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Dwight Shellman

INTERVIEWEE: Dwight Shellman (DS)
DATE: October 23, 2000
LOCATION: Uncertain, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Lacy Goldsmith and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2121 and 2122

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

DT: My name is David Todd. I’m a representative of the Conservation History Association of Texas. And it’s October 23rd, the year 2000 and we’re in Uncertain, Texas on the banks of Lake Caddo. And we’re visiting with Dwight Shellman who has done many things to help protect the lake and also to understand it. And I wanted to thank him for taking the time to talk to us.
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DS: Thank you David and welcome.
DT: I thought we might start with your early days and maybe you could tell us if there was any experience or event, people perhaps, that taught you your interest in the outdoors and your interest in protecting it.
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DS: I don’t really remember anything specific. I—when I was a young man in Colorado I began to hike up into the high mountain lakes. I did that, you know, significantly for ten—ten years or so. And I really begot—got connected with the—the high alpine kind of environment. But I can’t remember anything that particularly turned me towards conservation. My dad, who is a dentist, was a very widely read man who had been raised on a farm and seemed to have a lot of sensitivity about what we know today as environmental issues. Sustainability was a thing that he understood as somebody who had worked with the land and worked as a—as a farm hand during the thirties and before. I think about a lot of the—the environmental values that I have I really got from him—from being around him.
DT: In your early adult years you visited the Colorado Rockies. Were there very special spots that you grew to love or areas that you grew concerned about because of the changes there?
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DS: Well I–I was pretty much an urban person. I lived in Denver and went to law school there. And—and then prior to that, I’d grown up in Ohio. And I’d grown up in a community that really hadn’t changed much. I—I’ve since begun to regard that as a virtue, but when I was a young person, it seemed to be the place was dead. So when I finally came to college and law school in Denver, I began to see what it was like as a—when you get into these large urban growth economies. The California phenomenon were beginning to happen in Denver when I got out of law school in the—in the late fifties. And then—then I began to look into the mountain areas. Ultimately I moved to Aspen as a member of a law—large Denver law firm and then left that firm and started my own practice. And by then, I had become—I’d extended a thing I’d done in the cities which had to do with school and social integration in the school system and I got very engaged with community neighborhood level organizing. And—and—to the point where I really believe that—and still do, that that’s a very powerful activity and that people that
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live in neighborhoods are—are—know a lot more than we give them credit for, both socially and environmentally. So working off that urban issue, that—that—which was a social race-based integration kind of an issue, I then moved to Aspen which is a totally Caucasian community and became engaged in growth issues there. Hav—having come out of the city and watched a city—the City of Denver essentially sprawl all over the plain and—and also watched that phenomena occur in resort communities throughout Colorado where the development was kind of tacky and unregulated. I be—I became engaged in the beginning of that kind of process in Aspen and—and actually helped to organize local neighborhoods so that they would define their agendas for what they wanted their neighborhoods to be like. This is before the term “NIMBY” [Not In My BackYard] was invented but—and that’s the—the—the nim—the power of NIMBYism can be a very positive thing. So if you approach people where they live, they can tell you what they want their neighborhoods to be like and then, by extension, they extend those values into what they want their community to be like, what they want their valley to be like and so on. And it took awhile for me to realize tha—if you worked from the bottom up, although as a rar—very labor-intensive activity, you would get a very significant conservative wisdom by consolidating the opinions of all those neighborhoods. So, as a result of that, we organized a neighbor—four or five neighborhood caucuses, we had them develop their own en—environmental and social agenda for the community. We then engaged them all in a large community-wide meeting with four or five hundred people. This is fairly small community so that was a huge turnout.
DT: What year was this?
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DS: This was back in the sixties, late sixties, early seventies. And we asked them to draw their own platform, rather than to wait around for candidates to give them platforms and they did develop a consensus platform that was pretty much environmentally and development-based. And it turned out it was a very conservative platform. It was, “We like it the way it is.” By the way, there’s a theme we hear in East Texas a lot too, “We like it the way it is, we want to maintain the attributes we have,” and we—we want to have—in our—in the Colorado situation it was a belief because, and this was now in the sixties and seventies, that if we could use government, government could somehow regulate the desired outcome. But that began a pr—regime of environmental planning and I’ve—I’ve, within four years I had been elected to the county commission in our county and had—with another colleague who had been my law partner and also a environmentalist. And we began to develop an environmental land use code and development regulations, which had to do with mapping out the areas that were sensitive or special and—and by elimination, you would find the areas that were suitable for development. Have you ever heard of David—or Ian McHarg? I don’t—I don’t know if the name is familiar.
DT: Sure, maybe you can tell a little bit about some of his…
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DS: During the developmental part of this, we invited Ian McHarg to Aspen along with others. There were half a dozen people that were in the vanguard of environmentally sensitive development and we had basically town meetings. And Ian McHarg was one of the people. He was a Scottish architect and land use planner who had developed a system for what I just described, mapping out. You map out the areas of sensitivity or special cultural or other values and you basically do it with like acetate overlays and then you lay them over each other on the land map and then the areas that don’t have anything on them, theoretically, are the areas that would be the most suitable for development. And then you—then you orient those to where you want utilities and how you want growth patterns so you don’t leapfrog outside the urban areas. But in general, it was a methodology that was intended to preserve the good—the good environmental qualities in any area. It’s still used today—used extensively. Actually we’ve used it here too. So based on that, my lawyer colleague and I on the commission developed these land use maps which were created by our—the equivalent of A&M—Texas A&M. In that case, it was Colorado State University, which is our Ag school. And then used that mapping again, which is still used today, to identify wildlife corridors, calving areas, things of that nature, riparian areas. And those were mapped out so that development could not intrude on them. And what we found, generally, was we typically enhanced the value of the property where—and so the unintended results is we supported high quality, high cost development in our community that created a whole other set of problems. But the—the mapping was the key to it. You want to wait? We’ll see, we have boats going back and forth. The bottom line was, based on the mapping, we were able then to design zone maps and zoning categories that, in many cases, called research—resource areas with large lots and extensive conservation.
