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David Schmidly

INTERVIEWEE: David Schmidly (DS)
DATE: October 11, 2002
LOCATION: Lubbock, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Melanie Smith and Robin Johnson
REEL: 2235

Please note that the recording includes 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 conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s October 11th, 2002, and we’re in Lubbock on the Texas Tech campus and we’re visiting with Dr. David Schmidly, who’s president of the university and is a professor of biology and has done some fascinating work, both looking back in time to try and examine some of the ecological, natural history changes that have happened in the state and has also looked forward to see what the future might hold. And I wanted to thank him for taking the time to talk to us.
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DS: Well, I appreciate that, David. It’s good to have you on the campus and you were a big part of this, and helping me get that done and I—I appreciate that very much.
DT: Well, thank you. We usually start these interviews by asking you if there was a time in your childhood or early days when you might’ve first gotten interested or exposed to the conservation or outdoor interests?
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DS: Well, that’s an easy one for me. I was born and raised on a cotton farm. I was born in 1943, my father was in the military in Europe and—and when he came back from the war, we started farming. And I was born in Hockley County, raised on a cotton farm, learned to work on the land at a very early age in life and really developed an appreciation for—for the land. I remember, as a young boy, when I wasn’t doing work for my father, I was always running up and down turning rows, picking up lizards or horned-toads, or any kind of wildlife, it just fascinated me. And I kept them as pets and
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I—I remember we had a pasture and that pasture had ground squirrels in it, and I desperately wanted to catch a ground squirrel. So I devised a little box trap, I put a box up on a stick about that tall and I put some corn in there and tied a string to the stick and hid behind a mesquite tree. Waited for days and finally that squirrel went in there and I flipped that stick. I caught it, and I wanted to—I wanted to feel it and I was pretty young and I guess—I guess you would say not very bright then because I stuck my hand in there
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to grab that squirrel and it bit me and my mother was just horrified. She thought I was going to have all kinds of diseases and problems, so. But I was co—I’ve been connected to land all my life through my family. Then I came—I graduated from high school in Levelland High School, about 25 miles west of Lubbock here. In 1962 I enrolled at Texas Tech University and I had the very, very good fortune, the first class I took was a Saturday morning zoology class and it was taught by Robert L. Packard and that was the first class he had taught at Texas Tech. And Robert Packard was a mammalogist. And I just absolutely fell in love with that class. It was about natural history, zoology, all kinds of animals, and ecology, and—and so I did very well in it. And Professor Packard
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invited me to work for him in the summers. And so, he had an NSF grant for undergraduate education. And so I spent my summers in, of all places, Kermit, Texas for three summers studying small mammals and doing some research work with Bob Packard. So I was very fortunate to be at a university where the focus was on undergraduate students and to be around a professor that was interested in scholarship and research and—and learning outside of the classroom. And so Professor Packard
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really nurtured in me a great desire to learn about mammals and wildlife. And—and—and Bob had worked as a professional for the Kansas Department of Natural Resources. And he had a very good perspective about conservation and wildlife management issues. And he imparted that onto me as well. So when I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in 1966, I stayed at Texas Tech and worked on a master’s degree with Bob Packard and finished that in 1968. I studied kangaroo rats out here in west
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Texas. Just a fabulous project. And by this time I had met my wife here
Texas Tech and we were married and she was a public school teacher. And so—and I wanted to be a college professor, I wanted to be like Bob Packard. And so Janet and I together developed a real passion for education. Education in the public schools and in higher education and—1968, I was accepted into a Ph.D. program at the University of Illinois in Champagne-Urbana. It—and it was associated with the Museum of Natural History and my major professor there was a man by the name of Donald Hoffmeister, a very esteemed mammalogist. But he had spent his entire life studying the mammals of Arizona and I learned from Dr. Hoffmeister the value of looking long-term at the
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landscape in terms of understanding issues about wildlife. And so I had three years there, I finished my Ph.D. dissertation and then I got the break of a lifetime. I applied for and was offered a position at Texas A&M University. And in 1971, I went to work in the Department of Wildlife and Fishery Sciences. And that’s—that’s the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me in my career. I was hired as a mammalogist, but I was hired into a department where practical conservation and wildlife management was major
