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Bob Armstrong

INTERVIEWEE: Bob Armstrong (BA)
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: June 23, 1999
TRANSCRIBER: Robin Johnson
REELS 2021 and 2022

Please note that videos include roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers indicate the time marks on the VHS tape copy of interview.

DT: My name is David Todd and I’m here on June 23, 1999, representing the Conservation History Association of Texas. We’re in Austin, Texas and we’ve got the honor to talk to Bob Armstrong about his many contributions to the legislature, the Park and Wildlife Commission, the General Land Office and other groups including the Department of Interior to conservation in Texas and many other parts of the country. Thank you for participating.
02:13 – 2021
BA: I’m happy to be here.
DT: Talk about your early days and if there might be people in your family or teachers or early friends who helped encourage you and get you interested in the outdoors and conservation.
02:33 – 2021
BA: I guess my early recollection was that my dad used to take me fishing me a lot. The lakes were new. The LCRA had just built them and we went quite a bit of out to the lakes. Probably the more definitive thing was I—I had asthma and so they sent me to Santa Fe at a very early age, eight years old. And I went to a camp one year and then worked there from nine on. And we went into the Sangre de Christo Mountains. We were in camp for a week and then we would be out for a week. And we did that every other week for eight weeks. And I did that for most of my growing up life. We were there when they exploded the bomb in Los Alamos but this was—and we were there when the war ended. But that was my early on recollection. I learned to trout fish and my mother was a Missourian and so they took me to Castville, Missouri where they had a great State Park, Roaring River Park and it was easier to leave me down at the park than it was to look after me at—at—back at home. So I went down to the park and I learned to fish before I was seven years old when it was really hard to catch those fish. But I was a fly fisherman from then on. And that sort of got me started.
DT: Can you talk about the connection between some of your outdoor hobbies and your interest in the outdoors and conservation?
04:33 – 2021
BA: Well, I’ve always fly fished in some of the prettiest places in the world but—and I—I think Alaska is—is one of those. But it—I—I really didn’t become an environmentalist at any time. It just sort of grew on me and I—it—it probably grew out of fishing and—and—and we did a lot of hiking up in the New Mexico Mountains. And so—another thing was that I flew. I’ve got 5000 hours and I flew a lot but most of the time that we
05:16 – 2021
BA: flew, we flew west. So that—that was—we’d fly to backpack vacations or I’d take other people up to a mountain home in the west. So a lot of the flying had got me into a lot of places. I always made the same number of take-offs and landings which was a goal that you tried to do.
DT: You served in the Texas State Legislature representing Austin. Could you tell me about some of your interests and projects?
06:09 – 2021
BA: Well, in the legislature, you have a lot of things that you can do. The first year I was there, I tried to do everything. I tried, you know—and Austin representatives have a lot to do because you have a bunch of state agencies that ask you to do things. But there were several of us that—and—and I know you’ve interviewed a lot of them, Kennard, Schwartz, I don’t know if you’ve—you’ve done Eckhardt, Neil Caldwell was quite a influence on my life. And we got together and decided that, first of all, the beaches were—were the forefront of our efforts because we knew if we didn’t save the beaches we—we would—we’d lose a lot of momentum. And—and so—and the beaches were popular with the people. So we had a beach package and then later I got interested in—in the conservation aspects of the fact that we—we didn’t have an inner agency council where everybody looked at the environment. They—they would—they would spin around in their own little sphere and not—and never look at what they were doing at—to somebody else. So the Railroad Commission would make rules that might be against the
07:44 – 2021
BA: General Land Office or the Parks and Wildlife. And so I set up an inner agency council and so that we—we would at least come together and take a look at the environment. Now what happened to that was interesting. First of all, the only time I ever went was to watch Hugh Yantis. And Hugh Yantis was—was a—the Water Board member and he was sort of the devil incarnate but he had a viewpoint and he said that polluters had rights too. And so, you know, but anyhow, we—we set up that group and then I got on it when I became Land Commissioner. And—and it was pretty rough sledding and then all of a sudden we elected Bullock and we elected some other people to the Attorney General’s office, John Hill, and we began to do pretty well. Then when Clements came in, he changed it to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and appointed a bunch of energy people and so it was—it was interesting in the—in the way it happened. But–but it was one of the first things that we did to try to look at the effect of everything the state did for the environment. And so I had worked on that in the legislature and later as Land Commissioner.
DT: What kind of impacts did the study identify?
09:19 – 2021
BA: Well, we—we—we looked at everything we did and—and—and looked at what it was doing to other people. And—but we—and we met regularly and at that time, we were beginning to pass some environmental legislation and so it was—it—it was—it was just a broad look at what we were doing for the environment in the state.
DT: How did you manage to move that package?
