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Carl Frentress

INTERVIEWEE: Carl Frentress (CF)
DATE: October 25, 2000
LOCATION: Athens, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Lacy Goldsmith and Robin Johnson
REEL: 2127 and 2128

Please note that the videos include roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers correlate with the time codes on the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. And we’re outside of Athens, Texas at the family place of Carl Frentress and we are interviewing Carl about his many contributions to game and non-game protection in the state as an employee of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. And I wanted to thank you for spending this time with us.
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CF: Thank you David. This is a—really a fine project and I’m just kind of humbled and awed to be part of it but it’s a—I think about the consequences and the opportunity—I’m—I appreciate the opportunity.
DT: Well thank you. I thought we might start by talking a little bit about your childhood and family and maybe some of the influences that got you interested in the outdoors and conservation.
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CF: There—there’s no doubt that—that—that my family and the land had a lot to do with where I wound up with a profession. I guess actually it’s kind of a—a miracle that I managed to get into college and get out of college. I—I came from people who were on the land. My—both sides of my family and all sides of the family for quite some time back have been in Texas and, in fact, the Frentress family was in Texas before it was Texas. We have a relative, Dr. James Frentress and our name is—is from Germanic or Austrian oppression derivation. So I’m not sure how they really spelled it a long time ago but there are two spellings of my name. But Dr. Frentress was with Sam Houston at San Jacinto and we know that he was in Texas about 1830. Noah Smithwick wrote about him and—and the little town of Frentress near Lockhart is named after him. The other side of my family, they were old settlers in—in Texas also so this—the land and—and the people, extended families that go with people who are on the land had a lot to do with—with, I guess, my attitude. And today we’re here on—on the—a piece of land that I—I own and it’s been in the family since the 1870’s, belonged to my great-great grandfather on the maternal side and he was a Civil War veteran and came back here to settle. Being—being reared in a, what I call a kind of a pastoral ethic or farming and—and land oriented ethic, and that—that has the extended family situation with it, that really influenced me. And I—I was brought with a lot of love and—and—and caring and respect and, you know, we—I guess those old core values that we talk about were much a part of my life and then we were always on the land, every day. And a lot of the land was still wild. What wasn’t wild was in a farming operation and it required constant care and—and use and as best we could do. And that affected me a lot. I guess I’m kind of predisposed for this profession. I—I can remember being in high school thinking that—that forestry was where I was going to go because I didn’t know anything about wildlife management, it was not a widely discussed profession in those days. And then ultimately when I went on to college, I tried to get into chemistry and that didn’t suit me and I didn’t do well and I began to get information about wildlife management and—and I knew that was the way I wanted to go and so I did. But I’ve always had an interest in—in natural history and all the activities that—that go with the land, certainly hunting and fishing were a big part of my recreational pursuits and adventures and—and they still are. But…
DT: Could you tell us a little bit about this piece of land here and how it was used over the years?
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CF: Well this property, what I can remember of it—I was a small child and—and just behind us, my parents came back here, it belonged to my—my grandmother at that time who, as I said, inherited it from my great grandfather, or her father. And my parents came back to—to live here and they lived in a very small trailer house until they could build a little tiny house and then he set up his farming operation. And my dad supported us on this land until I was about eight years old and he farmed right here on the property, initially with horses and mules that he—he borrowed from my grandfather who was no longer farming. His farm is just over the ridge and in the flat creek bottom now so we were quite close and then later he bought a tractor and he was in big business then. But—but our living was made right here on this piece of land, thirty acres. I can remember cotton patches, peanut—peanut patches. They had a—a large tomato patch at one time. Athens was a tomato shipping point and they—they raised tomatoes right here on this land all—and that was all by hand. I remember a huge peanut harvest. Right behind us there was a huge pile of peanuts and they—they rented a stationary thrasher and that’s how he thrashed his crop that fall. So—so we were very much right here on this land and that had been the case throughout the history of this land since it had been in my—my families ownership in the 1870’s and before that obviously it was—it was a farm. Henderson County and Athens—Athens was incorporated in 1850 so we’re looking at over a hundred and fifty years of farming activity. And it’s apparent on this property. I’m trying to restore it back to some—some more healthier conditions, in my opinion, of ecosystems and it’s quite hard. This place has lots of—lots of woody species and it’s lacking in a lot of biodiversity that—that farming has taken off of it just from a long history of use, not abuse, just a long history of use. So that—that has meant a lot to me, probably being out here and being turned loose as a kid because I—there was
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nowhere else to go. I can remember the roads around here, I remember the first electricity. We are sitting by an electric line that was not here until I was about five or six years old. These roads were not paved. Henderson County, in those days, was not unlike conditions prior to World War II so I got to see a little bit of the—of the window of the—of the—of the past and there were a lot of old families here. I made contact with them and the patriarchal condition in these families—extended families, there was a chance to talk to—to a lot of old timers that had seen things of the past.
DT: What sort of changes have the old timers seen in this area?
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CF: Well, the—maybe this would be a good time to talk about the shotgun and why it’s here.
DT: Please.
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CF: As I said, Henderson County was—was—I don’t remember when it became a county but it was part of Nacogdoches County and then Athens was incorporated in 1850 so there were people here for quite some time. But they were the early farmer stockman people that—that we know about in East Texas who—who used what they could of—of—of agricultural practices raising small crops in this country, no big plantations, but small crops and small holdings and then taking the rest from natural resources, the woods and the small prairies that surrounded them, but primarily the woods, primarily the bottomlands. The bottomlands supplied a lot of food stuffs and the better timber was there. And, in fact, it’s quite difficult now to find white oak and—and even when I was a child, there weren’t many white oaks because those trees were taken and used heavily for—for implements and whatever they needed. There was a little pine—we’re right on the edge of the pine country, so—so pine was sawed and used. My grandfather’s house was built from virgin short leaf pine that was milled about fifteen to twenty miles from here and those were—they were big wide boards. So these conditions—there was a little bit of wildness left and yet and then there was this—this rural farming countryside that—that had a lot of game in it. And the reason I brought the shotgun was to kind of give a—a touch to the past. My grandfather bought his place from his father in 1901 and married my grandmother and they moved there and lived there until the sixties when Lake Athens was built. And he told me the story and I can’t remember, I never really pinned him down on the date, but we were talking about—about how things used to be and he told me about killing the last turkey that he ever saw. He—he got the last eastern turkey in this country. It—it might have been the last bird, certainly there were not many. He was a woodsman, it was all over the—all over the land and his property was certainly the kind of land that eastern turkeys would use. And he said one morning he was—he was taking
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his walk—he—he either got up and went to the fields to work or he got up and took a walk every day and the bird flushed and he had this shotgun and—and it’s empty, it has—it’s an old—this is a primitive hardware store model shotgun, a cheap shotgun. It’s more of a tool than a sporting weapon. And the bird flushed and started up out of the woods and he fired one barrel and the bird fell. And it was one shot that—that hit it in the head and killed it. And that was the last turkey that he saw and I—I believe that it was sometime a little bit before World War I guessing from the way he talked about the activities that were going on and the size of his family and what was happening at that time. So it’s been a long time since there were eastern turkeys here and yet they were quite numerous and abundant here. And—and this—this gun was part of—of seeing the last of those birds in this country. And now we have restoration efforts going on with the conservation movement in Texas and those birds are coming back. And whether or not we’ll have a huge flock of eastern wild turkeys in Henderson County is—is debatable but certainly in much of east Texas where my grandfather was and—and so here’s a little connection to the past with the story of eastern turkeys and what the country was like in those days.
DT: What was your grandfather’s attitude about having killed the last of the Mohicans in a sense?