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part of the research and curriculum. And I became associated with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. And through that association, I began to look at how we use the land and how people impact wildlife, and not just look at the critters themselves. And so I developed a project with the Agricultural Experiment Station called The Mammals of Texas. And then I had an—an—another break, the father of Texas mammalogy, and one of the great mammalogists
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that ever lived, was retired at Texas A&M. His name was William B. Davis. We all called him Doc Davis, and Doc Davis started the Department of Wildlife and Fishery Sciences in 1937 at Texas A&M and he also helped bring the Wildlife Coop unit to Texas A&M. And he wrote the early versions of The Mammals of Texas. And Doc Davis was—was a preeminent figure in—in wildlife in Texas. At one time, most of the people that worked for the old Texas Game and Fish Commission, and early on, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, they all got their training from Doc Davis. People like Dan
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Lay, Phil Goodrum, Jim Tier, heroic figures in—in Texas wildlife were all educated by—by Doc Davis. And so I was around Doc Davis every day, because even though he was retired, came to work everyday. So he taught me about bats, he taught me a—a lot about Texas mammalogy. And it was really like getting two Ph.D. degrees. And then, I owe a lot also to Jim Tier. Jim was the head of the department of Wildlife and Fishery Sciences and he went on to become director of the Texas—of the Welder Wildlife Foundation. And Jim, he could’ve hired a lot of people but for some reason, he chose to hire me. And
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I had 25 wonderful years on the faculty at Texas A&M, in the Department of Wildlife and Fishery Sciences around people like Jim Dixon, Bill Neo, Nova Silvey, Doug Slack, John Bickham, Rodney Honeycutt, John McEkrin, Keith Arnold, I—I could go on and on and on. Every one of those people was a valued colleague and we had a great department and we had great students. Phenomenal students. And the whole program was oriented around theobiology and conservation and wildlife and fisheries management. And so I
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started this project, The Mammals of Texas, and that led me to work in every county in Texas. I may be one of the few biologists, or citizens, that’s been in all 254 Texas counties. Every single one of them. There’s probably not a highway I haven’t driven in this state, or a little old town that I haven’t been in. And—and so I know this state like the back of my hand. I grew up here, I’ve spent all my life, except for three years here, and I love Texas. And I love the legacy that we’ve had in Texas about the outdoors and so this has been a labor of love for me. In 1992, by—well, in 1986, I became head of the Department of Wildlife and Fishery Sciences, which was my first entrée into academic
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administration and leadership. I never saw myself as a—as an administrator. I had come through the ranks of being an assistant, associate, full professor. I love teaching, I love research, I love my graduate students, I trained over 40 graduate students at Texas A&M, and every one of them are like a son or daughter to me and so, that’s what I wanted to do. And then one day I got a phone call from Harry Kunkel, he was Dean of Agriculture at Texas A&M, and he said to me, congratulations, Dave, you’re the new department head.
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I said, Harry, I’m not sure I want to do that. And he say, yeah, you’ll be great at it, you need to do it. And so that got me interested in administration and leadership. And what I was really interested in was how to get some of these issues better ingrained into the curriculum. And not just the curriculum of students studying wildlife and fishery sciences, but the curriculum of all students at the university. People that were teaching school, people that were going to go into business, that were going to be engineers. I felt
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it was real—it was really important for them to understand the importance of natural resources. How people are connected to natural resources in the natural world. And so I enjoyed six years as being head of that department and in 1992, Texas A&M had merged its campus in Galveston back to the main campus in—had—had merged it with the main campus in College Station. And they were creating a marine, maritime, coastal studies kind of program in Galveston. And…
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DS: In 1992, Texas A&M asked me to go to Galveston and to manage the merger of that coastal campus back with the main university. So my wife and I moved to Galveston, I kept my faculty appointment in the Department of Wildlife and Fishery Sciences. But I relocated to Galveston as CEO and campus dean of Texas A&M’s campus there. And that was a great move for me because it really introduced me more to the coastal environment. And in—in the early 1970’s, this is kind of an interesting story, I had been at Texas Tech maybe six months, and the sheriff of Freeport County called me
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and he said, Doctor, he said, there’s a big whale down here on the beach and somebody told me that you Aggies might want it. Well, I had never seen a whale, I had only seen the ocean a few times in my life, I mean, I grew up out here in Hockley County, so I didn’t know what the ocean was like. So I—I jumped in a pickup truck with my graduate student and we took off to drive to Freeport. And we got to Freeport, and I—I had called the sheriff and said, we’re coming down to get that whale. We turned left on the beach
