtered for personal use to be exempted from inspections by the Texas Department of Health.

Horse Theft Prevention: House Bill 2396 strengthens horse theft prevention efforts in Texas by requiring the Texas Agricultural Extension Service to provide training to horse owners in horse theft prevention. The bill identifies certain law enforcement agencies that are responsible for training their employees in investigating horse thefts. And the bill provides various methods horse owners can use to identify their animals.

Timber: Penalties for unauthorized timber harvests and a trust fund for timber sales are established by House Bill 1128. House Bill 1723 allows landowners who convert agricultural use land to timber production to retain the agricultural classification and appraisal for 15 years - the amount of time it generally takes to grow a crop of trees that can be harvested.

For a complete summary of agricultural bills passed during the 75th Legislature, Internet users may access the Texas Department of Agriculture's Sine Die Report at the agency's Website at (http://www.agr.state.tx.us).

Parks department expands
public dove lease program


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AUSTIN August 26, 1997 - The upcoming dove season is shaping up to be one of the best in years, and to make it possible for the average hunter to get in on the action, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has expanded its public dove lease program to include over 100 prime wingshooting areas.

The special public dove hunting areas will be open to any hunter with a valid Texas hunting license and a $40 annual public hunting permit, which also allows access to 1.4 million acres of public land for many other types of hunting and outdoor recreation opportunities, including deer, feral hog, turkey, quail, squirrel and waterfowl.

The public lease effort, designed to bring dove hunting opportunities to urbanites at a reasonable cost by leasing dove hunting fields within easy driving distance of the city, will be entering its fourth year when the dove season opens Sept. 1.

The program is expanding beyond the original pilot project, which targeted lease opportunities along the IH 35 and IH 37 corridors and now includes approximately 38,000 acres located throughout traditional dove hunting areas of the state.

"We've signed up a tremendous number of quality public dove leases along one of the better dove flyways, from Falfurrius to George West," remarked South Texas wildlife biologist Joe Herrera. "Those people who take advantage of these public dove leases are in for a whale of a year. The program is still young, but when people begin to find out about these cheap leases, it's a great opportunity."

The first year, the pilot program brought together some 4,000 acres at 10 locations. In 1995, the program improved to over 25 signed leases and last year, that figure doubled, said TPWD director of public hunts Kirby Brown. "This year, we concentrated our leasing efforts on the best dove hunting areas available, which enabled us to expand opportunity to many parts of the state.

"There's no excuse for anyone in Texas to miss out on hunting opportunities because of cost," stressed Brown. "We have over a million acres of public hunting land available for a nominal fee of just $40 a year. And, all young people (under 17) hunt free of charge with a permitted adult on all our public hunting lands."

Fields containing plenty of dove-attracting food supplies, such as sunflower, have been the targets for the TPWD lease efforts, according to Brown.

"That's what we've been looking for because doves tend to stay in an area as long as there's food available," he said. "We had great shooting on these areas last year, particularly early in the season. Water is also a critical factor on many of the areas."

Brown said few restrictions will be placed on users of the dove lease lands. Most entrance points are designated and signing in is required at some areas for the purpose of maintaining hunter density counts, but access won't be restricted otherwise.

"Hunters who purchase their annual hunting permit early and get the map booklet are welcome to come out a week before the season opens and scout out prime spots," he said. "We only ask that you respect the land and the landowner so we can keep a good relationship for the future."

Maps of the dove areas will be available only to individuals purchasing an annual public hunting permit. Map booklets may be picked up when purchasing the permit at a TPWD law enforcement office, but otherwise will be mailed within three to four days if purchased at a retail license outlet or through the 24-hour, toll free number.

For last minute hunters, the toll free number will provide an authorization code good for access to the public dove lease areas.

For more information about the public dove lease program, call 1-800-792-1112 or 512-389-4505. The annual public hunting permit is available now wherever licenses are sold and via credit card by calling 1-800-TX-LIC-4-U.

Public dove hunting area available in Dell City this season


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DELL CITY, August 26, 1997 - A public dove hunting area is now available in Dell City, Texas for use by the general hunting public during the 1997 mourning dove season established for the north zone in Texas.

The public dove leasing program initially centered around the Interstate 35-37 corridor in Central Texas, but has greatly expanded in two years to include West Texas.