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DS: Well, any—anyway, the bottom line of the Aspen-Pitkin County experience was that we got into government. We did land use regulation on the technology that had existed when we started, which was a seventies technology, and actually created as part of our governments, these neighborhood caucus entities. And they began to then have, by law, comment authority for all government activities in the neighborhood and then I was a member of the—one of the more active ones. So as I got into that, Don Henley became my neighbor in the Woody Creek area and the Woody Creek caucus and we began to work on community-based activities throughout the—throughout that area. We had a large project having to do with extending the airport and night operation of the airport and things like that, as well as a lot of land use issues where the caucus would rise up and object to some intrusion by government of an industry or unsuitable residential development. So we worked together on a number of those projects up until about the late nineties, I’m sorry, the early nineties, and then Don asked me to come to Caddo Lake because there was a Corp of Engineers proposal to develop a barge canal going through the lake and local people were fairly concerned about it. And, in theory, I think the expectation was that I would be able to do something in the local community that would support the efforts to prevent damage to the lake by this barge canal—the Corp of Engineers canal. So I made a trip in December of ’92 and another trip in January of ’93, and quickly concluded that this was not a place that could be “organized” the way you would do in California or Chicago or some place like that, primarily because the—the culture in Texas is not that kind of culture. So while there was really broad and deep concern about this project and—and a lot of caring about the lake, what I perceived was that I wasn’t going to be able to do anything with the people that were here that they
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couldn’t do for themselves and were already doing for themselves. But the one thing that I found myself deficient in and I perceived that there was a lot of lack of knowledge about, was how the place worked, what the biology and the ecology of it was. So while there’s always—there are always people in cultures that have a lot of anecdotal information that sometimes contains scientific truth, there’s also a tremendous amount of scientific untruth imbedded in those cultural stories too. And it’s hard to tell which is which. So, as a result of that, and because some students and teachers from ETBU [East Texas Baptist University] had appeared at a couple of these hearings, I started to look around at the colleges, again on the theory that it would be an area where we could engage people, where they would get something out of the lake that they weren’t currently getting. And it turned out that that was the case, that the—the higher education institutions around the lake, East Texas Baptist and Wiley College were actually not using the lake at all for teaching or learning in any organized way. And that Stephen F. Austin, which is eighty miles to the South, which was a—a regional university, while it did that, it did that infrequently. Now what was underway when I got here was a—a the second of a ten-year study where one of the limnologists would come up to the lake and they would study it for the school term. But they only did it every ten years, although that got tremendously good information. So what we decided to do was to start the Caddo Lake Scholars Program among a—a consortium of universities and mainly keyed into interested professionals, pr—really—interested professional educators is what I meant, scientists. Roy Darville at E—ETBU was a leading scientist, limnologist, studier of lakes and water bodies, who had the technical skill and also had a tremendous interest in carrying out his own spiritual mission with—with stewardship ac—activities that involved using a science and he’s been doing that ever since. Seven, eight years later, he still comes here frequently, monthly at least, to sample the water and—and sediments of the lake. And he’s—he’s
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and outstanding example. But there were probably thirty other academics who did similar things. And as we saw that begin to go together, right—initially it was only a kind of an essay writing scholarship award type program, but it very quickly became a more institutionalized program and, for a time, we recruited teachers—science teachers at—at the public schools and science teachers—usually science teachers at the universities and colleges and actually put them through a course of training about wetland science. Early in the game, what I decided based on the experience I’d had in Aspen, is that the best way to find out what to do in a community is to ask the people that live there. And I, you know, I had forgotten that. And so we had—in February of ’93, we had a large meeting of agencies and citizens to scope the issues and that resulted in a kind of agenda that has guided us ever since. One of the principle issues that came up at that meeting was the RAMSAR Wetland Treaty on wetlands of international importance and by the end of 1993—by October ’93, we had actually gotten a significant part of Caddo Lake designated under that treaty. And so that RAMSAR Treaty became the framework for the scientific and technical framework that we put around our—our intern program. We did a—a pilot project in Jefferson which is up river from the lake, an old antebellum town, and had a tremendous success with teachers and students dealing with these issues. And that helped us then refine the intern program which we carried on for three or four years. At its peak, that program had, I would guess, fifteen academic scientists and twenty to thirty to fifty high school and college students running a network of water quality monitoring stations that were parceled out school-by-school that eventually covered the whole basin. And we have today accumulated three thousand data points for the Cypress basin and a tremendous amount of water quality information at Caddo Lake itself.
DT: Maybe this would be a good chance to tell a little about where Caddo Lake is…
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DS: Okay.
DT: …and what makes this lake unique.
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DS: Well, it is said that Caddo Lake is the only naturally formed lake in Texas, which I personally find hard to believe, but that’s what—that’s the—the—the anecdotal information on it. The natural formation of the lake occurred in probably pre-European times, before Europeans came to this country, but maybe not too anciently, we’re not really sure. But the—the dynamic was that the Red River, which is thirty miles to the East of which this forms part of the tributary system, became jammed with lo—big logs and debris for hundreds of miles along it’s course. That caused the lake to overflow—or the river to overflow its banks and fill in adjoining low areas and the Caddo Lake area was one of those low areas. Caddo Lake today has about twenty to thirty thousands acres of—of lake and wetlands that are associated together. Water flows in generally from Texas into the lake and it lies on the Texas-Louisiana border, so that Texas has most of the wetland part and Louisiana has most of what you would call the lake part, more open water although there—the whole system is dominated by bald cypress trees which are the large blusterous trees that you can see in the background. Moss, mossy trees and—and, even in the lakes, there are these blake—these islands or breaks of—of this cypress dominant species. So—and then that’s developed its own special habitat for a tremendous range of—of animals that provide food for animals at a higher level ri—starting right in the sediments and through the water column and up into amphibians and things like that so that we have a very large resident bird population, the most dramatic or which would be blue—the—the heron family. But a whole range of migratory song birds move through the area seasonally and water foul, ducks, geese, and that sort of thing also migrate through it, as well as a lot of other birds that are not good for eating or singing. So there is a tremendous bird population here based upon the wetlands that develop from that overflow system. The original lake was bigger than—the original complex was much bigger than it is now. And Henry Shreve for whom Shreveport is named, was sort of the first Corp of Engineers engineered to take on a river and he progressively removed the logs and the—th—what’s called the great raft from the Red River and when that was finally completed, the water level fell dramatically.
DT: This would have been in the later 1800’s?
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DS: Yes. And when—when that occurred, this area had been the head of navigation—Jefferson had been the head of navigation for steamboat traffic from the gulf. And when that occurred, the water levels fell sharply and Shreveport became the head of navigation for that region. And I’ve always said that Caddo Lake is a political lake. It’s a lake that—where political agendas have significantly affected the ecology of the system and that was—it’s one of the earliest examples of where that’s occurred. Later on, oil was discovered in the lake and there was a desire to raise the level of the water slightly so that barges could get through. And a—a dam—a earthen dam was created to do that and the water level was brought back up to about its current level. And—and—and so what we’ve had is a—a system that was—where water was much higher and so we saw a—a plant communities generating based on that water level, then it fell and the remnants of those plant communities are still there and then it came back up again.
DT: Would the cypress be an example of…
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DS: Yes.
DT: …plants that came in while it was quite low?
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DS: You’ll see them at higher—higher elevations where they were regenerated earlier and then left where they were. They’re a really hearty tree and they can exist without permanent flooding. But—it—but they’re still a wetland tree so they can exist in wetlands that were once maybe inundated. It appears based on the work being done by Darville and Keeland that the—the species actually needs variation in water level to regenerate. So that as areas will dry out at the right time of year, the plants will regenerate and if that’s allowed to—if that condition’s allowed to exist long enough so that they can get big enough so that when the water comes back they’re above the water level—parts of them are above the water level, then it appears that that research is showing that they do well that way. And so that one of the science issues here is the hydrology of the lack of alteration in the water level or the inappropriate seasonal alteration in the water level and what effect that might have on these trees. Once they’re established then they can live in a pretty much flooded condition once they’re beginning to mature.
