THE OPEN ROAD – As good highway drivers, we keep a sharp eye out for slick roads, dangerous curves and, of course, cops. But now we must also watch out for yet another danger: wildlife which dart across the road in front of us in their suicidal attempt to run up our car insurance premiums. And it’s getting worse. Press report: Across the country, collisions with deer — the most common type of animal-related incident — cost more than $8.3 billion per year, including vehicle repair, medical services, towing, law enforcement time and carcass disposal. The damages increase when larger animals like moose or elk are hit. (Plus in Texas we have lots of wandering horses and cattle.) The story goes on to say that spring and autumn are the worst times because that’s when animals hunt for a mate — or try to avoid hunters hunting them.
The situation is getting worse in the Lone Star State, and there is a unique reason for this: lots more people, which means more houses and shopping centers, more roads and more vehicles on them, all pushing wildlife out of their usual habitats and into our car’s path. So we have a one-two punch. More people moving in, less space for Bambi, causing more collisions.
Dead deer may be the least of our problems, so let’s look at this changing situation and figure out what to do about it. We all know that Texas’ population is growing like deer – by leaps and bounds. Texas added more residents last year over the previous year than any other state, recording more than twice the national rate of population growth. With an estimated population of almost 26.5 million, the Lone Star State remains the nation’s second most populous, behind California. But Texas is catching up by adding an estimated 387,397 residents in the year ending July 1. Actually, many Californians moved from there to here, doubling the change.
Texas ranked fifth in percentage growth over the previous year, behind North Dakota, the District of Columbia, Utah and Colorado. But remember that is percentage growth, not an actual headcount. One Mormon family of 10 moving to Fargo would greatly increase the percentage growth. Much of our increase is projected to continue in urban areas for Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and El Paso, spreading out into their suburbs, fields and forests. But as we have noted before, 96 Texas counties lost population from 2010 to 2012. No one moves to Pecos.
Here a few items which reflect the population explosion. Last August the City of Houston issued more single-unit building permits than did the entire state of California. This obviously only includes construction within the city limits, so urban sprawl is going in every direction. Same with the Metroplex which, we must remember, has a larger population than the Houston area. As a result, it costs more to advertise on a Fort Worth TV station than on a Houston station.
Stephen Klineberg, a Rice University sociology professor who keeps tabs on us, noted that Harris County is projected to see 1 million new residents over the next 20 years, with 3 million coming to the broader Houston region during that time. Should Texas experience the same population growth it had between 2000 and 2010, there will be 55.2 million of us in 2050. If you want to know who is moving where, who should you ask? A moving company, obviously. Allied Van Lines puts Texas atop its list of growing locales for the ninth straight year.
Where shall we put all these new Texans? The vast majority of Texas land — 83 percent — is part of a farm, ranch or forest. But Texas is losing such rural land more than any other state. The state experienced a net loss of nearly 1.1 million acres of privately owned farms, ranches and forests from 1997 to 2012. Another study by the USDA estimates that, between 1982 and 2007, Texas lost 2.9 million acres of agricultural land (more than a million acres more than any other state) to other land uses. Again, this was in large part because of the exploding growth of metropolitan areas. Travis County, for example, lost almost a quarter of its open space while land gained an average of $8,297 per acre in value between 1997 and 2012.
In Robertson County just north of booming Austin, land which has been farmed by families for generations may no longer be farms because of a massive project by Union Pacific Railroad. This farmland comprises the “Brazos River Bottom,” some of the richest agricultural land in Texas. Union Pacific has already purchased farmland and will use its power of eminent domain to condemn the rest — up to 1,800 acres. Any wildlife there will be seeking new homes across the road. Also, while driving through Robertson County watch for wild farmers also driven from their land.
We must plan for this growth. For example, Hispanic students will make up nearly two-thirds of Texas’ public school enrollment by the year 2050, and this doesn’t include the 10,000 youngsters who recently waded here from Nicaragua. Should we teach English as a first language? More students will want to attend The University of Texas-Austin and Texas A&M-Highway 6. Maybe by texting. We shall need a lot more water, but Texas voters agreed to tap – so to speak – our Rainy Day Fund for half of new revenue to build more highways. Not one dime for mass transit, high-speed rail, etc. Just more concrete, less dirt to absorb our rain. Maybe we should have called it the Highway Builders Retirement Fund. More vehicles mean more pollution. Thankfully we already have pure air and clean water. We’ll need more prisons and more landfill. Just imagine the evacuation for Hurricane Billy Bob in 2050. We should start leaving in 2040. So we must get ready for this onslaught, otherwise we’ll look like a deer caught in the headlights. OK, bad example.
Ashby is booming at firstname.lastname@example.org