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CF: Well I remember that and I’ve thought about that. He was fairly matter of fact. The—the regard for—for hunting and fishing activities—there were a lot—there was a lot of ethics with it and yet if they needed squirrels, there was no dif—no regard for the season. They took what they wanted, when they wanted, but it was all used. And so I think that the—that—that game and wildlife and the plants that were there were looked at more in a utilitarian sense but with respect. I don’t know that there’s a particular connection between the native American respect for this sort of thing and European settler sort of thing or frontiersman or farmer stockmen like my grandfather, but—but we were always admonished in—in—in ethics. It was unethical to shoot into a squirrel nest. It was unethical to take animals, you know when, just needlessly and it was ethical to—to strive for good woodsmanship and good marksmanship. The marksmanship probably had an economic thing to go with it because even after he was able, and even after my grandfather had the money, he never bought a full box of shotgun shells. He would buy them by the each and—and I’ve done that. I’ve bought shotgun shells and .22 cartridges by the each. So the—the sporting ethic probably was not so much a part of—of rural people that—that we know now as far as hunting being a—a kind of approach that’s—that’s recreational. It—it had to—they certainly enjoyed it, but it was another—there was a—there was a stronger foundation for it probably. It was another means of support and livelihood. And I’m sure that they would shoot ducks on the water if they had a chance, but—but, you know, they were—they were capable of taking ducks in flight very effectively. So that’s probably a difference that we—that—that this—this heritage has gone into a transition from—and likely there probably aren’t as many connections in our modern hunting ethic as there was then. Albeit the early approach was utilitarian because, as I said, there was a—there was another kind of fulfillment from the hunting activity and—and I don’t know whether I’m getting to where you want to be with that but that…
DT: [inaudible]
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CF: Well, it’s a—looking at nowadays, we go hunting for recreational aspects with still a strong sense of utilizing what we take. For the people on the land, utilitarian connection was—was much like the soil, you know, you need a good soil to grow a crop, you need to be careful and conservation minded in the way you hunted, even if you weren’t abiding by the game laws. As I said, you know, we just didn’t—you didn’t shoot into squirrel nests, you didn’t hunt during breeding seasons and that kind of thing. But if it was February and that marsh was full of ducks and they needed ducks, they shot ducks then even though the season was closed. So I guess that’s the difference.
DT: One of the things you mentioned about your grandfather I believe, was that he had owned some land near Lake Athens that was I guess later flooded, is that correct?
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CF: That’s right. This was a—a period of intense unrest in this community and probably has colored my intensity about bottomland hardwoods and reservoir construction now in my job. I don’t want to imply here that—that there is passion beyond objectivity, but it made me quite aware of what goes on and there was firsthand knowledge of—of what happened. I was a teenager in the sixties—early sixties when Lake Athens was proposed and then—and then built. And we’ve talked about how east Texas was full of people on the land, relating to the land, and often there were many, many places like our grandfathers and—and—and later with my father and the property that he came to own, that had been in the family for quite some time. They’d lived on it, flourished or gone through adversity on the land, either way but they were there. And there was a lot of intense devotion to it and then here comes something totally unexpected and they said, “We’re taking your land, you don’t have any choice.” And therefore you had to negotiate a sale. There was one woman who had inherited some land that did not do that and she was given a dollar and her land was taken by eminent domain. And probably that was an example. But, in those days, there was not mitigation for losses and so a lot of the—the bottomland hardwood system, which was still fairly intact and in pretty good shape, there was no compensation for that and those were wetlands. And we got nothing for that kind of destruction. The—the other impact was, even after he was forced off the land and had to move to town, which he didn’t live long after that because it just, that was not his kind of lifestyle, this lake was cleared and—and we saw that. We saw the bulldozers absolutely lay bare the ground and the creek itself. Flat Creek itself was just, I mean, it was just a ditch going down through this big couple thousand acre bare cleared area and all those trees were—were just burned. It was—it was a very shocking experience for everybody who had some sense of connection to that land and never realizing that—that the city would—would move into the countryside and affect it in that way. Now that’s just one side of the story, but it’s a personal side that I
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saw. Athens definitely has ben—benefited from the water demand, you know, that came—they have a water supply, but I’m not sure we’ve balanced this well. And maybe that’s a—a point that—that I should mention about sort of a credo or a philosophy or a core credo. The—somewhere in all this experience and the kind of things I’ve seen is a—there’s a harmonious and kind of balanced approach to land use so that there’s some conservation on one hand, either de facto or by intent, and there’s land use to produce needs, either economic or just, you know, direct immediate needs, on the other hand. And—and I see a lot of that getting out of kilter now where the balance, or at least in my career I’ve seen it out of kilter, there seems to be things that are done that you wonder why when the option is there to—to maybe have a little bit more harmony, have a little bit more ba—balance in—in the full approach to land use. And that’s probably a driving force in my subconscious when thinking about things are done as—as we deal with people—as I deal with people in my work trying to offer recommendations on how they could do things. So, undoubtedly, this whole era of—of invigorating experiences on the land and suddenly there’s this big shock that yanked from us a substantial part of our heritage. The land would have stayed in the family and—and we would have access to it now, you know, if it hadn’t been taken. Now there’s only 9/10ths of an acre and we keep it sort of as an icon of that farm.
DT: Do you remember some of the discussion at the time that the lake was proposed?
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CF: Yes I do. I—I was a teenager and I remember the—the land buyers coming to—to my grandmother and—and grandfather and my mother and father and aunt and uncle all being there and then these negotiations and they were quite volatile at times and they’d leave and come back. And—and our experiences were repeated dozens if not hundreds of times here however many landowners were involved. And as I said, there was one woman who was just so determined that she would not give in until they just took her land that she had inherited. So, yes, I remember that very distinctly. It was unpleasant.
DT: And the proponents for the dam, what sort of arguments did they make for it? How did they push ahead with the project?

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CF: Well, I don’t know that there was really any—I don’t think they had any—any foundation or any need to even think about having an argument. I know nothing about how the—the planning happened. I have attempted to look at some of those documents and they’re not real available. I might be able to get them if I struggled harder with the city. I don’t know how that planning occurred, but finally they’d reached the point where they were ready to finish the design and—and construct, you know, buy the land and construct the lake. But I do know it was quite—quiet because when they finally started the land acquisition, the whole community here was very shocked, “Where did this come from,” you know, “Who dreamed this up?” So, I don’t know that side of the story about those—the early planning. The—I guess for the record it would be important to—to comment that—that not all of the reservoir projects have this high noble cause of water supply associated with them. There are advocates for reservoirs who stand to gain substantially financially by getting the project done. I do know that when land acquisition started here for the reservoir and the guide tank lines, at the same time, there was a real estate boom for people to purchase surrounding land. And those were people who were able to buy the land and they offered good prices to those people who had land that would be adjacent to the lake and—and then that became lakeshore real estate and it’s quite high. Lake—lakeside lots at Lake Athens are bringing lots of money right now and I’m sure that’s been repeated wherever there’s lakeside development. And so that’s—that is an issue or component of reservoir construction that sometimes gets swept under the rug because it’s not too—it’s kind of an ugly scene and it’s not always thoroughly explained. Well I saw it happen here and—and things might be a little bit different, it might have been a little bit more tolerable if we had had mitigation and no lakeshore development, there would have been something saved. Consequences of losing what was directly in the pool was one thing, and then all the effects that happened around it and that happens time and again with reservoirs, that you lose a lot more natural resources than just the direct impact of the footprint of the lake.
DT: What happened to the people who were moved and dislocated from the dam site?
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CF: Well they had to take their—whatever they got from—from their land and relocate and they—they—they had to solve their problems in whatever way they could. My grandparents moved into town and—and my grandfather lived into his eighties, not long after he moved. My grandmother lived to—to be over ninety-seven and she seemed to adapt but was never comfortable. My grandfather was never comfortable after he moved. A lot of other families had very similar experiences. People moved—some people had enough uplands that they could just move their location and—and move—still be on their land. Others just vanished, I don’t know what happened to them. Some of them were quite poor people and they probably didn’t have much land and they had to just go fend for themselves. I don’t know of any cultural activity or social activity that came with the lake to help solve that.
