INTERVIEWEE: Dan Lay (DL)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT)
DATE: August 29, 1997
LOCATION: Nacogdoches, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Judy Holloway
[Tape 1 of 3, Side A.]
DT: This is David Todd. I’m in Nacogdoches, Texas, with Daniel Lay, and I wanted to thank Mr. Lay for putting aside some time to visit with me about his work in habitat and wildlife management in Texas and east Texas over many years. And I thank you very much, Mr. Lay.
DL: Well, David, I’m happy to have an opportunity to meet with you and try to help on your project here.
DT: Well, thank you very much. If you don’t mind, I’d like to start in the beginning and maybe ask you a little bit about your early days …
DL: Well …
DT: … maybe your parents and if they had any influence in getting you interested or any early childhood friends?
DL: I was … I was raised in Beaumont, and my dad was a druggist. Worked long hours and didn’t have much time to take me afield. But he managed to see that I was free to get out some, and I had a bicycle when I was large enough to use it and the rural area was accessible all around Beaumont. I was active in Boy Scouts and took every opportunity to go outdoors from the early years. If nothing else, get out in the yard and climb a tree. Get a piece of bacon on a string and try to catch a crawfish in a ditch in the front. Chase lightning bugs at night and try to get ’em in a jar and go in and turn the light off and watch ’em go. I was just a kid interested in the outdoors. Then, one of my early experiences outside the family … and I should say that my Uncle Ed, who went to Rice Institute, was a avid hunter, and he had a bird dog named Bess that they say helped take care of me when I was a baby. And I heard lots of tales about his hunting and some from him, and a grandfather that liked to hunt and I heard tales about hunting the coastal area for prairie chicken, ducks, geese, quail, bullfrogs and all the resources that were available. Then, when I was in high school, I met a lady named Mrs. Cook–I wish I knew her first name … who was supportive of my outdoor interests and introduced me to collecting butterflies. Gave me a net and a jar with cyanide in it to kill the catch and some pins to pin ’em and I was on my way with a new hobby. And if I had had any idea you could make a living being a lepidopterist, that’s what I would’ve done. But, ‘course it was just a hobby, and I sent a letter to the nature magazine and asked ’em to put me in touch with people that wanted to trade butterflies and I had a busy correspondence for several years, trading butterflies with a British sea captain who went to India regularly, a boy in Wisconsin who later became one of Leopold’s first students. All of us trading butterflies and … and I had a good collection that I wasn’t prepared to protect and preserve, so it’s gone now. But that helped get me started. I’d ride my bicycle around the neighborhood and pick cocoons off of elm trees in the winter time and wait till they hatched in the spring to get a perfect specimen to put in my collection. Hatched is not an accurate word but when a cocoon opens and an adult escapes, why, that’s the end of the pupil stage. And I went to A&M, worked my way … and forgot all about wildlife. I did take my fly rod and catch bass in the pond on the campus some mornings before school. And, some of the work I did on the campus was with the wives of professors. I had a lady named Ms. Richie that helped me a great deal. She was wife of the head of the Civil Engineering Department, an she helped me get odd jobs in the neighborhood. Babysitting, trimming hedges, doing whatever they wanted. Splitting wood for kindling. Meanwhile I was living on the college Pote[?] farm and eating at the college Hort[?] farm and working my way through. And all that leads to the way I got into wildlife, which was fortuitous. I happened to be at the right place at the right time to get in on the ground floor in the new discipline of wildlife management. The background for the new era was credited by William J. Tucker as having been the Dust Bowl. The severe drought of the ’30’s put marshes that produced ducks out of duck production. The duck hunters were alarmed at declining numbers of ducks. A duck hunter named Ding Darling lived in Des Moines, Iowa, and wrote … and drew a series of cartoons about ducks flying into a pond and it was cracked and muddy–the mud was cracked, no water present … and generated a great deal of attention to the problem of wildlife suffering on account of the drought. And on top of that, dust from the Panhandle and Kansas … the Panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma and Kansas and Nebraska … blew east all the way to Boston and the whole country knew there was a drought in progress. And, some of the … a few individuals got together in New York and decided that some plans needed to be made based on new federal legislation. And, the American Wildlife Institute was formed by the arms and ammunition industry, and some representatives from the academic world, and they decided that a Cooperative Wildlife Research Institute should be established at each of the land grant colleges, which included Texas A&M. Some of the colleges that were elsewhere did not participate, but the participation of the University at A&M depended on providing space for a man who would work for the … who would be sent there by the U.S. Biological Survey to start the cooperative unit. And it also depended on funds from the State Game Agency, which was Texas Parks and … no, the Texas Game and Fish and Oyster Commission, headed by William J. Tucker, and Mr. Tucker’s influence brought about Texas having one of the first cooperative units. And the man sent by the Bureau Biological Survey was Dr. Walter P. Taylor. He arrived in December, 1935, and I was assigned the job in the Poultry Department of helping him get established, move his library and equipment. And, I got acquainted with Walter P., which is what he wanted me to call him, right at first, and within a month he was talking to me about staying in school instead of graduating and taking that job I already had with Ralston Purina in St. Louis, and study wildlife. And he got me a $50-a-month job with the Game, Fish and Oyster Commission as his assistant, and I started my career as a wildlife biologist. Stayed there two years and took classes and worked on my Master’s and … meanwhile, these same influential people got Congress to pass the Pittman-Robinson Act, which was the act which established federal aid for wildlife restoration, based on the distribution of federal taxes on arms and ammunition among the states based on the number of hunting licenses sold and the acreage in the state, which gave Texas a generous share of the funds. And, this was geared to start in 1938, and I graduated in May with a Master’s and was assigned to Beaumont as the first regional game manager in one of ten districts in the state, all of which was my good fortune. I never regretted it. My family thought I was crazy to turn down a good steady job for something like this that … they never heard anything about it. I had a certain amount of pressure about it but–everything worked out just fine. I never made any significant money but I was able to save some of what I did make and make good investments and I’m comfortable now so–I have no regrets.
DT: Can you tell me a little bit about those first couple of years at A&M when you were working with Walter P., what your?
DL: Well, Walter P. was a mammalogist, and A&M did not have a collection of specimens for study. So his first order of business was to start a collection of specimens with which to train students in ornithology and mammalogy and … ecology. Those were the three primary subjects. And we spent every weekend, every holiday, going as far as we could from College station, getting there just before dark, putting out 50 or 200 mouse traps, shooting whatever was flying that we could kill, including bats at dusk. Stay in a motel, and skin specimens till they were all skinned and preserved and … go to bed and get up early the next morning and shoot everything that moved that we could find that we needed. Usually we had a local cooperator who had told us this was a field that you’re welcome to go into and … Walter P. was careful with public relations. We had good cooperators in a lot of places. And he assigned me to most of a year in Walker County, which was piney woods, western edge of the southern pine forests, where I worked on bobwhite quail, as–they’re affected by timber cutting … different ages of timber, different densities of quail, and why, and I got my thesis on that subject. And meanwhile, we were collecting specimens for the museum at a furious rate, and no … nothing was then too difficult. We were interested in everything, as long as we didn’t get too many of any one. We had them, which … I don’t remember what they were, but anyway, we’d assembled the beginning of what is now one of the outstanding collections of study material in the country. The Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit is still housed at A&M, and it is an important part of the teaching program today. So, I helped get that started. Then, Walter P. wanted me to spend one summer in Kerr County, collecting specimens for the museum out there. And he arranged for camps at about six different ranches, and each place we set up a tent had a windmill where there was water, and … rarely went to town. He’d bring the groceries out. I had two assistants or three each year in those camps, and it was great training for me.
DT: Did you see any wildlife that might be rare at this time, and when you were collecting in Walker County, did you see any ?
