There’s a forest fight developing near Conroe. The William Goodrich Jones State Forest has been a popular spot for horseback riding, hiking and fishing for decades.
Now residents want to “chop down” a lawmaker’s plan to open up land in the forest for possible development.
“When we built this home, we paid a premium to be on the forest,” said Russ Yetter.
Yetter and his neighbors are now working to protect the forest.
“Worst-case scenario is it becomes commercial property,” Yetter said. “It becomes concrete.”
A proposed bill submitted by local state senator Brandon Creighton is what has them worried.
If passed, it would allow the state board that oversees the forest to lease land. That would include for “private commercial uses.”
The bill has opened the door to backlash from the senator’s own supporters.
“Leave it as it is,” said neighbor William Harris. “It’s a state forest, it needs to be for the public.”
Harris is one of nearly 3,000 people who have signed a petition to protect the forest and, in turn, the endangered red cockaded woodpecker that calls it home.
“Not everything is based on the dollar, you know?” Yetter said. “It ought to be based on what’s best for the community, you know, and the people that live around here.”
KHOU 11 News reached out to Senator Creighton for more information on his bill or reaction to the petition. He released the following statement:
"On March 10th, I filed Senate Bill 1964 relating to the Jones State Forest at the request of the Texas A&M University System. Since that time, I have heard from many constituents and stakeholders and I would like to clarify the intent of the bill.
"Texas A&M has owned this treasured asset since the 1920's for the purpose of education. Tommy Williams, Former Senate District 4 Senator and current Vice Chancellor of Texas A&M, requested on behalf of the University that I file a bill to allow a public conversation to be held in the State Legislature. I am asking to a hearing to discuss the merits of the University's request to use between 5-10% of the Jones State Forest (southern end near State Highway 242) for educational purposes.
"During the five months of a Legislative Session, my office listens, discusses, and studies suggested state policy. We work hard to advance good policy and many times table policy suggestions that require more consideration.
"This is a Texas A&M request for Texas A&M use within a Texas A&M asset. 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.
"As an 8th generation Montgomery County resident, I cherish the big thicket, natural timberland and foliage, including the wildlife that occupies the forest. I am not interested in clearing the forest or destroying any wildlife.
"As for the conversation, please provide me with your viewpoints. When I became a Legislator, I took an oath to represent all of my constituents and put their needs above my own. I take this oath very seriously. My job as a Legislator is to balance many requests and to help decide what is best for Senate District 4."