To better meet the demand for public hunting opportunity, and to encourage or rekindle participation in hunting by the general public, particularly by youth, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department initiated a public dove lease acquisition program in 1994. The Department negotiated short-term leases for hunting dove with private landowners for property near metropolitan areas to provide hunt opportunities convenient to large numbers of hunters. The innovative public dove lease program is now expanding into rural areas.

To be able to legally hunt at the public dove lease, hunters must possess:

* A valid Texas Hunting License.

* A $7 white-wing dove stamp - required of residents and non-residents who hunt white-winged doves.

* A $40 Annual Public Hunting Permit (formerly known as the Type 11 Permit)

All hunters must comply with the rules and regulations posted at the entrance to the hunt area. Hunting licenses, hunting stamps, and the Annual Public Hunting Permit can be obtained from any license vendor in the state.

Open Season for Mourning Dove in the North Zone

* Dates: 60 consecutive days beginning Sept. 1 (Sept. l - Oct. 30, 1997)

* Shooting hours: one-half hour before sunrise to sunset

* Bag and possession limits: 15 mourning dove, white-winged dove, and white-tipped doves in the aggregate including no more than 2 white-tipped doves per day; 30 mourning, white-wing, and white-tipped doves including no more than 4 white-tipped doves in possession.

While under lease to the TPWD, the tract is a bona fide Wildlife Management Area with all the protection afforded by the Proclamation for WMAs under Chapter 81 of the Parks and Wildlife Code.

Please direct all questions the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Wildlife District Office located in Alpine. Texas - telephone no. 915-837-2051.

Balmorhea rancher accepted into
Clarendon College RFO program



By GREG HARMAN
Staff Writer
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BALMORHEA, August 26, 1997- Damon Mellard of Balmorhea was recently accepted into the 1997-98 Clarendon College Ranch and Feedlot Operations (RFO) program along with 25 other young men.

Christi Ross, the Public Informations Coordinator at Clarendon College, said that every year the college receives up to 80 applications for admission but generally accept no more than 32. She described the RFO program as a "very elite program," and said that "candidates must have a strong agricultural background and good knowledge of the industry to be accepted."

Jerry Gage, the RFO Director, said "We are very satisfied with the young men we have selected."

Scholarships at Clarendon College are awarded at mid-semester after students have had a chance to prove themselves, and Ross said Mellard had a "good chance" of receiving such a scholarship.

Clarendon College is the oldest institution of higher education in the Texas Panhandle and one of just a few colleges in the country which offer a degree in Ranch and Feedlot Operations. According to Ross, the closest comparison to the program from another school would be the Ranch Management program at Texas Christian University. In fact, she said Clarendon's RFO program is modeled on that of TCU.

Though school is still a few days off, Mellard is already at Clarendon with his sister and brother-in- law. "This is not a blow-off program," Mellard said, "You have to pay attention and you can't skip class."

Mellard was pleased that there is a "lot of field work involved" in the program. "I like to get out and get my hands dirty," he said. According to a bulletin issued by the college "it is not unusual for a RFO student to have logged more than 8,000 miles across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico by visiting top ranches, feed-yards and agricultural centers."

Damon Mellard's father, Courtney Mellard, said that his son applied to the school in February and they were invited up to an interview in April. It was then that they toured the campus, but it wasn't until June 1 that they found out Damon Mellard had been officially accepted.

"We have four kids and all of them have done good," Courtney Mellard confided. When asked about his son's future plans he said that Damon Mellard plans to return home after graduation and work the family ranch. "He'll probably spend most of his time here," he said. Damon Mellard agreed, "I'll probably go back home (after graduation) and go to ranching."

Reeves County Yourth Rodeo results released


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PECOS, August 27, 1997 - The Reeves County Youth Rodeo, held Aug. 15 and 16, results are in.

In the 8 and Under category, the All-Around Buckle was won by Blake Bowman of Ft. Stockton; Guthrie Long placed 4th in Barrels, 4th in Poles, and 2nd in Goat Hair Pulling; and Trey Allgood placed 5th in Poles, 6th in Goat Hair Pulling, and 3rd in the Flag Race.

