INTERVIEWEE: Ed Harte (EH)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: March 1, 1997
LOCATION: Corpus Christi, Texas
REEL: 1004 (hi-8)
TRANSCRIBER: Judy Holloway
Numbers relate to time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” typically refers to miscellaneous off-camera conversations or background noise.
[Tape 1 of three.]
EH: –specific. Like species, or certain kinds of–of environmental-sensitive habitat, or woodlands, they–they specialize. And, except for American Farm Land Trust and one or two other organizations, some of ’em farm organizations now–were sort of left with that field to themselves–the issue of sustainable agriculture, soil erosion, the set-aside programs and so forth to get fragile land out of cultivation. In our life time we’ve seen the disasters in Russia, when–and in Khrushchev’s time they–they plowed up vast areas in the–the eastern portions of Russia and–destroyed the country. Lakes are empty, land is unproductive.
DT: And, what do you think about these–some of these new programs, like the Conservation Reserve Plan, that I think is–is–was passed in the Agricultural Bill last year?
EH: Well, I think it’s an improvement over what we had, and it–it does aim, over a period of–I forget how many, seven, eight years–to get out of the subsidy business, and I–I really think the Government should be out of the subsidy business, and the decisions about what to plant ought to be made by the landowner.
DT: And what about private responses to soil conservation problems?
EH: What we’re finding at American Farm Land Trust, which is a national organization–it’s not very active in Texas, unfortunately–very active in the New England States, in New York, in Pennsylvania–very active in, of all places, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri. They are finding a–a burgeoning interest on the part of young farmers in ways to increase profits, by using different–different kinds of plants, and reducing the amount of pesticide, and certain plowing techniques. I’m not an expert in this field but there’s a lot of interest on the part of youngish farmers who want to preserve their farm. They don’t want to see it washed down the–down the river. They know they’re gonna be under greater pressure from now on, from public institutions, about the matter of pesticides washing into rivers and lakes–you know, that problem, fertilizers. And there’s real interest in what we’ve been able to prove you can do, using less–spending less money on fertilizer, less money on herbicides, producing a somewhat smaller crop, and making just as much or more money. So that is catching on. But as I say, it’s mostly the young. The older people buying and so …
DT: So, …
EH: –[laughs], they’re not interested.
DT: –Mr. [Earl] Butts’s dicta about “gotta be big to survive” may not hold anymore?
EH: It may not–I hope not. [Laughs.] I don’t know.
EH: Well, I’m curious about your–your education. You’d, I think, gone to Dartmouth for college?
EH: Yeah. Yeah, I took a English major, in college, which didn’t prepare me for much of anything. And it was–always seemed to be destined that I would go to work in newspapers because that’s what my family was in. And I did. Yeah. [Laughs.]
DT: And I understood that you worked in a number of smaller newspapers in …
EH: No. A whole bunch of ’em. Then I came here. Yeah.
DT: –Texas and New Hampshire and other places.
DT: Was–was conservation ever an issue in some of these smaller towns or in the …
EH: Well, in–I worked on the Kansas City Star for two years and it was essentially a–an agricultural-based paper. Kansas City–a lot of it, which–there’s a lot of manufacturing in Kansas City but there were also stockyards in Kansas City. There were agricultural banks. There was the Board of Trade, where enormous amounts of–of grain were bought and sold, and the hinterland was–was wheat and corn country. And, the Kansas City Star had a very good record of worrying about the loss of topsoil, once again–I mean–well, this was just 1950, so it wasn’t all that far after–long after the Depression. But it was still a major problem and I can remember they were–they were just propagandistic about new plowing techniques and green manure, as they called it. You–you don’t cut the whole crop, you plow under a lot of the organic material and so forth. They were trying to educate their leadership. So the–they were very good on that subject.
DT: I see.
EH: Ones in New England didn’t give a damn.
DT: Well, I was curious if there was a–sort of cultural differences that you saw from San Angelo to New Hampshire to Kansas City, and points in between.
EH: Oh, yeah, Kansas City was–was more interested in–in preserving the value of–of Missouri topsoil and Kansas topsoil than …
EH: –than one might’ve expected. It was economic.
DT: So–I mean, at least, in your perspective it’s more of–what’s economically important rather than there being some sort of ethic or–or a culture of conservation and …
EH: No, I like ’em all, I like ’em all. It’s terribly fashionable now to–to say everything has to be market-driven. That’s almost entirely true. [Laughs.] But there are other considerations and–they’ve always interested me, too. I really got into the business of conservation of the kind that you want to talk about, when a great friend of mine, J.P. Stephens, who was a textile tycoon, and a great friend of Connie Hager, would come here to Rockport every year and now–his daughters and my wife were together in the same college in Vermont. And, they knew my wife very, very well, so we always saw them. And, we’d go bird-watching with ’em, and so I was very, very inexperienced in bird-watching. They were superb bird-watchers, and wonderful people. And Jack Stephens was sort of the leading light on the National Audubon Board. And …
DT: What time was this?