DT: Well this I guess takes us through some of your childhood and teenage years and talks a little bit about your family and roots in the land here. I understand that you went to Texas A&M and took a degree of wildlife science and ended up working for Texas Parks and Wildlife shortly after that. Is that true?
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CF: Well I—I kind of have sort of a varied college career. I went to the junior college here to start with simply because it was kind of tough to—to move onto a large college. But then I—I mentioned about being in chemistry. I thought I could be a chemist and that would be a—a—a good business. I had an influential chemistry teacher in high school and influential chemistry teacher in the junior college and so that was a false start. I went to the University of Texas and promptly flunked out. And—but they were willing to take me at A&M and I—by that time I had learned about the—the business of wildlife management. And then I knew that was exactly where I wanted to go. And Dr. James Tier(?), went over talked to him and—and he spoke well for me and they let me in. And so I stayed there and graduated in ’68 and he hired me as a lab assistant and we remained friends and still are friends to this day and I have a lot of respect for him. But he urged me to go on to graduate school and I intended to and I was accepted at Oregon State. But Vietnam was cherry red at that time and very heated up and they were taking young men right and left and I was drafted and my graduate career was interrupted. But then Howard White who was the—the professor at Oregon State University who accepted me let us all go about our business for the army and—or the military service then I took us back. And I did start graduate school there but I had a chance to be hired by a long time friend, Bob West who’s now dead, but he was a dear friend and he hired me onto a waterfowl project and I couldn’t have been happier and although it was a meager salary and I moved my family from Oregon to Corpus Christi and we struggled along for awhile. But, during that time, we received general fund money to escalate the non-game program and I was working as a wildlife technician, which was a very meager salary. And I had made good impressions on the non-game program leader by helping him in the bays with fish eating bird work. And I think the education I got in college was comprehensive and, you know, I was trying to work as a game biologist and have done a lot of that and I’m very proud of what I’ve done there but—but all of us had a—had a sense of—of the world around us and were struggling to deal with—with ecology as we could. So this chance to get into the non-game program was not only a promotion, but it was a brand new large endeavor. I mean, it went from Dan Lay having one small project and—and struggling to get people to listen to him about red cockaded woodpeckers to suddenly we were able to hire a staff of biologists and technicians and take on a large front of activities and I was one of those persons.
DT: What do you think the tipping point was that influenced the department to create a non-game program…
(Talking at same time)
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CF: In—in the early—in the late sixties and early seventies nationally there was a—a lot of push from the conser—conservation community at large to—to be aware of more than—than just game animals. And so they were making some efforts. They had a—a biologist who—after Dan Lay who was hired on staff, he simply worked in the Austin office kind of processing documents. But then we got some general fund money from the legislature that—that helped bootstrap this thing and then later they—they were able to convert and find money elsewhere. And that just went from a low activity, I mean, a large leap to a—a large non-game unit taking on lots of things. Floyd Potter was hired as the herpetologist. Danny Swepston was another biologist hired. I was hired. Dan Boone(?) my—my friend in college, who’s now deceased, he was hired as a technician. And John Smith was the—the program leader. And we sort of took on the non-game world in Texas. We had really more work than we could cover but we did everything from—from alligators to red wolves to fur(?) bears to peregrine falcons, a huge fish eating birds. We had a huge array of jobs and we were struggling all the time to keep our business going but—but there are programs now that—that—in the department, that grew from that and notably one of them is the alligator program that grew from—from just a little job in—in our—our activity.
DT: Why don’t you tell about the alligator conservation effort.
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CF: Yeah the—the—when the non-game unit was formed, alligators had some degree of protection. They were not nearly as abundant now and I worked as a summer student one year on the Murphy area. My—the man that hired me, Bob West, had been there and—and he got us on as a summer student. And I remember that the wardens caught an alligator poacher with fifteen little alligators about three feet long. And, boy, that was something, you know. Tha—that’s the kind of gators that were out there and production was going down because they were taking the big animals. We got little protection and then began to try to—to bring some organization to it but they were threatened animals and endangered animals later. And, in fact, there was a time during the non-game period that we couldn’t even handle them, they were in that endangered status. So Floyd Potter, who had been at Sam Houston State, was hired on as the herpetologist and he was leading us through this thing and we began to figure out how to get a census method, how to document what we had and get some organization and some more regulations in place that would take us out of this endangered species status and—and get it into a—a more comfortable predicament where we could restore the animals and—and that happened. And Floyd led the way, wrote a plan, and now we have a full-blown alligator program that issues permits for harvesting alligators and—and so not so long ago, twenty-five years ago, they were almost gone and now there are alligators in all available habitat and doing well.
DT: Maybe you can talk a little bit about some of your experiences with the hide hunters or I suppose some of them poachers in the early days.
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CF: Well my experiences there were not so extensive but there is another animal in the non-game scene that—that I could—I can talk about and that’s the peregrine falcons. They—the—the two species, the—the duck hawk of—of North America and then the Arctic peregrines that were from the tundra were both endangered species and they were in tough shape. And our—our insight into what was going on was from some of the—the peregrine researchers with the Fish and Wildlife Service and universities and some very prominent falconers who were, you know, they saw these birds as—as—as part of their heritage and they were willing to—to—to fight for peregrine restoration in order to get their hawks back. And…
DT: They weren’t allowed to practice falconing because…
(Talking at same time)
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CF: Yeah, they—they were—they had to be specially permitted and, you know, peregrines that they’ve held as falcons were suddenly, you know, they had a problem with them. But some falconers had peregrines and some of them gave their birds up to the captive breeding program, which now has been successful. But Dan Boone and I were assigned to do a lot of the work and we designed a survey. There’s a large migration of peregrine falcons and—and right now on the Texas coast, those birds are coming through Texas. They come down the seaboard from the tundra, from Canada, Alaska and—and travel along the beaches and it makes sense because that’s where a lot of the birds are going and there—they are bird feeders, they feed on—on songbirds and shore birds and waterfowl. And so the beaches were a great place to survey them. And we surveyed falcons on the upper Texas coast and then Matagorda Island and then South Padre Island. We—we ran a route for a month and this was a substantial database that—that paid off a whole lot. We also caught and—and color marked falcons. And so that was a very interesting and exiting experience.
DT: How do you catch a falcon?