DT: How did you move a package of bills through the legislature like the beaches or this one setting up the inner agency?
10:11 – 2021
BA: First of all, well, the inner agency council, I think we passed by house resolution. And that’s somewhat easier than—but we had to get the others’ approval. And so—and you got to remember that the—the—the time was fairly ripe for this to do—to be done. And so we—we—but mainly we—we had the idea and sometimes we’d just kind of slip it in when—when the house was not busy. And so—but it was good legislation and it was kind of hard for people to oppose it.
DT: What sort of signs did you see that you thought that the legislature or the contingency out in the public might be receptive?
11:08 – 2021
BA: Well the—it—the—the plain fact was we were doing some violence to the coast and—and people saw that. People in Houston would see it. And so, you know, it just—it—it—it sort of grew but we were—we were ahead of ourselves, I think in those, in [Babe] Schwartz and [Bob] Eckhardt and [Don] Kennard. They just—they—they—they—they just—they thought we ought to do it because we ought to do it.
DT: Were there any outspoken opponents to your efforts?
11:41 – 2021
BA: Sure, but—but, you know, and we had to accommodate them. But—but it—we still, I thought, later on when we were doing the coastal program, we did things that ahead of time that most of the states were just then gathering up the steam to do with the coastal program. We had already done them, in large part, with the beaches because of that early legislation.
DT: Can you go into the beaches legislation a little bit?
12:16 – 2021
BA: Well it was—we—well, first of all, we had to guarantee access so there was beach access law. I carried a bill that protected sand dunes. That we—we left the dunes—we—we said there would be no dredging of—of the sand dunes to put the sand somewhere else. Then we had, you know, little bills that—about what—what you could do with advertising and stuff on the beaches. And so, you know, it was those—those—those kinds of packages. That—I—there were six bills and I can’t remember all of them but each of us took one of those bills and carried it in the house.
DT: Were there any conservation bills that you carried in the hill country or around Austin?
13:08 – 2021
BA: No, we didn’t do much about that. The—we—we—we worked—I—at one point, I discovered that we didn’t have a Sierra Club in Texas. And—or at least not in Austin. And so I went—I was—I was traveling out west and I went to a guy whose name was Orin Bonney who was from Houston and he wrote the Bonney Guide to the peaks of—of Wyoming. Although he was from Houston. And so I went to him and said we needed a Sierra Club and he said, well [David] Brower has empowered me to do whatever I want to so go back. And he gave me a couple of names and so we—we formed the Sierra Club with three guys or four guys, I think and it’s since grown to, I think, over three thousand members here in Travis County.
DT: Can you describe some of the early meetings or projects that you had?
14:21 – 2021
BA: Not really. We—we just met. Originally, you know, we were meeting not to work on legislation. We—we met to plan canoe trips and to go out west. And so that was the kind of things that we did. We—we—we were fairly non-political but, of course, I went to some of the meetings in the west where—where Brower, you know, had—was—was involved and, of course, he quite because it wasn’t political and so forth. But anyhow, it—I—I—I disremember all of the things that happened. But—and I—I—I’ve subsequently met Brower when I was in Interior and it was a—it was a great meeting. And we met at the Kings Range later which was fun.
DT: Can you tell about some of the canoe trips that you organized through the Sierra Club?
15:25 – 2021
BA: Well, we—we—we didn’t do the canoe trips so much as they—they just sort of happened. We did the lower canyons. Burleson was a pioneer there and we estimated that maybe we were among the first 1500 that ever went down the lower canyons and it was quite a trip to do at that time. But I suppose we—we probably—I can remember six or seven times that we did the lower canyons. Burleson found a dead person in the river and he called the river and the next time, the sheriff had to come down. The next time he asked him, he said, now if you find another dead person in the river, the next time you go down, don’t call me because I have to come down here when you do this and it’s probably just somebody that fell in the river and drowned. And so he was asked not to call the sheriff if he found another dead man in the river. But it was—it was pretty wild those days.
DT: I noticed that you were active in other non-profit groups, among them the Nature Conservancy.
16:47 – 2021
BA: Well, I was on the board and we—we worked, I guess, the best thing we did was Enchanted Rock which was up for sale and we saved it and made it into a park.
DT: Tell about that.
17:05 – 2021
BA: Well, I just was involved inferentially but Ms. Johnson was big in that and—and then we—we also worked with the—I think we worked—I—I—with—I can’t remember the—the name of the park but it was on the Guadeloupe in—in—but we—we—we—Andy Sansom was working as Executive Director of Nature Conservancy and he got me interested in it and I was—was involved.
DT: In later years, I understood that you served on the Trust for Public Lands. Can you tell us about that?
