INTERVIEWEE: Janice Bezanson (JB)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: January 20, 2007
LOCATION: West Lake, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Robin Johnson
REELS: 2385 and 2386
Please note that the corresponding 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 background noise or off-camera conversation that is unrelated to the interview.
DT: My name is David Todd. We’re here in West Lake, Texas, just west of Austin. It’s January 20th, 2007 and we’re at the home of Janice Bezanson. And she is—has been involved in conservation throughout the state, particularly through her work with the Texas Committee on Natural Resources and also with Natural Area Preservation Association and with a number of small non-profits and just citizen associations that have worked with TCONR and with NAPA to make wildlife and habitat protection work. And with that I would like to thank you for taking time to talk to us.
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JB: Thank you for coming.
DT: I’d like to start by asking a question about your childhood. The—many of the Conservation History Association of Texas interviews start with a question about whether there was a family member or a friend or a neighbor who might have introduced you to the out of doors or if there was a place during your childhood that you enjoyed going to that made you aware of the outdoors and conservation and so on.
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JB: I grew up in a small town, so I had a neighbor—we had a great vacant lot next door to climb the tree but my real awareness to the outdoors was from ranches that my aunts and uncles lived on or managed or owned. And—and some of them were called fa—ranches and some of them were called farms and—but they tended to have, you know, be very, very similar, this was in central Texas. The one I spent the most was my Uncle Billy and Aunt Fern lived on the Colorado River in northern San Saba county and that’s where I learned to swim in the Colorado River, I learned, you know, I just spent so much time following my uncle around the—the pasture and getting to know—getting to know wildlife. It was a very important part of my life.
DT: I think you told me a story once that there wasn’t always river water…
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DT: …to be enjoyed.
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JB: The—the river was a beautiful place. There was a nice gravel bar and then a bank on the far side and a nice swimming hole. And one year when we went, and I was just a kid at the time, someone had been irrigating upstream and the river was actually not flowing. It was just standing in water holes. And I just thought this was awful, I mean it, you know, it—it was just a completely different experience. I wasn’t sophisticated enough to really understand this as an environmental issue. I mean, I—I didn’t have any, you know, environmental consciousness about it but I—I under—it—it made me—it felt wrong. It really felt wrong, even to my young—young brain.
DT: Not fair.
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JB: Not fair.
DT: And it was not fair to the kids who swam in the—in the water or—or the critters that swam in the water or…
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JB: It just—the—the river was a different place and that was a—that was a shock.
DT: Uh huh.
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JB: It was—it was less water, there—you know, the whole—whole experience was different.
DT: Just the unfamiliarity of it.
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JB: Yeah, yeah.
DT: That was a childhood experience and it—it seems that a number of years rolled by and then you had some sort of second passage where you got involved, as I understand with the Texas Community on Natural Resources…
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DT: …in the early eighties? Is that correct?
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JB: Yes. My—my husband got in—was interested in environmental issues as a college student in the sixties and so we had been what I think of as magazine conserva—vationists. We took Friends of the Earth and Audubon magazine and various things and we were members of a few things, but we had never been actively involved and there was an article in Friends of the Earth magazine about the—what was called RARE II, the Roadless Area Evaluation, when they were—when the s—the country was looking at wilderness areas to establish them. And there was a proposal for some wilderne—we were living in Nacogdoches. There was a proposal for wilderness areas. So I wrote—we—we wrote our little, you know, comment letter, like you’re—we were instructed to do in the magazine. And Ned Fritz, whom you’ve interviewed and who is a legend in T—in—in Texas conservation and Beth Johnson, who was then working for Texas Committee on Natural Resources, TCONR, we call it, they actually went to Lufkin and—and sat and wrote down the names that—handwrote it—the names and addresses of
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everyone who made a positive comment about the wilderness proposal in Texas and sent out a letter saying, would you help. So I said, okay, I’ll help. I told Beth I would type and file and answer the phone but I didn’t want to do anything public. Well, within a year, I was debating the Forest Service supervisor on the local TV station. I mean, I just, you know, I’d found my niche and I just becam—went—got into it with both feet as a volunteer for quite some time and then eventually professionally.
DT: Well, what was the—the—the change in the situation or in your own personality that made it possible for you to go from the back office work of copying and filing and mailing to being in front of the cameras?
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JB: It—it really wasn’t that big a change. When I was in high school I was in, you know, band and honor society and theater and all kinds of things, but I had been raising a child and about the time that Beth—I got the letter from Beth, my son, David, was about ten or eleven, twelve years old and about that time he goes off to junior high and all of a sudden, he didn’t want his mother to be, you know, the—the room mother and the, you know, the—showing up at school and it was—it was just a new—new thing to do. And I really fell in love with—with east Texas and the forests and the—the animals and the bottom lands and—and it just—it just grew as part of my life very quickly.
DT: The—the first project that got you involved was this RARE survey and…
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JB: Yeah it was—well, it was the wil—Texas Wilderness Act, it was a bill which Ned Fritz and TCONR had gotten Congressman John Bryant of Dallas to introduce. And this was a very bold thing for John to do. John was a freshman congressman. The—the area was not in his district, it was in Congressman Charlie Wilson’s district and that was kind of a—a nnn—no-no to—to meddle in someone else’s district. So, but John had worked with Ned on a—over the years and he introduced a bill to establish—originally we’d
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hoped to have ten wilderness areas, we eventually got five. And I got involved, in—in east Texas. I talked to, eh—went to newspapers; I talked to—to the editors and tried to get them to take editorial positions and interestingly enough, sixteen newspapers in east Texas did take a position in favor of wilderness. And I began working with volunteers, we had events, we, you know, you know, doing media, all kind—you know, that kind of thing, doing the basic grassroots organizing to—to get the wilderness bill passed.
DT: What kind of arguments would you make to an editorial board or to a volunteer?
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JB: Di—first of all the—we were talking about one fourth of one percent of the national forest in east Texas and the national forests are only, like, a half million acres out of twelve million acres of commercial timberland. So, we’re talking about—I mean, it—it sounds like a lot to say sixty acres or thirty-five thousand acres, which is what we eventually got, but it’s really a tiny, tiny percentage of east Texas. And—and that’s all, you know, to protect that as absolute wilderness, you know, not logged in any way, people—people responded to that. They go, well, yeah, we ought to set aside a little bit. It—it probably wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t also had a wonderful republican co-
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sponsor, John was a democrat, but Steve Bartlett, who was then in congress, also from Dallas and was later mayor of Dallas came through with co-sponsoring it, so we had both a democrat and a republican. And at that point the bill began to move and—and was— we got it passed in the house and then it got support from Lloyd Bentsen and got it passed in the senate.
DT: Well, when you would make your pitch to, you know, the editorial board or the volunteers or the voters wo—would the reaction be that, oh, well this is part of our historical heritage, you know, this is what the settlers first saw when they came to Texas or—or was it an environmental argument…
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JB: The—the first reaction I got was, you mean you cut trees in the national forest? People were use to seeing a gr—the green stuff on the map and they thought the national forests were all protected. When, as a matter of fact, they were being very heavily logged. So that was the most common reaction. I started very slow at this. My next door neighbor was the president of the local Unitarian Fellowship, which had about twenty members and she and Beth got together and said, come on, you can get Janice to give a program. Well, w—I had a tape narration and a slideshow that was all set up, all I had to do was kind of turn it on and introduce it, but I was all—a little afraid to do that. But they made me do that and it got me going.
