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April 2010 cover image 12 Hooked!

From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

Ask any 10 Texans over 35 to name the most effective public outreach campaigns in the state, and I will bet you a chocolate milkshake that “Don’t Mess With Texas” is at the top of the list. The brilliance of that campaign was both in its simplicity and in its ability to tap into our state’s legendary pride and passion for all things Texan. Let me tell you, it was powerful.

As many will undoubtedly recall, the blue “Don’t Mess With Texas” signs posted prominently along our highways made travelers think before they carelessly pitched out another empty bag of chips or soft drink can onto a highway shoulder. And, if that was not enough of a deterrent, who was going to argue when Texas icons Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson admonished us in their TV and radio jingles to keep our trash in our vehicles or else face the wrath of our fellow Texans. For those who ignored the warnings, the result was inevitably a good old-fashioned tongue-lashing or finger-wagging or, at the very least, a penetrating stare of disapproval from a fellow passenger or passing motorist. The peer pressure was intense, and it worked.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is going to take a page out of that playbook this month when we launch the latest salvo in our war against the spread of exotic aquatic plants throughout Texas’ rivers, lakes and reservoirs. It is an ambitious and far-reaching boater outreach campaign titled “Hello Giant Salvinia. Goodbye Fishing Hole.” Using all the communication tools available in our arsenal, from the Web, television, radio and social media to strategically placed signage at boat ramps, billboards along major roads leading to lakes and even signs on buoys in the lakes themselves, we will remind anglers and boaters just what is at risk from the spread of these pernicious, exotic plants. Better yet, we will ask them to take quick action if they want to continue to enjoy Texas’ great lakes and rivers.

Exotic plants like giant salvinia, water hyacinth and hydrilla can be easily spread from water body to water body by unwitting boaters and fishermen who do not properly clean off their boat hulls and trailers when leaving a lake or river. As anglers, boaters, homeowners, river authorities, lake managers and fisheries biologists can agree, the results of these exotic hitchhikers getting established in places like Caddo Lake, Lake Conroe, Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn are not beneficial ones. These fast-spreading plants that literally take over the water’s surface can be huge impediments to recreational use, unsightly for lakegoers, damaging to our fisheries, very expensive to control and almost impossible to eliminate.

As my colleague Larry D. Hodge writes in his article this month, the proliferation of exotic and invasive species poses one of the greatest threats to our state’s proud natural heritage, on both land and water. Complacency in the wake of this threat to our native fish and wildlife populations is not an option.

Thanks for caring about Texas’ lands and waters. They need you more than ever.

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