DL: Oh, yeah, I collected … in Walker County we collected red cockaded woodpeckers, which–I later was influential in getting ’em listed as endangered. Out in the hill country, we collected a lot of plants. Walter P. Taylor was very observant of western grazing. He had studied the Dipodomys [kangaroo rats], one of the rodents in Arizona, as it influenced grass supplies. There were some complaints that ranchers were overrun with rodents and had a loss of grazing, that they’d rather have their cows eat the grass than the rodents. And he’d worked on that ecological problem before he arrived in Texas, so in Texas he was looking at similar problems. We collaborated with Dr. Corey, a botanist at the Sonora station in those days, and he was interested in the plants that were under pressure from grazing in Kerr County and we helped collect specimens but I can’t give you any details. I remember at that time he had identified 12 species that were already extinct on account of Texas grazing practices. So, even in those days, grazing was a problem. Overgrazing was a problem.
DT: Could he give you an example of a species that went extinct and was?
DL: No, I can’t. It’s in the literature.
DL: Corey published on it.
DT: Can you comment a little bit about how education then at Texas A&M in wildlife management might differ from how it’s structured now?
DL: Well, yes, there’s some differences. For one thing, there are lots of female students now. We didn’t have any, in the early days. I was interested that the Texas Chapter meeting in Beaumont last spring included a contest between teams of wildlife students from several universities where courses are offered, and the A&M team was composed of four young ladies, all sophomores, and they ran circles around some of the boys from other schools. I was proud of them. I remember one of ’em answered the question that … I would’ve been surprised if anybody expected me to know at that age. The question was, what family of birds includes the avocet. And I didn’t have the faintest idea, but they had that on the tip of their tongue … one of them did. Two or three different boys on the other teams had passed on that question, and they answered it. But that’s getting off on the side now. The main difference now is there’s tremendous interest in wildlife, and a great many students are taking the courses that are available with little hope of getting a job in the field as a wildlife biologist. There’s just a oversupply of students. It’s massive. Several hundred applicants for any one job. So, the answer is that all those people with good training in wild life and ecology and natural history are good candidates for other jobs and wildlife biologists. They can be biology teachers in high school and they can serve on a great many team efforts where some biology expertise is useful. So it isn’t a wasted effort, although I would guess that … we’ve about reached the limit on how many new wildlife biologists need to be trained, kind of like … I notice the doctors are beginning to talk about limits on how many doctors we need to produce.
DL: For one thing, the modern wildlife biologists can accomplish more with modern tools. He’s got the computer, and he can assess all the literature that’s ever been published on a given subject, if he’s got the right software. And that was … when I started my deer work, I spent the first six months on literature review, and wrote a job completion report summarizing all the stuff that I could find about deer in the southern forests before I started my field planning. It was a good experience for me but now, a new biologist wouldn’t have that problem. He could go immediately to the literature and get what he needed and plan his studies and … have all kind of aids. Modern technology is tremendous. This gadget for location, using satellite telemetry, is a big aid. We used to have to stake quadrants and document their distance and course from a certain reference point and it was tedious. Now you can put it in the computer and it’ll go right back to the location every time you want to recheck your plot. Another thing is radios installed in snakes and birds and animals of all sizes has helped tremendously in learning about home range without trapping and retrapping, like we did originally.
DT: [Pause.] Do you think there’s more interest in ecology now … that’s the relationships of different animals … than there once was, or?
DL: Well, I hope so. We need more ecologists in all the disciplines that operate on the land. The foresters, the agronomists, the pest control people … everybody needs to have an ecological viewpoint, and ecology is a never-ending skill. You’re never gonna be well-skilled, and after years of experience you’ll end up respecting how much you don’t know, and you learn and relearn a lot of things.
DT: [Pause.] Well, we should probably pick up the thread where you first came to Beaumont to be a … the manager of an office.
DL: Well, yes, I should cover that because there were several things that were very important. I arrived fresh out of A&M, timid, no experience in public speaking, and my first assignment from William J. Tucker, executive secretary of the Game and Fish Commission, was to organize a county wildlife planning board in each county. I was to go to the courthouse and get acquainted with every county official, and invite ’em all to come to this meeting I was gonna have in the courthouse, judge’s chambers or wherever they wanted us to meet. And I was also to include key sportsmen to be nominated by the local game warden–the deer hunters, the fox hunters, the fishermen, whomever the game warden thought would be interested, and then we were to include some key landowners that might be interested. And there I was with 30 adults, all of ’em almost older than I was, fresh out of school, telling ’em I came to help do something about their wildlife problems, and I wanted suggestions from them. And I got a education very quickly, and everybody wanted to help. You never ran into anybody that thought I was crazy and “Stay off my land, I don’t want any part of it.” Everybody welcomed me with complete cooperation. At that time, we had a law on the books saying that any employee of the Game and Fish and Oyster Commission was free to trespass without any problem from … on anybody’s land. The wildlife belonged to the state, and therefore, as an agent of the wildlife agency, I was free to go anywhere. So, I soon accumulated a few keys to locked gates where I needed them, and everybody was very cooperative. And I learned a great deal in that first year of where the cross-currents were flowing. The fox hunters would get up and say, “We oughta have a campaign to kill all the foxes in the country” … I mean, “to stop trapping foxes, because we like to run those things with our hounds, and we’re gonna introduce red foxes. As soon as we get a little money, the club’s gonna buy some red foxes and turn ’em loose. What do you think of that?” Well, I didn’t want to think about red fox introduction. On the other hand, you had quail hunters saying, “We oughta have a bounty on foxes because they eat quail … quail eggs.” I had to go make a study almost immediately of what foxes were eating. I was assigned to collect 50 fox stomachs in an area where there were lots of quail, and examine the stomachs and make a report. And it wasn’t any problem at all to trap 50 foxes. In about two weeks I had ’em, preserved ’em in formaldehyde. First rainy day I started going through ’em in my living room. I did all my office work at home, mostly at night, even inspecting those old fox stomachs in the house. My wife would have tears in her eyes from all the formaldehyde. But we didn’t have funds for offices or secretaries or … at that time I didn’t have but one assistant and he was busy in the marsh. We had a special interest in muskrats in those days. We learned that there was a huge contingent of people out there that liked to run deer with hounds, and there was a few that thought that was unwise. And the deer … after the Depression, when everybody was hungry, were few and far between. All the bears were gone from the Big Thicket. Turkeys were almost extinct. We still had a heavy predator control program, government trappers out working to get the last wolf, coyote, bobcat they could find. One of ’em, named John Knight, who lived at Segno, was a big turkey hunter, and he pretty well wiped the last turkeys out of Polk County. He was proud of all the turkeys. He had ’em … had their beards and the feet showing their spurs, hanging all around his front porch. He didn’t make any bones about it. He was a skilled turkey hunter, and he used his time in the woods to course the direction. When he heard one just before dark going to roost, he’d be there the next morning and get him. Get out there ‘fore daylight in the roost area, or … if it was in the spring they’d come to call, he’d call ’em up. Anyway, the larger animals had a … they hardly survived the Depression. People felt like food was good, and any time somebody saw a deer track they’d let the neighbors know and every cur hound in the neighborhood would form a pack and they’d chase the poor ol’ doe till they got it. But, there were still lots of birds … doves, quail, ducks and geese … by relative standards. They were already making a comeback from the Dust Bowl days. That was in ’38 and ’39, when I started in Beaumont. There were lots and lots of ducks. The average duck hunter could kill ten … the bag limit was ten. The average bag at Berra’s ranch in 1938 was about three and a half ducks per person, and that included a lot of novice hunters that didn’t want to work and get back in the good part of the marsh where the ducks were.
DT: Did you see any red wolves when you were in Beaumont?