17:52 – 2021
BA: Well that—that was a very exciting time in my life. We—we met in various places but principally in San Francisco. The—the Nature Conservancy had started in Washington and, at some point, they decided that there was room for two of them and so the guy moved out to San Francisco and started the Trust for Public Lands. And it was very exciting time. Doug Ferguson and—who was, I guess, Stephen Spielberg and Georgia Lucas’ lawyer was—was a member and so was Marty Rosen. Marty Rosen was probably
18:37 – 2021
BA: the spark plug, the two of them just ran it. And I got on the board because Terry Hershey asked me to—said we needed another Texan. And we—we—we did a lot of good and that, you know, led me to the west during a time when I didn’t have anything to do. And so I—I served on that board and—and it was a great experience.
DT: You mentioned Terry Hershey. Could you describe some of the private citizens that had been friends of conservation and maybe supporters of yours?
19:21 – 2021
BA: Well, Terry Hershey was a supporter of mine and she, you know, there’s just only one Terry Hershey. She’s big on the bayous of Houston. Then—but she also has a great place in—up in Blanco County and she has an even greater place up above the Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico. And she really believes in what she does and she’s just a great board member. And I think she was a—a—a—well I—I—I suppose she was a Parks and Wildlife member, I think. And so she—she may have been quasi private and public but she was—she is a good head and all of us just ran—ran together. I mean, we—I have a campout every—every spring and people come from all over the state and that—we—we—we meet on a weekend and before the ticks come and before the snakes are out and we have a grand time. And it’s mostly—now it’s turned into a musical event. Boy, we have great pickin’. You’ve—I’m sure you’ve heard Bob Burleson play and—and so—but we all kind gather together and Molly Ivins comes and Bill Hobby and those people and we just hang out for a week ever—Ned Fritz is always there.
DT: Could you indulge us with any music playing?
21:11 – 2021
BA: Well I probably wouldn’t because I don’t do as much of that as I used to do. I write funny songs. I’ll—I’ll—I’ll tell you one.
21:42 – 2021
BA: Well I’ve got one called, I’ve Had Enough so Hush Rush.
DT: I’d love it if you’d tell us some.
21:51 – 2021
BA: Well I—I—there–there was one session which I—I wrote a couplet for and it was—it was a session on medical malpractice and all the insurance people came in and everything else. But I looked at that session and I said, “As we all watched them in their top form, passing bills more real than theoretical, when judged on the basis of benefit and harm, all the malpractice wasn’t medical”.
DT: After you served in the legislature, you were elected to be Commissioner of the General Land Office. Tell us about that election.
22:56 – 2021
BA: Well, first of all, I ran against Jerry Sadler and I think in fairness, Jerry Sadler was of an era whose time had passed and he had opposed the—the National Seashore Park. He had opposed the park out in—in Guadeloupe Mountains and he thought that it all ought to be Texas and we shouldn’t have any national influence. But I thought that there—there was room for me to—to run and I ran. And I flew my own airplane and that—that gave me an ability to–to get from place-to-place. Now I made a lot of landings at night and on instruments when—but I—but I—but I did it and it was a great time. And Dave McNeely was my flack at the time and he—he was—he—he said that he—that I flew and he prayed and he wasn’t sure that he believed in God but he did that time and then later on he has become a believer in God. But we had—we had a great time and—and we won that race. But—and I thought that there were things that we—we needed to do. The first thing that I did was to code all of the tracks on the Gulf. We had them divided into sections and the oil companies came to me and they said, you know, you can run an environmental campaign but this is ridiculous. We—we don’t need to do all this. But the upshot of it was we knew that—that tracks that were under six feet of water and above the—the thin track, produced all of this spartina grasses and all of the things that the coast had to offer. And so we said, we’re just not going to dredge into those tracks. Then we said that where the whooping cranes were—were prevalent, we—we just were going to draw a line, ten miles outside of that. And we might go in and dredge when the birds were out but we—we—we’d certainly before drilling any—any kind of—anyhow, the upshot of it was that all of the companies were mad at me and we put the rules into effect. And the plain fact was that Louisiana Offshore was stopped because of a lack of environmental restrictions. Federal Offshore was stopped because of a lack of environmental restrictions. We held these sails all the way through because we were doing it right. And—and it—and so I got asked over to Louisiana to ask them, you know, how we’d done it and how we’d—so that was another thing that—that we—we were just a little ahead of out time when—when we did that. And I—I think we put the first billionth dollar in the school fund. We put the second billionth dollar in the school fund and we would have put the third billionth there if I’d stayed there a month longer. But Gary Mauro got that honor and he—and I think it’s up to seven billion now.
DT: It seems like Gary Mauro has continued that legacy. How did you arrange the commission where it was possible for conservation to move beyond your own career the.