DT: Maybe you could compare Captain Shreve’s work back in the late 19th Century with the barge canal that brought you to Caddo in the early nineties and tell a little bit about the fight against that barge canal.
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DS: Okay, there—the—actually they’re the same thing.
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DS: In many respects, the—the Henry Shreve and—in the 1800’s issue and the Corp of Engineers in the early 1990’s issue are the same issue and it’s really what I think our program is mostly about and that’s, they’re both very significant interventions in natural systems. So Henry Shreve pulled out the raft and the water level fell and—and it changed the whole ecology of the lake including where trees generate, you know. At the same time, the Corp of Engineers’ program was to build a barge canal right through the natural areas after they had stabilized, you know, after a hundred years or more and—and be equally disruptive. And ultimately that project was rejected for that very reason. It was because of a requirement to mitigate any losses and an inability to do it on the part of the Corp of Engineers. So there—it’s a recurring theme in this system that there is massive human intervention in it periodically. Typically the worst has been by the federal government and then to a lesser extent, there’s a steady, chronic kind of degradation or change—human change that occurs over time, more glacial but more profound perhaps. And that’s—that’s—it’s the latter that we are now the subtleties of the glacial gradual human change that we’re now trying to get our minds around. The—Caddo Lake is—it’s almost a class book or a case book situation. The lake sits at the bottom of the basin so, in a way, it’s the kidneys for the whole basin and—and then the basin itself, depending on whether it’s in Texas or Louisiana, it’s in both states as is the lake, the basin itself ranges from maybe twenty-five hundred square miles in Texas to up to six thousand square miles—five to six thousand square miles in Texas and Louisiana. So what you have is in order to properly consider the effects in the—in the lake of what’s
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going on, you have to then look at the basin and what’s going on in the basin. And—and as I was sort of implying with the tree regeneration, we have—above us, we have three other reservoirs that are collecting water and—and interrupting the natural flows, the flood and drought flows of what’s going on in the lower lake. And those are very poorly understood. They’re usually done for reasons that are quite different from the—the stewardship of Caddo Lake. At the same time as you look at the issues in Caddo Lake which include mercury and—being found in fish, for example, and an extensive study of mercury being found throughout the basin, as well as other trace metals such as lead and cadmium am—among others, in—they’re now being found not just in the fish but in the fish-eating wildlife such as the aquatic birds. And that’s a generalized problem and it’s also a generalized problem beyond the basin and the whole region. So—so one of the things I hope to be able to do before I terminate this project for myself, is get my mind around this basin. Because the basin—if—if those are the issues, the trace metals for example, and there are also issues of nutrients and there’s also issues of ac—acidification of the water. Our lakes are not acid lakes yet but according to Dr. Darville the margin of—alkalinity margin that we have is narrowing and—and anybody who knows about acid lakes knows that, once they go acid, they’re very hard to recover. And a lake like this would be unlikely to be able to recover, it’s too complicated. So when you begin to look at those issues, you then have to look not just at the watershed but the air shed and my personal belief is that there is very strong evidence that the acidification issues we have, the nutrient issues we have and the trace metal issues we have, that many of those are originating in the smoke stacks of lignite burning plants, it’s a coal like substance,
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which are scattered throughout the region and surround us. Bec—and the same phenomena are being found throughout this part of Texas, all the way up into the Northeast, where there’s significant coal burning and very low emission regulation or control. And our plants here are what are called grandfathered so they have little or no control of—of what’s emitted. So the work that I’ve been doing more recently is trying to find out what is in the lignite. And I was able to turn up and old study that showed that indeed there were significant levels of mercury and cadmium and lead in lignite, the fuel. And one of our—one of my colleagues who I worked with, it was just sort of happenstance that I worked with this man, but he had done a study years ago for another Corps project where he’d actually measured what was in the lignite and then what was in the fly ash and what was in the—the residues of the burning process and actually got a rough calculation of the amount being lost through the stacks, and it was significant. Since then, there has been—I’m no talking about primarily mercury, which is the most serious contaminate. Since then, the EPA has come out with a study that predicted the kind of mercury concentrations we have here before they knew what they were, just by calculating, using a complex formula with the types of fuel and the number of plants. And Northeast Texas is the area if you shade from white to gray—dark gray, is the area of dark gray. And that coincides very clearly with air quality efforts going on in this rural region because we have ozone levels that are more typically found in cities. And again it appears to be directly related to the large concentration of the lignite plants in the region where that decision to concentrate them was simply a function of the fact that there was lignite here. And so that’s—that’s the air shed that what I call the missing fraction of our
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acid, nutrient, and metals problem. And it’s missing because we’ve not done the careful work to try to quantify what those inputs are. The dynamic is that those are all emitted from the stacks. Usually mercury will precipitate—about a third of it will precipitate out within a hundred miles and the rest goes into a global mercury cycle that is recycling the world, that has been building up throughout the industrial age and then a certain fraction of that gets precipitated back. It’s not direct from the stacks. It’s just when you get a certain level, you—the cycle takes up some mercury and deposits some, whether you stop burning locally or not. But the net effect of that is—it should be to validate the EPA studies that show that this is a high level for mercury—where—where high levels of mercury precipitation would be expected. And then, of course, as it falls on a large area, a basin of twenty five hundred to six thousand square miles, it is then mobilized by the—the high rainfall levels that we have here and ultimately gets into our water bodies where conditions are excellent to convert that inner mercury to what they call methylation, methylated mercury—methyl mercury which is then available in the—the—the animals in the aquatic system and then bioaccumulates up through the food chain to where our fish are now—have sufficient levels of mercury that they cannot—they should not—there’s a fish advisory out where pregnant women and children should not eat them at a very high frequency. And then the more startling thing which is that they’re being found in water foul and aquatic birds all over the region. So there’s something clearly at work here that is big and—and that ultimately could threaten both the hunting and the fishing economy which both have very strong sports economies in that area that really nobody’s looking at. And so the institute has begun to try to get that word out based on fragmentary information that we have.
DT: You talked a little bit now about some of the air shed problems for Caddo. Can you talk about some of the changes in the watershed, maybe some of the wastewater issues that you’ve had to deal with?