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there and we were going along and all of a sudden I saw cars everywhere, news media, and there was a crane there. And this was a huge Wright whale that had washed ashore and I pulled up next to it in this little pickup truck. And the sheriff was just—he just couldn’t believe it, he was just dying laughing and—and I said, well, we didn’t really come to get it, we came to bury it. Photograph it and bury it. So, we did that and turned out to be the only record in the Gulf of Mexico, ever, of a Wright whale. But I went
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home that night, I turned on the television, and the news anchor came on from one of the Houston stations and said, well, he said, you need to stay tuned, folks, we’re going to tell you about the Aggie prof that went to get a ten-ton whale in a half-ton pickup. So it became kind of a—it—it was kind of a joke and it was funny, but it got me very interested in marine mammals. And it convinced me that picking up stranded animals was a great way to get information about marine mammals. And at that time, there were
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only twelve species of marine mammals known from the Gulf of Mexico. So we started—I got a little grant—I wrote a little grant proposal and we started the Marine Mammal Stranding Network and we started picking up all these stranded animals. And then we began to realize that there were many more species of marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico and Texas coastal waters than we had ever anticipated. And I felt like Texas would be a great place to start a—a graduate education and research program in
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Marine Mammalogy. So I worked with the leadership on the Galveston campus and we actually hired five marine mammalogists, located them in Galveston, joint appointed them to the Texas A&M faculty in College Station, and today, that remains one of the major research programs in the world in marine mammalogy. And Bernd Wursig and I published—and Tom Jefferson—published a book about two years ago called The Marine Mammals of the Gulf of Mexico and there are now 33 species of marine mammals known from the Gulf. And we’ve done lots of research, aerial surveys. So I was able to get, from my experience in Galveston, I was able to—to gain a—a—a real
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coastal ocean kind of perspective in about those issues and conservation as well. Then in 1996, I—although I was very content at Texas A&M and I loved my appointment at Texas A&M, I never got the dirt out of my blood. And I had always said if I ever got the chance to go back to Texas Tech, I wanted to do that. Because Texas Tech had become sort of the center of mammalogy in Texas. There were five or six mammalogists here, they were all good friends of mine and I published a lot of papers with them. And there’s
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so many more mammals in the western part of the state than there is in the eastern part of the state. And by that time, the leadership at Texas Tech had changed, Don Harrigan had become president and they—and John Burns, a friend of mine, had become provost. And they invited me to come here as Dean of the Graduate School and Vice-president for Research. And that gave me the opportunity to think about how to get these issues into a curriculum across an entire institution. So, in 1996, Janet and I moved west to Lubbock.
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We’ve been here ever since. I started up my research program again out here and—and it worked, you know, cooperatively with the mammalogists here. I have faculty appointments in the Department of Biological Sciences and Range, Wildlife, and Fisheries, and at the museum. And have helped to—and—and hoped to lead the way, to lead Texas Tech in the direction of being the singular most important university in terms of teaching about environmental ethics and conservation across the curriculum. And we’ve taken a number of steps to do that, we—I got to know the environmental—well, he—he doesn’t call himself an environmental writer, so I shouldn’t characterize him that
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way. But he is considered one of the greatest writers ever about place and his name is Barry Lopez. Barry’s written Arctic Wolves, he’s written field notes, a number of books that have won national book awards and—and we got really interested in how do you get the humanities into these conversations. Too—too often, when we talk about the natural world, we talk about the biology and the science of it. But really, you can know all the biology about something in the world, that doesn’t mean you’re going to protect it or save
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it. That’s a—that comes from, almost, a human, spiritual thing. So the humanities, and how people feel about these issues and how they perceive them is—is extremely important if you’re going to have this kind of broad base curriculum effort in—in the natural world. And so we began to collect the papers of Barry Lopez, Rick Bass, a number of the important environmental writers here, and we tried to build that humanities theme together with the science theme and we’ve created a natural history, natural world
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curriculum in our honors college. And we have a great deal of hope that that’s going to—to provide the leadership that we want to provide in giving every Texas Tech student an opportunity to get an education that makes them an expert in business or engineering or English or chemistry or whatever, but somewhere along the line exposes them to the importance and value of the natural world and what it’s meant in—in the development of human culture and what it means to people’s lives. We think that’s going to produce a better citizen.