27:00 – 2021
BA: Well it—he, you know, he—he was smart about that. And he just did what was—he—he just kept on going. He did a lot of things that I was unable to do. He finally passed the coastal program and he did a wonderful job of cleaning up the Gulf. And I think, you know, we—we all just work together. And—and he—he continued on. Wasn’t—wasn’t because of anything we did, I think it was because it was right.
DT: I understand that you leased land to oil and gas companies and also to Audubon. Can you describe some of those efforts?
27:43 – 2021
BA: Yeah, we—we—we looked at the coast and there were some islands that—that needed protection and we didn’t have any ability. I—basically I operated the land office. I—I’ve got a list of the people that were there and it’s a pretty thin list of—so—so we would try to get other people in from places like Audubon to—to take the—what we called Bird Island and—and manage it. And it was a very successful program. It was really a kind of a deal that we subsequently did an interior which was to involve more of the public in—in—in the business of government.
DT: I also understand that you put some restrictions on leases in the Franklin Mountains for oil and gas production.
28:45 – 2021
BA: Well it was oil—it was—it was not—it was not only oil and gas but it—it was also—they had a lot of minerals that they thought were involved in the Franklin Mountains and we just didn’t—we thought that that—those mountains were too important to El Paso and so we—we—we let them alone. And we—we eventually—it was not without a lot of hardship because the guy was very aggressive but—but I think we—we—we finally got everything right in—as—as right as we could in Franklin Mountains.
DT: I also heard there were conditions put on some of the agricultural leases of Western Lands.
29:37 – 2021
BA: Well we—we—we tried to do that and what—what we did was, you know, a lot of the land that Texas owned was little bits and pieces or as my old law partner used to say, they were chips and whetstones that were out there in—in the—in the public lands of the west. What we tried to do was—was we got the legislature to give us the authority to take the lands that one section in a big ranch, we would sell that to the landowner but then we would—and—and reserve the minerals. But then we would take that money and put it in a pot and then when we got enough of a pot, well then we’d would buy a big ranch and the big ranches we could lease for good money. Whereas the little pieces of 40, 60, 640 acres wouldn’t—wouldn’t lease very much. You got to understand that out there 640 acres is not much. You—you—sometimes you run one cow 640 acres or two cows. And so, you would—but we put together a couple of—of ranches and—and—and did that which I thought let us manage them more correctly and—and also we made more money.
DT: Could you tell me about the acquisition of Matagorda Island?
31:41 – 2021
BA: Well, you know, Matagorda was in—in the—there—there were two phases in Matagorda. The first phase was the bombing range. And we tried to get the bombing range over into Parks and Wildlife or the Fish Wildlife and Parks. The second phase was the Wynn property which was the south end of the island. And I had a long history with Matagorda Island. I—I–when I was in college, freshman/sophomore, we would go down there and they would make us a trade. We would herd the cattle for two days and then we would get to fish for red fish for one day. And so that was a good trade and we would go to Matagorda Island. And actually they were still bombing that range and—and sometimes we’d be herding cattle and they would—and—and we hoped they were accurate with their bombing. But anyhow, I had known the Wynns for a long time and—and so I just—all I did was I put in my two cents worth for the Wynns to put that into—into the park system and I think it was one of the—the great things that we have done—is to get that island into a—a—a—the park system.
DT: Could you describe the island and what makes it special to you?
33:29 – 2021
BA: Well, of course, what makes it special is the whoopers go across from—from the mainland to the island. And virtually the only place that they—they do cross and so it would be that alone would make it—but—but it’s just got a world of ducks, red fish, and trout and it’s—it’s—it—it just is a place that needs to be left alone. And—and—and—and it’s one of the few places that will be left alone in—in perpetuity. And I think that
34:11 – 2021
BA: that’s—that’s in—in—the—the people can go down there and go across in a ferry and they—the beaches are wonderful and I think it’s a marvelous acquisition for us to—for the state to have and for the federal government to have.
DT: Was there much pressure to put a causeway or a bridge across to the island.
34:37 – 2021
BA: Well there—there was always…
DT: Did you work for Ann Richards and then you went to the Park and Wildlife Commission?
34:48 – 2021
BA: No, I went to work for Ann Richards after Parks and Wildlife. I was on Parks and Wildlife from ’90 to—no, from ’84 to ’90, yes. And then I worked for her until the time I went to Interior.
DT: Could we talk about your appointment to the Parks and Wildlife Commission?