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CF: Well we learned—we had a—a—a falconer in—in Austin who later went on to become Director of the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, Dr. Granger Hunt. He was teaching at UT, but he was a falconer. And he was one of those guys that was on our side. And he gave us a lot of insight, not only about the, you know, the—the techniques of—of handling the birds but what’s going on with falconers. So we used a device, it’s just a strap and you—you put this strap with—with nooses on it on a pigeon and—and a weight and you’re able to entice the falcon when you see one to—to strike the pigeon and then they—they’re caught in their toes and they—they’re not damaged and you release them and put the bands on and then you turn the falcon loose again. So our color marking, we—we contributed substantially to the—to the North American database on falcon numbers and—and color marking and—and the—the—the life tables that were developed from—from these—these known birds, where they were caught and what went on. But the—you ask about hide hunters and so forth and illegal things. We—we learned some things about what’s going on and actually saved a bird that we know about, we might have saved more. But as we learned the lore of falconry, we also learned what—how falconers get these birds and they go to the beach and they catch one. They were having to smuggle them then. There was still a black market because, you know, you could not possess a peregrine and to get one you had—it was—was—was very desirable because they are—they are the regal bird. When you finally hold one you know why they want them. When you see them hunt, you know the thrill of what’s going on. And we were up and down that beach every day. And when we started the banding program, there were two crews up and down the beach every day. And we were, as I said, now we were all up and down the Texas coast. There was a crew working on the—on the upper Texas coast. I never worked there but I worked on Matagorda Island and I worked on South Padre Island. Matagorda Island was still in the possession of the Air Force so it was pretty well controlled. South Padre had access. And some of these guys would come in and South Padre Island is a remote thing and—and to go all the way up to the Mansfield Cuts is thirty some odd miles and, in a beach buggy and there’s nobody up there, you can get a falcon and stick him in your shirt and go home. And when we learned how it worked, we did see a site that looked suspicious and we saw a vehicle that
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looked suspicious and these people were living in cabins in South Padre Island, a little village, and we began to watch them. And we were pretty sure one morning they had a falcon. They came out, they had abandoned their—their site and they left in a hurry and we knew what their car—what kind of car they had. We had the license plates number and we turned them in. And they were captured in New Mexico. They followed them all the way across Texas and let them cross the state line so there would be a Lacy Act violation and they caught them and it was a bird that they had taken that morning. They—they were caught early the next day traveling. They went straight through and they had the bird in the panels of the—of the door with—with ventilation where it wouldn’t die. So that kind of thing went on and—and being aware of that, I mean, if we didn’t—had not know and had not been clued in by a friend in the falconry arena, then we wouldn’t have know about that. And I’m sure that we obstructed other things that were—were going on. We built and alliance with the, not only the Texas Parks and Wildlife wardens who helped us a lot, but with the federal special agents who were also protecting and—and they’re obligated to do, you know, the whole gambit of things and enforce the federal laws. So that was an interesting part of our—a biologist’s life of undercover work I guess.
DT: You also mentioned that you were involved in the red wolf program.
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CF: Only nominally. The—the red wolves were obviously part of the endangered species program and—and the non-game program at that time, but I didn’t have a lot of connection with that. Danny Sweptson was more involved and John Smith but Glen McBride, who was one of the key fellows there in the field with the last of the red wolves. I did have a friend who invited us to his goose camp on the—on the Texas coast and we spent the night on the prairie and I heard them, I’ve heard, you know, the wild red wolves, the last ones in the marsh, carrying on in the middle of the night.
DT: What do they sound like?
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CF: Well, they’re—they sound much like timber wolves but much more shrill but—but not nearly any—any fashion. They howl, they do not carry on like coyotes. It’s—it’s distinctly different than—than coyotes. It’s much more akin to what you’d hear a timber wolf call like. And they’re noisy when they get together. But I didn’t have much to do with red wolves. I saw an animal that was taken on the coast at one time when I was at A&M. They’re quite a bit larger than a coyote. So the—the non-game thing was an experience and I was in the middle of that and—and, in those days, personnel actions were a little different than—than now and there was another key experience in my career that happened. I was drafted. Myself and Roy Frye, who was in the valley, were picked. I don’t know why they picked us, I hope it was because we were good biologists and eager young men, but—but we were picked by Dr. Craig McMahan and—and Ted Clark to embark on a huge state-wide habitat program. This—this program probably would have been one of the most consequential things that would have happened with the department if it had been—if it had given the nurturing that we started with and it had been able to carry through. But the program was bigger than—than what a lot of people could initially understand. But it started with—with mapping the state. And we would map the habitat in the state using satellite data, so this is brand new technology. Here’s two…
DT: This was in the seventies I guess?
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CF: Yes, this was in ’74, ’75, somewhere in there. These two biologists who didn’t even know what a computer was, much less run one. And computers were as, you know, they were in rooms in those days, they—they were not PCs, we were operating on the big IBM things that were huge and—and they—the equipment was huge and we used cards. But we were trained in a special training program for about six months and then we set forth to map the state. And I was made project leader and Roy was my assistant and Dr. McMahan was the program leader. And his vision was that if we could get a handle on the habitat and we could quantify it, and that was what—that was the interest in the satellite data, instead of photography because it was data, it was digital data, and you were able to count. You could total up acreages once you were able to classify some kind of land code. That was important because then we could follow rates. But his vision was to get this map base in place and then, from that, using the habitat and the critters, develop a unit that we called ecological management units and then began to assemble data with that. And there’s an acronym now that we didn’t know in those days and it’s called GIS, Geographic Information System, which is common. It’s throughout our profession. But in those days, we—we didn’t know what we were, you know, we didn’t know about GIS, we just knew that what we were doing was going to pull everything together. And I—I’m sure Pepper has probably thought at times, Pepper was Dr. Craig McMahan how—how his vision was on the horizon away ahead of everybody else, it truly was. But the problem was it wasn’t understood. Mapping the state, which is one twelfth the conterminous United States, was a prodigious task and it—it just—you got—the whole—the big project got lost in this smaller part which was the first part, it was a mapping thing. And it took us a long time and cost a lot of money. I spent three years and we published—we were able—actually able to publish the first map and I became disenchanted with whiteouts and sitting in—in Austin and I had a chance to come back here as a field biologist and I took that opportunity. But I…
DT: What was that first map though that you?
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CF: The—the first map that we published was the Laredo Scene and it’s part of the—the map. It went on, Roy Frye then was made project leader and they hired other people to work and they did publish the map. I guess a lament I have, and I’ve never been able to understand it and I’ve never talked about it much, but I was not made a junior author when that was published and—and I feel that I should have been. One of my papers was used, a paper that I was senior author and Roy junior author, that we published that was used in the nomenclature, became part of that program. I—I never bothered to ask why I wasn’t an author but—but The Vegetation Types of Texas, which is a big map and an accompanying booklet with all of the—the variations is the output of that. And that would have set the stage then to move on to these other units and—and to get on with things.
DT: And it showed plant communities or species?
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CF: Yes what we call plant associations, you know it as post oat black hickory forest, cord grass, marsh, longleaf pine. You know, these were plant associations that had the dominance, the dominant plants in them.
DT: And the section you were looking at was in the Laredo area?
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CF: No—no. We did the whole state.
DT: I see.
0:47:04 – 2127
CF: But the first map, I mean, this was a prodigious task to—to develop the technology. NASA said we couldn’t do it and we believed that we could because we thought that NASA probably didn’t understand plant—the land cover like we did and I believe that’s right. I think we had a really good idea and we proved that we could map plant associations. And so, you know, that—that’s how we—we went at it and what—what the maps are just—they look like color photographs but they are actually classifications and each color has a name by it and we can total up how many acreages are. So we spent a long time developing our whole methodology. We had—we had—we wrote a book, you know, a—a recipe book for doing this. And we had to buy the satellite data, we had to process the data, we had to use a, you know, horrendous computer activities and…
DT: Did you have to do a lot of ground…
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CF: Yes and then we spent two years ground truthing, just all—all during the growing season out in the field, every other week one of us. And then our programmers who also should have been authors on this thing were working. It was a huge task and we—the first—when we first—we finally produced a scene. We did a test scene around Travis County. And then we went from that and our first map was the Laredo scene, the first map in the series of forty some odd maps was the Laredo scene and those were all registered to fit against each other and then those were taken and abstractions were done and they—you just draw these big large polygons or—or curved regions, you know, much more detailed then probably what you’ve seen on other things. But they came from those—those digitized maps—those digital maps, not digitized.