DL: No. You’d hear about ’em. I never saw any. I worked in the marsh where they were present. And I lived in the marsh two winters working on muskrats, and on the Jackson Ranch, which became the?
[Tape 1 of 3, Side B.]
DL: … And I lived in the marsh two winters working on muskrats, and … I’m on the Jackson Ranch, which became the Anahuac Refuge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service owns it now. And that was the last stronghold of the red wolf in Texas but I never saw any. They were scarce, even in 1939 and 1945, when I was busy down there.
DT: Can you tell a little bit about the acquisition of the Jackson Ranch?
DL: Yes. Part of the concern for water fowl was the need for refuges to protect ’em from too much hunting, and to insure a good quality habitat for wintering in Texas and for breeding in the north. And this was a huge program, and Texas received … the Anahuac Refuge was about 34th. One of the first was the one at Austwell, where the whooping cranes are … It was bought primarily because it was in a nesting ground of whooping cranes. That was one of the first endangered species protected with money generated by water fowl interests. I attended a meeting down there of the Texas Ornithological Society at Rock Port one time and they’d had a field trip out there to see the whooping cranes, and they were complaining about the fact that they permitted a limited amount of goose hunting on the refuge, in areas not used by the whooping cranes. And it was carefully controlled, and they thought it was outrageous that the whooping crane should be endangered by that limited amount of hunting or any hunting anywhere around. And I remember I told ’em that I thought they ought to be careful because that was paid for by duck hunters to start with, and they ought to try to be cooperative with the need for some hunting.
DT: [Pause.] Did you ever go to Vingt-et-une Islands?
DL: Oh, yes. I flew there with Bob Tanner. That’s at Smith Point in Galveston Bay. Bob Tanner was a game warden on the middle coast, living at Lavaca … Fort Lavaca. And the game wardens were all handicapped in patrolling the coast for illegal nets, because they had to work with boats. And the illegal netters could see ’em and hear ’em coming with their loud outboard motors, and so they hired … they bought a float plane, and Bob Tanner learned to use it and they used that float plane up and down the coast, primarily for looking for illegal netting. But he was available to me for marsh surveys and he helped a great deal, and one day, working east of Galveston Bay, I asked him if he’d take me to Vingt-et-une Islands to see the roseate spoon bills, and we–I had a nice experience there. The nesting season was on with a lot of roseates, spoon bills, a lot of other rookery birds–herons, Louisiana Heron, egrets, snowy egrets, night herons–and it was a pristine place. The water was clear and blue. It was about June or July. It was’it was a perfect day to be out.
DT: You mention egrets. I’m curious if you recall when cattle egrets first appeared in Texas.
DL: No. It was some time after I started work but I don’t remember when. It’s in the literature, of course.
DT: Um-hmm. [Pause.] Well, from being stationed in Beaumont, I understood that you got a big promotion, following that.
DL: Well, after Beaumont, they decided ten regions in Texas was too many and they wanted to consolidate down to five, so the northeast Texas region was added to my responsibilities, and I moved to Lufkin and became regional game manager for Region 1, which encompassed all of East Texas. That was about 1939. And I had a staff of three or four other biologists … Bandy [Hilbert] Siegler, Rollin Baker, John Carlisle, Coleman Newman, and a marsh man from LSU. Sorry I can’t remember his name, but he worked on muskrats [Will Godwin believes that Mr. Lay is referring to Ted O’Neill, author of “The Muskrat in the Louisiana Coastal Marshes”, 1949]. So, we hit the ground running up there, starting the survey of locations of good places for various species all over East Texas. The framework for the early federal aid work was a survey of the state for all game species and their habitats, and any influence that affected them. We had nine specific objectives, and No. 10 was ancillary thereto, anything related to the above. I remember Mr. Tucker liked that word, “ancillary.”
DT: Um-hmm. Can you tell me a little bit about how people decided what was game and what was commercial? I mean, you mentioned earlier that muskrats were important at one time, and yet I imagine that was for the fur trade.
DL: Oh, yes.
DT: Would that have been a game species?
DL: No. Well, it was a fur animal, and fur was real important, especially during the Depression. A lot of people made a significant part of their annual income by trapping raccoons, opossums, skunks, whatever they could get–bobcats, mink–and on the coast, muskrats. And muskrats were by far the most profitable, because a skilled muskrat trapper could bring out a hundred hides in one day. I’ve done it myself. Hard work. You move about … a third of 200, 250 traps every day, and you skin your animals as you catch ’em because you couldn’t carry all that flesh out. And reset your traps, move those that didn’t catch anything the night before. Wading in water about knee-deep. Hip boots that leaked usually. Mosquitoes everywhere. No such thing as a mosquito repellant that worked, like we have nowadays. But it was profitable. I took leave of absence one year and I trapped for James Jackson, who was a good cooperator and a good friend, and I’d helped him increase his muskrat population substantially by suggesting several management techniques for him. And he was so happy about it that he moved a old shack down on the beach, which I could use as a winter camp for hunting and studying muskrats, on Frozen Point. I parked my car at Gilcrist and used a small boat and a five-horse Johnson motor to cross the bay back and forth all winter. That’s getting into a side track, too. Muskrat industry produced, I believe, a quarter million furs in Jefferson, Chambers, Orange counties, in those years. McFaddin Ranch, Pipkin Ranch, Jackson Ranch were three of the … and Berra Ranch, and White Ranch were five of the big land owners that appreciated muskrat so much that they admitted they were making more money out of fur than they were out of the cattle area. They were primarily cattle men, range. Had prairie, rice farms, primarily beef cattle. And during those years when muskrats were common, it was very profitable.
DT: What happened to that whole industry?
DL: Well, muskrats were mistreated by all the well-meaning people operating in the marsh and coast country. The mosquito control people wanted to put ditches everywhere, thinking that would help control mosquitoes, but it didn’t. Aedes solicitans the primary one that’s so much a nuisance at Port Arthur and Beaumont. Breeds in cow tracks or any little puddle, which means it didn’t matter how many ditches you had, they would be there, right on. Their eggs were laid in the mud and when it rains, why, they have a hatch, and no amount of drainage will control ’em. Then we had huge amounts of insecticide sprayed and dumped on the countryside as dust or spray, for mosquito control, and a lot of that was derivatives of DDT, which are very harmful. And then, the muskrat marshes were drained, in some cases, and livid in order to convert the land to rice farming, and in order to farm rice, they needed more and bigger drainage ditches. And Oyster Bayou, which drained the Jackson and Berra properties in Chambers County, was a wonderful, rich, natural ecosystem with Widgeon grass growing thickly at the mouth. You could hunt ducks in the morning by paying your fee at the entrance of Oyster Bayou, where Uncle Henry Hildebrand lived and collected money. Hunters could kill their limit of ducks and geese in the morning and catch red fish all afternoon, at the mouth of Oyster Bayou. There was a shell bar there that was … usually had a lot of red fish. Then, the rice farmers decided that we needed more drainage, so they decided to channelize Oyster Bayou … straighten out all the curves, widen it, deepen it. They dug it 10 feet below sea level, in order to get rid of water which usually took a week to … from the high side of the prairie to get to the estuary. And then it became a wave of water coming down after each rain event, and fluctuating levels was unfriendly … unfavorable to muskrats. On top of that, they lacked the normal flow of high tides, which put salinity back in the marsh, and the presence of salinity was essential to the growth of the key muskrat food, Scirpus olneyi, which has nuts on the roots that the geese and the muskrats both relish and they’d dig down and get them. And you can’t have rat grass, as everybody called it, without salinity. And they gradually sweetened and … changed the salinity levels of the marshes, and that was a negative. And on top of that, muskrats are cyclic. They’re cyclical on their range. They have their ups and downs. They have so many sometimes, they eat out their habitat. You can have a hundred-acre eat-out with not a sprig of green stuff left. When you have too many muskrats, then you trap all you can and still you can’t keep ’em from dying off because they have a disease that comes in when they’re overcrowded. Since then we’ve had occasional increases of muskrats and there’re still some down there, but never in such numbers as we had before.