DT: What–what year was this, roughly?
EH: Oh, that’d be about ’58, ’59, something like that. And so he nominated me for membership on the–on the board, and a–another member of the board, Johnny Hanes, from the tobacco and textile family in North Carolina, called me up and we talked about it and I said I’d like to do that. And that was the way I got–I got into it. And then toward the end of my term–I think you could have three three-year terms in those days. Toward the end of it, they got into kind of a crisis, and–they needed me to–to be something important that I was in no way qualified to do. And I did it, [laughs], and it–evidently it kind of worked. And then I went off the board, I believe. And then–no, maybe I didn’t. Maybe it was just then that they decided they had to have somebody who would commit to be chairman of the board for–at least one or two years. So I told the then President–that’s the C.E.O. of Audubon, they call him president. His name was Carl Buckheister, B-U-C-K-H-E-I-S-T-E-R. He’s a very well-known man in the conservation–very popular man–conservation movement, and he and I went down to a ranch my brother and I owned in the Big Bend. And we drank a lot of whiskey and we talked a lot about conservation, and–the upshot was that, feeling totally without qualification, I said yes, I would become chairman of the board of the National Audubon Society, which had always been–almost entirely centered and focused on Greenwich, Connecticut; Manhattan; Plainfield, New Jersey–[laughs], I mean, all the rich suburbs of the northeast. And I didn’t know–I had no connections up there at all. But they said they needed somebody and I was–I was available. So I did it, and I did it for five years, and it was a great experience for me. I–I loved every minute of it. Elvis Starr was the–was the President of the Society during most of my time, and he and I sort of went out together. Pete Peterson, the ex-Governor of Delaware, came in. And, that was the way I got into the Conservation Movement. Now because that heightened my interest, I–particularly the association with–and I suppose the only other Texas director of N.A.S., National Audubon Society. N.A.S. in Corpus is National Audubon Society but mostly it’s Naval Air Station. And so, [laughs], …
DT: I see.
EH: Well, when–I won’t use N.A.S. Clarence Carter, who was, I believe, the first head of the Welder Wildlife Refuge, a center–I think it was just to kind of get him off the ground then. And if he wasn’t the first, he was an early director, and I think it’s fair to say that he, being former head of the Fish and Wildlife–and I’m almost sure that’s true. If he wasn’t head, he was very close to being the head, and he–there’s no doubt about this–he was Rachel Carson’s mentor. He encouraged her to write Silent Spring, because Silent Spring–was not a popular book at the Department of Interior, as you can very well imagine. I mean, if–she was very critical of–of the use of pesticides and the attitude of federal agencies and the indifference of the nation as a whole. And he said, “Write your book, let the chips fall where they may,” and she did. Well, Clarence made me more aware of local issues in conservation than I would have been otherwise. He lived over here at Sinton and knew all about it. Another friend who helped me was a man named Hans Suter, S-U-T-E-R. Hans Suter was born in–I don’t know, what’s the opera house in the Amazon? You know, the–the town.
DT: First the …
EH: Manaus. I think he was from Manaus, and of Swiss parentage. He became a chemical engineer or something like that–chemist, anyway. He worked at–he worked at Celanese–which is now Hoecht–at the Celanese Research Laboratory, which is right outside Corpus Christi. And he was an ardent, very well informed, very articulate, hard-working conservationist, who I don’t think ever raised his voice in a–in a meeting where opposing sides met and tried to work things out. He had a wonderful personality for being a spokesman for the Movement and so forth. He had a–some sort of an accident and was–was on, I suppose, total disability–and anyway, he didn’t have to work, and he had a living. He was also married to a chemist or a physicist who taught at the college level. Her name’s Pat Suter and she’s still here. Hans Suter, at my invitation, began what probably was one of the earliest conservation newspaper columns in the state, certainly was the first one down here.
