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Texas, Environmental Sanctuaries and Certified Local Government Grants

The topic of sanctuary cities or the use of that terminology has been discussed quite a bit in recent years. Sanctuaries, protected areas, nature reserves, are not limited to animals, plants and land.  Historically, environmental protections are not topics at the top of the list of priority action items for Texas cities; but perhaps that is changing.

Texas is (surprisingly) leading the way in the production of environmentally-friendly wind energy, and, in recent news, Texas is home to an area designated as a sanctuary from light pollution.

Texas is the leading producer of wind energy, according to ERCOT (Energy Reliability Council of Texas). Texas is the only state in the Lower 48 to operate its power grid without federal oversight because its grid is not connected to other states. This has enabled transmission projects needed to bring power from remote wind farms to population centers to move ahead without going through the federal permitting process, opening markets for wind energy developers.

I previously wrote about Dark Skies, and the ordinances some Texas cities are passing to preserve the natural night state, and quite simply, natural darkness. Thankfully, this type of municipal ordinance and local control has not yet been preempted by Texas law.[1]

Artificial and unnatural light wreaks havoc on human beings, animals and birds, however, the Texas Devils River State Natural Area has been designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. According to the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), there are only five other International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world and this recent designation creates the only International Dark Sky Sanctuary in the United States. A Dark Sky Sanctuary is defined as “public or private land that has an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is protected for its scientific, natural, or educational value, its cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment”. Texas’s Devils River State Natural Area encompasses 37,000 acres in Val Verde County and is quite a distance from any Texas city.[2]  Now a visit there is on my bucket list.

There are numerous natural Texas “sanctuaries” or Texas State Parks, all maintained by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. There are several nature sanctuaries in the state of Texas that the Nature Conservancy works hard to preserve,[3] such as the Roy E. Larson Sandyland Sanctuary near the federally protected Big Thicket Natural Reserve and the Nolan Falls Preserve near the Edwards Plateau, Chihuahuan Desert and Rio Grande Plain. More bucket-list items. There are also 14 areas in Texas that consist of federally protected lands, federal parks or monuments.

Texas cities should do their part and take care of their state, their country, and preserve nature in their jurisdiction. Municipalities in Texas should consider becoming certified local governments to work in conjunction with the federal government to work toward preservation. The CLG (Certified Local Government) program is jointly administered by the National Park Service and State Historic Preservation Offices. Once certified, a municipality or local community as a “CLG” gains access to benefits of the program and agrees to follow required federal and state requirements. A “CLG” may be eligible to apply for Certified Local Government Grants to work on a wide range of preservation projects.

In Texas, the procedures can be found on the Texas Historical Commission website.[4] Texas generally is not known to be home to tree-huggers like me, but with proper incentives, whether economic or providing a place new residents choose to live in, just maybe Texas will be known for its efforts at conservationism in the future.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.

[1] https://www.randlelawoffice.com/local-governmental-entities/plastic-bags-laredo-ordinance/

[2] https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/devils-river

[3] www.nature.org

[4] http://www.thc.texas.gov/preserve/projects-and-programs/certified-local-government/how-become-certified-local-government

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