DT: Well, tell me a little bit about—about—not just the issues that got you involved with TCONR, but the—perhaps something about TCONR itself, how it got started and how it evolved from being a volunteer organization to one that’s a professional staffed…
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JB: Well, it’s still very much a volunteer organization, at that time it was—it—it had—was almost all volunteer. Ned Fritz started Texas Committee on Natural Resources as a vehicle to work on the specific issues that he was working on in—at—at, you know, national forest management, wilderness were among the early ones. And it’s—it—it’s
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still structured as primarily a volunteer organization. We have task forces on water, forests, coastal issues, wildlife, recycling, water quality, you know, basic conservation issues. And these task forces are headed by volunteers, s—some of them are our board members, some of them are not. And—and the staff’s role has been largely to make these volunteer task forces effective and to link them to other groups and to volunteers who, you know, help them recruit volunteers. So, some of the work that I do is done in a professional sense that it’s things that is, you know, might be th—there’s not a volunteer available who has the expertise. But a lot of our work is still done by volunteers.
DT: But you—you’ve served in both…
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JB: Both (?).
DT: …You’ve been a volunteer, you’ve been a board member, you’ve been a staff member, you know, you—you’ve danced around the staff member a while—I think for a while being the issues coordinator and then finally settled into being the executive director. How have each of those roles meant a different, sort of, experience for you?
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JB: Because of the nature of TCONR, which is almost like an extended family, I mean, a lot of the people involved with TCONR have been there a long time and they got involved because they so much admired Ned Fritz. It hasn’t been as much of a change as it might be for some—for someone, because I was doing volunt—I was pretty much a fulltime volunteer before I became a fulltime staff person. But I—the—the difference—the difference is just the level of—it’s primarily the level of responsibility. I mean, the fact that n—and the difference as an executive director is consider well because now I’m
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also raising money, I’m administering staff, I’m making sure the books get kept, you know, things that a volunteer doesn’t have to think about. So, it—it—it becomes more of—more of a job in that sense but—but I don’t really think of it as a job. I love my work and it’s what—my husband says I shouldn’t ever retire because I’d just do it all for—without being paid for it. So, it’s—it’s not—it’s been a pretty smooth transition for me, from one, you know, I—my—my whole career as a—in environmentalism eh—or in conservation has been doing something I don’t know how to do. I mean, I didn’t know how to, you know, lobby for a wilderness bill, I didn’t know how to, you know, or, you
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know, do a—grassroots organizing. But I—sort of on the job training, and I didn’t know how to lobby in congress but I went up there and learned to do that and I didn’t know how to raise money when I became an executive director and I, you know, I—yo—you just—you just do these things because they’ve got to be done and there’s nothing like having to be done to make you—make you learn fast.
DT: And maybe another question about—about TCONR, it, you know, it’s—it’s—it’s one of many non-profits now, it’s one of the older ones and—and has deep roots in Texas, but in the years since it was founded, I guess in the mid-sixties, it that fair to…
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JB: Late sixties.
DT: …late sixties, there’ve been an—whole certain outpouring of blossoming of non-profits and I’m curious how you think TCONR fits into that whole spectrum of groups, politically or how it works or where it works. I mean, it seems to focus on these types of…
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JB: T—TCONR has focused rather heavily on east Texas and on Dalla—in the Dallas area. That’s because it was started by Ned Fritz and other Dallas people and because Ned had a real consuming passion for the national forest and the rivers in east Texas. But I would say that the primary niche—we have—well, there’s two ways to approach it, one is we’re very land based and we’re very much in protecting habitat—on the ground habitat. We’re not as involved in regulations and standards and things like that, we’re much more involved with, you know, here’s—here’s a fabulous piece of land. It’s too big to be done privately, we’ve got to get the federal government or the state government or the local government to come in and protect this land or h—this is already public land but it’s not been very ma—managed very well and we want to see an improvement in that, so we’re very—very focused on that. L—and—and we also are sort of cutting edge
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in our advocacy but very careful to put that in a context of good science and g—and—and common sense. We’ve s—found that in most cases the—what’s good for the environment is good for the economy, what’s good for the economy is good for the environment. I mean, it—it really is a—not a good thing to build a reservoir that you don’t need the water supply and wipe out, you know, two hundred thou—you know twenty thousand acres of—of—of ha—wildlife habitat and—and farmland. So, we have always tried to, you know, make sure that we were considering the effects on everyone involved, that we’re not—not taking anything away from each other—from—from
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anyone, but—but that—within that context, then we’re—we’re very strong advocates for a specific position. I mean, we lobby, we—we—if necessary, file lawsuits. I mean, we don’t like lawsuits but—but we’ve done quite a bit of litigation over the years and—and we gather up people to influence their elected officials and, you know, to make sure that public decisions are made that are good for these—these areas that we’re trying to protect.
DT: One of the things I’ve heard that TCONR excels at, particularly that you’re good at, is recruiting local groups, young groups, maybe amateur groups that are deeply concerned, passionate about an issue or problem but they don’t have the experience or the connections to make a real effective conservation effect and can you…
(Talking at same time)
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JB: That’s precisely how we have worked and—and we build coalitions with as broad a base as possible. A—a good example I could use is Marvin Nichols Reservoir that’s being proposed for the Sulfur River Basin. Proposed to flood seventy-two thousand acres, much of it is what the Fish and Wildlife Service says is priority one, bottom land hardwood forest habitat, fabulous, miles and miles of trees. And what—what we have found is that this will not only be devastating to wildlife but it’s going to be devastating to the timber industry in that region too, which is based more on hardwood timber then
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some parts of the state where it’s based more on pine. And—and so we have built a coalition that has the timber industry, it has land owners, it has local agri-business people, it has hunters and fishermen, it has co—you know, conservationists of every stripe. I mean, we’re talking about everybody who is affected by this recognizing that we have a common interest here. And we may not agree on some other issues but you just leave that to—aside and you focus on the issue at hand and we have built broad based coalitions, tourism, we—getting the tourism industry, the Farm Bureau, a broad range of
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people who have a common interest to focus on these issues. And that’s one of the things that TCONR has done really, really well. And we very often have served the role of the coordinator of—of, you know, coalitions of that type, coordinating between them and elected officials and the media and other conservation groups so that everybody’s kind of on the same page and the message is the same from—from each of these dis—disparate elements of the economy, you know, of the society.
DT: Umm hmm. I guess, just as—as TCONR works with smaller and more local groups, TCONR’s also a member of yet bigger groups and—and particularly the National Wildlife Federation, I was hoping you could talk a little bit about how TCONR came within the orbit of National Wildlife Federation.
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JB: The National Wildlife Federation is organized with a state affiliate in each—almost every state. They try to have every state, as well as Puerto Rico and the V—Virgin Islands. And it’s—it’s a—it’s a loose affiliation in the sense that we’re not a chapter, we have our own board, we have our own policies. But there’s—there’s a memorandum of agreement that we will work together when we can, that we will not, you know, publicly dis each other, not that we would be inclined to, but that’s the kind of level of agreement and—and in this role, our—TCONR sends delegates to the National Wildlife Federation
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annu—annual meeting and has input into their policies and they, you know, contact us when they have an issue they think is important that they, you know, maybe they’ll be working on an issue in congress and they need a Texas—some Texas legislators to support it so they’ll, you know, call or e-mail and we’ll send letters to our, you know, our contacts. It’s a wonderful, you know, relationship, particularly since there’s a National Wildlife Federation regional office in Austin, so I get to work more closely with them, you know, than I otherwise would.