DT: Well, speaking of citizens, I know for a number of years you worked on this book, Texas Natural History. And I was wondering if you could maybe switch from talking about your work with students and grad students and your academic colleagues to this book, Texas Natural History: A Century of Change, and what you sought to gain from that research and publication?
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DS: OK, well, once I decided to revise The Mammals of Texas, OK. I had studied Texas mammals from about 1965 to the present. That’s about three or four decades of understanding. I didn’t feel that was a sufficient enough to write a comprehensive book about—about Texas mammals. And I knew that a book had been published in 1905, by Vernon Bailey, called The Mammals of Texas. I tried to get a copy of that book. It was extremely difficult, it’s a very rare book, and once I got it I read it. It was just a treasure chest of information, describing a lot of things about Texas, about 225 pages long.
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Mostly it was work about the mammals of Texas and their habitats. And there were a few old photographs in there. Well, I felt that that book was a real asset in terms of understanding what had happened to the mammal fauna over the twentieth century. But I wanted to know what was associated with that book. So I went to Washington and I started digging around the archives of the Smithsonian Institution, and I found a—just an unbelievable plethora of information that was collected while these field agents did this biological survey work. And I started studying the survey and who was involved. And I
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realized there was a fascinating story here. The person that organized the U.S. Biological Survey was a man named C. Hart Merriam. Merriam’s father had been a Republican congressman from New York State, who was a good friend of Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt was the father of—of really, North American conservation in the National Parks system. Well, Hart Merriam became good friends of Roosevelt. When Roosevelt got established in Washington, he brought Merriam in, who had been a—he had been a
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medical doctor in Boston, educated at Harvard. But Merriam moved to Washington and started the Division of Ornithology and Mammalogy in the U.S. Biological Survey, which was part of the old Ag Department. That’s the forerunner of the Fish and Wildlife Service. So I got very interested in all of this because I felt like it was connecting to something. And then C. Hart Merriam hired a team of—of young men to go out and do broad biological surveys across the United States, particularly the western United States.
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And one of the first states they picked to survey was Texas, and the person he picked to survey it was a man named by—a name Vernon Bailey. Well, I knew Vernon Bailey because he was a well-known mammalogist, he was one of the leading mammalogists of the twentieth century. And now I saw his connection to this survey and to conservation. So I decided to explore these archives and I found, oh, maybe ten thousand pages of hand written notes describing what Texas was like written by these federal agents. And as I read those notes, they would refer to things like took photograph of this, took photograph of that. But I couldn’t find the photographs at the Smithsonian archives. So I—I went
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over to the National Photographic archives, it took me a few days of detective work, but I finally found this box that had a thousand black and white—a thousand negatives in it that they had taken of Texas landscapes. So I arranged to get a grant—series of grants to copy all that archives, to print all those photographs, to bring all that documentation back to Texas, to computerize it, to get it to where it could be used and—and the information searched and shared easily. And—and—so it would be useful to students doing
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conservation work and professionals doing conservation work in Texas. And so that was the genesis of the project. Then as I started looking at it, I said, you know, there’s a book here. There’s a real need to write the history of all of this. So I wrote Texas Natural History: A Century of Change. And what it does is, it takes that—Bailey and his agents worked in Texas from about 1885 to 1905, for a twenty-year period. The end of the nineteenth century, very beginning of the twentieth. I wrote a history of their work in
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Texas. And I wrote about them, all of these characters that were out here. And—and you have to understand, it was fascinating because they didn’t have pickup trucks, air-conditioned four-wheel-drive vehicles to drive around in. Th—these—these were tough customers; they rode horseback all over this state. They didn’t have medicine, they didn’t have doctors, they had to find water everywhere they went, they had to—they had to eat pretty much what they caught. I mean, these were really true field biologists in the classic sense of the word. And I felt like they deserved being—having something written about them. So I wrote a chapter and then I decided that we should reprint Bailey’s book.
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Most people can’t get it now, I mean it’s a rare book. And if you can find it, it costs several hundred dollars. So I felt like it would be worthwhile reprinting the entire book and then annotating it and talking about how things had changed in the twentieth century. So I did that and then I thought—as—as I finished that, I began to see, in my mind, where conservation was going to have to head to be successful in the twenty-first century. So that’s why I wrote the chapter at the end talking about the twenty-first century. It was my opportunity to lay out what I thought were some important perspectives.
