Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area – Info

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife management area formerly known as Peach Point Wildlife Management Area (WMA) will be formally rededicated this Friday, Oct. 12 as “Justin Hurst WMA” in recognition of the former game warden and wildlife biologist who was killed in the line of duty earlier this year. As a department biologist in the Wildlife Division, Hurst devoted six years to the 15,612-acre WMA known for its lush wetlands and coastal plains.

As Peach Point’s area manager he was instrumental in the development of many waterfowl conservation projects on the site, including mottled duck research. Hurst switched careers and became a game warden in 2002, and while at the training academy, he shared his knowledge about waterfowl with fellow game warden cadets and taught duck identification.

On March 17, Hurst’s 34th birthday, he was killed while attempting to apprehend a suspected poacher. Employees are invited to attend the rededication, which begins with self guided tours of the WMA from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Ceremonies begin at 2 p.m. and conclude around 4 p.m. Speakers will include Mike Berger, Col. Peter Flores, Todd Merendino, David Lobpries, Jesse Oetgen, John Thorne, Andrew Sansom, Amanda Hurst and Robert L. Cook.

Get more information by calling Texas Parks & Wildlife’s Bay City office at (979) 244-7697.

Wildlife Management Area Named After Justin Hurst

Justin Hurst and young hunter

The 12,000-acre Peach Point Wildlife Management Area located west of Freeport will soon be known to hunters and other waterfowl enthusiasts as the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area. The Texas Legislature passed May 29, and Gov. Rick Perry signed June 2, House Bill 12, Section 53 of which makes the name change official.

Soon after Texas Game Warden Justin Hurst of El Campo was killed March 17 in a shoot-out near Lissie with a suspected poacher (which involved another game warden, Texas DPS and Wharton County Sheriff’s Department officers), word got out that the Texas Wildlife Commission would be asked to consider renaming Peach Point for Hurst since he had worked there as a wildlife biologist from 1995 through 2001.

Texas Parks & Wildlife Department officials said shortly after Hurst’s funeral March 21 that the renaming was all but a done deal. The late game warden’s wife, Amanda, said she thinks the renaming ceremony and dedication will be held in October, which is exactly when large numbers of Hurst’s beloved migrating waterfowl are arriving on the Texas coast. “Justin would think we are making way too big a deal out of this, but I think it’s awesome,” Mrs. Hurst said.

“I think it’s very much a fitting memory for him, and I think it’s good for the biologists that he worked with. It’s been their baby, and was something they wanted to do in remembrance of Justin.” Peach Point wasn’t just special to Hurst as a TPWD biologist, but to his wife as well. It was where her future husband took her on their first date on March 14, 1998.

They had met at a Wildlife Society meeting in Beaumont in 1997, and were married April 7, 2002. Both earned degrees in wildlife ecology from Texas A&M. They also hunted and fished together.

“We went down there and drove around. He showed me the different impoundments.It was spring, so we probably looked at a few teal and some mottled ducks, shore birds and stuff like that. He showed me the bunkhouse, the barn, the tractor and the airboat. I know it’s pretty exciting,” she said, laughing.

Mrs. Hurst said her husband’s duties as biologist were wide in scope. “He did everything from cutting grass around the bunkhouse to burning, shredding … he maintained the habitat there.” Justin also worked with waterfowl banding programs, youth hunts and regular hunts on the weekends.

Peach Point provided public hunting opportunities for more than 2,000 hunters this past season. Hurst was instrumental in helping to develop those public hunting opportunities. Hurst left the TPWD Wildlife Division at Peach Point in the fall of 2001 to join the Law Enforcement Division. He entered the TPWD Game Warden Academy in March 2002.

About Peach Point WMA

Peach Point WMA near Jones Creek has 10,311 acres which were purchased using waterfowl stamp funds from 1985 to 1987. In 1988, an additional 1,627 acres were acquired as mitigation from the Brazos River Harbor District. Peach Point WMA is a part of the Central Coast Wetlands Ecosystem Project (CCWEP). The CCWEP’s mission is to provide for sound biological conservation of all wildlife resources within the central coast of Texas for the public’s common benefit.

Peach Point WMA is located within a league of land deeded to Stephen F. Austin by the Mexican government in 1830. The tract was known as Peach Point Plantation. The plantation was established in 1832 by James F. Perry and his wife, Emily Austin Perry, Stephen F. Austin’s sister, who bought the property from Austin for $300. The land was operated as a slave plantation until 1863 with cotton and sugar cane the primary crops.

Perry died in 1853, after which Emily Perry gave William Joel Bryan (her son by previous marriage) 200 acres of the original plantation. Bryan and his wife, Lavinia Perry, made their home there and developed a thriving cotton and cattle business known as the Durazno Plantation. A portion of Durazno Plantation is contained within the present boundaries of Peach Point WMA.