DT: We’ve talked some about—about how TCONR it works internally with their volunteers and board and staff and how it works with smaller groups and some of its brethren groups in the environmental movement and then also the National Wildlife Federation. Maybe we should forge into some of the meat of what it’s been working on and I know that you’ve taken a great interest personally, TCONR as a group, in water issues and I thought that perhaps you could tell us a little bit about the history—Little Cypress Reservoir is one example of—of…
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JB: Little Cypress is the reservoir I cut my teeth on. Water is a huge issue in Texas today and it’s going to be a bigger one because there’s so much—such important resources division that—decisions made. If you’re going to—wi—eh—there’s a lot of proposals to build reservoirs to store water in, well, you need reservoirs to a point and for an urban area to be adequately supplied with water, there need to be some reservoirs. But we reached the point a long time ago when we built as many reservoirs as we really needed and yet by then there’s a whole industry built up around reservoirs. I mean,
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people don’t realize this, but water supply is a—is a multi-billion dollar industry. I mean, we’re talking an industry of the size of the oil and gas industry. I mean, we’re talking huge dollars and it’s public money. And consequently there—anytime there’s a huge pot of public money sitting there, there’s going to be people who want to tap into it. So, there’re people who are still pushing to build reservoirs even though we’ve reached the
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point of diminishing returns on reservoirs. We’ve got reservoirs sitting around all over Texas, huge ones, Toledo Bends, the part of Sam Rayburn, Wright Patman, Texoma, these are huge reservoirs that people are not using the water or not using much of the water in. And—and we need to be using our existing resources before we build new ones. So we have been in the business of opposing reservoirs, not because we think all reservoirs are bad, but because TCONR—but—but because Texas doesn’t need anymore at this point in time or and—and it probably never will need an—anymore, truth be told.
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The first one I got involved in was Little Cypress Reservoir, it’s—would have built in Harrison County, between Marshall and Longview and would have been upstream of Caddo Lake. And anybody who’s been to Caddo Lake knows it’s just one of the most beautiful places in the world, huge cypress trees, Spanish moss. They make a lot of movies there. I mean, it’s just, you know, it’s just fabulous, fabulous habitat and alligators and otters and, you know, all kinds of wonderful birds, it’s just—hu—Herron and egret rookeries. And there was a huge concern and legitimate—that diverting water upstream of Caddo Lake would—would harm Caddo Lake. So, the people who are
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concerned about protecting la—Caddo Lake were involved in opposing Little Cypress Reservoir, but they were pretty much all over in Harrison County and Gray County, where Longview is, it was a much bigger county and much higher population and there were people pushing very hard for this—this reservoir. And so that’s where TCONR came in and we analyzed the fact, you know, where could—where could they get their
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water in so far as they needed any, what would be the economics of this project, what would be the environmental impacts, what could be done as an alternative. And we began peddling that. We—we put together f—a fi—these fact sheets, just one page fact sheets that had little drawings of animals on them and we made a photoco—photocopies of them and the local people just took those things and copied them by the thousands, and pe—I would go to a meeting and people would say, hey, have you seen this, and I’m like, well, yeah, I k—kind of have. And—and we got—we gathered up a—a very broad
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coalition of people in the sense that they had nothing to ga—in common politically. We had a local wo—women’s republican of a republican women’s group from Longview. We had a bunch of, kind of, hippy looking people who had been picketing the local courthouse over tax issues. We had someone who was—we had, you know, landowners in the area, we had someone who was—some of the union people. It—it was—eh—people of all political persuasions, but they had this one thing in common, that their gut level instinct was that this reservoir was not good for the local community. And we did a
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Fund bake, we did ads in the paper, we get—gathered up about ten thousand dollars, we were able to recruit—I think the people pushing the reservoir spent about a hundred thousand dollars, but we got ads in the paper. We even did a few ads—we learned that the—the best time to have an ad on T—local TV was during Wheel of Fortune, and it became a very hot, hot issue. And on—one day I was doing a television interview with one of the local stations and I had seen the paper that morning and there had been an
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article that was kind of not favorable to us, but it wasn’t a big deal. And the reporter, you know, held up the pa—well, the morning journal, and she said, oh, have you seen the paper today, and I said, oh, yeah, I saw that article and I started talking about it, she said, no, no, no, have you seen the ad. And I said, ad, I didn’t see any ad. She opens it up and holds up a two-thirds page ad that is titled “Who is Janice Bezanson”. It was—the whole thing, they were so concerned that we were going to defeat this reservoir, what we were actually—were voting on, was whether or—the funding for it, it was a referendum to—to pay for part of the funding and we had been opposing this and the local area and they
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were so concerned that they were actually using the kind of tactics of—they were accusing us of being outside agitators, of pretending we lived there when we didn’t, which, of course, we’d never done. I mean, it was a whole long list of things that they were accusing us of and I’m going, whoa. Fortunately when I looked at it, it just struck me as—as kind of strange and I just laughed. Later on I cried, I paced, I probably used a little bit of unladylike language because it really upset me in the long run, but my initial reaction—my—my guardian angel made me laugh and then it wasn’t a big deal and so
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the reporter didn’t even cover it. But if I had reacted, you know, strongly, I—I’m sure I would have been on TV doing it because she had the cu—camera rolling hoping to catch me on that one.
DT: Well, what sort of arguments made them so defensive? To start you…
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JB: Well, it was—it was the fact that we were making—we were getting traction with the arguments that this was environmentally and economically not a good thing. What we did about it was the next day, we put an ad in the paper that was titled “I am Janice Bezanson” and we just refuted point by point. We had not claimed this, we had not said this, this was an issu—the—the local people in Gray County and Harrison County had asked us to come in and help, we were working with the Greater Caddo Lake Association, we were working with local landowners. We were not there in an il—
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illegitimate—and—and my husband had grown up in the next county, I mean, we were—we were not outsiders. And so we just made the case in rebuttal. The upshot of the whole thing was that when we had the vote for whether or not the local funding would be paid, it went down in defeat by two hundred and twelve votes out of twelve thousand cast. And so the proponents of Little Cypress thought, oh, that was just a fluke, and they set another bond election two and a half months later and when—when people in that area found out that, you know, 50.0003 percent of the people in that area
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were opposed to it, they came out of the woodwork to oppose it. It turned out most people didn’t like the idea but, oh, they were being told it was good for the community so they wouldn’t want to speak out. As soon as the vote came out just barely defeating it, we had seventy percent of the people in Harrison County and a majority in Gray County voting for us o—overall sixty-two percent defeat of the bond election. And that was the end of Little Cypress Reservoir. It got me involved in protecting Caddo Lake. I worked with the Great Caddo Lake Association again on opposing a navigation canal through the—the—that would have absolutely devastated Caddo Lake. I…
DT: What’s up the—the channel, I mean, what…
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JB: Well, it was this huge monster canal that was going to be dredged through the lake so that the Corps of Engineers proposed to bring—so that ship traffic could come all the way to Jefferson, Texas. And it would have absolutely annihilated Caddo Lake and the—and this whole cypress h—cypress bayou. And, basically the reason it was defeated was because it was just economically so stupid that try as they might, the Corps of Engineers wasn’t able to come up with a positive benefit cost ratio and—and—and the local congressman who had supported it said, well, I’m not going to support it if—if it’s not economically a good idea and so he a—he actually backed off. That was Jim Chapman and…
