Proposed W.G. Jones State Forest bill prompts concern from Montgomery County residents

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A proposed piece of legislation regarding land usage in the W.G. Jones State Forest is garnering concerns from Montgomery County residents who do not want the land to be developed.

The forest was acquired in the 1920s by Texas A&M University’s forestry department and occupies 1,722 acres of land near Hwy. 242 and FM 1488 and several miles west of I-45.  It is also home to a population of the red-cockaded woodpecker, which is a federally listed endangered species, according to the forest service.

Senate Bill 1964, by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe—which as introduced—would give the Texas A&M University board of regents the authority to use or lease land in W.G. Jones State Forest for construction of multipurpose buildings or improvements, such as academic, research and private commercial uses.

Creighton said in a statement March 27 he is asking for a hearing to discuss the merits of a request by Texas A&M to use between 5 and 10 percent of land on the southern end of Jones State Forest near Hwy. 242 for educational purposes in the fields of forestry and engineering.

“This is a Texas A&M request for Texas A&M use within a Texas A&M asset,” he said in the letter. “Whether or not the university uses a portion of the forest should be a public discussion. My intent with Senate Bill 1964 was to honor the request to begin this conversation.”

Nearly 300 concerned Montgomery County residents attended a meeting April 9 hosted by the Save Jones State Forest Committee in regard to the legislation.

COM_04_2017_15_L1The grassroots organization is composed of volunteers and formed in late March in response to the bill.

“[The W.G. Jones State Forest] is something that needs to be protected,” event organizer Amy Welton said. “It is our Central Park. If this were happening in New York City, everyone would be in an uproar. We have to protect our natural heritage.”

As of April 6, more than 7,200 people had signed a petition on www.change.org against SB 1964 calling to protect the forest. A Facebook group called “No Development at WG Jones Forest” was also formed and has more than 1,200 members.

In response to resident concerns, Creighton released a letter to his constituents April 4 stating his intention to add language to protect 100 percent of the forest from being developed by the university for anything other than its existing use.

“[Texas] A&M needs to get feedback from local governments, citizens and stakeholders should they propose any future concepts for new educational facilities in the forest,” Creighton said.

The bill was referred March 27 to the Senate Higher Education Committee where it was awaiting a hearing as of press time.

Texas A&M University officials released a statement March 28 stating no funding or development plan has been decided for Jones State Forest.  If approved, the legislation would allow the university to offer advanced-level academic credit or workforce training at the site in fields, such as engineering or agriculture.

Montgomery County resident Cheryl Conley said she was shocked when she saw a copy of the proposed legislation, which was originally filed in early March.

“The forest is a very nice little piece of heaven right within the urban environment,” she said. “We just don’t need any more buildings and concrete.”

Approximately 100,000 people visit the forest annually.

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Marie has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since June 2011 and serves as editor for The Woodlands edition.

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