The fight to save Jones Forest goes to Austin

By: Kim Kyle Morgan, Woodlands Online
| Published 04/25/2017

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THE WOODLANDS, Texas -- Members of Save Jones State Forest Park (SJSF) are heading to Austin Wednesday April 26 to attend a public hearing on Senate Bill 1964.

The bill, introduced by Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), relates to the use of land in Jones State Forest Park for academic, research and private commercial uses.

The 1,173-acre forest in Montgomery County is administered by the Texas A&M University System.

The words "private commercial uses" particularly alarmed members of SJSF, which led to a meeting earlier this month in Conroe, attracting hundreds of concerned residents.

Senator Creighton attended the meeting and has since revised the language of the bill.

"The new, revised language will reflect my commitment to protect 100% of Jones State Forest, and therefore prevent any development," Creighton said. "The new language will replace the bill in its entirety. I have requested a hearing to Chairman Kel Seliger of the Senate Higher Education Committee. When the Chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education sets the bill for a hearing, I will address the Committee with the revised, restricted (100% protected) language."

SJSF had a chance to review the revised bill during an April 21 meeting with the senator, but still has several concerns which they hope to discuss at Wednesday's public hearing.

"The unqualified use of the phrase 'demonstrate reforestation work…' could lead to destructive clear-cutting practices that often precede reforestation activities," SJSF said. "Defining the forest as property '…for the use and benefit of The Texas A&M University System' leaves room for overreach by TAMU. And protections for forest wildlife or habitat are not specified. The inconsistent and vague use of terms such as 'property,' 'territory,' and 'open' leaves room for broad interpretation and could leave the forest unprotected."

You can read the revised bill on Senator Creighton's Facebook page.

You can read SJSF's reaction to the revised bill on its website at www.savejonesstateforest.com.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M University System representatives have yet to sit down with anyone for an open discussion, although the Office of Federal and State Relations issued a letter dated April 6 that says, in part:

"The intent in asking Senator Creighton to file this bill was to open up for discussion the purpose of finding a higher and better educational use for a small tract that is overshadowed by urban growth," reads the letter, signed by Tommy Williams, vice chancellor for federal and state relations. "The remainder of the property is intended to continue to be preserved and remain in its natural ecological state."

The letter further states "Respecting the legislative process and Senator Creighton’s intention to have an open-public discussion of the bill, we await notification from the Senate Higher Education Committee for any further action on this bill."

SJSF said they would still prefer SB 1964 be pulled entirely.

"The process has been rushed, and now we must travel to Austin less than a week after the new language was posted, leaving little time to research and respond. A better approach might be that no bill moves forward at this time, and our representatives work to develop a better alternative for the next legislature."

Gordy Bunch, Chairman of the Board of Directors for The Woodlands Township, supports residents' concerns.

"My issue right now is that we haven't seen a plan or a proposal," Bunch said. "The bill is so overly broad, I don't suspect we would support it."

Bunch said there would also be major concerns over roadwork that may be required if Jones Forest undergoes any form of development.

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