DT: You mentioned in passing that there was a fellow who collected fees on Oyster Bayou for people coming up to use the lake. Can you?
DL: Yes, the … that was probably the beginning of fee hunting in Texas. The hunting was so great that those marshes that had muskrats also had tremendous numbers of ducks, and the land owners were also glad to get a dollar from any hunter that wanted to pay for access. And at first they charged a dollar and two dollars for day hunts, and those who wanted to go by boat had to buy their pass from Mr. Hildebrand, who lived at the mouth of Oyster Bayou, and that gave ’em entre into about five properties, if they had a boat, and they’d go up the watershed from the mouth of Oyster Bayou, which is at the head of East Galveston Bay.
DT: And would they be going up there as sport hunters or?
DL: They were sport hunters, yeah.
DL: The market hunting was illegal at that time, and there might’ve been some left but not much. There were a lot of market hunters around that would tell you awful tales about how many barrels of ducks they packed in ice and put on the train and they shipped to New York or Chicago.
DT: Well, can you tell about some of the old days of market hunters?
DL: Yes, I know one fellow … see if I can think of his name. He took me hunting and showed me some of his good spots and he was very open about the old days when he was a market hunter, and he had a 12-guage Remington pump that he showed me that had killed lots of ducks. And, he was one of the ones who helped develop the early air boat so he could get in and out fast. Go back in the marsh, make a big kill and get in, get his … get him on ice quickly. And, even in those days … that would be 1938-39 … you could hear reports about certain restaurants in Beaumont and Port Arthur where if they knew you and if you were careful, you could get a duck dinner served to you.
DT: But most of the market hunting was for ducks in the latter days?
DL: Yes. Some for geese, I guess, and earlier it was for prairie chicken. The earlier market hunters for prairie chicken would talk about using a wagon on the prairie around central Jefferson County. That would be southwest of Beaumont, where they’d just drive the team across the prairie and stand up in the wagon and shoot and have dogs on the ground and help to tree the birds. Get a wagonload of prairie chickens for shipment to the market. It was a matter of opportunity. Use the resources … and we’ll come back to this when we talk about the … grazing in the woods in East Texas. The early tradition was that the game belonged to everybody and it was first come, first serve. If I didn’t get it, somebody else’d get it. There was a market for rabbits all during the Depression. Skunk wasn’t merchantable but everything else they caught, possum and coons, could be sold for food … muskrats, to some extent. They were too hard to preserve in any quantity, to go to the market for food. But a trapper could make almost a week’s wages with one raccoon hide, 250, and a lot of people were glad to get 250 for a week’s work in those days. And they just about exterminated the raccoons. We had a raccoon-restocking project in 1940 when we got access to Boggy Slew and they had more raccoons than they wanted and they were glad to have us trap ’em. We’d live trap ’em and scatter ’em around other bottoms that didn’t have any.
DT: [Pause.] One other thing I wanted to ask you while we’re talking about your–your first assignments in Beaumont and Lufkin were … some of the people you worked with. You said you had four or five biologists working for you in Lufkin. Can you tell me where these people came from? Did … had they gone to school, were they just …
DT: … field trained, did they … what do you remember about them?
DL: Siegler was one who had trained with [Aldo] Leopold in Wisconsin. His home was Minnesota. Rollin Baker had trained at A&M and gotten a Master’s degree in entomology, when I got my degree in wildlife. And he had taken all the same wildlife courses that I had taken, although he had gotten his Master’s in entomology. So he was as well-trained as I was as a wildlife biologist, and we were happy that he was available to work in East Texas.
DT: So a lot of these folks were … they were pretty well trained in an academic way.
DL: Well, yes. Many of the people that we hired in that first survey program, W1R, were specialists in other fields that we hope would adapt to the wildlife. Foresters, range managers, we had … I think we had an architect and we had several school teachers, all of ’em qualified to some extent, in that they were interested in hunting, fishing. Many of ’em didn’t stay more than a few years. And, we quickly increased the graduating class at A&M. By 1945 when I went back to the field, we had a number of good, well qualified staff people. On top of that, we had a number that were in military service who had been promised jobs when they came back, and Mr. Tucker was very careful to keep that in my mind right down to the last. I was assigned to Austin when Phil Goodrum, who was state director, got a federal job and a lot more money, and left about 1942 or three. So I became director then of the whole program, and I lived in Austin most of the time under … until the war was over.
DT: You were director of?
DL: The Division of Wildlife … Restoration I guess you called it. I administered the federal Aid and Wildlife Restoration [Act] Program. And, it was …
DT: So you …
DL: … it was a standby program. I didn’t innovate anything new and original and different. We just tried to keep the essential programs going, where we had other people who were ineligible for military that could serve in the field. Keeler Glizner at Ellis, A.S. Jackson at Paducah, Henry Hawn at Kerrville. Coleman Newman stayed on at Silsbee, until he got a nice federal job and moved to the U.S. Parks Service. The feds hired some of our best people, and I turned down a number of opportunities to go to the fed but I preferred to stay in Texas. And I decried it sometimes because as a non-fed I could be more critical of what some of the federal agencies were doing, and some of ’em needed criticism. And in later years we developed a group of Wildlife Society members who met every year from the southeast called the Southeastern Association of Game and Fish Commissioners. And we had a Wildlife Committee that met, consisting of representatives from each state, on various subjects. We had one on fire ants, one on forest wildlife, one on deer. I was on all of ’em for Texas, and we would take, you know, federal agencies to task on various subjects, and I was proud of the support we were getting from certain individuals in other states. Don Stroud was an example in Florida. And the Forest Service offered him a job and sent him to Washington, and that stopped the criticism from Florida. Don was a great guy and he did a good job for the Forest Service and I was always happy to congratulate him on his increased responsibilities. But nevertheless he was no longer available for outside criticism when they needed it.
DT: Can you track sort of the … any kind of general strain of difference between the federal and the state approaches to wildlife? Or did you sort of temper them with different kinds of teaching?
DL: Oh, well, there might be some common threads. The feds had a tremendous amount of advantage over the state people because in general they were paid about twice as much as the state people. They had all kind of fringe benefits. We didn’t even have a retirement program in Texas until I’d been working 12 or 15 years. We didn’t have a group health program for about the same amount of time. The feds had all those fringe benefits from the beginning. Also, they all had secretaries, office staff. When they wrote a manuscript, they had an editor to help ’em publish it. And, here in Texas, I never had a secretary, except in Austin, and she was busy most of the time answering nondescript letters that somebody had to answer and I had to dictate for her, like why is this mockingbird not singing this month or some such. And, you’d be surprised at all the interest the public has in oddball subjects. I think probably that is something I want to make a statement on. The nice thing about young people in regard to the whole subject is that they don’t have any prejudices. They never ask, what good is that thing over there. They’re interested in that butterfly like I was, because it was a butterfly. It was pretty, it was there. They didn’t have to be told, “You ought to be interested ’cause it might mean money for you or you need to know”–some reason. There’s no reason I needed to know about butterflies except that I wanted to know about butterflies. And, the … those nonsense letters that I answered in Austin … many of them showed a interest people had in their surroundings. They were paying attention to what was out there in front of ’em, and some of ’em wanted to get some information. It might’ve been about horn toads or some other subject that later on became a critical subject. We even have a special society interested in horn toads now. Now that’s progress of a sort. But the childlike interest in everything around ’em is something that adults ought to cultivate.
[Tape 2 of 3, Side A.]