DT: Was that in the early ’60’s, maybe or …
EH: It was in the ’60’s, yeah. The date will be in that book that–all the dates–that Mrs. Suter can provide for you. I’ve given mine away or I’d give you mine. Now, where were we? Some of the issues that came up at that time had to do with–well, one of ’em had to do with the beautification of–of Corpus Christi and the elimination of undesirable–of buildings and edifices on–on Shoreline Drive, which had been created out of–out of the bay bottom. You know, it’s–it’s not natural. The–Corpus Christi just sort of oozes off into the Bay naturally, and in the immediate–in the years immediately before World War II, Corpus Christi dredged up this boulevard which is about 12 or 13 feet high, and put a huge embankment around it, and called it Shoreline Boulevard, and if–it was the–the prettiest part of the city. And commercial interests were quick to seize on it and to put up ticky-tacky and put up the–oh, cartoon figures that would advertise your motel and that sort of thing. So, Frances Tarlton Farenthold, who was a descendant of two or three long-time Irish immigrant families here, some of whom were fortunate enough to have land with oil in it. Her–her family had–were–were well connected in the–in the legal world, here and in Fort Worth and various other places–and Sissy undertook to organize something called OPUS. I don’t know what that stands for, it stood for something. And they carried on through litigation–suits against people who–the city was very reluctant to move against any of these people. Of course they were developers and they were rich and–and the city–politicians don’t have much courage about those matters. So, it was in the era when you could finally go to court over things like that–how things looked. And–and Sissy and OPUS were able to do some wonderful work in cleaning up Shoreline Boulevard and in getting most of the parking lots, which covered setback areas that should’ve been landscaped, legally, [laughs], we’d get a few bushes planted in those. And, so that was one of the things that was going on in town at that time. I guess the biggest thing that was going on then was the effort to set aside some of the–Padre Island, as a national seashore. Certain interests at both ends of the island–Corpus Christi and the Lower Valley–had made considerable headway in development down on the south side, and it to this day is much more developed, and much better developed, than the north side. One of the–one of the developers was a Corpus Christi family, big in real estate. And when we–when the newspaper first came out for turning–acquiring that land for the Federal Government, and getting them to preserve it as a–we didn’t know what national park, national–we didn’t know about national seashore. But anyway, we–that was the idea, that we would preserve as many miles of open beach down there as we could. And the–the wife of this developer ran into me at a club here in Corpus Christi one day at lunch, and she shouted across the room. She said, “I hear you’ve bought a ranch in Bristol County,” which we had. And she said, “I hope the Federal Government comes along and takes it away from you.” Well, she’s long dead. But of course one of the–one day we–the Federal Government did come along and take it away from us, at our invitation. [Laughs.] We gave it to them. [Laughs.]
DT: She was a seer.
EH: But it was ironic. We’ve–the news–that couldn’t’ve been without the newspaper. Now it couldn’t’ve been with a lot of other people–without a lot of other people, but Padre Island National Seashore, in my opinion, would not exist if the newspaper had not early on taken up the–the cry, and stayed with it. And we had visitation after visitation of people who had the–you know, the long view of Corpus Christi. “We’ve gotta develop this, gotta develop that, and think of how rich we’ll all get and how happy everybody’s gonna be.” Fortunately that–that didn’t happen. The biggest hang-up, oddly enough, was not in Washington but it was in Austin, because Jerry Sadler, who was really no friend of conservation, was land commissioner, and as such, he had to sign off on any deal that was made which involved the submerged lands, as they were called, meaning the Laguna Madre and the first–what was it, three leagues or 10 leagues, I don’t know how many leagues–out from the–from the shoreline, which the state of Texas lay claim to under their–the treaty which brought ’em into the Union. And he–his slogan was, he didn’t want to give up one dime for the school children of Texas, the school children of Texas, over and over and over again–the school children. And he opposed, on that ground, the cession of land, sovereign state of Texas owned, to the federal government for this seashore. Well, it also had to pass the Legislature, and Jerry was–this is Jerry Sadler, the Commissioner–was very influential with a lot of those legislators. It was not a really happy time in Texas state government, and there wasn’t anything to do but for me to go to Austin and take up residence, and sign on as a–as a lobbyist. I signed the paper, said I was a lobbyist for the Padre Island National–proposal for the Padre Island National Seashore, and I was not paid anything and I answered all the questions. And then I just stayed there, and I stayed in touch with the members of the House and the Senate, and tried to keep tab of where the darn bill was, and how much pressure Jerry was putting on. His–he first showed his strength in a–in a committee. We almost didn’t get out of one of the committees, House or Senate, because of Jerry. Finally got it out on the floor and Connally, who was Governor–did not admire Jerry Sadler, and that may have influenced him to become my ally but he did become my ally, and he and I worked together. Of course he was working on 10,000 things, I was working on one little project, but–he was very, very helpful to me, and was–I think he was quite instrumental in–in changing some votes in the Legislature. Governor just–may be more influential than the Land Commissioner but, anyway, we finally got the bill passed, and they–they had a signing ceremony, and Jerry showed up. We all sort of wondered if Jerry was really gonna show. He did, he signed, and–I think Wagoner Carr was Secretary of State. He signed, and John B. Connally signed with pride I think.
DT: This was in the mid ’60’s, I guess.
EH: I think so, yeah. I can–I’m bad on dates but they’re all in–of record somewhere.
DT: Can you tell me what Padre Island looked like at that time?
EH: Can–very much as it does today, yeah. But there were–there were all kinds of rumors in–yeah, in this part of the world that it was–it was the last undeveloped shoreline in America, it was just waiting to become a Miami beach. Many of our fears were overstated because economics did not favor making an 88-mile Miami beach, and Miami Beach itself is having a lot of problems these days. So that–that helped somewhat. There were also some interests in Austin who owned a lot of land at the southern end of the proposed park, and they were extremely influential in–with the Legislature and with the state government and so forth.
DT: Supportive or against it?
EH: Against it, yeah. And they were–and I–and I–I have always thought that they were in large part behind Jerry Sadler’s adamant opposition to the thing but anyway, that’s all, you know, past, it doesn’t matter. I haven’t even …
DT: As opposed to …
EH: –I haven’t even heard of those people for 20 years. I don’t know whether they’re still in town or not.
