Former First Lady Laura Welch Bush is on a mission, spreading the message of Texas conservation. She was the keynote speaker at the Play Conservation Symposium for Private Landowners Friday afternoon at the Petroleum Club.
"Texans want to be the best; they want to be the best in conservation as well as everything else," Mrs. Bush said.
In April of 2011, Mrs. Bush founded the non-profit Taking Care of Texas. The organization aims to communicate the value of protecting natural resources, connect different conservation efforts and champion stewardship of the land.
"We are about a 94% private property state," Mrs. Bush explained. "We don't have the Federal Lands that a lot of western states have. And that's really good for our economy. But it also means that conservation starts at home."
In Midland, Mrs. Bush's hometown, the I-20 Wildlife Preserve protects more than 86 acres of playa habitat. It's vital to the native wildlife and the community's water supply.
"These playas are what we get our water from," said Nathan Knowles, the Executive Director of the I-20 Wildlife Preserve. "And without those we couldn't be here, we couldn't exist, both from a cultural aspect and from an economical."
The I-20 Wildlife Preserve is a local partner of Taking Care of Texas. Both organizations say their biggest challenge is raising awareness and reaching all Texans.
"It's a big world out there and there's a lot of players in the game out here and to get to everyone it takes time and it takes work and that's why we're starting," Knowles said.
"I think really the challenge is to reach everyone in Texas and for people to know that even if you just have your own back yard there are things you can do," Mrs. Bush stated. "You don't have to be to be a ranch owner or a farm owner."
In addition to inspiring individuals to each do their part, Taking Care of Texas and the I-20 Wildlife Preserve are both committed to promoting the mutual benefits of economics and conservation.
"How business and conservation can go hand in hand and how important they are to each other to be successful," Knowles explained.
And with the oil and gas industry booming in West Texas, Mrs. Bush says West Texans should take this as an opportunity to bolster conservation.
"I say we can do it, especially now, right now, when a lot of people are making money out here in the oil business," Mrs. Bush said. "It's a good time to reinvest in your surface."
While Mrs. Bush wants Taking Care of Texas to ultimately be a big consortium, building partnerships across the state, she says the organization's principles of conservation and preservation already run deep in West Texas.
"When you live out here you know you have to conserve. This can be a very tough landscape to grow up in. West Texans know that, but they're tough too," Mrs. Bush said with a smile.