The portion of Peach Point Plantation that contained Peach Point WMA was donated to Austin College by Lucy Harvey. The property was later sold to a consortium of six major petro-chemical corporations. Development plans included construction of an offshore pumping station for oil tankers. However, plans were canceled due to the decline in the oil-based economy. The Nature Conservancy eventually acquired the 8,580 acre tract, and it was from them that TPWD purchased the area using waterfowl stamp funds.

Goals of Peach Point WMA

In prioritized order, the Central Coast Wetlands Ecosystem Project’s goals are:
n To develop and manage habitats for indigenous and migratory wildlife species with a special emphasis on waterfowl.

To formulate research and management activities on WMAs and private lands and disseminate research results and management information to scientists, land managers, resource agencies, and other interested groups and individuals.

To expand and improve WMA facilities to accommodate intensive research and management activities that will allow complete understanding of coastal ecosystems.

To provide optimal public outreach and recreational opportunity on state-owned lands compatible with the resource.

The wildlife management area where Justin Hurst worked as a wildlife biologist prior to becoming a game warden will be renamed as the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area and dedicated in October 2007.

Remembering Justin Hurst

From the time he was a teenager guiding goose hunters on the Texas coastal prairies, probably even before then, Justin Hurst was subconsciously preparing himself to make a difference in natural resource conservation. Those who knew him say he seemed to approach life with that goal in mind. Although his journey was cut short when he lost his life in the line of duty on his 34th birthday, March 17, 2007, Hurst had already made his mark on the Texas landscape. And, the impacts he had on the state’s wildlife resources, as well as on his family, friends, coworkers, and even adversaries, serve as his legacy.

“Game Warden Justin Hurst personified all of what Texas Parks and Wildlife represents,” Col. Peter Flores, TPWD Law Enforcement Division Director, says. “He cared for wildlife, he was a pillar of his community, and he cared deeply for his family and was a faithful public servant. His death is a great loss to the people of Texas.”

Hurst started his career with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as a biologist in August 1995 specializing in waterfowl management along the mid-coast. Fellow wildlife biologist Matt Nelson remembers joining TPWD at the same time as Hurst.

“He went to Peach Point (Wildlife Management Area) and I went to Mad Island (WMA), both of us worked on the central coast wetlands project,” Nelson recalls. “We had numerous research projects going on at the same time and spent most weeks together; fish sampling, working up alligators and mottled ducks. A lot of late nights together running around the marsh in air boats. Justin was very enthusiastic, dedicated towards the resource and approached everything full-bore.”

At Peach Point WMA, Hurst was able to submerse himself in his passion for waterfowl and the marsh habitat. For six years, he built a reputation as a wildlife biologist who understood the resource and conservation.

“He got it,” offers Dave Morrison, TPWD waterfowl program leader. “He understood the importance of resource management and conservation and could relate that to others. He was a heckuva biologist.”

That’s why it came as such a surprise when he announced plans to become a game warden.

“No one within the project saw that coming,” says Nelson. “He never mentioned anything to us, and then out of the blue he said he planned on going to the game warden academy. He’ll always be a biologist to us. The thing about Justin, whatever he put his mind to, he’d do it well. We lost a good biologist.”

Hurst became a part of the 48th Texas Game Warden Academy and graduated in August of 2002. While at the academy, Hurst shared his knowledge about waterfowl with fellow cadets and actually taught duck identification techniques. Some of his classmates referred to Hurst as the “Super Cadet” because of his diligence and drive.

After graduation, Hurst served about a year in Brazos County when a game warden slot became open in Wharton County. Hurst met with then TPWD Law Enforcement Division Director Col. James Stinebaugh personally to make his case for a transfer.

Stinebaugh says the decision to transfer Hurst was a no-brainer, but admits it did cause a rumbling in the ranks at the time.

“Typically, we required at least two years experience before letting a warden put in for a transfer, but it just made perfect sense to put Justin back down there because we needed someone who knew waterfowl in that position,” Stinebaugh says. “I took some heat for that move, but it was the right move.”

Hurst’s supervisor, Capt. Rex Mayes, says he knew well ahead of time he would eventually see Justin Hurst working in his district some day and is glad the colonel broke from tradition. “I remember meeting him for the first time when he was still in the academy,” Mayes recalls. “He said he wanted to come to my district because we had the bay that he loved so much. I remember when he left my office that first time; it was a rude awakening for me because I was seeing for the first time a new breed of game wardens, the whiz kids.”

Game wardens who worked in the field with Hurst remember him most for his preparedness, dedication and respect for others; even those individuals he issued citations to for game law violations.

Hurst is survived by his wife, Amanda, and son, Kyle Hunter, age 4 months, his parents, Allen and Pat Hurst of Bryan, a brother, Greg Hurst of Denver, Colorado, and in-laws, Larry and Jeanie Wilcox of Denton, Texas.

Memorial fund donations may be made to Operation Game Thief, c/o Justin Hurst Memorial Fund, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, TX, 78744. The Houston 100 Club is also accepting donations for the family at: 100 Club Survivor’s Fund 1233 West Loop South, Suite 1250, Houston, TX 77027-9107.