35:19 – 2021
BA: My appointment to the Parks and Wildlife Commission was something that I wanted to do because always before I had been having to decide as between what would make money for the state through oil and gas, and what was right for the state. And it—it would—and I saw Parks and Wildlife as a chance to really do something for conservation without any inhibition. And so, I think the—the two or three things that we did that stand out was we—we stopped red fishing on a commercial basis in—on the coast. And we—we decided that the red fish were a sport fish. As a practical matter, the guys that used to fish for red fish and—and serve them in the restaurant turned into guys. And they—they had a slight interruption but they—they did well. And I think that that was one of the significant things that we did. Then I was always interested in what we would do toward buying land. All the way through the—my term as Land Commissioner, I had tried to get the Anderson Ranch into public hands and I had been very frustrated all the way through. And I noticed that somebody talked about the fact that Bill Hobby had been all—my strong ally on this and I noticed that at Bob Bullock’s funeral, they–they went down to talk about it at—at Schultz’ after his funeral. And Glen Castleberry said to Dave McNeely, you know, we—we—Hobby wanted that ranch and Bob Bullock was going to certify it and he said well, I won’t certify the ranch but I’ll certify eleven million dollars. Ten million can go to the ranch and then a million can go to Parks and Wildlife—I mean, to—to DPS. And so they—but—but we didn’t get it because of the house. We never did—and so for—I—it’s hard for me to remember. I used to say 19 years but I—I think it was—it may have been a little less than that. But, in any event, that ranch hung around. Mr. Anderson was very patient. They tried some other things that didn’t work but eventually when I was on Parks and Wildlife, I got to make a motion and Andrew Sansom had—had—had done the legwork and we bought the Anderson Ranch which ended a—a—a—a lot of—of—of—of my hard work and—and we just got it. Doc Briscoe thought that it was just scenery and that we shouldn’t pay that much for it. But the plain fact was it was scenery and—but we—and it’s one of the premiere pieces of property in—in—in West Texas. The—the thing that makes is so great and I—you learn about it every time you go out there, there—there was a cataclysmic happening some millions of years ago in the Chinatis and they erupted, formed the Chinatis but the Chinatis were dry. As that eruption went down toward the Big Bend and at the Anderson Ranch, it became—there—there was a lot of water underlying the Anderson Ranch and virtually every place that you go you can either drill a well which some of the early settlers did and then they would build a tank and spar out from that tank. And so there was water all over it because and—and there—consequently there were a lot of deer and a lot of bird life principally due to the water there—there. I think two—two wells at the main ranch house that—that produced four hundred gallons a minute, which is just unbelievable for that part of the country. Then when you got on down to the Big Bend, it—it sort of died out again. But it was just this area which occurred because of the—the events in the Chinatis that—that caused it to—to be underlain with a lot of water. And so that’s—that’s part of the good things about it. But it’s, you know, it has an average elevation of 4500 feet and it’s high Chihuahuan desert and it’s just a—a—a magnificent place. And we—we—we went out there a lot of times. You know, when Kennard did his study, it was on everybody’s first list of real places that we ought to buy and so we did it.
DT: Can you talk about any subsequent discussions about how to develop the ranch and use it?
41:09 – 2021
BA: That—that’s—that’s been after my time on Parks and Wildlife. We—we actually bought it within a year or so of the time I left and they—they have—I—I don’t know about all that they’re doing.
(plane flying over)
41:46 – 2021
BA: But I—I don’t know about what they’re doing but I—but I’m going out there quite a bit. And I—I li—I li—I’m going to do it more.
DT: You were appointed by Governor Richards as Energy Advisor?
42:11 – 2021
BA: Well, after I got out of Parks and Wildlife, I was looking for something to do and she got elected and so she asked me to be her kind of advisor on energy and natural resources and so I went back from—to—I—I—I had an office in—in—in her shop and—and we did a lot of legislation and then I ran the energy program which I thought was pretty interesting and then Lena Guerrero. Leonard was on the Railroad Commission and we did a plan of energy for the whole state. We—into the future—we—we—the—the plain—the fact is the Energy Department in Washington only looks at how they can make money. They—they don’t really look at the overall. But we looked at coal, we looked at the wind energy. We looked at fusion and gas and oil and we had two hundred of the best people in the State of Texas that got together in—in a group and we put together—we—we—we then divided it up into oil and gas and wind and coal and so forth. But we—we had a pretty good program for Texas to—to follow throughout the—the years in—into the future. And I think that they ought to do that with the Energy Department but I never have been able to get them to do anything in—in Washington because they—they—they divide coal and—and gas and you just can’t do it. Natural gas is a—would be a great thing. It would cost more but they ought to do that. And so they’ve, you know, we do scrubbing and I—but when the Office of Service (?) that was under my jurisdiction runs the coal in the United States and you got to have both of them.
DT: What do you think the future might bring for energy in the State of Texas?