DT: Was the land for the seashore …
EH: Privately owned.
DT: –generally condemned or …
EH: It was all private.
DT: And most of it was condemned? Were there any …
EH: Oh, yeah, yeah.
DT: –voluntary sellers?
EH: I don’t know whether–any voluntary ones or not, there may’ve been. It’s conceivable that the Jones family, from Kansas City, which was one of the major landowners ***. They were rich oil people. Subsequently–they lived in Corpus for a while. Highly intelligent people, beautifully educated. Art collectors or all this. They moved to Arizona for respiratory reason–and may be dead by now, I don’t know. But, the–I can–I can supply you with the name of the family if you’d need it. The Jones connection was the wife, and that’s where the money came from. And I kind of think they–they may’ve agreed to sell, without going to litigation.
DT: I see.
EH: Or I think some of the others–we had to go to–go to court. I’m not sure about that. You know, it wasn’t easy, and it–it took a lot of–a lot of effort. So I was–I was pleased with that outcome. Now, …
DT: It was a great victory.
DT: That was a great victory.
EH: Well, I mean, a lot of people contributed to it, yeah, but it was a great victory, and we celebrated! My word, the Secretary of the Interior, which was Udall, and Lady Bird, and a bunch of people came down here, the–lots of Washington types. And we had a–we’ve chartered a boat, had a great dinner party–a great banquet it was–on the boat, and served buffalo and rattlesnake and–[laughs]–a whole bunch of wild meat. It was fun.
DT: It was fun?
EH: Rough seas that night, not everybody was well.
DT: A little green?
EH: One of the early conservation fights in this part of the state was the question of oil–of shell dredging. Contractors–highway contractors in particular–needed an aggregate. They tell me that the–the rock begins under Corpus Christi at about 40 feet, and so there wasn’t any readily–there just isn’t any gravel in this part of the world. And the most convenient and obviously cheapest aggregate for highway construction would have been oyster shell. And this state licensed the–the dredging of oyster beds, to the great detriment of–of the culture, and to the great detriment of the–the state of the–of the submerged lands because it–it kicks up an enormous amount of sediment, which is very slow to settle out. And when it does settle out, I don’t think it’s really very good for–for the sea grasses. But in any event, an early soldier in that war was the late Ben F. Vaughan, Jr. That’s V-A-U-G-H-A-N, who was an early-day chairman of–I think in those days it was called Fish, Game and Oyster or something like that. It–it wasn’t Parks and Wildlife. Connally’s the one who changed it into Parks and Wildlife, putting recreation and hunting and fishing all in one bureaucracy, which was very controversial at the time, and probably was a pretty good idea. But in any event, Ben Vaughan, whose–whose offspring still live around here in Austin, live in Texas–had a lot to do with that–that part of the conservation movement in this part of the state. Another big issue that came up was bay drilling, in–oh, I can’t remember what year it was. It’s all in the record. Early ’60’s, I think. The Navy released whatever rights they had to prohibit drilling. I guess it was prohibiting tall structures in Corpus Christi Bay, because of the approaches to the Naval Air Station at Flower Bluff. And their–this Mayor of Corpus Christi in those days was a doctor, a physician, named McIver Furman. He was a native son, lived here all his life, and he had a–a real feel for the natural advantages that we had here in Corpus Christi, as opposed to what we could change and develop and alter and maybe ruin. So he came to see me one afternoon, and said, “We’ve got to have a committee to look at what happens, because the Navy’s not gonna regulate it anymore,” and under Naval regulation, it was pretty much wide open, and oil companies could do whatever they wanted to. the State of Texas promptly made some leases, or there were already leases in effect which the Navy had abrogated in–at the beginning of the war. I don’t know how that worked but in any way–in any event, there was considerable interest in drilling for oil and gas in Corpus Christi Bay when the Navy released its restrictions. And …
[Tape 1, Side B.]
EH: … and McIver Furman said, “We’re–we really need a kind of citizens group to look at this. And I want you to head it up.” Well, I was about–let’s see, I was born in ’22, I was about 43 or four or five then, and I didn’t feel too sure of myself. But I looked around and I realized that, probably with my experience in–on the Audubon Board and my access by then to experts in a lot of fields in the Conservation Movement, that I probably would be a pretty fair person to do it. And, I said yes. Now, interestingly enough, I don’t think any newspaper publisher in the world would take on a job like that today, because the ethics of print journalism, and I guess television, too, have changed. It’s now not thought to be proper for people responsible for the reporting of the news to be news makers. Can you turn this off and let me pick up my phone?
[TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE: …… indicates where the recorder was turned off and then turned back on.]
EH: …… Don’t turn it on yet and I’ll tell you something interesting. In–you’re aware that Mrs. Graham has written her biography?
EH: Her autobiography?