DT: Can you take us back and maybe describe some of the significant things that Vernon Bailey and the other biologists saw in Texas at the turn of the last century?
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DS: Certainly. What they saw was—well, when Bailey and the agents worked in Texas was just when people were beginning to spread across the state. If you looked at Texas in 1850, almost everybody lived east of what we would call today I-35 and north of the San Antonio River, OK? 98% of Texans lived there. By 1900, people had spread over much of the western part of the state, you’d seen the—you’d seen huge conversion of land to farmland. Most of the conversion of natural habitat to farmland in Texas took place from 1850 to 1900. And you saw the evolution and growth of the huge cattle ranches and the big cattle drives and you begin to see the impact of overgrazing on the state. And when Bailey was in Texas, Texas was a prairie state. And not many people today realize it, but the Texas you see today is very different in many ways from the
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Texas Vernon Bailey saw. Texas today is no longer a prairie state; it’s a shrub state. The landscape is dominated by shrubs. That was not true a hundred to a hundred and fifty years ago. But it was beginning to change. So, Bailey was sort of at the end of the old and the beginning of the new. And so, that’s one of the things you notice from these old photographs. The other thing you notice is how much n—naturally free-flowing, surface water there was. Literally, every stream and river, tributary or anything that these old
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agents crossed, that they photographed, they found free-flowing water; it was there. And the 1880’s, 1890’s were a drought period. So we had a lot more natural surface water than—than we have today. Of course, there were only 3 million Texans then. 80% of them lived out on the land. You see, people were connected to the land when Vernon Bailey—Vernon Bailey lived with these people, they—he befriended them. Today, there are 22 million Texans and only 20% of us live on the land, most people have moved into
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the cities. So we’ve gone—when—when Vernon Bailey was in Texas, it was a rural state. The largest city in Texas was San Antonio, it had 55,000 people. OK? Today, Texas is no longer a rural state; it’s an urban state. And that conversion in the twentieth century has had a huge impact on wildlife. When Vernon Bailey was in Texas, we had black bear in the Big Thicket. In east Texas, Vernon Bailey said, I have never been to a place where there were more black bear than in the Big Thicket of Texas. In fact, he met a man there; I have a photograph of him in this book, named Ab Carter. Ab Carter was a woodsman in east Texas whose avocation was raising hogs and killing bear. He killed
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182 bear within a 10-mile radius of Saratoga, Texas over his lifetime there. So we had Bighorn sheep, we had red wolves, we had grey wolves, we had jaguar, we had ocelot, we had jaguarondi, we had elk, grizzly bears, that—we had a lot of species that are no longer present in Texas today. And Vernon Bailey was there to record where those things were and—and Vernon Bailey began to see, and the other agents, what was happening in Texas and they began to talk about the need for conservation and game
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laws. You see, when Bailey was in Texas, there were no game laws. I mean, you could hunt year round, there were no limits, so the major problem for wildlife was over hunting. OK? But along in the 1910’s and 1920’s came Texas Parks—what’s today Texas Parks and Wildlife, the old Texas Fish, Game, and Oyster Commission. We began to evolve game laws, we—we hired game wardens, we put hunting seasons on, so the problems of wildlife today are not over harvesting. The problems of wildlife today are about wildlife
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habitat. And it’s about how people have spread across this landscape, what’s happened to the landscape and how it’s become fragmented into tiny little pieces and what—the—all the things we’ve done to change the landscape. When Vernon Bailey was in Texas we didn’t have salt cedar or Chinese talla. OK, you could walk along the—I’ve got beautiful photographs in this book of the upper Texas coast, the coastal prairie. You don’t see Chinese talla on that coastal prairie. You don’t see wesatch, you don’t see mesquite everywhere, you don’t see shrubs everywhere. What you see is a beautiful pure coastal prairie and guess what? Prairie chickens were everywhere. OK? Vernon Bailey rode
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horseback from Galveston to Houston and—before the great hurricane, 1899. He said that he didn’t even see any woods until he got all the way to Armand’s Bayou. It was a prairie. And today, of course, it is—what prairie is there is covered with Chinese talla, it’s buried quickly, and the woods have spread and we’ve converted it into something completely different and the prairie chicken is almost gone. So, it—it—that’s why I say you can place things in perspective when you know what happened over the course of a
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century as opposed to just the few decades of life that most of us have to see things. And this is why we don’t do a very good job of understanding conservation issues. Most people tend to—their attitudes about conservation tend to reflect their own personal experiences and for most of us they’ve only been interested in it or involved in it for a decade or two. OK? And so they have that very narrow window and that shapes their impression about things. OK? But when you use this book, and you use these old
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photographs, you can talk about the perspective of 100-120 years. And you can really see what happened in Texas and you can understand it in such a way that it provides, I think, the appropriate background for the framework of what’s going to happen the next century. What’s going to have to happen if we’re going to maintain the natural landscape?