DT: Can we just stop for a moment. I think…
DT: I think it—that you were also involved in the statewide effort to stop the deletion of the Little Sandy National Wildlife Refuge from the—the national network. Can you tell how that came about or what you…
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JB: Well, that wound up being a lot more than just statewide. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the mid eighties did a study of the bottomland hardwood forests remaining in the State of Texas. Bottomland hardwood forests are the most diverse inland ecosystem. They’re the most biologically protective of any ecosystem other then estuaries. They—they’re—they’re absolu—absolutely gorgeous. I mean, we’re talking huge trees, oaks, hickories, beeches and elms, and beautiful understory trees, dogwood trees that flower in the spring, the gorgeous azaleas that bloom and then understory
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plants, groundcover plants. Because water comes downstream and—and floods during flood periods, it—ba—basically what bottom—bottomlands are the areas that flood and the water brings moisture and nutrient and spreads it out all over the floodplain and so the—the trees that grow in the floodplain get more water and more nutrients and so we—you tend to have a very, very diverse forest and they tend to be hardwood forests. Only about sixteen million acres to begin with historically, ever in Texas and more than seventy-five percent of those have been converted to other uses. They’ve been me—
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drowned under reservoirs two mu—two million acres drowned under re—reservoirs, converted to pasture, converted to pine plantations, other uses—use, you know. So, there was a very great concern that we need to start protecting bottomland hardwood forests. So Jim Neal with the Fish and Wildlife Service, who’s just an absolutely wonderful
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biologist, did a s—a study and mapped where all the good bottomland hardwood forests sites are. Well, the Little Sandy Hunting and Fishing Club is thirty-five—thirty-eight hundred acres of bottomland hardwood forest that has never been logged. It’s never had a road through—through it, it’s got one little dark road through it and it’s never been grazed. I mean, this was absolutely pristine old growth forest, the only site re—remotely like that in the State of Texas. This hunting and fishing club had been started by a number of families back in—before the turn of the century or actually early in—in
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1904 or 1906, along in there, and—and that this land was protected because it had been in this hunting and fishing club and they mostly fish on the—and—and duck hunt on the lakes that are associated with it, so the bottomland just—is there for wildlife. Fish and Wildlife Service asked them would they give a conservation easement, that is a—they would—where the club would still own the land but the development rights would be given to the Fish and Wildlife Service so that they could not log the trees or in any way develop the area, and then it would become part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
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And the club was considering doing this because the members didn’t want someone down the road to decide to cut the trees to get money or whatever, so they were thinking, well, this might be a very good thing to do. And in the middle of all this, the Sabine River Authority learned that the Fish and Wildlife Service was talking to the Little Sandy Club and they just kind of went ballistic and said no, no, no, we could put a reservoir there, we could put a reservoir there, this is the site of Waters Bluff Reservoir and they
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commissioned a feasibility study and they turned it into a big issue in a very g—very, very quickly. As a matter of fact, the water from this—there was no one to buy the water. I mean, the reason there was no—no proposal for a reservoir there is that there was not demand for it, but they just were, you know, we’ve got to keep this site for a reservoir someday. So this became a very huge issue, the Fish and Wildlife S—the Little Sandy Club did donate the conservation easement to the Fish and Wildlife Service and the—at end of 1986 it became an element of the National Wildlife Refuge. And—and then
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came a battle to take it out of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Congressman Ralph Hall introduced a bill in congress to take it out of the refuge system. He pushed that bill very hard. He got it out of committee, he tried to add it to the appropriations bill, the budget bill. We—we fought that battle several years. The Sabine River Authority filed suit and the suit absolutely upheld that the Fish and Wildlife Service had done everything they were supposed to do, all of their—they have to do a lot of environmental studies. They have to take public comment, they have to go through a very lengthy review
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process under the National Environmental Policy Act. They had done all that. The appeals court ruled completely in favor of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Little Sandy Club and the Supreme Court refused to hear it when the Sabine—but the Sabine River Authority tried to go to the—to the Supreme Court. There was a hearing on the bill that would have taken it out of the refuge system and Larry McKinney with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, officials with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the president of
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the Little Sandy Club, Joe Sharp, Jr. and I were all on the panel to testify why this was a good thing. And I—I guess of all the things I’ve done, the—the work on Little Sandy is the thing I’m the proudest of. I felt like I did a good job in my testimony, the—I was—I was so well prepared and knew so much more about what was going on that I got questions that they thought were killer questions that I was able to, you know, turn into a—a, you know, hit a homerun. They—they asked the wrong questions, I’ll put it that way. We built a coalition of members of congress, elected officials in Texas, the
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members of the club, some of them were quite influential people, they got their friends to be involved in this, all the conservation groups in Texas and nationally, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, the National Wildlife Federation, the National—the—the—the Wilderness Society, the Audubon Society, everybody got involved in this. I mean it—the—everyone was so appalled, first of all that you would drown the only large old growth forest left in the State of Texas and secondly, that you would take a refuge—a National Wildlife Refuge out of the refuge system to do it. I mean, this was
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unprecedented, nobody had every done that. And so it—it really was a huge issue that spanned, you know, Tex—all of Texas conservation, congress, the state legislature, the elected officials and—and was a—was a—was a huge, huge battle that went on for some years. Co—Lloyd Bentsen was a real—was wonderful, he just said from the beginning, I’m not going to sponsor this in the senate, even if it passes in the house. So, it—he was—he was a key figure. But there were many, many key figures, there were, you know, dozens of them, hundreds of them.
DT: Well, you know, this situation with Little Sandy brings up the issue of—of this, sort of, two strains in the environmental movement that sometimes merge and sometimes are apart, the hook and bullet, sort of hunters and fishermen, and then the—the—the (?) and the conservation minded people that are more into looking at things rather than taking them on and I—I’m wondering if this is one of those instances where the two merged?
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JB: They merged beautifully and—and TCONR has always worked with sportsmen. We have found the de—to (?) ways in which we disagree are much smaller than the ways in which we—you know, we have very much a common interest. You cannot have wildlife to hunt or for any other purposes if you do not have good wildlife habitat. And the hunting groups do wonderful things for wildlife. The—the Wildlife Refuge System has been mostly supported by, you know, hunters and fishermen. We—we—w—even back in the days of our—when we were trying to—promoting the Wilderness Act, the
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Sportsmen Conservationists of Texas were involved in that. Alan Allen went with me to congr—to D.C. wi—with me and Ned Fritz and several other people to testify for that. So we find working, you know, that there’s a very common ground. There are occasionally management issues we disagree on and some of our members are anti-hunting members, but TCONR as a whole, has found that it doesn’t matter why people care about wildlife if they care about wildlife, they care about wildlife habitat and wildlife habitat is what we’re all about.