DT: Well from the map work and the group truth work, did you get a big picture impression of the amount of habitat that was intact and the amount of habitat that was protected or…
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CF: You certainly could see the effects. This was a—a very good exercise for two biologists. We had to deal with all the vegetation types. We read all kinds of vegetation literature and we began to—we learned the state pretty well and we knew what was out there. And so after we produced them then, at that time, there was early studies about how you would do what you was called change detection. You would take one scene and then five years later take another one and look at the rate. Roy did some of that. It was strictly one versus the other in overlaying and seeing what changed. There are automated methodologies for doing that and the whole technology has advanced tremendously from where we started now and it’s amusing to see some of that. But—but that was one of the values and one of the things that we ultim—that we envisioned, if we could do this and then come back later and run it again, we would get an idea of what the rate of loss was. And—and if you had these units then you could prioritize units, work on them, and then—and maybe disregard some areas that maybe weren’t high priority. So that was—that was—that was certainly something that we were after. And yes, we could see a lot of loss and you can see the fragmentation that’s out there on the ground. And—and we—
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those maps were—it was published in 1980. The—not all scenes were—they were late ‘70s and 1980 and we can still read those tapes. We had the headers on those tapes fixed not too long ago and so we can go back to that database if—if we ever reach that state where we would look at land on a landscape area and take and—and do a modern satellite scene and then overlay them and—and really look at the change. We have that capability. And so I was part of that and that was a very exciting but it was a trying time. There was huge, almost unsolvable problems.
DT: You mentioned that there wasn’t…
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CF: Well st—we—we were talking about the…
DT: We were visiting about the GIS program and the concept about it and I’m curious if the project didn’t generate the kind of support because it didn’t meet with the kind of understanding that you might have hoped. You think people had difficulty understanding the potential for GIS and that sort of landscape scale view of the environment?
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CF: That—that’s—the—the problem that was there was that Craig McMahan is a brilliant man and he certainly is one of my mentors, a fellow that I respect greatly, he taught me a lot. And he had the same sense of the land even though he was from South Texas, we share a lot of whatever, spiritualism, whatever. But—but he was the planner for the division and it was his job to think way ahead and he was a visionary. And he was a man who could think big and he could see into the future and he could understand pretty much in detail the kinds of problems that—that our profession would encounter and that society would be asking of us in the future. And he was trying to position the division to be able to deal with that. And so, as I said, the entire project was not fully understood because mapping one twelfth of the conterminous United States is a huge project and it had never been done, certainly not on that scale. And so it kind of, you know, that—it was just lost in this mapping thing, the whole project got lost in this mapping thing that was so large.
DT: Just the logistics of it?
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CF: Yes, it was—it was—it was advanced in it’s—in it’s thinking, that we were on the cutting edge of the technology. You know, NASA had just gotten LAN set up and they were running those kinds of things and trying to figure out what they were doing. We were trying, you know, there was a lot of technologies that were developing around this thing, even how to produce a map. And so doing the mapping, just the mapping which was just the base, it was a little bitty piece truly of where he was trying to go. The real action was to come later when we set up the units. You defined a boundary and then you began to try to use that in management sense to make decisions both administratively and in the field. And—and we—we had that whole scope of—of utility in our minds from—from a biologist in the field all the way up to the administrator who would be able to set priorities and look at things and have this database which no—we now know as a GIS. Well, no one ever saw beyond the maps. And we would put out a map and, I mean, this was a long project. As I said, I worked three years before we printed the first map and it went on for another three years or so. So that kind of confused the overall program. The other thing with—with the department is that continuity is a peculiar thing. Continuity often isn’t served very well and commissions would come and go and directors would come and go and—and so there’s Pepper with his project and his vision still intact and his plan, but—but people not understanding it. And finally it was just cut off and that was the end of it and nothing ever went with it and he was relegated to a corner somewhere by another division director and—and he just got fed up with it and left. So it was a—it was a failure of—of the administrator to use the vision and the products of his planner and the commission to support this whole thing to get on through with it. Where would we be
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now if he had gotten his way and had followed through? We would have a full GIS on the State of Texas, so much data organized, we would be number one in the nation in being able to talk about landscape ecology and those kind of a things. He was setting us up to be able to actually practice landscape ecology. And—and those—those principles were kind of in bits and pieces around in our—our technical arena but to be known strictly as landscape ecology as we know it now is the way people look at it, on regions and that they manipulate data and they—they work with GIS approaches. That was not well organized. But yet Pepper, whether or not he knew all the—the buzzwords, the concepts was what he was working with, the abstractions that would take them way into the future, you know, fifty years into the future for that man to see that is just a, you know, a manifestation of his brilliance as far as I’m concerned. And he truly had the right idea, he just didn’t have the support and the follow through. Even if he had retired or even after he did retire, if someone had carried on with that, we would be in grand shape. So we published the map and it went off somewhere. The maps are used or not used. Sometimes you’ll see them in offices pasted up on the wall, it’s a forgotten thing. And so that, I guess that’s a—that was an action that probably did not best utilize all the funds that were—that were spent to get where we were and to utilize the expertise of this leader who—who really knew where he was trying to go. He wasn’t a corn ball, he really knew where he was trying to go. And now we have those things and if we were to do it, we’d have to start over. So it’s—it’s a sad deal. But anyway, after that mapping project, as I said, I got—I got really disenchanted and we were living as biologists, on biologists salaries in an environment where there were administrators and Austin was flourishing
0:57:49 – 2127
and it was tough. And I had a chance to come back here, my family was getting older and my father was ill and I—I moved back in ’77 as a biologist in the field and I wanted that experience also. So I worked on a—it’s much like we would call a—a district now. It was a regulatory project. Our job was to deal with resident game and help set up the regulations. And I did that in the middle Trinity Neches area, counties around Henderson, Anderson, Navarro, Wood, Van Zandt and I worked for Walt Daniel who was a project leader in Fairfield.
DT: Was that the start of your interest in waterfowl and your responsibility for…
(Talking at same time)
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CF: The start of my interest in waterfowl was what we talked about awhile ago of—of—of my early days and being associated with the land and creek bottoms and bottomland hardwood systems and marshes and ducks all over everywhere. And it’s—I’ve always been infatuated with waterfowl and especially wood ducks even as a youngster. And so in 1982, we—actually myself and my good friend and a guy that’s helped me a lot and we went to school together and worked together, Hayden Haucke and I were in—in Tyler in our supervisor’s office and he was about a to give us directions on how we were going to split up the district because Walt Daniel had retired and Hayden and I were going to run the district until they figured out who was going to do it, be the final decision, we were going to be the—the interim project leaders. And fate has a funny way of operating sometimes, but while we were there in that office, the division director Ted Clark called and told Mr. Van Cleve(?) that I was assigned as a waterfowl biologist and, boy that was grand, that was grand. And I was to be—I was to take my orders from Charles Stutsenbaker(?) who was a statewide waterfowl leader and—and build a program in East Texas at the same time. And this came at the direction of the commission. They directed the—the wildlife director to—to hire a biologist in East
1:00:13 – 2127
Texas and hire a biologist on the middle Texas coast where—where the geese are and to support those people and build a program. And so David Loprise(?) was hired on the coast. He was moved from area manager at the Murphy area and he moved to the central Texas coast and went to work as a goose biologist and I came here, well I was here, and I set forth in East Texas in 1982 to—to build a waterfowl program and that’s what we did. And it’s—it’s been a struggle. The work has been out there and there’s been a lot more need than we’ve been able to rise to until just recently and now we have—we have a lot of new initiatives that have increased our—our ability a gr—a great deal.
DT: What would you say are the big challenges for waterfowl…
End Reel #127
DT: Let’s resume, we were talking about some of your efforts in the waterfowl program in this district. Can you talk about some of the major efforts that you put forward?
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CF: Well, as I said, we set forth to—to—to build a program and a lot of our activities, we were to use the duck stamp funds to do things, and there was a chance to buy a lot of land so we have some acquisition that—that went on and then also to develop better habitat on existing wildlife management areas. And we did that through their cooperative program with—with Ducks Unlimited. It’s called MARSH which is an acronym for Matching Aid to Restore States Habitat and we get cost sharing from that and it—it makes the money go further.
DT: Can you give an example of a MARSH project that has been pretty successful?