DL: … And I’m practicing what I preach. I’m now down to one city lot, where I used to own a good deal of rural acreage, which I enjoyed thoroughly. Now, I watch for that toad that comes out of the drain every night about dark to get insects under the night light, and that helps me keep my connection with the land.
DT: [Pause.] Well, it seems like you had a strong interest in getting back to land and to field work because, as I understand it, you spent a few years up there in Austin but soon returned to the field.
DL: Home. That’s right, I … as soon as the war was over and they had plenty of manpower, I turned it over to Caleb Glazener, who had been there all the time but he was an older fellow. He had been a school teacher for several years before he went to A&M and got his Master’s in wildlife. He graduated three or four years after I did … more or less, I’m not sure when. Anyway, he was well trained, and he was a gentleman and a scholar and highly respected, got along well with the public and everything. And–I talked him into moving to Austin, and he was very reluctant. He was a stout Baptist and he had his scruples, and he thought moving to Austin might put him in an awkward position, and I reassured him that he could do anything he wanted or not do what he wanted to. If he went out with a group and they were having a beer, he didn’t have to have one if he didn’t want to. [Laughs.] And he did a great job of holding things together and expanding after the war. Will Tucker got fired that September, and as soon as he was gone, they hired the chief bookkeeper, Howard Dodgin, who had been there all through the years as bookkeeper. That was the days when they kept the ledgers by hand. And he had a group of ladies that did the bookkeeping. He was a good manager, and the Commissioners gave him the responsibility for the whole state. And he had Caleb Glazener to lean on for wildlife expertise, and they made a good team. Worked out well. And I was afraid to go back to the land where I wanted to be, and … I shouldn’t make a point of it, I guess, but I was also afraid to do just about anything I wanted to do. My two bosses in Austin were happy I was out of the way, and as long as I didn’t cause any political trouble, it was fine. And speaking of political trouble, let me tell you about one incident with Tucker. I made talks around when I was invited, and the people at the Kiwanis Club in San Antonio, about April 1944, invited me over to make a talk … no, it must’ve been late summer. Anyway, they wanted to know … talk about prospects for hunting that fall. So I said, “Well, all right, I’ll make you a talk.” And I went over there, and I wrote out my talk. I hope I didn’t read it, because the old, faded copy I’ve got now sounds pretty boring–it’s got too much in it, and too verbose. But anyway, the first two or three pages was a report on what I knew about where the hunters would find good numbers of doves and quail and white wings and perhaps a few deer and turkey, they … most of the birds that they were interested in, water fowl on the coast. And then I said, “Now, I’m gonna change the subject because I’ve got a captive audience and I want to tell you what I think about a major problem that you people in San Antonio have.” I said, “A number of you have ranches. This is the headquarters for south Texas ranchers and west Texas ranchers, and the banks here in town finance ranchers all over south and west Texas. And I’ve been seeing some very disturbing things in Kerr County and Gillespie County and west of the Pecos, and every time I go out there to look for big-horned sheep or any purpose, I’m impressed with your problem, and that is over-grazing. You’ve got too many cows, sheep and goats on every acre out there. Some of it is much worse than others.” Well, anyway, I gave ’em a lot of examples of people that had ruined their land where there was nothing but rocks left, it was all eroded down to bedrock. And land where the history … when I discussed it with the landowner, in the early days they had grass as high as the stirrups on their saddle, and lots of cows, calves … everything was prosperous. Then they got sheep and goats, and some of ’em kept on until the goats had to stand on their hind legs to get the last piece of green available. Anyway, I gave ’em examples. I didn’t care who I made mad. Got back to Austin next morning. Will Tucker was already in his office at eight o’clock. And I went in, sat down at my desk, and he sent for me. I went in and he said, “I looked at the paper this morning, the San Antonio paper. Have you seen it?” I said, “No, I don’t read it.” He said, “Well, there it is. You’re on the front page.” Oh, great, and there was a headline. And he said, “That’s a good way to get fired.” And he said, “You’re probably right, but let’s hope the Governor’s office doesn’t get any letters or calls.” So I laid low for a day or two and nothing happened and it was … it all blew over. Nobody made a issue about it. But he said, “You can get fired that way.” And the interesting thing about it was he, at that time, was in the process of writing letters … a whole series of ’em … that was gonna get him fired the next year.
DT: What sort of letters was he writing?
DL: Well, that concerns the building of a paper mill at Lufkin, and the pollution problem. The paper mill was built in 1939. The initial stages they didn’t have a–sulfate-processing equipment, so it was pretty limited. But they killed a few fish in low water in the Angelina River. The mill was located on Peach Creek, northeast of Lufkin a mile or two, and it was organized by a man named Kurth … Earnest Kurth, E.L. Kurth. He organized a corporation. They borrowed money from R.F.C. [Reconstruction Finance] Corporation, a Government Agency, at a low interest rate, to build the first paper mill in East Texas, to make newsprint, using pine. We immediately got acquainted with the mill manager and started talking about water pollution. Our chief of game wardens of East Texas was Earl Sprott, and he lives at Lufkin and I was living at Lufkin, and Sprott had a game warden who was trained as a biologist … we didn’t have a job for him … named Coleman Newman. He assigned Coleman Newman to start taking water samples, and look for dead fish and … just in the reports and check on reports from fishermen, and the mill manager was always very gracious when those people went to see him. Said, “We’re going to take care of our pollution. Don’t worry about it. Everything’s gonna be all right.” That was in 1940. Nineteen forty-one-forty-two had a few more fish kills and the size of the mill was gradually growing, and they still hadn’t done anything. They dumped their waste directly into Peach Creek and it went to the Angelina River, and the fishermen as far south as Diboll … I mean, as Evadale on the Neches, near Beaumont, were complaining about fiber in the water clogging their fishing nets. They were wasting a lot of fiber, losing it. Then they started their sulfate plant, using acid treatment, and created an awful lot of waste water. It was very toxic and killed everything in the creek. Black water coming out with lignin, all kind of by-products of the process, and no settling tank, no pools to control the fiber. In about 1943 they started their expansion, and–I think it was the summer of ’43 that their first big die-off occurred. The fish were killed for miles. They talked about how there was a drift a quarter of a mile long where a treetop had stopped it. All the dead fish piled up against it, mostly catfish and gasper goo, and other fishes, some bass and crappie … and the fishermen in Nacogdoches were outraged. They’d been knowing about the conversations with the mill manager and the promises that they weren’t gonna kill any fish, and here they were, big fish kill. So, they hired a lawyer. They all collected money and hired a lawyer to write the letters, and he started writing letters. ‘Course Tucker already knew about the problem. He had had his chief of pollution control, Faubian, over, talking to the mill manager. We continued to take water samples, had them all stored in Austin … and the mill manager continued to say, “We’re gonna do somethin’.” And, finally, Tucker sent Faubian to see the local district atorney to see if he would file an injunction. And, that got Mr. Kurth’s attention. He wrote a nasty letter back. “You might know, that fellow’s more my friend than yours. He’s not gonna file any injunction,” and he didn’t. We knew he wasn’t because Kurth had hired–the local representative was also an attorney, and he was Kurth’s attorney, so he had clout in Austin. I could tell you his name, it doesn’t matter. Anyway, things gradually built up a head of steam, and things got worse and worse. And, finally, Tucker wrote Mr. Kurth a threatening letter, saying, “If you don’t proceed with those promised levies to stop direct dumping in the public waters, which you know is illegal, and which you know we helped you with years earlier because you didn’t like salt water coming down from the oilfields, and it caused you expense to repair your boilers. Now we’ve got a new kind of pollution and the same law applies. We want you to know that it’s illegal, and we’re going to take legal steps if it’s necessary. We hope it won’t be necessary. Will you please tell us what you’re gonna do about your pollution.” It was a very nice letter. And he said, “Now I know the district attorney’s not