In 1990 TPWD Wildlife Biologist Gary Homerstad became a Technical Guidance Biologist for Region 4, which in part includes the South Central Texas area (District 7). That year two new wildlife management associations, West Carancahua Creek and Harvey’s Creek, were organized in District 7. The Peach Creek and Belmont WMA had been organized in 1973 and 1985 respectively but by 1990 they were inactive.
Nowhere in Texas were the negative effects of habitat fragmentation more evident than in the south central part of the state. The area within the triangle bounded by Houston, Austin, and San Antonio was becoming increasingly comprised of smaller properties which more often than not belonged to absentee landowners. Starting in 1990, new WMAs began to form at an ever increasing rate and by 1996 there were 26 in District 7. In addition to individual meetings, some groups held joint field days with neighboring co-ops that seemed to work very well. Need was driving the train of WMA organization and expansion, especially in south central Texas.
Homerstad recognized the importance of these associations and realized that they represented the only viable way for Texas landowners to effectively manage their thousands of small properties in a way that would benefit, rather than harm, wildlife. Wildlife co-ops became a major focus of his efforts and he made a personal commitment to attending as many WMA functions as possible. The concept of reaching a large group of landowners all at one time, as opposed to the normal labor intensive and expensive TPWD practice of one on one consultation, was very apparent to him.
Even though he realized promoting and supporting co-ops dramatically increased his effectiveness, he soon found it difficult or impossible to make every meeting of every co-op. He also knew he was sharing the same information and answering the same questions at all the meetings. In an effort to make better use of his time he came up with the idea of getting leaders from all the co-ops together at one time to disseminate his information and to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas. The individual co-op leaders could then carry what they learned back to their local associations.
Homerstad explains what happened: “I organized a field day/seminar at Cooper Farm that was held June 1, 1996. The target audience was cooperatives in South Central Texas. It was a good field day with about 200 people attending. I proposed the idea of a regional co-op organization to those present and the idea was embraced. Larry Lange was elected President and Jack Holman Vice President by the close of the seminar. The new association was called South Central Texas Regional Organization of Wildlife Management Associations (SCTROWMA).
“The next formal meeting was held the following September at Cooper Farm. Everyone enjoyed the interaction and it was decided to meet twice a year. Soon co-ops from outside South Central Texas wanted to join the organization. Two years later, in 1998, we changed the name to TOWMA and became a statewide organization. It was, and continues to be, a natural progression.”
Homerstad retired from TPW at the end of November, 2006 and is currently an independent wildlife and habitat consultant based in Victoria, Texas. He currently to serves TOWMA as acting President and is also on the Board of Directors of the Coastal Bend Prescribed Burn Association.
In the early days the term Wildlife Co-op was often used to describe these member organizations. As time went on the term Wildlife Management Association became more common, and today, in the interest of consistency, and to most accurately describe what these associations do, Wildlife Management Association or WMA is the preferred terminology. The gate signs used by most WMAs today carry the term Wildlife Management Association for these reasons.
THE EARLY YEARS
The TOWMA presidents elected in the years following TOWMA’s formation continued to reflect the roots of the organization in South Central Texas.
1996-1998 Larry Lange (Goliad County)
1998-2001 Jack Holman (Colorado County)
2001-2004 Norman Schultz (Fayette County)
2004-2005 Larry Whigham (Washington County)
2005-2010 Clinton McPhaul (Bastrop County)
Early on, TPWD recognized the value of WMAs in offsetting the effects of habitat fragmentation and encouraged its biologists to assist these associations in every way possible. TPWD also looked for ways to encourage growth of existing WMAs and formation of new associations. The gate sign program was one way to reward membership in WMAs. TPWD provided, free of charge, one gate sign to each landowner member of a WMA. The signs have averaged $12 to $15 per sign over the years and TPWD has given away thousands of dollars worth. TPWD recognized it was money well spent in promoting WMAs.
Another TPWD project supporting WMA members was the publication Making Tracts for Texas Wildlife. The publication was originally intended mainly for WMA members, although it was provided free of charge to any landowner that had contact with TPW biologists. Each issue featured a WMA and contained articles/information addressing timely wildlife management activities. Over time, the publication became more generic to all landowners and is now published as Eye-on-Nature. TPW District 7 produces a newsletter that is distributed to WMAs that fills some of the void left by the old Making Tracts. TOWMA now produces a newsletter in electronic form for its member WMAs.
Another TPWD benefit for WMA members is a hunting lease license that can be obtained for a fraction of the cost of an individual license. Any landowner that leases hunting rights is required to have a State license, and this program saves them a significant amount of money each year.
TOWMA is structured with a president, vice president, and secretary/treasurer. The Board of Directors is made up of the President of every active member WMA, or that person’s designated alternate. Consequently, every member WMA has a vote in matters before TOWMA.
An advisory board was later created to aid TOWMA officers in planning and decision making, to better represent WMA landowner interests. Former President Jack Holman currently represents TOWMA on the TPW Private Lands Advisory Board. (White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee) TOWMA also represents its WMA members before the TPW Commission and other conservation organizations.
TOWMA holds two scheduled educational meetings a year and sponsors other events as the opportunity arises. A major two-day conference/seminar is held in even numbered years. Regional meetings are also periodically held.