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CF: Yes. The first one in the state was at Engling Wildlife Management area that’s—that’s named after Gus Engling who was a biologist that was—that was murdered there. He was the first biologist on the area and it’s just—it’s about thirty miles from here. It’s on Catfish Creek system, which is a tributary of the Trinity. And we had a chance to improve some habitat on those with kind of a flooded bottomland sales and enhancing some marsh environment—marsh and shrub swamp. You just—it’s a construction project to better control the water. And then we had several acquisitions that were—that were done, a lot of those were on the coast using duck stamp money. But my job was to—to assist the wildlife areas, to assist the acquisition. Dr. Dan Molten(?) was in charge of it in those days. Alizan(?) Bayou at Nacogdoches is an example of one of those places. And then also on Alizan(?) Bayou we have another marsh project, Richland Creek Wildlife Management area which is real close to Engling, actually in the Trinity flood plain, had marsh projects and we’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, two hundred to four hundred thousand dollars to—to enhance or restore waterfowl habitat. At Richland Creek a lot of the bottom had been drained because they were using it for pasture and so what we did was restore the wetlands to functional condition for waterfowl with that.
DT: Did you build levies, install pumps?
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CF: Yes, yes, right, to trap water, whatever we could do. Also…
DT: Can you tell the story of Engling’s murder, the biologist?
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CF: Not as well as Hayden can. Hayden actually got a marker up but he was a biologist there and—and they were doing some work and he had known someone who was—who was—he’d heard shooting and they were—he supposed that someone was poaching ducks and he went off to look for this fellow and apparently encountered him. No one knows what happened but, you know, he was shot and he was hidden by the person and then there was a long man, you know, a search for his body. Some of the—the people that probably you have talked to or will talk to were there. If you’d talked to Charles Boyd, he can tell you because he was one of the members of the search party. His body was found and then they ultimately found the poacher who shot him and he confessed. I believe that he was a—he was one of the first persons where forensics were used. There was some wounds on the trees where the shot charge went and—he was shot with a shotgun. And then I believe this—this man was one of the last persons electrocuted in the state but it’s a—it’s a sad story for both sides. This person was—was the kind of
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people that we’ve talked about being on the land—deriving—he was hunting ducks to feed his family. And so I think there’s stories to be told on both sides. I don’t know it in detail but—but I know some people who were there, you know, during the—the episode. And Hayden and Engling bothered to—to make it a mission of his to get a historical marker up and to get the story told and get more recognition for—for Gus Engling. So that was done. And—and he would be better able to tell the story than me, he knows it in detail. Miss Lisa, his widow, still is employed with the department and, anyway…
DT: You mentioned that you also were involved in acquisition of waterfowl habitat. Can you tell about the sort of places that you would look for and why they would be important to protect?
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CF: Well these—the acquisition effort, I mean, this was another part of the commissions direction to get out and—and build this waterfowl program. And so willing sellers—and it was known that, you know, we were buying land and willing sellers would contact us. Dr. Dan Multon(?) was in charge of the acquisition in our program at that time. And so what our role in the field was to—to be the eyes and ears for Dan. We would do field inspections and a lot of biological reports, ascertain if the property actually had value and if it was something that we wanted to put into the program. Prior to that—my first assignment on the program was to—was to update a, what we called a white paper in those days, but it was a guidance document of where the program would go. And we had some priorities set on what we wanted to buy and where we wanted to buy it. So there was direction and we had some, you know, we knew what we were after. Bottomland hardwood systems obviously were things that we were after here or the graded wetlands, things that had a lot of potential for being waterfowl habitat. And—and then also looking at using those—those funds for upgrading existing wildlife areas that we had. Another activity in that was to—to engage our field staff with more waterfowl work. When I came to work, a lot of the people—they didn’t go into wetlands. They didn’t own rubber boots, they didn’t fool around out there, there’s snakes and mosquitoes out in these places. And it was not very much of a program that the actual field personnel across the board did and we’ve come a long way since then. These people are in charge of some of these places now, we have an ongoing waterfowl program, they advise a lot of landowners. They all own rubber boots and—and that landowner assistance thing was another deal that I did. We were to assist landowners with technical guidance and ways that they might want to improve their land. We had no money to help them in a cost sharing way, but we could give them technical advice. And another big program in that was, as I said, I’ve always been interested in wood ducks and we set up a wood duck project with, again, it was another misunderstood program where the—the action kind of covered up and—and the whole mission was lost. My goal was to try to see if we couldn’t enhance our production to the point that there would be a surplus of birds to hunt
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and if we were producing our own birds, then maybe we could hunt them, for instance, during the Teal season before migrant wood ducks got here and this would give East Texas hunters something because Teal are not as abundant in East Texas as on the coast or elsewhere and it would—it would help our stamp sales, it would give more hunting opportunity. And we set off to do that. We did it through a nest box program and we gave out nest boxes and we’ve given out probably close to twenty-five thousand nest boxes since 1986. And I’m still having trouble building a database to take to the Fish and Wildlife Service that they would listen to, but we’re working on another paper and analysis of a lot—of nine years of data now to do that. But that was a—a special program but kind of the end result of the—of the goal got lost in this nest box program which sort of turned into a blue bird—blue bird house deal. And—and we were giving out so many boxes and dealing with so many people to let—all that action caught the eye of—of some of the higher level people and they forgot what we were trying to do. But nonetheless, it was a lot of activity and we’ve certainly helped the bird.
DT: You mentioned that another way you helped private landowners that are interested in increasing and improving their habitat is through your work on the Wildlife Exemption…
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CF: Yeah, House Bill 1358 or Proposition 11, it has lots of names. I think Proposition 11 is—is what’s used nowadays. That’s an interesting story and it’s one that I’m, I guess I’m really proud of. Probably it’s—if there’s a high point in my career or something I’ve done, it was that. And—and that law and that opportunity for landowners is—is one of the most significant points of conservation progress in this state. I truly believe that. Hopefully the appraisers and—and taxing entities will understand the opportunity. But I have a very close friend here who’s—he’s a lot younger than—than I am, but he’s a good friend. His name’s Lee Tacket(?). At the time that I was district biologist and shortly after becoming a waterfowl biologist I knew Lee, soon after I got back here I met him. I had known his father who used to be county agent here. Anyway, he was an agriculture appraiser and we were—we hunted and fished together and I had a land loan on this place here with him. And I began to tell him what I was seeing in terms of—of land taxes being a disincentive to landowners. You could get an agricultural exemption and reduce your taxes greatly if you would impact the habitat. That is, put goats out here or clear it. We—we had case records that—that were used in the—in the discussions of appraisers telling landowners, “Well, if you’ll go bulldoze this place, we’ll give you your exemption, or if you’ll put goats out there we’ll give you your exemption.” And that’s a…
DT: [inaudible]