gonna back us up. We know probably no judge would close your mill down over catfish. But it’s still illegal and it’s my job to tell you it’s illegal and we’re gonna do what we can.” It couldn’t’ve been a nicer, more deliberate effort to represent the resources, and still confront a big business man who was used to doing his own way of having nobody interfere. Private enterprise had had its best. And Mr. Kurth was an example of the old-time timber baron who had run all over everybody in their way all over East Texas, and I can give you lots of examples if anybody wants ’em. Anyway, Tucker wrote this letter, and within two days, Kurth had a three-page answer, threatening Tucker. “You haven’t been giving us any warning. Nobody has ever told me we had any pollution problem. I don’t know whether we have or not,” or … I believe he said, in that letter … I could show you a copy. Incidentally, the only reason I know anything about this, from Kurth’s hand, is the original correspondence is in the Special Collections of the SFA Library. And there’re–box after box of papers from Kurth’s lumber company are in the files with copies of his letters, copies of Tucker’s letters, copies of the mill manager’s memorandums to Kurth about the threat and the legal problems and the need for control of the pollution, none of which were available when Tucker wrote his letter and when Kurth wrote his answer. And immediately after the confrontation, which happened in January of 1945, Kurth went to a meeting with his mill manager in Austin to ask for more time so he could do what needed to be done for pollution control. And he said, “The only reason I’m here is I don’t feel comfortable with the adverse public reaction we’ve had from people in Nacogdoches, who think that catfishing in the Angelina River is a serious problem, and I think it’s a bunch of nonsense,” or something like that. Anyway, he showed his contempt for cat fishermen and fishing in general, compared to a mill that offered 800 jobs. And, Tucker stopped talking about injunction. They went ahead and built their levies. They started controlling their pollution in 1945, and the worst of the damage was somewhat reduced. Then in June of ’45, the Governor, “Coke” … what was the name, “Coke” Stevenson … … appointed two new commissioners. D.K. Martin in San Antonio was a real estate man who handled sales at large ranches and knew lots of people. He had a lot of political influence. That’s the only reason he got appointed, I guess. T.S. Reid from Beaumont was appointed because I guess he’d made some contributions to the political process. He was a retired business man. Wealthy, due to his family wealth. He was an acquaintance of mine all my life. He lived about four blocks from where I was reared. His was a big colonial house, mine was a modest cottage. But anyway, he was a good friend of mine, T.S. Reid. And when he was … when he arrived in Austin I was happy to welcome him. In general, all through the years, employees have been discouraged from being close to commissioners and I never had any correspondence with any of ’em, or any phone calls, for that matter, that I remember. But anyway, Mr. Reid made a point to me that “We’ve got to get rid of Will Tucker. I said, “Well, why?'” He said, “Well, I can’t tell you but … we got to do somethin’ about him.” That was just a flag. Boy, it was depressing, and I sat there wondering what was going on. And in the summer, he went down to the King Ranch somewhere, and he … the state had bought him a station wagon. And he had a wreck in a state vehicle, and he’d probably had too much to drink. I don’t know any details but the commissioners met in … I guess in July, maybe it was August … and decided to relieve Tucker of his duties. And as far as I knew, that wreck was the reason, although there was something going on before that because of what T.S. Reid had told me. Twenty years or 30 years later, I was going through the files in SFA Library, and I found all this correspondence between the mill manager and Mr. Kurth about the pollution problem, but no answers from Kurth to him, and Kurth’s letters to Tucker and Faubian and mill manager’s letters. And on top of that, there were … oh, there was one key letter from Kurth to the publisher of The Dallas News, who was a good friend and he came up and hunted deer on Kurth’s hunting club each fall and winter. There are such letters in the file as Kurth’s talking about whom they’d invited as guests for this hunt they were planning … things like that. And, when the Tucker letter arrived about threat for a lawsuit, Mr. Kurth wrote Ted Dealey. Said, “That fellow in Austin is being unreasonable, and we may have some trouble, and I want you to get ready to help me.” Or something … to those words–I can give you a copy of the letter. And he said, “Get in touch with the chairman of the Commission,” who lived in Dallas at that time, Colonel Buckner, whose family established the Buckner home. Colonel Buckner was Tucker’s big friend and buddy, strong supporter. Said, “Get in touch with Buckner, and also Gene Howe.” And Gene Howe was on the Commission from Amarillo, and he was a publisher of a newspaper up there, and both of ’em were customers for this newspaper plant … and stockholders probably, I haven’t checked that. So, it’s easy to say that there’s some connection between the two but I couldn’t prove it.
DT: Well, maybe I can ask you one more question and we get to take a little break. Do you have any sort of general things to say about the sort of intersection between special interests that have very focused efforts on behalf of special projects or pieces of land, and then the sort of counterbalance of the general public that owns the wildlife and that has an interest in this really commonweal. What happens when those two run together?
DL: Well, that’s the basis of almost everything that’s happened in East Texas. In Texas as a whole, there’s been political pressure of one kind or another for everything, good or bad. And, there’s a–the public has really had a declining equity in their title to the wildlife. All through the years, there’ve been some places where … behind the locked gate there was a independent operation, like the King Ranch. And, most of the legislation–most of the processes that affected wildlife included public hearings and the public had an opportunity for some input, and sometimes we’ve had reasonably good public input. But usually it was at the hearing stage and had … wasn’t enough to offset the private interests that might be working behind the scenes. The Game, Fish and Oyster Commission was changed to the Game and Fish Commission for some reason, I’ve forgotten why. And then when John Connally was Governor, he got a bill passed that abolished the old Game Department, by whatever name, and combined it with the parks, which was having great difficulty and low funding, depending on appropriations each year. And this served neatly one of Connally’s major problems. One of the running battles on the Coast between sports fishermen and duck hunters concerned the dredging of shell, which … for highway construction and for chicken feed, for manufacture of cement even. It was a cheap, generally available, resource, deposited by the centuries, dead oyster shell, under the waters of all of our coastal bays. Belong to the public. And, way back in perhaps the ’20’s, dredging started on a fee basis with a license from the game people. At first the Game, Fish and Oyster Commission administered this and collected a fee of two or three cents a yard … cubic yard … of shell, the money to be spent on state fish hatcheries. That’s the way the fish hatchery program got started. And, as the shell got more scarce and the public outcry got louder, they gradually raised the price. It was about 10 or 12 cents a cubic yard when things got really critical, and there was a building volume of public opinion in favor of passing legislation to stop it. And Connally got elected during those times, and I’m sure some of his best support came from the shell dredgers. They were headquartered in Houston. His law firm probably took care of all their business, for all I know. In any case, Connally got the Legislature to abolish the old Commission. That meant he could appoint all the new ones in the combined Parks and Wildlife Department. And he appointed all of the new commissioners all at one time, six or nine … I’ve forgotten which number. And that immediately took the pressure off of the shell dredging. We didn’t try to do anything more about it, as a public agency. I was going around making talks that the shell dredgers themselves should stop dredging voluntarily while there was still a little left. As a token of their appreciation of all the long years they’d spent using a public resource, they should leave a little for its values to the ecosystem and the public and the fisheries. And they said, “No, our people’ll be out of work,” and I said, “Well, they’re gonna be out of work in another year the way you’re going, anyway.” “Oh, no, that’s different.” But anyway, as soon as they ran out of shell they quit dredging shell. Started using limestone from central Texas and their people didn’t have any unemployed. Anyway, I’m getting off on a tangent.
DT: Well, let’s take a little break.
DL: All right.
DT: We’re about an hour and a half into this. And, …
DL: Oh, boy, it’s 11–11:15.
DT: … so we got about half an hour to go.
DL: All right.