In the category for Girls 9-14, All-Around Buckle was won by Salem Mitchell of Pecos and Ella Fernandes of Wink. Salem Mitchell also placed 1st in Barrels, 1st in Goat Tying, and 1st in Break-Away Roping; Courtney Clark placed 3rd in Barrels and 2nd in Poles; Amanda Armstrong placed 3rd in Barrels; Lauren Martinez placed 10th in Barrels and 5th in Goat Tying; and Shelly Martinez placed 10th in Goat Tying.

The All-Around Buckle in the Boys 9-14 category was won by Timothy Hayter from Fort Stockton; John Marvin Clark placed 1st in Barrels and 5th in Poles; J.R. Gonzales took 4th in Barrels, 4th in Poles, and 3rd in Goat Tying; Jake McKinney placed 5th in Barrels and 1st in Goat Tying; and Aurelio Lopez placed 6th in Barrels and 2nd in Poles.

In the category for Girls 15-19, All-Around Buckle was won by Renea Rasberry of Pecos. Renea also won 2nd in Barrels, 1st in Break-Away Roping, and 2nd in Team Roping; DeAnda Allgood placed 3rd in Barrels.

In the Boys 15-19 category, the All-Around Buckle was won by Clay Ryan McKinney of Pecos and Derek Erskine from Wink. Quint Rasberry took 2nd in Break-Away Roping; Clay Ryan McKinney won 2nd in Team Roping and 3rd in Tie Down Roping; and Trevor Warren and Randall Barmore both placed 1st in Team Roping.

Rocky Mountain camping available in Texas


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EL PASO, August 26, 1997 - Outdoors enthusiasts seeking a Rocky Mountain high don't have to leave Texas to experience it. Yes, believe it or not, the southernmost foothills of the mighty Rockies - the Franklin Mountains in El Paso - form the geologic backbone of the nation's largest urban wilderness park, which sits at the northern edge of this borderland city of more than half a million people.

Like a cowboy on his mount, Franklin Mountains State Park straddles the mountain range's spine, spilling over its eastern and western flanks to encompass 24,000 acres of craggy peaks as high as 7,192 feet, cactus-covered valleys, caves, springs and mile after mile of Chihuahuan Desert flatlands. The park is split by Woodrow Bean Transmountain Road which climbs from about 4,300 feet elevation through the 5,200 foot pass to connect east and west El Paso. The park's newly constructed and desert-landscaped entrance lies on the mountain's western slope.

A paradox to the uninitiated, the park lies only 10 miles from the teeming El Paso/Juarez border megalopolis and just above creeping suburban sprawl, but in its unfettered serenity seems at times as remote as Big Bend. Despite its proximity to a huge urban population, Franklin Mountains State Park, unlike its internationally known sister park, Hueco Tanks State Historical Park, remains a mostly undiscovered natural treasure whose more than 100 miles of trails and 44 picnic sites go uncrowded except during holiday weekends. Five picnic sites offer accessibility to the mobility impaired.

A mid-July visit found only scant use by a handful of mountain bikers and a couple of picnickers enjoying the park's newly constructed shade shelters, which come with grills, a table and access to new biodegradable Clivus Multrum unisex toilets. The shelters and toilets are just part of an extensive $1.5 million face-lift last year that also included extensive improvements to the road leading into the Tom Mays unit of the park. In addition, a cadre of volunteers from local bicycle and climbing clubs, scout groups and other park supporters helped clean existing trails, develop new ones and clear sites for camping.

With the exception of 10 primitive camp sites (the park offers no water, electricity or sewer hookups), which were opened Jan. 1 to allow overnight stays for the first time ever, Franklin Mountains offers only day use, opening at 8 a.m. and closing each day at 5 p.m. Texas Parks and Wildlife has taken an innovative approach to campsite development by creating six tent platforms that can be moved as needed to lessen the environmental impact on the park's fragile ecosystem. Four other sites offer traditional camping.

Persons planning to camp need to make reservations with the park by calling 915-566-6441 in advance and obtain a back country camping permit at the ranger booth just inside the park's western entrance.

But there's far more than just limited camping to recommend this West Texas gem. Few other state parks can offer the variety of recreational activities available to the outdoors lover.

"We're trying to make the park as recreationally diverse as possible by offering such things as hiking, camping, picnicking, rappelling, rock climbing, horseback riding and mountain biking," said park peace officer Hector Terrazas. "This is one of the few parks where you can come and bring your mountain bike, camp overnight, do some hiking and bouldering and leave."