44:56 – 2021
BA: Well, I—I read that a lot and I suppose that’s true but—but I would guess that it was that electrical energy or was that oil and gas or what…it seemed to me that we export a lot of product from our refineries in Houston and–and they go north and east or wherever but, you know, we—we get our coal from Montana—I’m sorry, from Wyoming and a little bit from Montana. But that was, you know, that—that’s—that was what I learned once I got to the Big Land Office which is—we had instead of 22 ½ million acres, I ran 268 million acres. And plus all the federal offshore and we—we, you know, the—the—the—the
46:05 – 2021
BA: railroads are responsible for the coal industry. And what happens is they—they—they were all up there and so as the coal industry grew, they became influential and we—we get the coal for our plant in—down by Bastrop from—from the—from the plants in—in—that—that are in Wyoming. It’s—it’s—it’s an interesting fact that they can dig a scoop of coal and put it on a conveyor belt and send it up, chop it up and put it on a train and if that is the last car on the train, that coal is in the ground and an hour and a half later it’s on its way to Texas or to Montana or to other places. Now if you can imagine that and—and they—that—that—that’s—that’s the coal industry. Now and—and fortunately it’s very clean. Unfortunately, on the other hand, everything that’s mined in the east with the mountain top removal and things like that, are not clean coal and they have to have scrubbers when they produce the oil and gas from that, I mean, produce the fuel from—from those—from those—from—from the eastern—eastern coal. But we managed with a cooperative agreement with the states, all of the eastern coal and all of the western coal.
DT: Can you tell us about leasing policies and the conditions they put on protecting the land compared with those of the Department of Interior?
48:56 – 2021
BA: Well, you—first of all, you’ve got to remember that I—I kind of came to the forefront in GLO [General Land Office] but the Interior was already leasing land and had done it for many years. We had a lot of problems at the beginning because everybody got enamored of how much people were going to pay to lease the land in the federal domain. What we finally decided to do
49:32 – 2021
BA: after much hardships and fights in Congress and everything else, was not to worry about how much they paid for the leases. What we did was we decided that how they cared for the land was what was important and we had, you know, I could conduct four offshore leases and get twice the money. If—if I conducted audits on those—on the offshore leases, we—we could get twice the money that we could get out of all the money that was paid for public lands because it—it just didn’t make that much difference. There—there—there were only 19,000 lessees and so—so we decided that—that the health of the land was important. And so when I started at the Interior, we had a very—a very signal meeting. We met in Tahoe and we got all the people together that were the lessors, all of our people that were state lessees—lessors and then we got the people that wanted to use the land. We got the environmentalists, we got the grazers, we got the miners and we—we—we said now, what do y’all expect us to do and, of course, the plain fact was the west was growing exponentially and people were bumping into each other. All of a sudden people that wanted to fish were saying well, why can’t I fish? Why—why do all these cattle have to be in the right by where I go to fish and the ranchers would say, well they got to drink. And so there were all of these things but—but we—we—we crafted a program where every state would have an advisory committee. We, at the outset, we had not treated New Mexico where they graze all year any different from Montana where they graze four months out of the year. And so we were—so we—we had a Montana advisory committee called a RAC, Resource Advisory Committee, and—but—but the main thing, instead of just ranchers on the advisory committee, which was all there was in the past, we had environmentalists, we had fishermen, we had miners and we had local people and—and the—the RAC really had—had bridged this gap between the west growing as opposed to the way it used to be and what we were going to do with the lands of the west. And so—I—I—I’ll harp back to the GLO where we leased to Audubon. We—we also got people that would—would—would take care of—of the land and the—so it—it—I think we’re on the way to a good program. And—and Mike Dombeck was the Director, Acting Director of BLM [Bureau of Land Management] during that time and he carried that off. He has now gone to the Forest Service where he is really shaking them up frankly because he is—he is—he is picking the fights that he wants to pick and he is doing the same thing to the forest service which I think is a great thing. And so I think you’ll see that—that—that the way the federal government manages the land is in cooperation with the people on that land is a far better situation than—than what we had when we—when we started.
DT: How do think it compares to what you were doing here in Texas?
53:45 – 2021
BA: It—it was probably, you know, it—they—they’re different. The—the west is—is—is different but, you know, we—I—I—I look at both of them as progress but in—in different ways.
DT: Tell us about the controversy about non-profit groups that are conservation-oriented, submitting bids for leasing lands.
54:39 – 2021
BA: Well it—it—it’s hard. First of all, you have to own land, some segment of land in order to lease land. And I—I—I would think that the—the forest guardians would—would—would have problems but if they got the land and then leased it, you know, it—it’s a problem with the—first of all, there are grazing leases on—on federal lands that are BLM and there—there are grazing leases on federal lands that are Forest Service. So you’ve got those two competing—but I haven’t seen that as much of a problem where they’re—they’re—where they’re leasing because they–they don’t own the land to get the land to—to lease.
DT: Did you see much coordination between USDA and Department of Interior?