DT: Let—let’s go down to the—the—through the years a little bit, just recently a—a—I think it was close to thirty thousand acres was set aside in the Neches river bottom and on the site of a proposed dam that would have created Fastrill reservoir. Can you talk a little bit about those—the—those two proposals colliding and…
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JB: I can talk a lot about that. The Neches River and National Wildlife Refuge was one of the sites identified in the 1985—mid-eighties study that the Fish and Wildlife de—Service did as a priority one bottomland hardwood site. Priority one means it’s one of the t—most desirable for conservation purposes, wonderful bottomland hardwood forest, a gorgeous river. The Neches River is just beautiful beyond belief and they’d been wanting to protect that site all that time, but, you know, you—you have to wait ‘til you get funds, in the mean time they wou—had done the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, the Caddo Lake Wildlife Refuge and there were other things that had
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priority. But in the last—but in 2003 and 2004, they began doing the environmental assessment and having public meetings and taking the steps necessary to establish a re—first they established the boundary of the refuge and then over time as congress appropriates money or as the Migratory Bird Commission gets money, they begin buying land and adding to it, but there’s this formal designation of a boundary is the first step. And they were moving toward that step and they were about ready to publish the EA, the
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Environmental Assessment, when the Upper Neches Municipal—Upper Neches River Municipal Water Authority, which has jurisdiction for that part of the river in terms of building reservoirs, they’re the ones who have Lake Palestine up stream. They had a contract with Dallas Water Utilities because Dallas is going to get some water out of Lake Palestine in the future. They haven’t begun doing it yet. The pipe’s not built but they’re going to, and—and they convinced Dallas Water Utilities to recommend to the Dallas City Council that Fastrill Reservoir on the same side as the Neches River Refuge be a recommended alternative for their long range water supply plan. It was already
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entrained to put it—become a refuge but that message was clouded, shall we say in—in the communications to the Dallas City Council and they really didn’t fully understand, I don’t think, where this was going, but they—they up and put Fastrill Reservoir in their long range water supply plan and they said, no, you shouldn’t put a refuge on it. We’re going—we’re going to put a reservoir there someday. The Fish and Wildlife Service moved on along in their normal way and began—continued their process to put the refuge there, but Dallas and other water developers in c—got some of the elected officials, the
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governor, Governor Perry, Congressman Hensarling to say to the Fish and Wildlife Service, you know, wait a minute, let’s—let’s hold all the (?) until we do a feasibility study of the reservoir. And the Fish and Wildlife Service did hold off, they held off for almost a year after they had published and—after the regional director had recommended that this be a refuge, the—the Dal—the D.C. office of the National Wildlife—I mean of
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the Fish and Wildlife Service held off for almost a year actually establishing the boundary and approving the refuge. In the meantime, the City of Dallas asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to review other alternatives sites, where they might put the refuge instead. They did a—did a process, the Texas Parks and Wildlife and Te—U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and consultants to Dallas, on that, reviewed all—a number of sites for a criteria of quality of habitat, whether or not there were other conflicts, another reservoir, and—and were there big blocks of land with willing sellers. For a reservoir they condemn land if people aren’t willing to sell but for a refuge, they buy only from willing
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sellers, so this was a key factor, was that there be tracts of land that were large enough to be of value for a wildlife refuge that, you know, somebody was willing to sell. And so they looked at all three of those criteria and there simply was not another site that was as good or better than the Neches River Refuge and they had told Alice that, you know, you have until Ja—June 1st to, you know, propose something that’s as good as or better. They went through the review process and when they did not find an alternative, then the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service approved the boundary on June 12th of this year.
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It caused quite a an outcry. Dallas and the Texas Water Development of Water acting like, well, they didn’t go through the process, they didn’t consult us, they—we were going to build this reservoir and they just m—and they are actually accusing the Fish and Wildlife Service of establishing a refuge just to stop the reservoir. And this was a little podunk reservoir that nobody had heard o—ever heard of until the refuge was almost
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established, I mean, nobody—I’m one—was one of the few people in the state of Texas who ever heard of Fastrill Reservoir. It was just a—a dot on a map that no one had ever done an engineering study, they had no—there were no proposals to—to—to actually bui—build it. Em—recently th—in January of 2007, which is where we are now, just last week, the Texas Water Development Board and the city of Dallas had both filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, asking that land not be added to the refuge. The first acre of land has been put in the refuge, which makes it officially a refuge, but so
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far, that’s all that’s there, there’s one acre. And so, they want to try to stop it even at this point. The lawsuit is without merit. There’s—they’ve—the Fish and Wildlife Service went through all the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act. This is—this is a—would be a bad resource decision if it—if it did prevail. But we’re having to, you know, this is—issue just continues and continues and continues. I can’t talk about this issue without talking about the absolutely fabulous coalition of people that have been put together to support this. The local people are just—have been absolutely amazing. Dr.
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Michael Banks and—who’s a dentist in Jacksonville and his wife Rosemary, Mary Decker, who’s an attorney in Jacksonville, Al and Betty Holmes, who head up the Texas St—the Friends of the Texas State Railroad have been leaders, but there’re just hundreds of people in the local area. The landowners in the area who have just been so vocal in support for this, they—they went out and they would go to the Tomato Fest and the Dogwood Festival and they had their petitions and their letters to be signed and that
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group locally generated ten thousand signatures on letters and petitions to the Fish and Wildlife Service asking them to establish this refuge. And when you add to that, you know, TCONR’s members and the National Wildlife Federation members and the Sierra Club members and all the other groups that have worked on this, twenty thousand people spoke out, just ordinary citizens wrote letters to the Fish and Wildlife Service saying we want this refuge. I mean, that gives you an idea of how—how incredibly special this place—this area is. The Houston Chronicle, the La—Lufkin Daily News, the
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Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel, the Longview Morning Journal, the Cherokee and Herald in Rusk, the Jacksonville Progress, all these papers have covered this issue, most of them have done editorials in favor of the refuge. They—some of them have done editorials this past week saying, wait a minute, this lawsuit is ridiculous. This is—this is going to be good for our arer—area, the chambers of commerce and tourist bureaus of—of—are beginning to understand, they’re developing a nature tourism package that we—TCONR has been part of hel—helping to make happen. They—they want to see the—
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the beauty of east Texas protected. There’ll be—much more and more are beginning to realize what an incredibly rare asset forest land is in terms of the beauty and as a—a tourist destination. And all these people—the people are the—the—the Friends of the State Railroad became involved because the Fastrill Reservoir would’ve flooded several miles of the track of the Texas State Railroad. Texas State Railroad is a historic railroad, it’s a state park, and they—they take two hour or hour and a half trips pulled by a steam
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engine that people can ride between Jacksonville and Rusk. And it’s just—it’s just a really wonderful asset, it brings five or six million dollars a year into the local economy and it’s—it’s—it’s a state park. So, there—there’s so much more understanding than has been the case in the past, of the value of a National Wildlife Refuge, to protec—you know, for—for ecotourism, for protecting resources. In this co—particular case, also, if water is diverted for Fastrill Reservoir, downstream on the Neches is the Big Thicket National Preserve, which is very water dependent, one of the most diverse areas in the
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whole world. There are two wilderness areas downstream, two national forests, the Ma—Martin Dies State Park, which is one of the most visited state parks in the State of Texas, there are wildlife management areas. I mean, the—what happens on the upper Neches River affects everybody in east Texas all the way down to Beaumont. And—and that’s why this refuge is important and that’s why the people of east Texas are turning out in huge numbers to support it.
DT: It’s interesting to talk about the people that are opposed to these reservoirs. Maybe you can, sort of, flip over to the other side and talk a little bit about those who proposed them and your experience about their background, their interests, you know, whether it’s the Sabine River Authority or the City of Dallas and its municipal arms. What—what do you think is—is compelling them to be so aggressive?
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JB: Well, there’s several things. It’s star—to start with, as I say, when you really—you really do need some reservoirs if you’re going to have an urban area because you’re—a—a river fluctuates too much, you can’t just pull water out of the river and there’s sometimes when the river is low, so you need a—you need some reservoirs. But we’ve built so many reservoirs that there’s enough now and we don’t need anymore. But there’s a huge industry around building reservoirs, there are whole engineering firms that don’t do much else and they push projects. They also tend to wind up as advisors to ci—city councils and water planning groups, like the consultant to the Regency Water
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Planning Group is also the engineering firm that would have the contract to build Marvin Nichols, so of course they’re recommending Marvin Nichols to the Regency, you know, Water Planning Group. There are a lot of people, elected officials, members of planning groups who really are very, very concerned legitimately with the economic development of their community. And when they have people come in and say, oh, you’re not going to grow if you don’t have water, you need this reservoir, this reservoir will bring economic development. We—they believe it and they promote it and—and—and some of the people who are promoting reservoirs are people who have a vested interest and
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they’re going to make a lot of money. I mean, Marvin Nichols Reservoir and the pipelines associated with it will cost two billion dollars. The engineering firms, the construction firms, the land speculators, two billion dollars, now that’s enough to make people really decide this’d be a real good idea, wouldn’t it, if I’m going to get some of that money. So there’s—there’s kind of a sinister undercurrent of vested interests who would make a lot of money off these things promoting them, but there are a lot of other
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people, like the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, who think that—they’re really, really worried that Dallas isn’t going to have enough water. There was a time in Dallas’ history when it didn’t have enough water, back in the drought of the fifties, but they’ve built a whole bunch of reservoirs since then. There’s a whole bunch of reservoirs sitting in east Texas that they could tap into that they’re not tapping into, they’re talking about building more reservoirs instead. And it’s very, very sad that the Dallas City Council, or most of the members of the Dallas City Council, the Dallas Chamber of Commerce who
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have not been able to understand this message that there is enough water, Dallas can grow without building new reservoirs. That’s not the economical or the environmental way to do it. And so, you wind up with a mixture of people who really are going to benefit from this and are pushing it under the table and pushing the politics of it and people who are simply, you know, concerned about the right sorts of things and—and misunderstand whether this is a good way to—to play into that.