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DS: Yeah. The—the—it is a remarkable basin because it has very few large cities in it. It’s pretty much a rural area dominated by small towns. And, you know, many of those towns would have populations of two to five thousand people. And there’s agriculture in—in the rural areas. The—all of—it’s been known for many years that agriculture, particularly fertilizer and that sort of thing add nutrients to the water system and those are issues that aren’t fully quantified. But more recently, the phenomenon has been to start again, it’s the idea of concentration. So there’s been a large concentration in this region of chicken processing plants. And when the—when the processing plants used to grow their own chickens and process them, they were treated as industry—as the whole operation. What has happened more recently is that the—the chicken processors have dispersed the growing function out among a lot of individual growers and so there are these brooder houses all over the—the upper part of this basin and—and it is politically much more difficult to regulate those constituents out there than it is one single industry. So, on the upper part of our basin, we have one processor, Pilgrim’s Pride is the name of it, who basically sell birds and feed to the brooders, who then sell the chickens back when they’re ready for processing to the processing company. And it’s a significant part of the economy. And there’s great pressure on this company and others to expand operations, maybe as much as double. Well we’re su—we know based on the work that Darville and I have done in the basin water quality—the—the government level water quality work, that there are significant inputs of nutrients to both the upper streams and the
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reservoirs that are changing the nutrient levels of those waters significantly. And it’s—it’s another human alteration of the system that is—is kind of slipping through the regulatory system. The effect of all th—what most people don’t understand, but nutrients tend to stimulate growth and growth tends to consume oxygen so that it’s not uncommon to have the oxy—low oxygen levels in water that previously have supported pretty good fisheries. And also the—it’ll support bacteria—the growth of bacteria and these—most of these streams are typically classified as high quality streams suitable for high quality fisheries—warm water fisheries and human contact sports, swimming, “fishable swimmable” is what they call it. And many of the segments in the basin are now losing the—the chemistry and the biology that justify those criteria. As a result, there’s now an effort underway that we’re participating in to try to find out exactly what all the inputs are and how we start to limit them in a way that brings those—those qualities back up again—brings the—mostly dissolved oxygen and—and mercury and other metals are the—are the primary issues in the basin, low dissolved oxygen. In some cases high fecal coliform counts are of concern rarely.
DT: I understood that one of the most developed parts of the Caddo basin is the Longhorn munitions plant and complex that is nearby and that there are some more high tech contamination problems there.
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DS: Well the—I’ve worked with that—that’s, you know, that neighbors my house and—and we have worked on that plant for five or six years. The institute, Darville and I did the original biological scoping of what the biota were on the—on that plant to assist the Corps of Engineers in designing a cleanup program. And I’ve been on the technical review committee for several years that oversees the cleanup efforts. And in general, I think that, although there are some high tech contaminates there, it is one of the more benign threats to this area. It doesn’t even compare with what’s coming out of smoke stacks probably and—and what’s coming out of obsolete se—sewer plants and—and the chicken processing plants. But it is a matter that needs to be watched closely. In general, the—what—what we’re dealing with are two kinds of substances at Longhorn. One is industrial solvents—chlorine based solvents that—that have gotten into the groundwater. And—and the other is a substance called perchlorate that was used to—for solid fuel rocket motors which were manufactured at Longhorn. And that’s also gotten into the—to the groundwater and is also on some of the surface areas in high concentrations. They both operate differently. The—the—the chlorinated compounds seem to be—the solvents, I mean, seem to be potentially cancer causing in—in levels higher than what we have and the perchlorate seems to be something that would change endocrine function like thyroid levels and that sort of thing. So neither of them are benign, but the geology of the site is such that it’s—the lignite, again the lignite soils are very tight soils and they appear to be containing the movement of this—these groundwater plumes. And so there is currently a pump and treat program going on with the groundwater. I think it’s ultimately going to probably be successful and there—and there are also activities underway to bioremediate in situ at the groundwater level, which I think will ultimately be successful. So, in general, there’s a good job being done. The only areas of real concern are areas
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where old stream channels that are carrying this groundwater, that are beneath the surface, are cut by minor stream channels and there is leakage into the surface water system. And that’s been identified and I think it’s—it’s actually on the way of being resolved. But it is something that’s a big concern. Now, what we’ve done—the institute, is—I think on my first trip in February of ’93, I—I looked at Longhorn and said, “I don’t know why, but this has got to be really important” because it was clear that it was deactivating. And so the institute, for the past seven years, has had an active program to keep that—the resources. We’ve got tremendous bottomland hardwoods, old growth, virgin forests as well as uplands that provide a huge amount of habitat. I’ve seen personally a panther cub on it. I don’t think there are bears but there could be and it’s—it—and there’s a huge deer herd and, you know, the raccoons and all the other small mammals, is a tremendous population of those. So there have been several attempts to convert it to industrial use and one attempt to convert it to actually another contaminate use. There’s a tendency for people to think about contaminated sites as though they ought to do more of it on it since it’s already kind of lost. And, in fact, this site’s going to be cleaned up. So the day before yesterday, we dedicated the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge on seventy-two hundred acres of this eighty-five hundred acre facility that puts under permanent conservation management a—one of the most important single largest blocks of this kind of habitat in this part of the country and puts the Fish and Wildlife Service essentially in charge of it’s management.
DT: Can you describe the habitat that’s being protected?
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DS: They—yeah, they—they tend to be—remember I told you how the water went up and down at the—at the—we have one of the youngest virgin forests in the—in the country I’m sure because it occurred during one of these fluctuations and so there is—it’s called Harrison Bayou and it’s about fourteen hundred acres of forest that has never been cut and it’s in its original state. As a matter of fact, the—the—that forest also contains Caddo Indian artifacts and habitation sites that—that go back as far as a thousand years that have not been thoroughly explored just to show you how intact. The—the issue of being intact is pretty important because there isn’t much around that hasn’t been seriously altered by humankind and—and this is a—that fourteen hundred acres as well as the eighty-five hundred acres that the plant occupies is—is intact. I mean, it’s a functioning micro ecosystem by itself. It’s mostly bottomland hardwoods, true wetlands, swampy wetlands and uplands that are not very far above the waterline that are pine and mixed hardwood forests. So it’s not only the bottomlands that are important, but these buffers that these other areas provide where you get the full range of—it’s, in fact, the gene pool for the whole region for wildlife and fish—and fish as well. It’s a phenomenal, unique piece of property. And that was a—that was a seven-year effort to make that happen. From saying, “Gee, I think this is important but I don’t know why” to being very clear based on the work that Darville and I did and all the work since that indeed it—it has national importance and we now have that recognized.
DT: Maybe this would be good time to talk about some of the political steps and lessons you’ve learned about how to protect resources like the Longhorn National Wildlife Refuge area or in trying to protect the lake against development, the canal and so on. I know you’ve been active in trying to work with the United Neighborhoods Fund…
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DS: Yeah.
DT: …to identify support and try and organize it. Maybe you could…
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DS: Okay.
DT: …speak about some of those issues.
