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News-Telegram: State News

Officials: Woman forced 14-year-old into prostitution

HOUSTON (AP) — Prosecutors in Houston say a woman held a 14-year-old girl against her will and forced the child to work as a prostitute, at one point having sex with 26 men over the course of a week.

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Houston considers use of genetically modified mosquitos

HOUSTON (AP) — Officials are considering releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in Houston as part of the fight against the insects known to carry diseases such as the Zika virus.

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First day of spring sees wave of record temperatures

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The first day of spring saw temperatures in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas that broke or tied several high-temperature records, including four that were more than a century old.

The National Weather Service said it was 92 degrees in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and 90 in Harrison, Arkansas, on Monday, tying records set in 1907. And 92-degree readings in Lubbock, Texas, and Lawton, Oklahoma broke records of 90 degrees in Lubbock and 91 in Lawton, both set in 1916.

"We've got a very large ridge of high pressure in the central U.S. ... pulling in dry hot air from the desert southwest," said Jonathan Kurtz, a meteorologist with the weather service in Norman, Oklahoma. "It's a little uncharacteristic for it to be this warm, this early."

Meteorologist Jeff Vitale in Lubbock agreed, saying there is no way to predict what will happen from year to year

"Some years are warm, some years are cool," Vitale said. "It (this year) is an anomalous pattern."

Other records include 92 degrees in Dallas to break the record of 91 set in 1932; 84 degrees in Houston broke the 1980 record of 83; and 85 degrees in Fayetteville, Arkansas, broke the 2011 record of 79 degrees.

Kurtz said an approaching low pressure system should provide milder temperatures from mid-week through the weekend, with daytime highs expected in the 60s and 70s by Wednesday, in the 70s and lower 80s on Thursday, and back into the 60s and 70s by Friday and throughout the weekend.

Thunderstorms are also possible Thursday and Friday, Kurtz said, mainly east of the Interstate 35 corridor.

‘Affluenza’ teen’s lawyers want him released from jail

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Lawyers for a Texas teenager who used an "affluenza" defense in a fatal drunken-driving wreck have turned to the Texas Supreme Court in an effort to secure his release from jail.

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Conservation program gains popularity

WEST COLUMBIA, Texas (AP) — The Brazos River passes wide and muddy through the Griffith family ranch.

Floodwaters frequently prompt family members and an armada of cowboys for hire to round up their cows and move them to higher ground. Historic flooding on the Brazos last summer made much of the ranch accessible only by boat for weeks.

"You'd have to be crazy to want to put a subdivision here because of the flooding we get," Wilson Griffith told the Houston Chronicle:

"About all the land is good for is ranching, and maybe growing a few pecan trees."

Griffith and his brother, Jamie, have never wanted to sell the land, which their family has owned for more than 100 years. They want to give it to their children someday but worry about the tax implications.

However, thanks to a state program designed to assist landowners who want to conserve working farm and ranch lands, the Griffiths will be able to keep the property in the family in perpetuity, in exchange for promising not to sell it to developers. Keeping the ranch "as is" helps protect surrounding natural resources, such as wetlands that act like a magnet for migratory birds and soak up floodwaters.

The Texas Farms and Ranch Lands Conservation Program, created by the legislature in 2005, was meant to play a vital role in protecting agricultural lands, which are disappearing as a result of the recent population boom. A 2014 Texas A&M study found that the state was losing farm and ranch land at a faster rate than anywhere else in the country.

The program provides state funds to nonprofits — often land trusts — to purchase conservation easements. Landowners that sell or donate those easements retain title to their land if they agree not to mine or build a residential subdivision or commercial development on the property.

In most cases, that legal agreement leads to a win-win situation: working farms and ranches stay intact, and natural resources are protected.

"In Texas, the focus has really been on protecting water resources," said Blair Calvert Fitzsimmons, chief executive officer of the Texas Agricultural Land Trust. "When the state is looking at spending $63 billion on a plan that includes pumps and pipelines and desalination plants, you need a strategy to protect the land where the rain falls."

Despite initial enthusiasm for the program, state lawmakers did not fund it until recently, and they initially put it in the hands of the General Land Office.

The GLO secured some federal dollars for coastal work but that limited the scope of projects.

Many in the statewide conservation community thought the GLO was miscast to manage the program: Part of the agency's mission is maximizing revenues through land leases, yet conservation easements actually reduce the land's taxable value.

So in 2015, the program was moved to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and received a $2 million appropriation, its first.

Many land trust leaders say the program is now experiencing a rebirth.

Over the past year, the agency has funded seven projects spearheaded by groups like The Texas Agricultural Land Trust, the Hill Country Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy and the Valley Land Fund. In all, those groups have been able to protect about 10,000 acres through conservation easements.

Ted Hollingsworth, land conservation director for Texas Parks and Wildlife, said all the projects conserve land with immense ecological value while maintaining landowners' ability to use the land.

"My own personal bias might be toward wildlife, saving the snakes, lizards, mice and things like that," he said. "But the fact is, like most people, I really like to eat, too, and this is working land. The beauty of this program is that we're helping to ensure that Texas landowners are still producing cattle, still raising crops."

Initial returns on the revived program are good. An evaluation by Texas A&M's Institute of Natural Resources last year found that the funded projects were saving water at a rate that was about six times more cost effective than conventional conservation strategies.

The evaluation also found the program is growing in popularity, among landowners and conservation groups.

Consequently, the department has asked lawmakers for more money, but it's unclear what will happen given current budget constraints.

Mark Steinbach, director of Texas Land Conservancy, said it would be a shame if the program stalled again.

The effort helped provide his group with $1.7 million to secure a conservation easement on the Griffith ranch in Brazoria County. The easement lowered the value of the land, reducing the family's tax burden.

Page 14 of 364

Dallas/Ft. Worth News

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