Not all state agencies are created equal. Some have a wider purview than others.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, for example, is one of the bigger ones. TPWD is responsible for Texas’ state parks and natural spaces, as well as functions like conservation, wildlife protection and law enforcement.
In January of 2023, the department’s executive director, Carter Smith, plans to retire. He’ll be replaced by David Yoskowitz, currently the executive director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Yoskowitz spoke to the Texas Standard about the challenges he thinks the agency will face in the future.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: What attracted you to this job in the first place?
David Yoskowitz: Well, you know, the work that we do here at the Harte Research Institute is really driven by taking science and creating implementable solutions. But the one thing that we’re really missing is being able to be the implementer because we are in an academic institution. And so for me, personally and professionally, to be able to complete that arc and end up at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, to be in that agency that can bring these solutions to fruition, was really a great opportunity that I just couldn’t pass. And I’m happy to be taking on the role.
The TPWD has a pretty big umbrella with lots of different functions under its control. What do you see as your top priorities for the agency once you take the reins?
Well, you know, we’re going into the next legislative session, and we want to make sure that the department is able to deliver on its mission of stewarding and conserving our cultural and our natural resources, not only today, but for the future. And so I keep bringing up the future because I’m thinking out to 2050 when there’s 25 million more Texans here. And we need to we need to be planning now for those people that will be here – and the visitors, all the hundreds of thousands of people that come to Texas every year because they want to visit our cultural and natural resources.
You put your finger on something that’s been a sore point for a lot of folks who have enjoyed Texas state parks’ incredible resources: Over the past few years, they’ve had a lot of company in those parks. In fact, there’s been some reporting about how they’re being loved to death and the state could use more of them. Is this something that’s on your radar?
Absolutely. I mean, more and more people want to engage in the outdoors; we saw that during the pandemic, right? I mean, people needed to get out. They needed to engage with the outdoors. The state parks, national parks, city parks were really packed – which is great; we want people to do that. But, you know, as the population grows, we want to make those opportunities even greater for everybody. And so it’s a priority of the department to be looking at that for the future. You know, it’s going to be a challenge. I mean, the reality is those 25 million more people are going to need a place to live, and land is going to start to get gobbled up. And we need to plan for those future state parks today.
You talk about development there – that would have real consequences for resources like water and wildlife, to say nothing of possible new park space. What do you see as TPWD’s role when it comes to managing this tension between natural space and development? There’s a lot of pressure right now.
There is a lot of pressure. And one of the things is that we feel at Texas Parks and Wildlife that the natural economy is a huge driver for the state. So we want to make sure that those resources are in great condition. And we also want to make sure that the economy of Texas continues to grow in all of its commercial sense. So there is a balance there. And, you know, that’s always been the case for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I’m an economist by training, and so I really want to continue on that philosophy that we can have both. But it takes a lot of working with external stakeholders, internal stakeholders to get to that point.
I have to ask, since I’ve got the future head of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department here: you have a favorite state park?
Oh, you can’t do that to me. Okay. I like Davis Mountain State Park. Of course, where I’m at, just a few miles away, Mustang Island State Park. I mean, they all are so unique, right? They’re all so unique. And they all deliver on something different. So, yeah, I enjoy them all – the ones that I’ve been able to visit. I still have a lot more to visit, too.