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DS: The first thing is that I have—I made a serious effort, unlike what I did in my home community, to not get engaged in—in partisan politics. And I—and, for me that was hard at the beginning but the wisdom of the decision was—has been proven over and over again. I—I decided down here that since I could not be in politics, I’m an outsider even after seven years and there is a power structure here that I don’t even understand, that the likelihood would be that I would step on a bomb very quickly and—and—and people would divide up about what the institute was here to do. Don Henley is our—our benefactor and sponsor and contributor and he is a well-known environmentalist and environmental supporter all over the country. And, in—in East Texas, that is not a label of honor among some populations. Personally, I think he’s one of nature’s noblemen and his—I’ve known him for twenty years and the amount of his commitment to this effort here and everywhere is, frankly pretty unbelievable and I mean in dollars as well as caring. But that—that—since he’s well-known for that, my entry here carried that baggage. And so it took a long time for me to realize that while I—while I am inextricably associated with that point of view, and I don’t deny it, I also don’t advocate it. But what I prefer to do is to go for the science of the situation and let the science carry the day. And so—and that—that’s been a very important attribute of our program here. At the same time, realizing that there is very little information in the public at large about how this basin works. Most of the people that live in the basin do not really understand it just like I don’t understand how my basin in Colorado works. It’s not something we’re taught and it’s a huge, almost an unforgivable lapse in the education system that teaches—alleges to teach science and cannot teach people how the place that they work—they live works, you know. And—and so much of our education program has been focused at that but there—there simply isn’t room in the education system for useful education of that type. As a result, most people that live in the basin who have lived here their whole lives don’t have a—have a feel for how it pulses and lives as a—as a entire watershed and nor do I. And so we’ve concentrated on trying to carry that information
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out to the educational community as we learned it, and continue to learn it, and at the same time as threats to that—what we did know came up, then we had a—a program that was worked through United Neighborhoods, which is another nonprofit that I manage, the function of which is to empower neighborhood level things much like I explained in the Aspen situation on specific local issues and—and those are for—usually modest investments. They’re us—the work we’ve done has been to map and identify people who we might be able to call when a bill was in the legislature or proposal was in the regulatory agency for a permit that might be adverse to what was going on in the basin, we would have that network of people that we could call and ask them to write letters or send faxes. It’s real low-level stuff but it is something that needs to be done and the environmental community and the stewardship community which I regard myself as a part of. It’s not an environmental political movement to me anymore. It’s a stewardship of what we have been given that we have to pass on in good—in good order to the next generations and it’s sort of an ethical issue rather than political. I’ve become sort of un-political about it and that’s permitted me to talk to a lot of different constituencies. For example, we went the whole—across the whole political spectrum on the refuge because we could talk about the refuge as a economic an a social entity on it’s own merits. And—and even when one of our colleagues mentioned the president and the vice-president as having brought this about, which is the truth, there was a—there was real restraint in not getting excited about that becau—in a political election time of the year nobody applauded, you know. That would have been something I would have naturally done in another context. But we’re very careful not to have the credit for good work become politicized where you lose half your community of people who care about the
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resource. So it’s been a—it’s been a bit of a acrobat high wire act to be clear that my—where my sympathies are but not become an advocate for the partisanship and some of the more hard line environmental positions but rather say, “Let’s look at the science of it together.” At the same time to just complete the picture, I am a member of the board of the League of Conservation Voters for Texas, Texas League of Conservation Voters and one of the founders of it. And the purpose of that—it is a bi-partisan, non-partisan effort to find voter constituencies with a conservation predisposition. And we have just completed a—a significant task of merging the lists of all the environmental organizations, the petition signers and things like that on a variety of issues to try to develop a database that would permit us to do the same thing. And that is—it’s called Voter ID—Enhanced Voter ID and it’s a way to make sure that your constituency that is predisposed to support good stewardship will turn out and vote. Because the bottom line is you either got to have money or you got to have votes. And frankly, the money’s not important if you have the votes. And so my personal belief is that we will change society in the ballot box as long as—and we won’t change it as long as we allow the advertising agencies and marketing gurus to pre-sell us on other outcomes.
DT: Could you discuss a little bit more about the ethical aspect of stewardship and the argument that you tried to make for that in the Caddo area.
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DS: Well again, it’s—it’s really a function of being willing to listen and to learn from where you are. So it was not—it was a good coincidence that our first sort of scoping meeting occurred at East Texas Baptist University. I was told when I got here that evangelical Christians do not care about the physical environment and that—or any of the other issues that—that population—that so-called environmental community cares about. What I found was the opposite. And I would not have found that if that statement hadn’t been made in the context of getting that conference together and hearing people tell me that who were not evangelicals but who thought they knew. And—and I don’t know if you know it, but East Texas is predominantly Southern Baptist and that’s what I’m talking about and there are many other evangelical communions—congregations in the area as well. So what I found very quickly from one of my colleagues was the Southern Baptist statement on stewardship of natural—of the natural world. It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen and it pulls no punches and—and it basically says that—that Southern Baptists have a duty to preserve the natural world and to witness its preservation as—if you’re familiar with the term, but…
DT: What does that mean?
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DS: An evangelical is a person who—one of the concepts, and I’m not one so I can’t do it very well, but it’s someone who lives the—lives the—the belief and lives it obviously so other people can see that somebody is—is doing that. There are other ways to do it as well but the—so bottom line was, all of a sudden the theological descriptions, biases that I came in with or was given as I got here didn’t turn out to be true. So I began to do the reading of the—the spiritual side, the spiritual wisdom of conservation and there’s—there is a great deal of it. There are—there’s a man named Calvin DeWitt who’s a Lutheran Evangel—Evangelical Scientist at University of Wisconsin who has developed a whole organization of—of scientists like him who have re-looked at the old and the new testament and found there that many of their beliefs come from a nearly literal interpretations of—of the—either the words or the—or the effect of the stories, the—the symbolism of the stories and—Noah’s Ark being an example of an attempt to save species that God had created. And—but I—but I went beyond that. The—the fact is that this is not a—a premise exclusive to evangelicals. It exists in the sort of mainline Methodist, Episcopal Church which I’m an Episcopalian and my dad shared with me what they called the “green team” in the Episcopal church. The Unionists, Concerned Scientists has a…
DT: If you could continue talking about the religious…
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DS: Okay. Well, I—I think what I was saying is that we—I—after I moved out of the ev—evangelical area, that was interesting to me because this was an area where it didn’t have to be a political issue, it could be a spiritual issue which would cut across the political divisions that occur. And—and so what I found was that the fact that there was this strong evangelical component, that it was—that it was—I was at home culturally, you know, that’s what we need to talk about. But I then began to look beyond that and what I actually found was that I read the Koran and there is—there are places in the Koran and the Sharia, which is a Mohammedan traditional work where the same themes recur.
(boat coming through)
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DS: I think it’s Koran actually isn’t it.
DT: What was the message that you found in the Koran?