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CF: That’s right. And—and that can be as much as—as fifteen times more—in this county at that time, it was fifteen times more for market value appraisal than for agricultural appraisal. And I began to realize this and I talked about it with Lee and I, you know, I just kept it to myself and—but I—I talked to the tax people in Austin and they told me that the first exemptions, the reason that the exemptions were granted in the sixties in the first place was to protect the rural countryside and the rural way of life. And, all of a sudden, we’re seeing this revenue generating motive becoming, you know, pretty strong. And I spoke at one time to a commissioner who came down, it was Peter Beck. He came down to a conference and I had a chance to talk to him privately and I told him my little story and he said, “That’s interesting and you’re right and the time will come, keep working on the grass roots with this and but right now the legislature is grappling with school funding and this is not the time to do it.” And so I didn’t and—but I got stronger and I guess a little bit more vocal. And I had to be careful because we—we have a—a very strong admonition about going to a legislator and selling a program. We can’t do that, it’s against the law. But Lee felt strong enough about it and we had a—a very good legislator here as a representative, Clyde Alexander, who still is a representative. And Lee asked him for an appointment to discuss something that was on his mind and asked that I come with him. And so Clyde granted us an interview or an opportunity to talk with him, an appointment. And he had no idea. He was totally unaware. And Lee and I told our story and he—when we left his office he said, “I promise you I’ll do something about this.” I heard some things as this went on because I kind of—I remained in obscurity to a certain extent. But I heard that there was other people talking about similar things so it could have been concurrent, I don’t know. I do know that Clyde had no idea and that he suddenly became a big factor in this. He did help introduce the legislation. He asked my department to assign me to assist him as—as a technical consultant and I did that. And I’m very proud of being part of that because it’s brought to landowners an option to do something else, to make their choices about how they want to use their land. And it set in place a tool that can be a motivator to
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creativity. And there is an example of what I’d like to explain about that. There is some opposition to this, they see this as tax evasion. But there are people—and that’s a traditional, you know, the Scotch-Irish hammer the land type deal. We’re not going to let them get away with that kind of thing, putting a blue bird house out there and getting away with it. Well, that’s not what this is about. This is about true habitat restoration and protection. And as an example about creativity that certainly wasn’t, in—in my mind, it may have been in somebody’s mind, but—but in this county there is a substantial subdivision or ranchette type thing, it’s a pretty good size ranch. And when that ranch was bought, the developer, the first thing he did was secure a wildlife management exemption and it works like this. There is a small homestead site, about an acre I think or something like that, in the middle of twenty or twenty-five acres. But the whole block has the wildlife management tax valuation on it. It is a deed restriction that is firm. And so you’re allowed to move in there and build a house and that has the homestead, that’s not under the wildlife management thing, but the surrounding property you must maintain and participate in this overall plan. And so, what I’m trying to say, it’s this kind of thing that’s going to be important to preserving biodiversity and maintaining and—and—and either ameliorating or stopping or somehow or another positively affecting urban sprawl because it is the little places that count. The big ranches, the big places, they’re going to be able to serve wildlife habitat for a long time whether or not they have an agricultural exemption through ranching or through wildlife management. And wildlife management is merely a kind of agricultural exemption. But it’s these—this innovation in these areas
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where it can be applied that’s going to save wildlife habitat in areas where it would be coming under a lot of threat. And I see that—that subdivision, that large subdivision that allows those people to live out there on a little piece of property and the rest of it they’re getting tax advantages on and they’re motivated to keep that habitat in place by their tax advantages. That’s very powerful. I mean, that has kept and preserved a piece of wildlife habitat that would have been chopped up and who knows what done with it. And so these are the kinds of things that—that the argument needs to go that way. I know that there are appraisal districts that are fighting it and sometime before or right after, I’m not quite sure, we went into Proposition 11, which was a referendum to approve this kind of thing. The—the legislature issued to the appraisal districts, you know, a letter saying, “We want you to—this is a law and we want you to do this and we want you to do your job, you know, valuate the land.” And Clyde told me that—that Proposition 11 passed 60/40 in favor and he felt that was some kind of testimony to environmental concern. I don’t know whether that’s the true thing that’s in the heart of people, but—but the vote went that way and this is a—an extremely important opportunity and—and I hope we’ll grow on it. The—the governor established a conservation taskforce this year and the report has just come out and some of the items in that have to do with incentives to landowners to keep doing positive things and we need this kind of approach, a lot of flexibility and the choice to do what you—you think is right in land use and not be steered under the threat of—which is substantial—the tax threat. So the—the wildlife management tax valuation for me being part of that, I don’t know whether I—I know it came to me in my mind on my own thinking it out, I don’t know that I thought it up as the only person in the state. I think the record would probably show that’s not true. But I do know that—that bringing it to Clyde, being part of bringing it to Clyde and—and seeing him act on it is a—is a real accomplishment. I think for me as—as a biologist to be part of that kind of thing and deliver up to the land and to the people something that can truly be effective and—and it is effective. We have a substantial amount of acreage going under this opportunity now and I have my property here under that and most appraisal districts I understand take this in stride and go on about it. If you—you get your plan in and try to do what’s right, they’re going to stick with it. So I think this has a lot of consequence to the future.
DT: Mentioning this place here, can you describe some of the projects that you have in mind for wildlife?
(Talking at same time)
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CF: Well, these things are—are kind of weird in—in terms of—the law is quite simple and there are seven practices and these are huge blankets. The titles are huge blankets, and you have to do three of the seven. I tried to do all seven. some of them things like being like census, but I don’t have any deer here to census. So we would census herps or non-game birds or something like that. But habitat control is one of them and that’s a lot of what I have going on here. Supplemental cover is another one which almost—for a biologist, is hard to tweak these things apart. So the habitat control, off to the left here, is I have—there’s a—that’s not a real fence, it’s a simulated fence. And that fence just has one wire on it and birds will perch on that. Their droppings will carry the seeds and sooner or later we’ll have woody plants proliferating running along that fence. I have brush piles out here, I plant stuff everywhere, you know, there’s—in the drought…
DT: What sort of things do you plant?
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CF: Woody—woody species, shrubs and native shrubs and trees. There are some redbud behind us there that’s made it. I had some Chinquapin but the drought—the drought is really rough on this sandy land so things don’t make it. I move cedars in to make cedar breaks. I planted some pine to give some shelter for winter birds and—and that kind of thing, lot of brush piles. The—one of these days—and I don’t—I don’t have to do this all at once as long as I’m following my plan. One of these days, I’ll have a—a pond out here for the thing that’s called supplemental water. But the—the—the law and the regulations are quite flexible and there—there—there’s a lot of opportunity there. So, I’m—I’m glad I was part of that and I—I think it will have long ongoing consequences for wildlife habitat in the state.
DT: Are there some other efforts on behalf of wildlife that you might like to mention that you’ve been involved with?
