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ALPINE Former first lady Laura Bush appealed to conservationists and West Texas land owners at the conclusion of a conservation conference in Alpine on Friday.

Bush’s appearance concluded the two-day Trans-Pecos Wildlife Conference aimed at informing local land owners of the importance of preserving their land. Bush serves as a director and a founder for Taking Care of Texas, a conversation group aimed at preserving natural resources while respecting private land owners.

“It gives me a chance to come to one of my favorite parts of the world, and I’ve seen the world, as you all know,” Bush said.

Bush began her relatively brief speech by talking about her experience in West Texas and growing up in Midland where her family would visit the Trans-Pecos.

“This part of West Texas is where we went,” Bush said as she talked about some of her family vacations in the area.

Bush talked to the group about the organization Taking Care of Texas, and the importance of preserving the state for future generations.

 “Our ecological system is fragile,” Bush said. “It needs us to make sure we are taking care of it.”

Bush concluded her speech by asking the groups present to work with each other and with Taking Care of Texas to make an impact on encouraging the entire state of Texas to conserve the natural qualities of the land. She thanked the group for allowing her the opportunity to visit the area.

“I’m thrilled to be here. I know everyone in this room represents huge projects going on,” Bush said. “Thank you for helping us take care of Texas.”

Louis Harveson, director of Borderlands Research Institute, followed the former first lady’s remarks and reiterated Bush’s remarks about conservation in Trans-Pecos. He talked about the drought and issues plaguing the area, saying it would take the community to ensure the Trans-Pecos area remains the “jewel of West Texas.”

“It’s going to take all of us to come together and identify all of the priorities,” Harveson said, noting that’s the people that make the area special.

Neal Wilkins, a conversation expert from the Institute of Renewable Natural Resources, was next to speak at the event. He spoke to the group about the challenges of preserving land and how the responsibility falls largely on private land owners, who own over 70 percent or about 16.3 million acres in the Trans-Pecos area.

“We’ve got to find a way to incentivize those owners (to practice conservation efforts),” Wilkins said, who also serves on the board of Taking Care of Texas.

The panel discussion included conservation experts from seven Texas conservation groups across the state. The panel was the conclusion of the conference and a final opportunity for land owners and locals to address issues plaguing the ecosystem in the Trans-Pecos area.

But even before the event came to a close, it was the presence of the former first lady that made an impact on Alpine.

Carla McFarland, general manager of Holland Hotel where the event was held, said she was excited about Bush’s presence in Alpine.

“We’re thrilled that Laura Bush is here,” McFarland said.

McFarland said it was a good opportunity for not only the hotel, but for the entire area.

- Caylor Ballinger
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