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DS: All—the—I don’t recall specifically, but it was—there were cultural practices described in the Sharia which is this sort of traditional component that was a complement to the Koran that indicated that there had been a long cultural tradition in Islam to preserve the common areas and the natural areas. And—and I guess the reason I’m not better informed on that is my survey basically was to look into a variety of areas and see if the issue was addressed. Judaism has its own and Buddhism has its own, to determine that it was all there. But I had to come back to it because what evangelicals were doing was more important to me in this context than what Islam was doing. It would—in fact, it would be a major turn off to talk about that at—in this particular culture. So—or Zen Buddhism, you know, there—there are—there are people in the culture that regard that as—as really bad, you know, as—as kind of the wrong kind of religious orientation and so there’s no point in trying to—to pursue that. And—and the fact of the matter is the—the theology is well-pursued as it is. So what you can do is talk about that as a way to get away from the—the partisanship that gets imported into environmental issues at the same time you move around the partisanship again and you
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get to the science of it. And between the two of them, you can begin to narrow the questions so that the community can understand both the ethical and the scientific issues involved and start to make good decisions rather than discounting each other as being environmentalists or not. The other thing I found in the process, while we’re on the subject, is that I have become a little more cynical about sort of mainline activities of mainline environmental organizations. And the—the technique is to find something that is a crisis and then begin to communicate it and raise money as you do it. And if you belong to many, and I belong to ten of them, you cannot go a week without somebody calling you and telling you they’re about to do something in congress and you’ve got to contribute some money or they’re going to cut down this forest or they’re going to do that thing in endangered species. And everyone’s different. Every organization has it’s own different agenda but it—it becomes a bit of a cynical fundraising mechanism that imparts no information to the—to the participant. And while those organizations are very important because the money and the political lobbying capability they’re—they—they have, they’re able to afford with that kind of funding, the fact of the matter is that the—the user is not—it’s another form of marketing. It might as well be the anti-conservative people marketing you with the same level of slogan airing and things like that. There’s not content to it or not much, so that you’re not improved by your interaction with them. Your ability to make environmental decisions or ethical or spiritual conservation decisions, are really not improved by the information you get when you’re solicited by an environmental organization that way. And—and all it did was kind of reinforce the idea to me that you need to get—people need to move from a spiritual or philosophical basis, otherwise they will be very inconsistent in what they do. They need the science to inform
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them about what the real choices are and—and the real solutions. They’re rarely as simple as signing a bill or defeating a bill or preventing a road or, you know, something like—rarely are they that simple. They’re usually very complex like what we’re doing here where what you’re going to change is going to have to change over ten years but nobody will start so you need to get people to want to start. So I think that between the—the philosophical base and the scientific base, understandable science, and the appreciation that science is imperfect and that solutions have to be kind of adaptive and cons—you have to keep working on them until you get what you want and also what you want may change. I think that’s the way that people can move forward together but they have to move from the bottom up. But until we do that, we’re just going to be marketed by somebody, you know, environmental or anti-environmental and—and I think that is the worst kind of culture, sitting…
End of reel 2121.
DT: Can we complete the answer that you were giving before?
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DS: Yeah, wh—what I was—what I was trying to say is that the—there is an approach that’s very effective in raising money and identifying a hard core constituencies, which is the them and us deal, it’s they’re going to do this and we got to stop them. And so we have to raise money or pu—get a bill or do something like that. And while that has it’s place, for example, we use that in the basin where somebody is about to discharge a bunch of stuff into the water, we tell people the truth about that and—and hopefully get their attention so they learn something and will write or do something about it. That’s—but we don’t use it to raise money I guess is the real issue. The—but that has become almost the standard way for doing—for addressing environmental issues by both sides. So—and what it’s become is a form of direct marketing and I think the biggest threat to the world and democracy is that culture. Because we are now captive in front of our TV sets and we are now marketed to so politics is no longer politics, it’s marketing. And what they do is they find out what you’re bias is and they sell to your bias. So every election is based upon finding the niche issues that are going to carry one percent to the other column and then concentrating your—your “message” on that issue because you’re after that one percent, you’re marketing a specific population. You already know where everybody else is, so you’re just trying to move at the margin, right. What that becomes is very divisive and very uninformative because it tends to be a very narrow message, carrying no information at all, what—you’re persuading but you’re not informing. So the—and—and—wh—and if I may elaborate a minute, what we have is a—an—a communication industry that is consolidated so that essentially we have three monolithic organizations that control almost every aspect of information gathering and information dissemination. And they are things like Warner Brothers AOL and, you know, Fox and those guys, Murdock types. And—and those people have plugged into the congressional system, not because they have so much money, because they control all of the access. So they get what they want. So—and—and so the—the political system is arranged to, in my opinion, predispose to more and more consolidation of information, gathering and
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dissemination and—for the sole purpose of marketing people on products. It goes right into the school systems where texts and videos are supplied by sponsors, you know, by—by marketing sponsors. And so it’s really subtle and I don’t think it’s a fully evolved picture yet. I—I think Bill Moyers has done an excellent piece of work in sort of describing the consolidations going on, you might run that down. But—and also what I’m seeing is, I’m seeing the children of directors becoming directors and the children of stars becoming stars and we’re sort of developing aristocracy within that. And it’s so subtle and we are so detached from the—the money flow and the power structure that’s getting built up that it’s never going to occur to most of us what’s happening. I me—if it’s one percent of us that know it I’ll be amazed. So we are more and more prone with a—with a cond—the consolidation going on in the industry, in the economy and the way that’s getting hooked up with the political system where media controls the politicians because the politicians have nowhere else to go, that this marketing culture is going to be all we get pretty soon. And the only way I can see—and what that requires is a pyramidal arrangement where you get what you are given from the top of it. The counter, to me, is the fragmentation of the system and getting it back where it was. So if I can organize in a neighborhood, and I mean that in a very general way, if I can organize information, if I can organize people, and if I can focus people on what they know, which is where they live, and they can learn that—you get a teaching moment there where they can learn how their pond works, that—most of that information is transferable to the environment in general. Once you learn en—energy flows and nutrient flows through a system, whether you do it in a pond that size or you do it in a—in a complex system like this, the phenomena are the same and people will get it and understand that long term. So
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my counter to that is the fragmentation of the process and taking it brown—down to the NIMBY level because it’s—that NIMBY level is too big for the marketers to get to. They don’t have enough people, you know. And so it may cost, to get one percent of the people to move millions of dollars, but when you fragment that vote by vote, if we can change the base—the information knowledge of the base, it’s going to be—they cannot organize us that way, okay. So where I think the hope is, is capable, knowledgeable,
scientifically oriented people being willing to deal at the neighborhood level and at the community level because my theory has always been, take the low ground. Let those guys take the high ground. But by the time they’re there, they’re isolated in a way and they—and their power is limited by what they can buy. And if they can’t buy you, if they can’t find you to buy you, you can—you can organize yourself with a—with much less dollars and defeat that process, counter that process. And so what it really means, which is a very daunting task, of labor-intensive task, of bringing the information of the population up to where they can’t get marketed by the kind of crap we’re hearing now. To hear George Bush talk about improving air quality in Texas, to anybody in Texas, is offensive, you know. It’s been the opposite. But you can market that to an uninformed public. And so what should be done about that? Well, what we’ve been able to demonstrate here, I’ve demonstrated this to my satisfaction. I don’t have the resources to do it because it’s going to take—it’s going to take the public school system to do it. And I have some strategies about how that might be done. But what has to happen is, we’ve got to stop teaching science in classrooms out of books and start teaching science in the backyard or on the campus.