One of the park's newest attractions is a climber's wall in Snead's Quarry, about one mile from the park entrance. The 48-foot sheer granite face has been bolted for rock climbing and has proven popular for rappelling, especially with members of El Paso's Combined Search and Rescue team which is occasionally called upon to rescue careless hikers from the unforgiving mountain terrain.

About a quarter mile up the road is the new Nature Walk, which can be a little tough to find because it's not marked. Look for a pull-out on the right. The trailhead is directly across the road.

The mostly flat half-mile trail winds through desert flatlands and dry arroyos. Dozens of desert plants are identified, providing an excellent introduction to the remarkable variety of flora found in the Chihuahua Desert. My visit found sotol in full regalia throughout the park, their tall, spindly, plume-topped stalks buffeted by a gentle breeze. At other times of the year, the desert blazes in the glory of blooming ocotillo, yuccas, prickly pear cacti, desert willow and tree cholla Watch for cottontails, lizards, mule deer, fox and an occasional cougar along the way.

Late summer and early fall, traditionally the desert's rainiest months, provide hikers with a phenomenon rarely occurring at other times of the year in the Franklins - a flowing, clear-water spring. West Cottonwood Springs oozes from a canyon just below the mountain crest on the western slope, proving one of the park's most popular hiking destinations. Guided tours ($2 per person) to the spring take place on the first and third weekends year-round, providing insight into Franklin Mountains geology, biology and history. Park rangers also lead half-mile hiking tours those same weekends to Aztec Caves. Tours depart from the park's front entrance at 9 a.m. In all, the park boasts 125 miles of trails to explore by foot.

Franklin Mountains State Park is becoming increasingly popular with off-road bicycling enthusiasts. Some 51 miles of marked mountain biking trails crisscross the desert floor, snaking up and down the foothills, through canyons and along elevated ridges, challenging pros who race there and enticing novices to try some of the less intimidating routes.

On Sept. 13, the park and Borderland Mountain Bike Association will host the first Desert Dusk-to-Dawn 12-hour mountain bike relay race, which will draw competitors from as far away as Arizona and Chihuahua City, Mexico.

Twenty-two miles of trails allow hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders alike. They are marked by small bumblebee-colored signs usually found near the day-use areas. Additional multiuse trails are in either the planning or building stage.

"There will not be an end to the good he's done," reads the plaque dedicated to William Blythe Mayfield erected at the group shelter area located atop a ridge at the end of the 2.5 mile park road. The preservation efforts begun by Mayfield that led to the creation of the former Tom Mays Park continue through the efforts of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Future plans call for a new Visitors Center, additional trails and the re-opening of the Mount Franklin tramway on Ranger Peak.

In the meantime, today's visitor can revel in this unique and pristine wilderness park, view stunning mile-high vistas, listen to the quiet and walk in the footsteps of nomadic prehistoric tribes, Spanish conquistadors, Mexican traders, Anglo settlers and others who journeyed through El Paso del Norte (The Pass of the North) centuries before.

While visiting Franklin Mountains State Park, be sure to immerse yourself in borderland history at Magoffin Home State Historical Park on the edge of downtown El Paso and take time to explore the archeological wonders of Hueco Tanks State Historical Park on the eastern edge of El Paso County.

Franklin Mountains State Park is one of 124 parks that comprise the Texas State park system. For information about Texas state parks, call 1-800-792-1112 or access the TPWD web page: www.tpwd.state.tx.us.

Off-season offers many advantages
for camping in scenic Texas parks


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PECOS, August 26, 1997 - More and more Texans are discovering that camping isn't just for summer anymore and that off-season trips to enjoy the outdoors offer a number of advantages.

Campers this fall and winter can choose from more than 50 Texas State Parks - from the scenic mountains of West Texas to the lush forests of the Pineywoods to sun-soaked Gulf beaches - in which to pitch a tent or park a camper. And, when they go, camping enthusiasts will enjoy cooler weather, less crowded conditions and special seasonal incentives.

A new promotion by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department offers holders of a Discovery Passport a chance to earn a free night of camping in a state park from November through February. A passport holder can earn a free night of camping for every five overnight stays at a state park campsite or screened shelter. In addition, a number of state parks offer special seasonal pricing during the camping off-season.