EH: In it she deals with this very issue. …… O.K., I won’t go into the details of the Bay Drilling Committee negotiations. They lasted for well over a year. The Committee was composed of, I believe, three members from the oil and gas industry, three members from the City Council, three members from the general public. And the general public people were–appointed with my concurrence, and they–they represented people who wanted to keep the–the bay as uncluttered as we could. Now the details of–of what we worked out are not terribly important. I think what is important is that we wrote an ordinance–a city ordinance that said to the oil companies, “You can drill on certain patterns of acreage. And if you can’t get where you want to go on that pattern, you’re gonna have to drill directionally. And that you can only have three production platforms in the–in the Bay, and those have to have all kinds of safeguards, and be painted a certain color, or no color, and so forth.” I mean, there were all sorts of safety, aesthetic, etc., provisions. We–we talked the city into hiring Baker & Botts to represent us. Well, actually, Baker & Botts were representing the City Council members and the public members, because the three oil companies–Atlantic Richfield, Bartlesville–what’s that? You know, Phillips.
EH: Isn’t that Phillips in Bartlesville? And some other big oil company. All of ’em had leases in the Bay and had big regional offices here. They were very well represented legally. So we felt that we were entitled to have Baker & Botts, and we got our attorney named Hugh Patterson. I don’t know whether he’s still alive or not. He was a marvelous attorney, great negotiator. And, I’m sure Baker & Botts does a hell of a lot of business with the oil companies, so they knew it from both sides, you see. And without Hughes’ help, I’m not sure we would’ve got that thing but–the upshot was the oil companies signed on, they agreed to it, and it later was expanded to include many of its features, drilling within the city limits and on the–on the mainland. But the important thing about all that is that it was the first municipal regulation of oil and gas drilling in the offshore in the United States. Now, part of that is not because we were so much ahead of our time as–Texas entered the Union with this special provision, where Texas is–is the owner of the minerals, and Texas is in control. Now, off Santa Barbara, there were already some–some extensive exploration going on, and the state of California didn’t really have much legal–they–they used–‘suasion I guess is what you’d say, they–and public opinion, to get the oil companies to do what they wanted to but–but Corpus Christi was one of the few municipalities in the country where this could come up and it did come up, and we brought it to a successful conclusion. So we were–we were real happy about that and it worked out very well.
DT: Was there any interest from the state, from the Railroad Commission or the General Land Office?
EH: Well, Jerry Sadler was the–was the land commissioner and he resented it deeply and–and fought it. He–he didn’t have that–any particular influence at City Hall, which is where it passed. But Sadler made frequent references to the–to the plunder of the school children of Texas by the City of Corpus Christi, ha! Well, anyway–Jerry once sued me–and I think the judge threw it out, I don’t know. Anyway, he didn’t get me. [Laughs.] And–but it’s …
DT: Well, it seems like it was a contentious time. I’m curious if–and we talked a little bit about some of the mentors, teachers and friends that you had who sort of–helped you understand and–I guess encouraged you. Well, were there people–and you don’t have to name names but maybe describe some of the situations to–who were frustrating and–and who sort of tried to distract you and divert you from conservation work?
EH: I don’t know. No. Nobody–a fib. People thought I was crazy–some people did. And this–this wife of the developer hoped they’d get my ranch, which they did. But, …
EH: But, aside from that, no, I didn’t have any. Now another–I’ve got a little list here of things that we’ve done lately.
DT: Please. Go into that.
EH: Another one–and Mrs. Farenthold again shows up in this. Ada Wilson owned–I don’t know, I think six miles of Mustang Island, which really is more accessible to the people of Corpus Christi than Padre Island. It’s not as significant. It’s not nearly as big. But, a group of developers made a run at her. By then she was a widow. Very rich, and–and quite public-spirited. She was eccentric and a character, and not always easy to get along with. She had a habit of calling her friends *** at 6:30 or seven in the morning. And we had four children and that was a pretty busy time for us, but I never, ever turned down a call from Ada. Her name was Mrs. Sam E. Wilson. Everybody in town called her Ada, A-D-A. Ada was from Tennessee. Her husband made a lot of money in the oil business and I think probably lost it and made it again and lost it and made it again. And, he left her with–with a big tract on Mustang Island, which was being eyed by the developers. She had a daughter and a son-in-law, named Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Reed, R-double E-D, and Gordon and his wife wanted that to go to public–some public entity, and they–they were not desperately interested in maximizing–in getting absolutely the top dollar. Ada wavered from time to time. She had a lot of charities she was crazy about. Children’s Hospital here, this–she established and named for herself, and it did a lot of good. And she had things–she had places to use the money. Mrs. Farenthold moved into their situation at some point, I forget when, and was very persuasive with Ada, and she also knew how to work with some state agencies which were involved, because the state of Texas had to buy this land. So, it was Christmas time in about 1970, maybe ’71. Tom–John Connally is Secretary of the Treasury and I’m in Vienna, and they have a monetary conference and the dollar goes to hell, and I don’t have enough shillings to get out of my hotel in Vienna where I had–had established myself with the entire family and then some of their friends. So I can date it from that–it happened when John Connally was in the Treasury. I subsequently did get out of the hotel, and–the state agents–for some reason, there–there was this–not vacillation but the–the thing moved–it was very fluid, I think you could say. And, I remember on Christmas Eve, Sissy Farenthold phoned me in Austin, and said, “The state got in a jet and came down here with the papers and the check, and Ada signed it.” [Laughs.] And so, it was that close. The deadline was something like–well, we knew if we didn’t get it done by Christmas, then Ada would have another week or ten days to reconsider the whole thing and–and so that’s the way the–through Mrs. Farenthold and her son-in-law and her daughter and a little bit of me, we nailed down Mustang Island State Park. It’s interesting that by that time, by 1970 or ’71, a number of people were thinking about it. See, the–Padre Island was already behind us, I think. And–and people like Ada Wilson, who were–had lots of–had developed lots of stuff, and was in an extractive industry. She was–she was thinking about getting this in the hands of somebody who’d preserve it more or less the way it was, and keep it for the–for posterity. So we were making some progress.