DT: I’m happy to come back, and we can … we can deal with more of it some other time.
[Tape 2 of 2, Side B.]
DT: But I think this is wonderful stuff that you’re telling me. …
DT: Well, let’s resume then. Again it’s August 29, 1997, here with Daniel Lay in Nacogdoches, and … I thought we might talk a little bit about the fall and rise of cattle and pasture in the years after the Depression. I was particularly interested in some of the effects on … well, how much money people have and how they manage the land, and in particular how they run cattle on their land.
DL: Well, I want to go back further than the Depression, if you don’t mind. Most of the early settlers in the forested part of East Texas brought their cows and their hogs with them, and they were looking for a place to use ’em, to run them on open range, and that was part of the attraction of Texas was a place for their livestock. They’d homestead a place, build a house, clear enough land to grow a small crop. But their primary source of income was hogs and cattle, and the country was very productive. Cows could go to the marshes, where there was something special in the spring. They could go to the switch cane bottoms in wintertime, get out of the bad weather and eat switch cane. They didn’t need any winter supplements. They were robust, healthy animals and made strong, large-boned calves. Governor Roberts in 1875 described how flourishing the livestock business was in East Texas, based on the bounty of the countryside supporting the herds. Hardly any animals were confined to … in pastures. It was open range, and there was no control of whose bull serviced which cow. The hogs were earmarked as soon as someone could catch ’em. Those that weren’t marked belonged to the first fellow that caught ’em, under some conditions. The courthouse was important as a registered place for cattle brands and hog marks, and all went well in the woods for many years, beginning about 1825 on through to the years after the Depression. Until about 1945, there was no fire control, and burning was an accepted part of the range management. Every cow man burned his territory at least once a year, in order to green up the grass. And, when I was fresh out of school, not really conversant with range management, I proposed to a number of old-time settlers who’d been burning the woods all their life that they were making a mistake, that they were burning up grass their cows could use and it wasn’t good for the range. They were tolerant, they didn’t run me off, but it took a while before I realized they knew what they were doing. The ecosystem was primarily based on a fire regime. Long leaf was tolerant of fire. All of the prairie-like plants that grew under long leaf were tolerant of fire, and in fact they needed the rejuvenating effects of fire, none of which I had any comprehension of. But trial and error had taught the Indians and the early settlers that burning the woods was beneficial to them for various reasons. It also reduced fire hazard. If you split rails to build a fence, you didn’t want some wild fire to come through and burn it down immediately. So you raked trash around it and made a little fire lane and set the … let the fire burn on the outside of your little fire lane, and that way you protected your yard and your fences. Most yards were raked clean with a homemade brush … homemade broom … so there wouldn’t be any fires creeping under the house and setting … starting a fire. Most people are apprehensive about fire on account of their educations by propaganda from Disney and from the Forest Service with their Smokey Bear. Yet, they don’t realize that fire all the way through Texas was responsible for all of the prairie and savannah land. The central Texas post oaks, the coastal prairies, the Great Plains, were all kept relatively free of woody plants by fire. This was altered when stockmen quit burning and decided that particularly out west they needed that forest for the cows. They couldn’t waste it by burning it. Originally, buffalo were the only grazer in Texas, and the deer, which were common of course, were browsers, not grazers, and the buffalo’s pattern of grazing was intermittent. They grazed it down to the dirt, in huge crowds … in huge herds. But the effects was like rotation grazing would be today, under some conditions, only it wasn’t on any cyclic migration-based routine. It was intermittent and erratic. Buffalo grass, blue gamma, were beneficiaries of that heavy buffalo grazing. That’s where buffalo grass got its name. But, in many sections of the country, excessive additional grazing beyond the pressure being applied by the buffalo, even in East Texas, brought difficulties for the flora. Some species were so palatable, they were heavily consumed, like most of your legumes, and with unrestricted numbers of animals on the range, there was a great deal of overgrazing in East Texas and everywhere. The Depression came along and changed some things. A lot of people nearly starved to death and some drifted off, trying to find better territory. But what really brought changes to East Texas was the … World War II when a lot of cotton farmers gave up and went to town to work in the shipyards and make more money easier than they were making on small farms. That left a lot of vacant farm land in small plots, uneconomic for grazing units. But the best use, if you didn’t want a stand of trees to be reestablished, was to place that land in large managed pastures with improved grasses, which led to a type of monoculture that’s–not really representative of what the country can produce. Cultural Bermuda has crowded out just about everything else where it’s well managed with fertilizer and mowing, heavy grazing. And, the land that’s now in cultural Bermuda is land that’s almost lost its value for wildlife. Likewise, they don’t burn it because they’ve got herbicides now, they don’t have to worry about hardwood invasion. They spray with herbicides when they need to keep the brush down, so there’s no burning. The parallel to that is that after the war, in the ’40’s and ’50’s, pine trees became somewhat more valuable. Where you could hardly find anybody that wanted to buy ’em for ten or $15 a thousand, that price crept up, and I was real proud when I sold some for $35 a thousand, about’1952 maybe. The …
DT: That’s per thousand board feet?
DL: Yeah, stumpage, tall scale. The point I’m making here is that the forest land owners had to put up with trespass from hunters who … on the wildlife and had a tradition of free access, and they had to cope with the settlers’ livestock that had traditional access to all the grazing. And they gradually fenced, and passed laws about burning, and laws about liability. If a hog caused a wreck, the hog owner might be sued, and about 1955 or ’60, various precincts started voting to exclude and outlaw free range animals. And that was the end of open-range grazing, and that was the beginning of the forest industry’s full control of the land, including no uninvited guests or animals. [Pause.] That’s probably enough about grazing. Now, the people that owned these larger pastures of Bermuda grass are almost all affluent. They’ve had income from mineral leases, they’ve had income from timber sales. Recent timber sales have been bringing upwards of $500 a thousand for pine in 1997. Calves that used to do well to bring $50 might bring a thousand dollars now. Times have changed substantially. As a consequence, you have affluent landowners with more cash flow, more income, mostly on land that they inherited or bought for five or ten or $20 an acre, years and years ago. Where the land might be worth a great deal more now, they’re not interested in selling. But neither are they interested in cutting back to grazing pressure, to see what native plants might show up in that pasture if they quit fertilizing the coastal Bermuda and try to let it go back to native grasses. If they’d do a little burning, and do a little rotation grazing, there are various things that could be done to have fun with the ownership of a tract of land and see what you … the owner could do to reestablish some of the old-time plants that were part of East Texas, part of our culture, served the early settlers in many ways. Sassafras is one example. Everybody in East Texas used to dig sassafras roots and drink tea made from the roots each spring for a tonic. Now where would you go to find the sassafras roots? They’ve all been killed. People look at sassafras and a lot of other plants in their pasture and say, “What good is it?” They pay money to have herbicide treatments that get rid of it. There’s a plant down on the coast that was in rice fields that was real important for doves and quail as a food source. Caperonia palustris is the scientific name. It was listed probably in the early edition of Plants of Texas, published by A&M about 1940. It was shown as a member of the flora on the Texas Coast. The same publication put out about 1990 didn’t list it, not even in there. It turns out that a few plants are still down there, but the botanists didn’t find ’em, and it’s a broad-leaf plant that was the main source of food when I was collecting dove crops to see what they were eating, and it was probably also an irritant to the rice farmers as a weed in their rice. Modern herbicides took care of the problem an it’s not even listed in the book nowadays. [Pause.] As a rule, west Texas was badly overgrazed and still is. Once in a while, you hear about an old-time rancher like Watt Matthews on the cliff fork of the Brazos who just died, who is recognized as a true conservationist and rancher. I was privileged to be a guest of Mr. Matthews several times for meetings. He was always glad to let us use his old ranch house on the banks of the river for a staff meeting. And, he was proud of his pastures with native grasses. He didn’t want any exotic, introduced plants or animals on his place. He didn’t want any excessive grazing that would cause hardship for the most palatable of these grasses, the better quality grasses. He abhorred such grazing pressure that a pasture turned out to have very little in it but needle grass. Out there needle grass was a weed to him, whereas a lot of people managed it as if it was good grass ’cause that’s all they had. That’s a good indicator of overgrazing. One would think that families with great properties would want to do like Ted Turner’s doing now in New Mexico. My good friend, Joe Truitt, wrote a recent book called Circling Back, published by the University of Iowa Press. And he is working as a consultant now, and Mr. Turner learned of his services and employed him to reestablish prairie dogs on a ranch he had just bought in New Mexico. His objective is to return the land to the condition it was in when there were buffaloes present and no cattle. He immediately got rid of all the cows on this ranch and started moving in some buffalo, and he’s well on his way to demonstrate what ranch management with buffalo can accomplish. Same thing could be done in Texas.