DT: Well, looking into the future, what do you see as the big challenges and opportunities? You did this wonderful study for the Texas Parks and Wildlife, and maybe that gave you some information there that you could share with us?
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DS: Well, there are lots of things that have to happen in the future. We’ve got to get a handle on land fragmentation. When you start taking the landscape that’s this size and you start breaking it up into little pieces like this, none of which are large enough to sustain wildlife, if that continues to happen generation after generation after generation, then we’re going to just see the continued demise of—of the Texas wildlife. Diversity, we’re just—we will just gradually see it disappear. And we’re just starting to see that now. Pronghorn antelope, good example. When Texas was a prairie state, hundred years
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ago, Vernon Bailey found pronghorn antelopes a—all over the western part of the state. Today, they’re just in little pockets and the populations keep going down, down, down. So we have to get a handle on land fragmentation. And land fragmentation is driven in great measure, by estate taxes. It’s not driven by biology. Oh, it—it is some, but it’s driven by development around urban areas and it’s driven by estate taxes that force families to have to sell off part of their land when it transfers from one generation to
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another through the death of a family member. And there are ways to cope with that. And Governor—now President Bush, then Governor Bush in Texas, created a task force to talk about ways of—of preventing habitat fragmentation and I had the pleasure to serve on that task force. And we made a lot of recommendations about things like purchase of development rights, land trusts, conservation easements, new—new approaches to estate
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taxes, things that would allow people to continue to keep land in their family, and if they could keep large chunks of land together, to be able to do so. And I—I’m hopeful that some of those will be implemented as we move into the first part of the twenty-first century. So I think land fragmentation is a huge issue. Water is going to decide it all, OK? And what’s happened in Texas, if you look at the population of Texas, it’s very interesting. I told you at the beginning of the century it was 3 million, today it’s 21. It’s
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going to be 36 million in thirty years. OK? But if—look at where those people are. They’re not spread evenly across the geography of Texas. 70 to 80% of those people are along I-35 or east of the state. Thirty years from now you’re talking about a density of people on the upper Texas coast that’s greater than the density of people in China. Think about that. Today there is more water per capita in west Texas for people than there is in east Texas. And that’s because of this population differential. Well, if—and that’s—and
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that is projected to continue for the next thirty years. That’s going to put a huge pressure on water and people are going to—and the question is, are we going to have the vigilance to preserve any of our water for the ecological integrity of the state? And that’s going to—that’s going to require the will of the people to want to do that. Because when Vernon Bailey was in Texas, how many lakes were there in Texas? One. Caddo Lake. Forty, fifty today, as a result of doing what? Impounding our streams and our rivers, provide water for people. But think about these rivers, the Brazos River starts right out here at Lubbock, Texas, flows all the way across the state and goes into Galveston Bay.