DT: Was there any interest at that time in–in the Bay itself, in–in what was going on in Laguna Madre?
EH: Not so much. Now there was a–there was a–oh, well, this all came to a head with the notion that we ought to dredge a deep-water port for super-tankers at Port Aransas, and I have to confess that at first I was on the wrong side of that one. I subsequently was convinced that it would be tremendously destructive. And I learned to talk about things like spartina and stuff like that, but I didn’t really know what I was talking about. There was a man named Henry Hildebrand who’s still around here, who probably knew Corpus Christi Bay better than anybody in his time ’cause he waded out in it all the time. He taught intermittently at what is now A&M Corpus Christi. He taught oceanography, as I say, intermittently. I–I never could tell when he was on the faculty and when he was off. He was a very eccentric man. He knew the Gulf of Mexico for–at least from Corpus to Soto La Marina and–and maybe the mouth of the Panuco River, because he’d waded it off, and he’d *** it all, and he’d taken kids with him and they’d taken samples and analyzed ’em and done all those things. And, he was–he was helpful in educating me about the–‘course that–that deal fell through of its–sort of its own weight. LOOP [Louisiana Offshore Oil Port] went in, the offshore unloading facility in Louisiana. It has been since revived by the Port of Corpus Christi, but doesn’t show much sign of life, and I don’t–and I think–I think the discharging of oil from super-tankers coming in from foreign countries is more likely to–to be expanded off Freeport and–and nearer the Houston Refineries than–than it will be down here. I’m not sure about that. The–the deal’s still alive, but I–I don’t think very–very much alive.
DT: What is your thought about the Intracoastal Waterway?
EH: Well, I’ve–I desperately hope they don’t take it all the way to Tampico, which I think would be for the Mexican an environmental disaster. A lot of the Mexicans think so, too. It’s–it’s interesting to me that the Mexican press, which I check every day, is increasingly skeptical of the Governor of Tamaulipas’ plan to dredge the Intracoastal to Tampico, and they–they object to it on two grounds. It’s too costly–well, three grounds. It’s too costly, nobody’ll put up the money, and it would be an environmental disaster. Now the national Audubon Society representative in this part of the state, a fellow named Scott Hedges, has been very active in–in putting together–I think more other people’s studies of what’s happening to the Laguna Madre as a result of dredging. Maybe he’s done some independent studies, I don’t know. I don’t think he had, I think other people had. But he is–he’s in the forefront of a coalition of people that aren’t gonna let that matter drop. And we’ve been–encouraged by the fact that some major landowners along the–the waterway–do not want spoil deposited on their ranches, and have gone so far as to have studies shown that it’s not an–an economic operation anymore, if it ever was, south of Corpus Christi. The Corpus to Brownsville segment–they say, I–I can’t prove this. But this coalition opposing it feels that we could just as well get gasoline down there by other means than we are, and if–without the–the petroleum, and products, the–there is no traffic. The barge traffic stops here.
DT: I’d like to go back a little bit in time. I understood that in the ’60’s, you convened–assembled–met with and chaired a–a group of conservationists, both from the sportsman’s camp and the more environmentally oriented group, and some of the state agencies to talk about coastal land protection, in general. And, I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about that.
EH: I didn’t do that!
DT: You didn’t do that?
EH: I don’t think so. No. I don’t remember it. No, but Dave Schwartz did, and he–he organized something that was very much like–like California had done eight-ten years earlier, when they set up the coastal and–Coastal and Marine Commission or something like that, and that became very, very powerful in–in policing and regulating the development of the near shore and offshore, the–I mean, the near–the near shore in California and the land very near the shore, because it was developed right there on the–on the shoreline. That was–was having a–such an effect on–on their Bay’s estuaries and open ocean. And they–‘course California believes in regulation more than most states do, and they’ve got to, they’ve–they’re already overpopulated there. So, I went out there and met with them, sat through some of their meetings, in the early days of our trying to do the–the Bay Drilling Committee, and it–it was impressive what they were doing. I was …
DT: Well, maybe we could talk …
EH: But I–I don’t–I may’ve come home and told somebody what I found out there but I–that’s all I can think of.
