Concerns About State Forest Development Plan Lead to Changed Legislation

Texas A&M wants to use part of Jones State Forest for “new educational purposes.” Locals who frequent the forest worry about what that could mean.

By Travis BubenikApril 12, 2017 10:02 am| , , , ,

From Houston Public Media

Just north of the Woodlands, there’s a dispute brewing about the future of a rare expanse of public lands hidden among the area’s sprawling suburbs.

Jones State Forest is owned by Texas A&M. Since the 1920’s it’s been an active forestry lab, a place where researchers, landowners and loggers have explored ways to both use and protect the ecosystem here. It’s also home to a federally-protected bird, the “red-cockaded woodpecker.” In more modern times, Boy Scouts and afternoon hikers take to the woods to hide away from the region’s more familiar noise and concrete.

A&M wants to use about 10% of the forest for what the university calls “new educational purposes,” and that’s got area residents like Mark Bowen worried.

“I love this forest,” he says while walking to his favorite spot near a small pond. “This is like part of my family.”

He and other locals heard about the plan through Senate Bill 1964, filed at the state legislature this session. As originally written, the bill would’ve allowed A&M to build in the forest – for educational or research purposes – but that wasn’t what got folks talking.

“When local neighbors started seeing that this bill included the possibility of commercial development, that caused quite a bit of concern,” Bowen says.

Commercial development? Who knew what that could mean? And that’s what worried people.

“I felt a little bit uncomfortable with how vague that language was,” says the bill’s author, Conroe State Senator Brandon Creighton.

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