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DS: So the—in many respects, people always—especially industry, always say that education is the key, right. But the reality is it really is and it—and it—the—the real issue is how do you do it. And so—and there is a struggle going on in the educational system today, it’s going on in Texas, of trying—where the—where the business community in—in large be, wants people trained to be good workers—scientifically trained to be good workers, but many of the same interests are trying to prevent kind of participatory learning out in the field. And I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but this has been going on in the education 2000 program in—in Texas. There’s one school in education that says we ought to take people out and let them actually help the—the environment and that’s being rapidly stamped out by the more conservative schools. So there’s—that debate is going on right now. But that’s what needs to happen.
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DS: Okay, so anyway, the—the—the point that I—that—the observation I have to make, based on my experience, is a program that I can’t—I can’t fund anymore. I don’t have the people and I don’t have the energy, frankly, it really took a lot of time and effort and it’s too big for one person anyway. But there—the curriculum exists, the knowledge of how to do it exists, but it is impossible right now to crack the school system, which has all these things—these standardized tests they have to pass. But if we’re going to have—it’s not an informed public. It’s a public equipped with critical thinking skills about the environment, which nobody is imparting. The environmental community is not doing it and certainly the—the anti-environmental group is not doing it. Critical thinking skills about the environment mean that you’ve been in the field, you’ve sampled the water, you’ve looked at the habitat and looked at what’s living there, which tells you the quality of the habitat, and then you can make decisions because you now know how a biological system works. You know the—the structure and the rudiments of it, not like an expert, but just well enough to know that it goes together a certain way and it functions a certain way, usually driven by sunlight and oxygen. I mean it’s—and water, it’s pretty simple. When we get to that point, if we can get, how am I trying to say this. We need an educational system that makes field work and field assessment, which are all science skills, what science is about rather than something that has to be added onto the curriculum. The—every lesson in math that needs to be learned, every lesson in chemistry that needs to be learned, ecology, biology, physiology, can all be learned by a six year old kid beginning at—at—with a six year old kid by a proper handling of a field experience in one of those courses, because science is based about understanding processes and calculating them statistically, you know, at it’s simplest. And—and also writing it up in a way—and submitting to peer pressure, peer review, that—that makes sure that what you say is accurate—is within the scientific framework of what’s understood. And also the knowledge about science is that scientific frameworks change. They’re always evolving and so what is scientifically correct today is going to be incorrect tomorrow. So it—it provides a certain conservatism about the decisions you make so that you don’t preclude an improvement in your understanding. You allow for it in a way—it’s called adaptive management. You allow for it in a way that if you make a decision now you don’t make the ultimate decision that prevents you from making some decision later. And good scientists will tend to go that way and—and what—people that are well-trained.
DT: Sort of a precautionary…
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DS: That—that’s the word. So you don’t kill the last blue whale. I mean, that’s obvious. But there are many blue whales in the world that are getting killed because nobody’s aware that they’re there or that they’re nearly the last ones. So, I think that kind of conservatism—conservation is really about conserv—real conservatism. It’s not about what carries the label. And—and so conservative thinking is the one that always retains the most options. And that—to be productive, that has to be grounded beginning at the sixth grade, not in environmental awareness, which I think is a bologna term, but—but real environmental ecological understanding. And that is not happening and I don’t think we’re going to change it much until we begin to make it happen. In my program, I told you we had this large network of kids that were—and stu—and teachers that were monitoring the whole basin. The lesson it told me was that the—initially the kids are not
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the target, the teachers are and—because the kids move on but the teachers are more likely to stay longer. And so what I did was I targeted the teachers because they could become the experts in the system and their view, because their neighbor knows what they do, wh—they—their view will be solicited and it will have weight when they express it. But the second level of course is the kid. If you’re going to do this in a short term prog—program like mine, the teachers are the key, the—they are the scientists. And what you want them to do is you want to have a counter—have them as people trained in the field like Darville who can say, “This system doesn’t work that way. It works this way and here’s my data” as distinguished from an industry hiring an outside scientist to come in and lay a rap on you to justify what they want to do today. And so the way science works is if you create the scientists locally, any other scientist who fails to take that scientist’s work into consideration has faulty science by definition. And so what you want to do is create the—the—the science population in the local community that’s grounded in that and the—and the way it works—the way the system works—ecosystem where they become the experts, not the guy with the briefcase. So that’s one thing. But the second level is to then figure a strategy out that begins to educate the whole population that way. My intermediate strategy, that I will not be able to do here, well maybe I’ll do it somewhere else, is to create a—an elite which is a biological corps and—and, you know, at its ultimate expression it would be the American Biological Corps in the U.S. It would be a group of students and—and well-trained students and well-trained teachers who have attached themselves to their own local ecosystem or some piece of it and who share their monitoring capability—assessment capability officially where it’s accessible to the
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community like on the web and for water quality or permitting purposes because it’s good science. It’s been quality—there’s a thing called quality control in science and—and they will have met all that. It’s not a bunch of people just muddling around. It’s real—real scientific assessment work, characterization work. And—and ultimately it’s like any building block is—I—I personally think that it can be used to reform the compensation system in the education system. Which is instead of trying to raise the pay of all the teachers, many of whom don’t deserve it and many of whom are going to resist any meritocracy building up in what is essentially a non-meritocracy, it’s a seniority system. What you do is you—with marginal increments to income usually—what we did was it might be three or four hundred dollars a month, but to a teacher getting paid what people get paid in East Texas, that’s a lot—that’s a big increment. That would keep a good teacher in a community rather than changing jobs for more pay. And in—and somebody like Darville can make several thousand dollars a year by working for us where all we do is supplement his existing income be—to let him do what he really wants to do, you know. Well, that will—that’ll draw out the experts who want to. Because what—the big problem in education is desire and motivation of the teacher core and also a culture that kind of beats down the—the creative energetic people to make them all the same so they can be managed. Well what you would do is you would draw those people out and—and—and compensate them on the margin for taking on the extra work of becoming experts and also running expert programs. And I think that is doable. We
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couldn’t do it tomorrow. We’d have to build it up over—I think you would do it in a county and you would—or a school system and you would do it in a state and then when you had a couple of functioning models that you had debugged, you could do it nationally. It would be very interesting to see if we couldn’t improve the level of decision making among the populous, the voting populous that way if you’re willing to take a generation. Carl Sagan the astronomer wrote a book called “A Demon Haunted World” and it was about—it was his last book before he died. And it—and mainly it was a diatribe against all this business about flying saucers which had no scientific support. But it’s full of pithy statements about the—the state of society. And what he says is that ninety-five percent of the decisions that are made by society, from now on, are going to have a real hard science basis to them and only two percent of the population has even rudimentary science enough to understand what the question is. And—and would—and he calls that an explosive mixture that is—that is likely to lead us far astray, particularly where the opposing point of view is a well-organized marketing system. And so I, you know, I think that frames the issues for us for the environmental community. It’s not about saving old growth forests at all, in my opinion. And, in fact, many of the positions we take about forests I’ve learned here are pretty counterproductive. You know, there’s a lot we can do with the forest resource that will produce income and clothing and food and things like that that will be managed alteration of those ecosystems where it does the other things it’s supposed to do for the whole range of biology that is very different from maintaining old growth forests as a standard. Old growth forests have a great value but—but they’re not the standard we need to aspire for our forests. You know, our forests do need to be productive and they don’t need to have houses in them that burn down when—when you manage them with fire and that sort of thing. So there’s a lot we can do with those resources with better knowledge at the—at the voting level and it’s going to take us a generation to do it and, you know, we await the—the—the sort—not the Messiah but the—the change of the culture that will—will be the vanguard that says, “We really don’t
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understand this stuff. We have now got to start to teach it much the way we did back in John Dewey’s time when—when what we were doing was socializing children and making them, you know, an immigrant society become cohesive and well-educated and able to be economically strong.” And—and much of John Dewey’s educational work was built upon the idea of experience with the—with the process. You’re talking about not just—not lectures, you know. And we’re now reverting back to lectures. So that’s an area I think is one of the most daunting, but until that happens, we’re just going to be putting out forest fires out in the field here, you know.