DT: I see. Well, I must be mistaken. Can we talk a little bit about something well inland, the decision that you and your–your brother made to give this …
EH: Oh, yeah.
DT: –marvelous ranch out in–in Big Bend to the Nature Conservancy and then to the Federal Government?
EH: Well, now, let me describe that ranch to you. It’s 66,000 acres, and it’s got a big mountain on it called the Rosillos, R-O-S-I-double L-o-s. Our half–half of the Rosillos belong to the–the next ranch to the south. But we had half of it, and it had a stronger spring than the spring that feeds the Big Bend National Park Basin station. That’s up there where you–where the motel units are. That’s where–where the tourists go. It–it really would–that was the great value of that land. Otherwise it’s just raw Chihuahua desert that we tried to–tried to tame for a while. We put in some so-called detention dams and this and that, and tried planting grasses that didn’t belong out there and tried running cattle that never should’ve been there and–it was in a terrible shape when we bought it. It had been overgrazed by sheep. And we–I always felt that we ought to get it into some kind of conservation organization where it would have a chance to come back and could be used by the national park, because we had–oh, miles and miles of common fence line with the national park. We were right in–we were adjacent to the national park, so when they took us over they just simply moved their borders east. So something happened in our business life in which we had the opportunity to–to charge off–which we were looking for an opportunity to charge off something big, and we’d get tax credit for it, which was very important to the decision. And so my brother said to me, “Well, this is the time to give the ranch away.” And I said O.K., so we went to Washington. He didn’t know Pat Noonan, and I said, “You–have you ever met Pat Noonan?” He said no. So we went up–Pat works for the–probably ran the Nature Conservancy in those days. And John Flicker, who’s–today is the President of the National Audubon Society–was his lawyer. My brother and I went up there, and told ’em what we wanted to do and how do you do it, and we learned to our surprise that you have to go to Congress. But we wanted to do it that year. So, we got–we got a ruling from the Internal Revenue. We got an agreement from the Nature Conservancy to accept the gift. And then, Nature Conservancy and we would try to lobby it through Congress, because you have to have Congressional approval to give land to the Park Service, or to–to have the Park Service accept land and the responsibility that goes with it. So it worked out–it worked out very well. We had a few friends–it was sort of un-controversial. But there were people who objected to any more land going into–into public domain. Now their view was the Government already owns too much of North America, “and we don’t want to see one more acre go.” But that’s–that’s a small group and I think getting smaller. And they weren’t very hard to overcome. I believe that Lamar Smith was in Congress in those days, and helped us and–I–I suppose the whole–San Antonio delegation did. But anyway, it doesn’t matter. We got it through. The–the neighbors in Brewster County opposed us sort of knee-jerk, because they said, “It’s going to reduce our taxes.” And my brother very cleverly had told Nature Conservancy that until they could get it into the National Park System, we would pay the taxes that were no longer due but we’d simply pay what we had always paid, because I don’t think Nature Conservancy has to pay taxes or if it did, we would pay ’em then, so that was–the taxes went on being paid in Brewster County, just as they always had been. But that didn’t really stop the objections out there, and I’m not sure I blame those people. But anyway, we tried to behave ourselves in that transaction and it finally went through. And I don’t–I don’t think anybody objects to it now. The parks have not used it the way we hoped they would, because they don’t have the money. See, what we had hoped–and the thing that we used in trying to talk to Congressional aids and people like that, was–our argument was, “Look, you’re–you’re overtaxing your water supply, up in the Basin, and you could move a lot of that”–what do you call it, “RV crowd out of the Basin, down to a site you could make on the side of the Rosillos Mountains, and tap that big spring there. And we don’t need the water anymore for cattle because cattle have been off it for several years.” And that–but they–they didn’t have the money to create an RV Park on the Rosillos, which would–and to give them a road going in. The road’s just horrible. But sooner or later that’ll happen.
DT: What is your thought about–there’s a current controversy in Big Bend State Park about an RV park? I don’t know if you’ve been following that.
EH: Well, I think they’re gonna have to let people use that. They paid for–you know, that was not given. The Andersons were paid for that ranch, R.O. Anderson and his family. And the state, to justify that, I think, is gonna have to let people use it. And it’s gonna cost a lot of money. The roads, the–their roads are as bad as ours, maybe worse. But they have–they have scenic opportunities that are rare out there outside the national park. Outside the park is probably the–the most spectacular scenery there. And I hope the state’ll–develop some kind of way for people to enjoy it. I don’t think it–it helps anybody, just leave it so-called pristine, but that’s just one man’s opinion. I’ve–I’m out of it.
DT: Well, in your dealings with the Park Service, and years of conservation work, what–what do you think about the sort of push-pull between preservationist forces–sort of the wild lands initiative and the more sort of conservationists’ mixed-use–people?