DT: How—I guess the related part of this whole sponsorship question is, is the water planning groups that have been set up under the senate bill and I’m curious if you could talk about how some of these planning groups compete with one another, I mean, one will recommend a reservoir in another’s area and—a—whether this has been a productive exercise or not, I…
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JB: My experience—I haven’t been involved with the planning groups all over this state, so I—I will focus on region C, which is Dallas, Ft. Worth, and north, to all those fast growing communities north of Dallas-Ft. Worth, kind of a—kind of a big area, but north-central Texas. And region D, which is north-east Texas, the Sabine River, the Sulfur River, the Red River. It kind of goes from just east—just east of Dallas all the way to Louisiana and as far down as Longview and Marshall. The water is in east Texas, it’s in region D and region I, which is where Fastrill is, it’s down in Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Tyler
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area. The people are in Dallas and Ft. Worth and so there’s a strong pull from people—develop—water developers in the DFW area to go get water from east Texas and pipe it to Dallas-Ft. Worth. And that’s where the—the—the trouble comes. But there’s—th—the problems are multiple, one is that Dallas-Ft. Worth area are not conserving water. They’re using—they’re wa—they waste water, they do—don’t have a good record of water conservation. Another is, they are not going to existing reservoirs where the impacts have already happened, like Lake Texoma, which is very near them, Lake Wright Patman, which already exists, Lake Toledo Bend. They say that Texoma is salty, it’s too
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salty, we can’t use the water there. Well, it’s a little bit salty. It’s slightly saltier than drinking water standards but it’s not very salty, it’s like a thousand parts per million whereas the ocean is forty thousand points per million. They could do—because that lake is so close by, they could desalinate the water or part of the water and mix it, you know, with—with the rest of the water, and—and bring it in economically because the pipelines are short and pipelines are very expensive. What they’re proposing to do instead in addition to Fastrill that we’ve already talked about the Tarrant Regional Water
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District and the north p—un—north Texas Municipal Water District and disintegrate Dallas also are talking about building Marvin Nichols Reservoir. Now this would be a seventy-two thousand acre reservoir on the Sulfur River that would wipe out ranches, cemeteries, people’s homes and lots and lots of wonderful bottomland hardwood forests. I got involved because of the wildlife impacts but I have also come to the—to know the people in the Sulfur Basin and they’re just wonderful people. I mean, these are country folks but they’re really smart country folks. You know, you can’t make a living ranching
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unless you’re a businessman. And—and, these are not people who have historically been members of conservation organizations, but they have worked wonderfully with the—TCONR and the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation because they have this common interest in protecting their—their resource. They don’t want to have land that’s been in their families for generations taken away from them. The leaders of the—the, um, I need to take a break. I need a drink.
DT: Yeah, let’s stop.
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JB: I want—I want to tell this story well and I’m—I’m kind of…
DT: Let’s—let’s return to Marvin Nichols.
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JB: Yes, I—I got involved with Marvin Nichols in an intriguing way. There’s a—a brother, sister team, Max and Shirley Shumake, who own land in the area. Max is retired military, was head of the guard unit there and worked at the Red River Army Depot and Shirley has ranch land, bottomland, and is a r—and they’re both ranchers. And they found, well, they had always heard that there would be a lake someday but the story was it would be a bunch of little lakes. Well all of a sudden it was going to be this enormous lake that was going to flood their land where they ranch and hunt and, I mean,
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their favorite place in the whole world. And we’re talking about people who’s—this land has been in their family now, some of this land, for, like, five generations. We’re—we’re talking about people who really, really care about the land. And they fort of sat with their toes in the water of the Sulfur River one day and they said, okay, are we going to salt—fight this or not? And they decided that whether they win or lose, that they just couldn’t go down without a fight. So they started talking to their neighbors and they found out their neighbors were—felt just the same way they did. But they kind of didn’t know
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where to go with this and through an u—odd chain of events, Shirley was talking to somebody who might want to lease her land for hunting and he said, oh, I’ve got a buddy who’s head at Jim Presley, Dr. Jim Presley, who’s head of a group in Texarkana called Friends United to Save the Environment. So she called up Jim Presley, he said, oh you got to call Janice Bezanson, she’s with the Texas Committee on Natural Resources. We’ve talked about reservoirs some, she’s real interested in this (inaudible). So I get this
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call from Shirley Shumake and I’ve never heard of, and she wants to know if I’ll come up to there to meet with some ranchers to talk about opposing Marvin Nichols. And, I mean, this is a three hundred mile trip, so I’m kind of—was trying to feel her out for where they seriously going to do something, you know, before I’d make a six hour drive up there. And she said, well, how many people would I have to have co—get together if—to make it worth your while? And I said, well, it doesn’t have to be very many, just a few people if you’re really serious about it. Oh, yeah, we’re really serious. I get up
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there, I walk into this meeting and they’ve got forty-five people sitting in the local Hubbard school cafeteria and they’ve got a table set up with sign-up sheets, you know, and Shirley’s there and she ushers me in, she, oh, you know, thank you for coming and we’re going to have you. And—and Max stands up and he says, well, we’re here to talk about this reservoir and he just turns out to be just this marvelous public speaker, I mean, in a very country sort of a way. And—and I stand up and really, all I had to do was tell them, first of all, that this reservoir isn’t needed as you’ve been told and it isn’t a done
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deal as you been pol—told. And then I named off all the reservoirs in the State of Texas that had been defeated over the last twenty, twenty-five years because they were not good projects. And then they were up and running. They started having meetings in every little local community, they started talking to reporters, they started talking to elected officials, they began talking to the timber industry. It just—it just snowballed. I went back up there a couple times and spoke at other meetings because it, you know, it was
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new to them, they didn’t have the nuances of the arguments of the—water supply arguments, but they got it really, really quickly. And after a few times of my going up there, I realized they could handle these meetings in o—themselves and they began holding them themselves. We had a meeting in Boxelder, Texas, I bet you haven’t heard of Boxelder, Texas. We had a hun—a hundred and twenty people come to a meeting in—there aren’t a hundred and twenty people in Boxelder, Texas, but they came from miles around and they had meetings all up and down the river and as they did, they gathered up more and more people, ranchers, ag—people in agribusiness, people in
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timber, people who had—had—had, you know, lived on this land maybe for generations and some of them were newcomers, but they didn’t want it—to see it destroyed. They had this common theme. The role of TCONR and other conservation groups was to help them analyze what are the water needs, what are the alternatives to Dallas-Ft. Worth having water from Marvin Nichols? What are—what’s the political dis—structure, what’s the decision making process, how do the permits work, how do you talk to the media, what do you say to the media?. We—our role was a supportive one and a
01:00:12 – 2385
coordinating one and a training one. We taught them how to do this and they very energetically went about going about doing it. Very much like what I was saying with the Neches River people. Just amazing people who are volunteers, who don’t know what they’re getting—don’t’ know what they’re getting th—themselves into and then it just becomes—they become sophisticated and—and—at—at—at—at—at cha—and ma—you
01:00:37 – 2385
know, effecting decisions that are made as part of the public process. The involvement of the timber industry has been absolutely key. Ward Timber owned by Bill Ward and John Jones and—whose chief financial officer, Jim, it—and it—th—I mean these people did—absolutely dedicated themselves to this issue. I mean, they spent a fortune—Bill Ward put together a PowerPoint and he went and talked to every Rotary Club and civic group that he could get his hands on. He sent Jim Thompson, his chief financial officer, who is now chair of the region D water planning group. I mean, that’s how involved the timber