55:42 – 2021
BA: Well, there—there—there—there’s been more because mainly the guy that leased all of the forest lands now used to be the lessee or the lessor for the—the federal lands so there’s a great deal of coordination but—but there’s still—they’re still different. But the—the ownership or the—the—the group that—that ran the Forest Service was controlled by a very small number of house members that were—and senators that were in committees that—that—that they gave away the forests and they—and they cut them. And then they gave the money to the counties. I mean, that was kind of the way it worked. Now we’ve got some people up there that are looking at—at—at how things run and they—they look at the forest as something that is—is an asset that—and—and not—not to be cut entirely. And so, there—there’s—the BLM land, you know, we—we’re—we used to laugh about it. If—if you—if you look at BLM land on the map, it’s brown and if you look at Forest Service land, it’s green. And if you fly over it, it’s pretty much that way. It’s brown land for the federal ownership and the green land is forest service.
DT: What do you think the prospects are for a change to the Mining Act?
57:30 – 2021
BA: Well it’s—it’s an enigma. It—it—it—it’s—it should—it, first of all, it’s got to be changed. And yet, for ages we’ve been operating under the, what is it, the 1776 Act. But the—the plain fact is the gold people would probably like to do what Secretary Babbitt wants to do. They—they—they could, you know, they—they mine gold for X dollars and they sell it for $286. And there’s a spread in there when they could—that they could do something. But, you know, it’s—it’s whether you lease it or sell it and we think it ought to be leased. We think that the money ought to go—we—we get no money. We—we think the money ought to go for reclamation and—and—and prior reclamation of the west is really screwed up because of some prior practices. And we need to do something about that. And it—it, you know, I think that we should—we—we should do it but—but they—they’ve got the Senate and they locked us and—and the Senate can’t do very much. And with [Senator Dale] Bumpers gone, I don’t know whether we’re going to get an Act or not. I’d like to talk a little bit about the Land/Water Conservation Fund.
59:09 – 2021
BA: We put, when I was there, 28.7 billion dollars, that’s B as in billion, into the treasury. Those were leases of uplands and offshore. When those leases are gone, they’re gone. They—they can’t be replenished. The gas is gone, the oil is gone. I think that the Land and Water Conservation Fund should be plowed back into and—and—and I’m—I’m going to diverge from my boss on this, my former boss. I would like to see them spend that money, at least in part, if they could, for the-—or maybe park homes or park improvements. He—he only thinks we should spend it to acquire more land but it would seem to me that—that—that there—if—if—if it was—to—to make improvements that lasted more than fifty years, that you could spend some of that that way. But the—the plain fact is that Congress looks at it as an offset against the budget and 28 billion is a big number. I think it’s the biggest number of any source of money to the treasury that—that we have. But except for the income tax. But anyhow, I think that—that we ought to spend it for—to—so that the public gets something back for what they spend and it’s—it—it’s a hard go with OMB and people like that. Somebody said OMB is the only four letter word in government but—but that’s the Office of Management and Budget. But I think that—that—that they—they need to do something and they—they’re going to try to do something about that. Other than that, it’s been a good ride. I’ve—I’ve enjoyed managing land and—and it’s all I’ve known how to do but—and I’ve—I’ve—I’ve been where things are happening and haven’t—haven’t done everything we should but we’ve done a lot. And so I’ve recently taken on the recreational aspect of public lakes and we’re going to make that report to the Congress and so—and some—sometime down the road I’m going to catch a red fish on a fly rod and that’ll—that—that’s my next quest.
DT: Can you comment on how things have changed at the different levels you have served on?
01:04 – 2022
BA: Well, I think that people are certainly more aware that we have to watch what we do. And this is true, particularly with the young people. They know. I’ve got a kid that’s 14. I’ve got—I’ve got a kid that’s 35 but they’re much more aware of how the—how we treat the land. The—I—I—I made a speech probably when I was in the first years of the Land Office, when I said that everything that the legislature has to deal with is occasioned by growth. If you look at everything, and particularly land use decisions, where you run the highways is where you run the schools. That’s education. Where you do your business is occasioned—is occasioned by where the schools are and—and, of course, here in Texas, we have a—a great situation because we have more land and—but if you don’t pay attention to it, you don’t want to put the feed lot on top of the aquifer. It’s obvious. You don’t—you may not want to put a lot of stuff on top of the aquifer. And I think we’re gaining on that. I think the—the—the state is good and—and—and all states are good about that. But the west is particularly hard put because you have a lack of water at the time that you have a great influx of population. And so we—we’ve really got to watch that but—but I—I see the west as—as the BLM and the Forest Service maybe being the last vistas that we have and the rest of them are—are going to have houses and those kinds of problems. But we—we have an awareness now on the part of people that are public life that—that are—are coming along and I think the conservationists are pushing them in that direction. And it’s not just pushing them, it’s just they’re—they’re alert to these kinds of problems that—that we have. You know we’re—I think Denver, Las Vegas and El Paso are the three fastest growing cities in the United States and yet they’re cities that have acute water problems. So we’ll—we’ll have to deal with this and—but we—I—I guess when I think back, the trips that we made to Alaska were great because that was one of the last, you know, big areas where it—it’s just huge and I—I love Alaska perhaps as—as—as—as—as a lot of places but there are places in Idaho that I like and there are places in New Mexico. It—it—it—but—I—I really got to see all of the west. And it was—it—it was a—it was a great ride.