DT: Do you think that this new wildlife exemption tax will help people look at alternatives to using cattle to qualify for that corporate exemption?
DL: I’m sure it might help some. For one thing, it’s being misused here in Nacogdoches by people with high-priced real estate land putting a few cows, calves or planting … I believe pine trees are eligible also as a crop. It can be used as subterfuge, and I don’t approve of that because other tax payers are disadvantaged. But where it’s used well for wildlife I’m all for it of course. The wildlife profession voted to support it officially.
DT: [Pause.] One other sort of specific topic I wanted to touch on, if you’ve got a moment, is to talk about reservoirs. There’ve been a number of dams built in East Texas, and …
DL: The two largest?
DT: … I was curious if you could talk about some of the impacts and the controversies regarding that.
DL: The two largest are Toledo and Rayburn. Together they cover about a quarter million acres of land. And, the original construction was fought by forest industry, and that’s one political battle they lost. The water interests wanted a better supply for refineries and rice farmers on the coast and they won that battle. The impoundments were built after the present laws about mitigation went on the books, but we were unable to get anybody to seriously consider the rights of wildlife in the planning and construction of those two lakes. They were constructed in the early 1960’s. Rayburn opened in 1965, I think, and Toledo in ’66. At the beginning there was a tremendous beneficial effect on water fowl and on fish. Flooding new land brought a huge amount of new nutrients into the water, and there was a flush of food for fish and everything prospered out there. The brim, the bass, the crappie, the catfish, were there in great numbers and they were all fat and plump. On the ramps where you launched your boat there would be a machine where you could put your brim in it and put a quarter in the slot and have all the scales knocked off like a old-time washing machine. It was fixed to scale the fish. There were so many people coming in with sackloads of brim, there was no limit on ’em. For crappie you could catch 50 and keep them. That was the glory days of the reservoirs, and it only lasted five, six, eight years. Since then, the lakes have been getting less and less productive. Now after 30 years, more or less, it’s unpredictable if one might catch any fish at all when he goes out. The good old days are definitely gone, they’re not likely to ever be back. The land that was flooded will never produce any more squirrels, hickory nuts, food for mallards. All the great things that were supplied by that fertile river bottom and the adjacent hill sides … they’re gone forever. And, that lake’s … those two lakes’ll probably be standing a hundred, 200 years from now. All they’re accomplishing is interfering with the cycling of nutrients. When it floods on the watershed, water levels go up. Silty water comes in. The silt goes to the bottom of the lake, with the nutrients, and most of it is done where it’s not used by fishers or anything else. The flow out of the bottom of the dam is still water, with no nutrients to speak of. There are long-term consequences of this and many other things that weren’t anticipated. The short-term benefits of a land use practice is one that causes most decisions. And yet, someone needs to be asking questions as to the wisdom of the action for the long-term. I was mitigation coordinator, the first Texas ever had, and I butted my head against a wall mostly, going to meetings with the Corps of Engineers in Austin and in Galveston, meetings with the Soil Conservation Service that were busy building flood control structures all over the state and … little if any mitigation was ever accomplished under my years, up until 1979 when I retired. Since then, some of the newer projects have planned for mitigation, and that was just part of the accepted expense for doing the project, and that’s the way it probably will continue to be in the future.
DT: Could we talk a little bit about the future? I’m curious if you have some thoughts about the coming challenges, old problems that don’t seem to go away, that sort of thing.
DL: Conservation of water is an issue that’s been ignored. It’s gonna have its time, sooner or later. The paper mill uses millions of gallons of water every day, pumped out of the ground, the one at Evadale the same way. Yet, new paper mills are being built in ecologically sensitive areas where there’s no new water used and no effluent. They have a closed system. Just recycle their own water and keep it clean enough to use over and over. Can be done, it’s just more expensive. A lot of the farmers that irrigate waste water. A lot of water is planned for uses that are never needed, like rice. Rice is going out of the picture for economic reasons. Yet we’ve got an infrastructure of canals and reservoirs dedicated to irrigating rice that won’t be there. We’ve got Toledo Bend privately owned by the Sabine River Authority. You’ve got a series of river authorities all over the state that are private entities, operated on their own with practically no public oversight, using public resources. The water belongs to the public. And even after 30 years, I understand that only about 5% of the water from either Toledo or Rayburn is being used commercially downstream.
DT: Let’s talk a little bit about some of the things that are underneath Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn and elsewhere. I think you mentioned earlier you had some favorite spots that fortunately are not yet flooded, that you’ve enjoyed?
DL: Well, you bet. One of my favorite spots is the 44 hundred acres of forest land in the forks of the river between the Angelina and Neches Rivers. That was bought by the Corps of Engineers in 1954 as a flood control structure … I mean, as a water control structure … to move water down the Neches towards Beaumont. It’s about … I think about eight or 10,000 acres of water and another eight or 10,000 acres of flora *** been around there *** when the water is high. And, they had to buy it all but they didn’t kill all the timber because they keep the water at a certain pool level and it leaves some of the timber unflooded. And that unflooded timber is one of the best remaining forests of hardwoods in Texas. One of my favorite places. Another is a pitcher plant bog on the … Angelina National Forest, near where I worked with red cockadeds in 1969-73 area of time. I don’t remember the compartment number but it’s about …
[Tape 3 of 3, Side A.]
DL: … I don’t remember the compartment number but it’s about … about six or eight miles west of Rayburn Dam. This is a hillside bog that isn’t very suitable for pines and none are established, and it’s got a lot of pitcher plants and associated species, including several rare plants … water plants, wetland plants. White azalea, poison sumac, a very showy orchid. And, it’s surrounded by a few trees, like magnolia, the deciduous magnolia. Some call it sour magnolia. It goes in a acid bog situation. A number of other plants there that were unique to that site, and the relationship to the woodpeckers is that there were woodpecker colonies all around it, and I used to go to the bog to sit in the shade and enjoy my lunch at noon, and … nobody around, except one day I was irritated. That was one of the … that was my first experience with a off-road vehicle. There I was, at least three miles from the nearby graded road, and I heard this chug-chug and here comes a off-road vehicle. A guy jumping logs and coming through the bushes and came right up to see what I was doing. He had his little vehicle and taking off. It was public land. I guess it was all right, but it sure … the noise was one of my early examples of noise pollution.
DT: Well, over the years you’ve done certainly your part to try and preserve some of these fine spots and help us understand it. It looks like we’ve run out of tape. But I wanted to thank you for your time today, …
DL: Well, you’re quite welcome.
DT: And I hope that we can resume this sometime later.
DL: I’d enjoy another round sometime.
DL: I hope I can have a good visit with you and find out what-all you’re doing.
DT: Well, thank you very much.
End of reel 1014
End of interview with Dan Lay