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CF: Well there’s one other I think that—I guess when I look back in my—my philosophy of things is that society tends to forget what a natural resources base means to our well being and that’s why I try to urge everybody. I think that—that—that youth should be brought up with this ethic, all youth, whether or not you’re hunting or fishing or whatever. But you have a strong appreciation and understanding of the eco—ecological consequences of natural resources and we’re part of ecosystems. And, in fact, we can’t exi—exist without these—this resource base and yet that tends to be overlooked. There’s a real good example of some dual purpose things here that’s—that’s happened. The Tarrant Regional Water District which is a water supplier for the City of Fort Worth, built Richland Chambers Reservoir and as part of the mitigation for that, we got Richland Creek Wildlife Management area. They have embarked on another kind of water treatment activity that biologists have long known, and certainly in—in my work, is that the ecological functions of marshes are—is to clean water. And so Tarrant County is spending several million dollars and will spend several more million dollars building marshes, created marshes on Richland Creek Wildlife Management area, which will serve as duck habitat and—and non-game bird habitat to pump water from the Trinity, under they’re reuse permit, into these marshes and to let it flow through natural plant communities and be purified and then picked up and simply pumped into the lake and they save about two-thirds of their water treatment bill by doing that. And so this is a marvelous example of a recreational value here and whatever other spiritual values and other things that come out of going to marshlands and then a strictly utilitarian thing, that is cleaning the water. But we tend to forget about how—how natural resources, the land cover and all of the—the biota that’s in there, we call it biodiversity now in it’s habitat, contributes to our well being. They—they—they give us better quality air, water, they control climate. And now we’re beginning to see things that make us wonder, you know, there’s this ongoing debate about global warming and reasonable fix. But—but when Yucatan Peninsula catches fire, we see smoke in East Texas, then you are beginning to understand large scale ecological consequences. When Malaysia catches on fire and they can’t put it out, then there are things going on there that—that are bigger than we’ve ever
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seen before. And so I guess that’s kind of the message of—of an insight from a career to advance forward is—is that we all need to be thinking about, there’s more here than just hunting and fishing. Our very well being has to do with the fate of how our resources are handled. And I actually can foresee into the future in—in my mind that—that entities, government entities, whether it’s a city or a county or whatever it is, may be required to purchase and maintain a bioreserve just for these kinds of services to society. Nothing to do with—just our survival services, so that these bioreserves sit out here helping whatever population is there in terms of humans continue to exist. And—so I think—we’d talked about challenges to—to future conservationists whether professionals or—or just people who are devoted in that way. I think it’s going to be a broader scope and a—a deeper understanding. And we have more of that now in terms of the level of understanding and the technology that’s associated with it, but I think we’re losing general awareness. I can see even a dwindling of woodsmenship in hunters. They’re urban people who—who—and—and their kids who are—who don’t even know what’s going on when they go to the woods to hunt. They want to, but they don’t even know how to. And myself and my—my peers, when I was a child, we were affective predators. We knew how to do what we set out to do. And—but—but the appreciation level and the—and the—an awareness that’s motivated to the level of taking action, that is, vote
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our way, in the future. Changing attitudes and behavior is done from a child up and then it must be maintained. So I think that where we could serve professionally is—is being able to demonstrate strongly but yet transfer that information into a form that’s—that’s understandable by the general public and that can be embraced and taken on. And then secondly, society urging that education of youth follow that trend and absorb that sort of thing and then continue right on through adulthood as—as a steward. You—each—every citizen, I mean, I say that—that—that stewardship of natural—natural resources is a—a component of citizenship. That every citizen should be concerned with this kind of thing. Not just so we can go hunting and fishing, but so that we can have the same kind of—of viable society that—that—that I’ve had and that we—we’ve had and known and that it can persist for a long time. Because we do know that they can happen. We know how to manage systems and—and we’re going to get a better idea of how they work one of these days. But if we don’t have the actual organisms and the rest of the environment out there where it can happen, then that will not happen. And every society that’s crashed in history likely has crashed because of—of abuse, overuse, or some failure to be good stewards of natural resources around it. and I—I think that’s—the record would show that that’s the case too.
DT: Could you give some examples of civilizations that you think have fallen because of overuse of their natural resources?
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CF: Some of the middle east civilizations, you know, it’s—it’s pretty clear. You know, Ethiopia was a forest, there were cedars in Lebanon. Some of these things may be climatic, but they’re certainly known to be abused. The South American civilizations, we’re now learning that they pushed pretty hard on—on their natural resources. Their whole culture evolved to the point to where to maintain some of the—the—the rituals or the morays of their culture, they had to push their resources to the limit and—and they exceeded their capabilities. So that’s, I guess that’s what I’m talking about is—is over exploitation and losing the—there are African countries that look at—at other African countries besides Ethiopia that look at—at wealth in terms of—of livestock owned. And that leads to quick land abuse and—and those—some of those societies are having a difficult time maintaining themselves while their people live in, you know, very tough conditions. So, that’s what I’m talking about.
DT: How do you make the case for protecting natural resources in a state that I guess is twofold, that Texas has long had kind of a pioneer attitude and then also it’s becoming increasingly urban where people don’t have that connection to the land that someone like yourself might have.
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CF: Well, that’s what Pete Gunter and—and Max Oelschlaeger—they—they look at it kind of as—in the opposite or mirror image of that and they call it the frontier spirit, which I—I think as I read their works, the frontier spirit is sort of a, “We’re going to do what we want to out here,” and—and is not necessarily a situation that has a—it derives from manifest destiny and over exploitation and using up all these resources. Within this frontier spirit certainly there are people who have a lot of land ethics and—and I think a lot of landowners in the state are the best stewards. The—the problem here is that—is that that land ownership component of society is—percentage wise, when you think of percentages and the vote is dwindling, their power is dwindling. They are—they are beholden to what the urbanized society and—and urbanized society is not as aware. They’re fulfilled by other things and completely unaware of ecological functions that—that they’re getting just for free. What’s happening in—in these river basins as they—as floods go down through river basins and floods are held up or water is cleaned or whatever. You know, Houston or Beaumont does not—they do not—they’re not aware of that. The forest in East Texas as it moderates our climate, has something to do with our air quality, most people are unaware of that. So that’s why I say youth education and making it real—it doesn’t take much to connect young people with the outdoors. David Sobel in his book called, Beyond Ecophobia says, you know, “We should ask our—our children to learn to love the land before we ask them to protect it.” And the best way to do that is just to get them into their backyard. If you learn to love your vacant lot or backyard or park, you can make that jump to rainforests in South America. If you don’t make that connection in talking about rainforests in South America and the loss of those in a classroom is meaningless to the child because there’s no connection. It doesn’t make any real sense to them. Once they learn to love the land deeply and—and—and fulfill themselves in their own development, I think that’s a very powerful part of education that’s not there nowadays. We look too much to some of the classroom strengths and not so much personal direct hand on—hands on experiences. And so I guess that’s how I would talk about it, how I would challenge people to do it is to—to make it a stronger
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part of—of education and education is not just completely classrooms and lessons. There are things to be learned from personal experiences and—and that free creativity that—that a developing youth has. Once you get to that state, then the—the young adult and—and the more mature adult is ready for a deeper approach to education and learning and—and then being an active steward. And I—I see that as a strong answer. I know there’s a lot of activities going that way. Conservation agencies have been criticized for not doing that, but remember where our funds come from. It’s sort of like being a non-game biologist, you know, we were taking about earlier that there were a lot of people that—that were doing game management work and were criticized but they were paid for by—by hunters—their activities. So they were doing their job and we—we will learn how to—to bring funding to cover the whole gambit of natural resources education and management one of these days I hope.
DT: You mentioned that one of the ways to introduce kids to being stewards of the land is to teach them to love a piece of land and I was curious if there’s a tract that means a great deal to you that you enjoy visiting.
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CF: Well there is. Unfortunately I can’t see it anymore, it lives in my mind and I’m thankful for having spent a lot of time around it because I—I do live there in my mind a lot. I can visually be there right now. That tract of land is—is about a couple miles away from here and it’s over in the bottom of Lake Athens. It was my grandfather’s farm that had this huge bottomland forest and he owned a little piece of it and a creek ran—Flat Creek ran right through the middle of it and—but yet the whole countryside for miles either way was, in those days, folks just kind of went, you know, and it wasn’t a problem. There wasn’t—there wasn’t a huge concern about trespassing because you were more or less welcome wherever you went. And so I can remember a lot of places on my grandfather’s farm in that bottom that were—were a lot of fun and I still think about it. So I guess a favorite place for me is—is—is any good high quality bottomland hardwood forest, I like being there. There’s a piece of land on the Neches River that’s—that I can be there right now in my mind and it’s still there and I hope it stays there for awhile. Big systems, big river bottoms, big creek bottoms, big trees, all that elegance that’s in a bottomland hardwood forest. Those are the favorite places for me, I like it. I like being out here on this sand hill because there’s a lot of family heritage and a whole lot of other things that I can’t get out, but—but I feel comfortable here and—and so this is a favorite place. It’s not very pretty but I have lots of challenges and it’s—it goes back a long way and I—I think it will stay in the family for a long time in the future. So, I’m not one of those persons—I’m glad the—the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is up there and—but I’m happy. I’m a very provincial person, I like being in East Texas, I just like it, I like being right here. I understand the country, I understand the people. And so in a region, it’s my favorite place. And then there’s a whole lot of small places in that that I like to be but, yeah, that’s it, being right here or—or in a river bottom forest or here on this land.
DT: Well, thanks for sharing that with us and teaching us a little bit about the people and the land around here.
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CF: Well thank you.
DT: Thank you.
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