EH: Well, I think you’re gonna have to have some of both. You can’t have all–pristine. [Laughs.] The public won’t stand for it. Maybe the best way to handle it would–would seem to me to be identify what really can’t survive public use and be worth anything to anybody, and regulate that strictly, and then let the public use some of the rest of it. I’m not an expert on it. I don’t know what I’m talking about really.
DT: Well, you’re generous. I was curious, you–you were talking about the sort of scenic qualities out of the Big Bend and–and I’m–it’s a question I’ve asked many people and they all answer it differently and I’m curious what your answer would be when somebody might ask you, what is your favorite spot? Is there a–you know, a glen in the woods or is there a spot on the beach that you think is–is most appealing to you for some reason?
EH: For me?
EH: The shore of Maine. [Laughs.]
DT: The shore of Maine.
EH: Yeah. My wife has a house on the shore of Maine. Yeah.
DT: And why–why would you say that?
EH: Why is she there?
DT: No, why–why would you say that? What appeals to you about that particular spot?
EH: I liked it in the summertime. It’s cool. [Laughs.] And she’s there, so that helps, too.
DT: No black flies.
EH: Oh, God, yes. [Laughs.] Oh, Lord.
EH: Terrible black flies. That you can put some Off on.
DT: There you go.
DT: Another question that I try and ask people is more generally about trends, and if you’ve been involved in conservation for a number of years you’ve probably seen the cycles come and go and you know the …
EH: No, I’ve just seen one cycle, …
DT: –the waves and troughs and …
EH: –you know.
DT: How do you think the cuts are?
EH: I’ve seen one cycle. I’ve seen a cycle towards better scientific rounding for the conserva–the–the stands that the Conservation Movement is now taking. Whereas the–we’ve–for–along–when I first got into the Audubon Society, we made a lot of decisions by the seat of our pants. And today Audubon has oceanographers, it’s got marine mammal experts, it’s got all kinds of people with real scientific credentials who can back up, or disprove and blow out of the–out of the water, various Audubon–initiatives or proposed …
[Tape 2, Side A.]
EH: –Audubon–initiatives or proposals. So I think that’s a healthy thing, that’s very …
EH: –because our–our opponents are–are very articulate and have all kinds of money to spend on research, and do so.
DT: One last question then. What do you think the challenges are for the next generation to come along?
EH: We’re gonna have–we’re gonna have to deal with the fact that there’re too many human beings. Now in Mexico, they’ve got the population rate of growth down under two and a half percent. That’s still gonna give ’em a doubled population by 2050. Well, now, if you think they’re gonna save Monarch butterfly woodlands, with that many people, many of ’em hungry, well you’re crazy. And I don’t know–I simply don’t know how the natural environment and the–the population growth can–can be reconciled. I’m very pessimistic about it.
DT: I guess I have a couple of questions I want to ask you about population. One is–it seems like there’s always a debate about population growth in the developed world versus that in the undeveloped world, that the developed world tends to be lower but the consumption is more?
DT: And–and that’s–we’ve all sat by–in the third world the population growth is higher but individuals use less and …
EH: But they want to use more, …
DT: They want to use more.
EH: –and they’re going to use more. And pretty soon the Chinese are gonna have VW’s.
DT: Yeah. And a refrigerator in every house.
EH: [Laughs.] There you go, right. Well, yeah.
DT: It’s only natural–sure.
EH: Oh, it’s coming. There’s gonna be economic development in the Third World and then–that’s good. The people–they won’t have revolutions but–it’s really gonna tax all the resources of this globe.
DT: Well, another thought that comes to mind is that they–it seems like there’s a very contentious issue about–how much influence immigration has on population growth in the United States.
DT: Do you think that’s significant?
EH: Oh, it certainly is. And nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody except the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform, which is a outfit lobbying for (1) sensible immigration laws, like, do we need these people? Or do they fill niches in our employment spectrum that–that will help the United States, or are there just people who don’t like it at home and want to come here? Have no skills, no education, no English, no understanding of the American system. We’re the only country in the world that doesn’t apply the national interest criteria. The Japs don’t let anybody in. The Australians try to limit it to people that Australia needs, and they need a lot of different kinds of people, and they’re letting ’em in. The Canadians wouldn’t dream of just letting people in ’cause they’re hungry and ignorant and unskilled and want to live in Canada.
DT: Fair enough. I have one more–one more last question.
DT: I’m curious what you’re doing now in the sphere of conservation direction. What’s your current project? You seem like you’ve always been busy.
EH: I’m not doing anything.
DT: Nothing. Talking to me.
EH: Nothing. [Laughs.]
DT: Well, I sure appreciate you talking to me today.
EH: Well, I’ve enjoyed it. Yeah.
DT: This has been a–a great pleasure and I think …
EH: I’m sorry I don’t have dates and facts …
DT: The value …
EH: –and all that, but I don’t.
DT: This was great. Thank you very much.
EH: You–all right.
End of reel 1004.
End of interview with Ed Harte.