DT: Is there any one place in particular that you’ve enjoyed visiting the most?
05:18 – 2022
BA: Well, I like the ranch which is—it’s only 40 miles from here but it’s in a—it’s in a big hole. For some reason, all the people around it didn’t want to subdivide and so when you fly over it, there’s a big hole of darkness that I—that I like and—and—and, of course, we got the Golden Cheeked Warbler, we’ve got the Black Capped Vireo and they’re—we’re trying to get the Black Capped —I’m not sure that we’ve got them but they’re on the adjacent ranch. One thing I said which I nearly got rode—ridden out on a rail was that if we could get a place that had both the Golden Cheeked Warbler and the Black Capped then we could kill two birds with one stone. But—but they—I—I didn’t—I—I don’t—but—but we will—we’ll get those places and—and—and—and—and—and that’s another thing that—where conservation is—is—is going, you know, we—we—we are
06:33 – 2022
BA: actually doing these things. We—we’ve hit and missed in the land that we bought in Travis County but—but we—we at least we’ve hit some. And we—we’ve got the Wildlife Refuge and—and I think this is good. The ranch is the highest point in Travis County and I love to go up there and sit but I—I’ve hiked in the (?) Mountains and I’ve done a lot of flying into strips that—that are in—in—in Idaho and—and—and a lot of them that are in Taos. So, you know, I—I’ve just—I’ve gotten to see a lot of this country.
DT: Can you give us a bird’s eye view of some of the places that you like when you’re flying around?
07:32 – 2022
BA: Well, that—that—you know, when you go to New Mexico, there are so many places. There’s Vermejo(?) Park which—there’s an acquisition that we’re going to make, I hope which is called Via Grande or Vica(?) Grande. And that, I think, is the last big piece of property that I think the—the—the—that we—that should be in public ownership. And they’re slowly getting it. It’s just about 45 miles west of Albuquerque but—but it’s a major piece and—and the people that have it want—want to sell it if they can. And I don’t care whether the Forest Service buys it or we buy it. I think that—that’s—that’s a—a great—it’s got a 10,000 acre meadow in the center which is part of a big bowl but I think that it—it’s a premiere place. And—but I can go a million places in—in Colorado and watch the Arkansas River go. I can take you to places in California that are wonderful. The—the lower end of Arizona is magnificent. It’s higher than you might think it is. And it—and—and all the way through—it—I—there are just places that I—I could—I don’t think I could pick a one. But—but I could take you to a lot of places that would—would be good.
DT: What would your thought be for future folks who would be interested in conservation?
09:51 – 2022
BA: Well, I think that’s a hard question. I—I think I’d go back to the first thing my dad told me is if—if you take care of this piece of land, it’ll take care of you. And so, you would—I would say that the—it’s a finite resource. You don’t want to traffic it up in the sense that you want to build on it. I’d like to see a lot of the land left alone that—where everybody can use it and that’s been most of what I’ve tried to do is—is to make that happen. And we’ll—I guess there will be places like Australia that will develop at some point and—and maybe not develop at some point. But—but there’s—there’s still a lot of good country left if—if we manage it properly, if we manage the watersheds and that’s very important. We’ve got to take care of the watersheds. And, you know, when—when we got there, I was asked by a senator at my confirmation hearing, what is all this business about watershed or what do you mean when—when you say you’re going to take care of the land? Well it—it’s something that we just have to do and we’ll figure out how to do it and hopefully not make too many mistakes when we do it. But I—I’m—I’m not much of a thinker in terms of the future. I’m—I’m—I’m—I think in terms of how do we handle it right now and—and maybe that’ll take care of the future.
DT: Did reading Rachel Carson have any influence on your life?
12:06 – 2022
BA: I—I’ve—I read it but I—but it didn’t—I didn’t—I would rather imagine Aldo Leopold had a little more to do with—with what I thought.
DT: In what way?
12:18 – 2022
BA: Well just his ethic of—and—and he was, you know, he—you know he hunted and fished and used the land but he left it and—but—I’m—I’m for the Dombecks of the world. I’m—I’m for guys that are doing what they’re doing NOW. I think that and—we’ve all read everything but I—but it—it’s what you do with it that—that counts.
End of reel 2022
End of interview with Bob Armstrong