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industry has gotten. International Paper is very concerned that if the water is div—that reservoir is built, there’s going to be so much less hardwood timber available that they may have to close their mill at Domino. And if they close their mil—and also they’re concerned about the level of water in the river because they have their effluent into the river and if there’s not enough water then—th—to dilute it, then they—they have to shut down. If they shut down that…
[End of Reel 2385 – Janice Bezanson]
DT: Well, let’s pick up the discussion…
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JB: Right. International Paper’s effluent is released into the Sulfur River and they have a permit to do it to a certain level but there’s got to be enough water in the river to dilute it and they’re very concerned that divert—the amount of diversion that would happen with—and we’re talking, you know, half a million acre feet of water out of Marvin Nichols Reservoir would cause them to have to permanently shut the plant. And if that plant is shut down, it will affect all the timber growers in, like, a twenty county area and m—and beyond. Because they’re going to have to haul their timber either to southeast Texas or to Arkansas to mill—because the local mill won’t bet here and timber—wet
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timber, you know, is very, very heavy and gasoline is very, very expensive and it—it essentially would shut down the timber industry in northeast Texas. The Texas Forest—the principal economist for the Texas Forest Service, Dr. Xu has done a paper that shows that the impacts—hun—you know, on the timber industry alone of Marvin Nichols would anywhere from eighty-five to two hundred and something million dollars a year. I mean, we’re talking huge, huge impacts. And so that, you know, that’s why they’ve
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gotten involved but they’ve also become conscious of this as a change in the quality of life of the people of their area, of the people who work for them. It hasn’t been strictly an economic involvement; they’ve be—become very concerned about the whole issue. Your original question, which I kind of got diverted from, was the difference between the
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regional planning groups. Region C planning group for Dallas-Ft. Worth and north Texas is still recommending Marvin Nichols reservoir in spite of the level of opposition, in spite of all the information that conservation groups have presented to them about alternatives of—in spite of all the studies they’ve done of alternatives, they’re still recommending Marvin Nichols. The region D water planning group is very adamantly opposed it and they’ve put—adopted a regional plan that states very flatly that we do not think that Marvin Nichols Reservoir should be in the State Water Plan or in any regional
00:02:48 – 2386
water plan because of the impacts on the natural resources, the agricultural resources and the water resources. State law requires that a project con—you know, protect those resources and they’re saying it does not do that. That’s a very strong statement. The State’s Water Development Board (breaks in recording) however, very much downplayed that in the State Water Plan. The original draft didn’t even mention the fact that region D was flatly opposed to Marvin Nichols. They finally got so much flack over it that they
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put, you know, a little bit of language buried on page whatever about, you know, the findings of the region D plan. But they just call it a recommended project and they don’t really explain that it’s only recommended by one pl—regional planning group, while not—while actively opposed by the other regional planning groups.
DT: Well, can you help us understand a little bit (inaudible breaks in recording) I am to the—and I think this is set up by SB [Senate Bill] 1? Is that correct?
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JB: (?) 1, yes.
DT: And the—this water planning process was supposed to empower local communities and regions to find their own best water resource direction and not having, sort of, top down requirement mandate and—and it seems like this process has somehow got hijacked, where people’s local preferences aren’t really being respected. Why is that? What’s happened?
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JB: Well, it—it—it’s billed as a bottom up grassroots sort of a planning process, but the actual way it works gives people who want to get projects an awful lot of opportunity. As I was saying, Frees and Nichols Engineering firm, the en—is the advisor to the region d—C water planning group. They do all the technical studies and we’re talking a multi-million dollar contract to do the regional planning for them, you know, do the work for them. They’re the ones that would build Marvin Nichols Reservoir and so there’s a—we think a conflict of interest. The—the Attorney General says it’s not a legal conflict of
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interest but it’s certainly a moral conflict of interest. And region D is getting short shrift, partly because, you know, the (inaudible breaks in recording), you know, the biggest—there’s not very many big towns, there’s Texarkana and Paris and DeKalb, I mean, these are not—not huge communities and they don’t have the political clout of the Dallas-Ft.
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Worth area. Also because Water Development Board is the water development board, I mean, they are very biased for a project development. That’s kind of what they are created to do. Marvin Nichols, the person the reservoir will be named after is a former chairman of the Texas Water Development Board. He was a principle in the firm of Frees and Nichols, which is the firm that would build Marvin Nichols Reservoir, I mean, it—there’s a lot of, you know, interplay here. The story of the region D water planning group is a very interesting one because at first people didn’t know, they were just people
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that have been appointed to this board and they’re supposed to be looking at water planning and they’re being told that Marvin Nichols is a good thing. So originally they—in—or—2002 water plan, region D was for Marvin Nichols, but before the plan was even fully adopted, they began to see, you know, they’d been adopting their regional plan but they began to understand the impact and the timber industry began to worry about it and the ranchers began worrying about it. And so, in the—in December of 2002, the region D planning group passed an amendment withdrawing their support. But that’s all they did, is just withdrew their recommendation, they didn’t really go after it. Over the period
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of the next four or five years, while the next round of regional planning was going on, they have become more and more to realize just what an impact with this and more and more members of the region D planning group have turned against the project to the point that now, you know, a—two thirds of the people voted for langua—more than two thirds. It—it required two thirds of the people to vote for the language that say, we do not think
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it should be in the state water plan. And the—and their regional water plan had only one dissenting member, I mean, there’s twenty-one or twenty-two people. Richard LeTourneau, who I think you’ve interviewed and who’s vice-chair of TCONR, sat on that board, first as an alternate and then as a member, I mean, he was the only one on the board out of twenty some odd people who opposed Marvin Nichols. So, he’s—he’s watched a real sea change over his several years of being on the board and now he’s vice-chair of that board.
DT: Good. (Inaudible) come over here if you don’t mind. Can you re—remind me the—the location on that school?
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JB: It—it—it’s in Red River County and it’s—it was called—well, sometimes called Dimple and sometimes called, oh God, what was it called, well, we’ll just call it the reservoir up in Red River County.
DT: Okay. Let’s talk about one more reservoir fight, this one was in Red River County and I was curious if you tell about the…
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JB: The—this is a fun story. The city of Clarkesville wanted to build a reservoir, it’s not a big reservoir, but it was, you know, hundreds of acre—a good thousand or two, I can’t remember exactly the size of it, and they really didn’t want to pay for it all by themselves. So they—they set up a water district that included the whole county. And they had a board and so each of the little county—communities in the county got a representative on the board. Well, most of these communities were on groundwater, they didn’t have any benefit for reservoir so they began to see that they were helping to pay for something that they weren’t going to get any benefit for. And there was this
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wonderful man named George Marshall from Bogata, Texas who would call me and say, well, Janice, this is what they’re saying now and we’d talk about it, he had a big deep voice, you know, country—country rancher. And he’d call me up and we’d talk about it, then he’d go back—he was sitting on the water board for Bogata, and the politics locally were hot and heavy. I mean, some of the folks in the county stopped sh—shopping in Clarkesville. The went and shopped in the next county in Paris because they were so upset about this reservoir. And I didn’t—I did make one presentation to the Clarke—
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Clarkesville City Council but really what I mostly did was just the person on the other end of the phone to help give them ideas and get them information and understand the process. The local board members, eventually what they did is they just voted not to have a reservoir. They had a—managed to get a majority on the board that woul—had been created to build this reservoir and they voted not to do it. And then, a of couple years later, they voted to disband themselves, but that one was a lot fun, I didn’t have to do a whole lot of work but I was able to be part of the—part of it.