DT: It seems like your work and your conviction has been pretty place-based, your work in Aspen and your work down here in Caddo and I believe you also have been active in Puerto Rico. Perhaps you can tell us if there is a particular part of this country here in Northeast Texas or elsewhere that is very special to you and gives you respite or a maybe a greater understanding of why you have cared about…
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DS: Well actually I—when you first asked me that I didn’t have—I’ll tell you what it is, it’s Puerto Rico. It’s—it’s being on a coral reef and observing all of that stuff going on under the ground, it’s amazing. That—that is—that’s sort of my place. Puerto Rico is the place that I have a place so that’s where it’s easy for me to go. It is—it’s amazing to me to—I’m a snorkeler so—I’m—I’m not a scuba diver, as such, and so as you go under the water the thing that you can’t see through when you’re on the shore, frequently what you see is an exact replicate of what’s above, below. So you’ll see things that look like cactus trees but they’re corals. You’ll see things that look like bush but they’re anemones, you know. It’s amazing how the forms are similar but they’re biologically completely different.
DT: You’re telling me about the coral and the anemones under water and how they mimic what might be above the water?
0:23:17 – 2122
DS: Yeah the forms, it’s amazing, you just—it’s like going through—it’s an Alice in Wonderland experience of going through the mirror, you know. And so, if you’ve never done it, think about it the next time you do. As you go beneath the surface, here’s you’ve got this whole scene with all the terrestrial vegetation and animals that you see and when you look at the ocean you can’t see what’s under, it as a rule, unless you’re—it’s a—a special day. And then as you get in it and you go beneath it, what you see is most of those forms are replicated in an aquatic environment that have all the same forms as they do on the surface but they’re totally different biologically. To me, it’s like the—sort of the—it is like going through the mirror and—and that’s just an obvious medium. I mean, what could we do—what do we do in space and time, you know? So it’s a way that kind of reminds me that there’s—there’s an altered state there, not in my mind, but—but it’s really there, it’s been there all the time, I just haven’t looked at it.
DT: Sort of a parallel world.
0:24:27 – 2122
DS: That’s the term I was thinking of but it’s—it’s parallel but it’s not, you know. And if you think about the science fiction, if you’re a reader of science fiction, that’s played with a lot as a concept. But we have it right beneath us, you know. It’s there to go and see. So—and—and to me that’s—that’s the—that’s the kind of profound awareness that I get from it of being there that I don’t—I really don’t get anywhere else. I don’t get it here and I don’t even get it in the mountains, although they’re special environments of their own. It’s a very meditative kind of thing too. And particularly swimming and, you know, you’re—you’re engaged in a physical activity and yet all of this beauty and function is going on around you. Also those are very low nutrient environments. They disappear if you discharge nutrients into them. They’re—they’re evolved systems that—that requ—they actually live on the nutrients—they’re symbiotic and they live on each other’s nutrition. They recycle it. Coral is exactly that, you know. Coral is an animal and a vegetable together that—that feed each other and much of the—much of the low nutrient environments are the same where the animals essentially complement each other and create habitat that wouldn’t exist in the ocean if they weren’t there. So it’s—it’s a, you know, it’s got all kinds of permutations and im—and iterations that you can go through. So it’s a—it’s a special place for me.
DT: Well thank you for telling us about the watery world in Puerto Rico and here in Caddo and some of your efforts that help us all understand it and protect it. Is there anything else you’d like to add before…
0:26:14 – 2122
DS: Not really, it’s—accept well maybe this. You know, before I came here seven years ago, I was a lawyer engaged in community action things that had a big environmental component. When I came here and had that meeting, that scoping meeting and saw the—the sort of vistas of science opening up, I became a sort of lay scientist. And so all the time I spend on airplanes is—is spent reading things like lake management journals and stuff like that to try to understand it. And it ha—it has been one of the most expanding experiences I’ve ever had. It’s been the sort of epitome of my career as a—not only as a professional but just as a person. It has been like getting a Ph.D., you know, which is what this project started as. I started this as a Ph.D. project. I ultimately had to drop the Ph.D. and do the project but I, in a way, I’ve got my Ph.D. The—I got a direct doctorate from Wiley College, the oldest black college West of the Mississippi for the work I’ve done and at that point I said, “What do I need a doctorate for?” You know, and I’ve been able to deal with the—the complications and the—and how to communicate this process in a—in a governmental environment and academic environment and deal with all the—government culture is very different from the academic culture and the public school culture. But to live in all those worlds and still live in a little community like this in Uncertain, Texas where I—I both have the regard and have regard for the people that live here, no matter what they think. We—we are neighbors and in a way I’ve confirmed my
0:28:11 – 2122
bias about the—the value of small communities that—where you’ve got to see your neighbor every day and you got to deal with your neighbor. The way you talk to him and about him is very different than when you treat him as—him or her as some partisan constituency somewhere. You can’t do a them and us thing. And—and so it’s been a very humanizing experience and it’s been the most rewarding expansion of my knowledge and awareness that I—that I have ever been through. So I am very thankful to my friend Don Henley for saying, “Why don’t we go down in Texas and look at this Caddo Lake place and see what we can do about the Corps of Engineers” you know. I got to grow up and it’s time because I’m 67.
DT: Well, I’m glad you came.
0:29:04 – 2122
DS: Thanks.
DT: I hope you stay.
0:29:05 – 2122
DS: Thank you.
End of reel 2122.
End of interview with Dwight Shellman.