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Most rivers in Texas do that and the day that we stop the free flow of those rivers is the day we will change the ecological integrity of Texas forever. And there’s no better example of it than the Rio Grande River right now. When Vernon Bailey worked in Texas, the Rio Grande flowed from El Paso all the way to the Gulf. It doesn’t even flow—the—the Rio Grande is dry, as dry as the top of this table from El Paso to Presidio. The only reason it flows through Big Bend National Park is because the Mexicans have
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not totally dammed it at the Rio Conchos. So, from where the Rio Conchos comes into the Rio Grande, it flows to—down to Amistad, and at Amistad, you have the confluence of the Devil’s River, the Pecos River, and the Rio Grande. And now, because of the drought, the serious drought the last decade, Falcon Reservoir, below Amistad, is virtually dry and the Rio Grande does not frow—flow freely to the Gulf. The Rio Grande is a threatened, almost gone, river. And it’s dammed above El Paso to provide water for
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the people in New Mexico. So, I’m not arguing and—and saying we shouldn’t—we can’t—we must provide water for people, but we have to find strategies that allow us to provide some water for the ecological integrity of our landscapes, too. And I’m afraid that’s going to involve managing brush. See, when Texas was a prairie state, a hundred, a hundred and fifty years ago, you didn’t have salt cedar along the Rio Grande, it was open, it was filled with cottonwoods. Cottonwoods were naturally adapted, they didn’t suck all the water out of the river. Today, our streams and our rivers in the southwest, they’re choked with salt cedar. Salt cedar was introduced in the beginning of the century
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from Australia to control bank erosion. One mature salt cedar tree can transfer evaporate 300 gallons of water a day. Hundred years ago, our—our landscapes were prairie. About the only place we had juniper was down in the draws. What have we done? We’ve suppressed natural fire. You see, our landscapes, when the Indians dominated Texas, they—they believed in natural fire, so fire controlled brush on our landscapes. Now brush has moved into all of our watersheds. And so we—we’re going to have to do a
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better job of managing watersheds to provide water. So you got water and you got land fragmentation. And then we have raised and are in the process of raising generations of people that are totally disconnected from all this. That’s the saddest thing of all and that’s the most serious long-term threat of all. We have young children that live in these inner cities that never experience the outdoors, they never go outdoors. Their idea of wildlife is a cockroach or a rat. They never go backpacking, they—they don’t
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understand—the natural world has no connectedness to them, it’s a—it’s MTV, it’s what’s on the Internet, it—it—it—it is a very serious issue. And these are the Texans of the future and they’re going to decide all of this issue. They will decide what kind of water rights we have, they will decide what we can and can’t do with estate taxes. And if they’re totally uneducated, what kind of decisions are they going to make? So what we did with Parks and Wildlife study was—we wanted to catalog everywhere there was public land in the state. And we—land where people could go outdoors and enjoy it, without paying a huge sum of money to do so. And we wanted to see where those places
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were relative to where the popula—projected population growth was. And there’s a disconnect. I just came back from Big Bend National Park. You got Big Bend State Park, you got the Chinati Mountains, you got the Davis Mountains, we got a lot of public land out in the Big Bend country. That’s not where the people are. People are around Dallas, around Houston, San Antonio, in the valley, and there’s very little public land. There’s no place for these people to go and experience the outdoors. And so, the point of
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our study at Parks and Wildlife, the real point of it was, there is a crying need to acquire land around urban areas so people can get outdoors and find ways to get conservation education at the forefront of what we’re teaching in some of our public schools.
DT: I see we’re getting close to 10:00. Let me ask you one last question that has to do with land, but maybe a more personal view. We often ask people if there’s a special spot that they enjoy visiting, that gives them the sort of reconnectedness that you’re talking about, some sort of serenity, whatever it might be, that harks back to why they like doing conservation in the first place.
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DS: Well, my special spot is in the Davis Mountains. I—I—I did field work there in the 1960’s as a young mammalogist. Vernon Bailey spent a lot of time there and I have all of Bailey’s old photographs he made there and I think I own a piece of property, if not right on, very near where he took some of these photographs. And so I go there and I
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remind—I—I think back what those mountains were like a hundred years ago and where they might be a hundred years from now. And I’ve got a lot friends out there that are private landowners and I admire the way they manage their land and the way they’re trying to manage their land. And that’s the—I guess the conclusion point. If we’re going to win the conservation battle in Texas, we’re going to have to win it on the back of the private landowner. And we have to work with the private landowner because they own
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94% of the state. And I—I—I’m proud that my friends at the Texas Park and Wildlife and Nature Conservancy, there’s a number of great conservation organizations in this state that are working positively, proactively with the private landowners to educate them and what is so gratifying is to see the landowners, many of them wanting—wanting to preserve their landscape. So, you know, I—I’m optimistic about the future. I mean, we got challenges, but if we understand what’s happened in the twentieth century, if we
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make the simple premise that we do not want to lose the legacy of Texas and its connectedness to the outdoors and to the landscape, then there are many things that we can do to preserve that legacy and keep this state intact and keep some ecological integrity here that has always been part of what’s defined the great state of Texas.
DT: Well said. Thanks very much.
[End of Reel 2235]
[End of Interview with David Schmidly]