DT: Happy ending. Let’s turn and talk to another area that TCONR and—and you have been personally involved in, and that’s forest management in—in Texas. I think for many years TCONR has fought against clear-cutting and excessive prescribed burning in the national forests, gosh, beginning in the early seventies, maybe late sixties and I was hoping that you might be able to give us some major landmarks and milestones in that fight.
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JB: I sure can. A lot of it was before my time, but I’ve heard a lot of stories and this was N—Ned Fritz’ huge effort. First he wanted to get wilderness areas established in the national forests so that some small special parts of the national forests would be off limits to logging and to roads and—and so that there would be some purely natural areas. But then he wan—began to address what was happening on the—the rest of the national forests, which I bet half million acres. Historically the—the—the national forests were set up that—they were—they were bought—sometimes they were just cotton fields and cutover land, they were not necessarily in good shape when they were bought and they’d
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be—the Forest Service job was to reforest them. But once they began getting mature forests then they started clear-cutting them and by clear-cutting, I mean, they took out every stem, they literally would just clear an area completely. Then they would go in with bulldozers and sort of scrap the soil to get rid of all the debris, you know, the lot—limbs and things that were left behind and—and would plant only pine trees. So what
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you started with was a diverse forest that had pines and hardwoods and big trees and little trees and understory and you turned it into a pine farm, with trees all in rows, which is not diverse and does not supply wildlife values that—that the diverse forest did. And I say it’s not only clear-cutting, which was in itself destructive because it would expose the soil to a lot of sunlight, there would be a lot erosion from ra—runoff, the soil would leech and dry out and—and you—you were truly losing your nutrients. But—but it also was
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the conversion process where they were to—planting a, you know, what’s called a monoculture, that is one species. Ned opposed clear-cutting and he—he did it a lot of different ways. He started—actually he had been involved in writing a bill that had some prov—the National Forest Management Act, which was passed in 1976, which had some provisions for protecting soils, watersheds, fish, wildlife, recreational uses, aesthetic values of the forest as well as the timber resources. Later on he filed suit in federal court on the very provision that he had helped to draf—draft. And he had a series of lawsuits,
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the first was—is written up in his book “Sterile Forest”, which was kind of before my time and the ruling on that was an anti-clear-cutting ruling. Then there was one under the Endangered Species Act which was focused on the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker was an endangered species and the Forest Service had done some studies that showed that it was declining but they had sort of suppressed these studies and we found out about them and got them publicized. And then because of the urgency of having an endangered species decline, we were able to get a judge to—to hear
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that part of the case. And then there was a later—a National Forest Management Act case on soil—protecting soils and watersheds and this sort of thing. So there’s been a whole series of litigation over a period of years. The upshot of the litigation was—it was—the—lot of different things. In the case of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, they had to stop clear-cutting. And—and the cle—term clear-cutting is a little confusing to people because the Forest Service likes to use it only when they literally take out every stem of every tree on an area. But there’s what’s called even age logging and it’s called
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that because you wind up with, you know, you plant pines and they’re all even aged, they’re all the same age, but it—it’s kind of like multi-staged clear cut, they—they go in and they clear almost everything but they leave a few trees to reseed and maybe they leave some—some, you know, the creeks are not bothered or so forth. So they don’t absolutely clear cut everything but it’s very—you know, generically speaking, clear cut is a term that’s good for it because it’s all, you know, it—it—it essentially has the impacts of a clear cut. The—the ruling that we got under the Endangered Species Act was that
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they could not clear cut anywhere within twelve hundred meters of a—of a col—what’s called a colony—a Red-cockaded Woodpecker colony. They now call them clusters. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers actually make a hole in the tree and they—they need old trees because they can only effectively do this if the tree has red heart disease and they seem to know which trees do and they’ll make a hole and then they make a cavity that, you know, out of that—that partly rotting interior part where the red heart’s disease is and
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that’s where they roost and that’s where they next. And they’d—a—a pair will—and its offspring will have a—a colony side, an area. And so if you draw a map overlaying all of the existing colonies in a—in a zone, twelve hundred meter zone around them, then you wind up checker boarding but covering a good—goodly por—part of the national forest in Texas, there’s a total of about two hundred thousand acres. So the lawsuit actually stopped clear-cutting on two hundred thousand acres. Now they do management, they do thinning, they cut the midstory out to open it up, which we think they do way too much
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of—for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, but they don’t log the—the overstory on those—on those parts of the forest. The other thing it did was it required the—the Forest Service working with the Fish and Wildlife Service which has jurisdiction over endangered species. They actually developed management guidelines for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which are in place all over the southeast, the entire range of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, a number of states, you know, starting from Texas all the way to—to the Atlantic coast. So, this was an, you know, a landmark piece of legislation for
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the Endangered Species Act. The fate of the later legis—lita—I said legislation, I meant litigation, the fate of the later lawsuit was not so good. It started out great. We did a—presented evidence before Judge Robert Parker, I’m sorry, I’m getting the names mixed up. Can—can we stop a second? I’m going to get this all garbled.
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The fate of the next piece of legis—ne—next piece of litigation was not so good, although it started out very well. Judge Schell, who was a Reagan appointee and a—one of the most impressive people I ever observed, really, really a fine man and he conducted a case where he heard testimony where we—we testified about the impacts that clear-cutting was having and that the for—other forest management techniques, fire and so forth were having on the national forests. And Larry Shelton, whom you’ve—you’ve interviewed was one of our primary witnesses and he had photographs of the ac—you
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know, the—the ruts and the oil that had been spilled on the ground and the—the, you know, the—the impacts on the soil and—and—and we alleged that the management techniques that were being used by the Forest Service at that time were not protecting the soils, watershed, fish, wildlife, recreation and aesthetics that the National Forest Management Act required them to do. And Judge Schell ruled in that case, he—he—he chose only soils and watersheds, he said that the management was not protecting soils
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and watershed and he placed an injunction on logging in the national forests in Texas that lasted for some years. The co—Forest Service appealed this to the, you know, to the appeals court…
DT: Fifth Circuit?
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JB: …the Fifth Circuit, a court of appeals upheld the ruling in a three judge panel. But one of the three judges dissented and he agitated within the—the appeals court to have an en banc hearing. En Banc, it’s—it’s like—it means, I don’t know what exactly it means but what it essentially amounts to is that the entire—all of the judges on the appeals course—court will then rehear it rather than a three judge panel, which is the normal way that appeals court is done. And when it was re-heard in a very political splitting, we were overturned and—and our ruling was remanded to Judge Schell for—for interpretation. And basically what they ruled was not on the substance, they didn’t say that we were
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wrong about the fact that these impacts were occurring. They just said, well, it—you can’t make a forest wide decision based on these particular timber sales that were testified about in the lawsuit, and so they said, it only applies to the ones that we’ve heard testimony on. And so that, you know, that i—you know, it—it—it essentially took what was a—a very stellar ruling that was protecting resources in a—and—and essentially overturned it. In the intervening years since the injunction that was placed because of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and the injunction that was overturned in the Fifth Circuit,
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Forest management is changing now. I mean, first of all, the Forest Service is much, much more aware of the ecological and needs and recreational benefits of the forest. There’s a much growing—there’s a growing awareness among the public that we don’t really have all that much good stuff left and if we’ve got something that’s federal land, then we need to be thinking about this from a recreation and nature tourism point of view as well as just cutting down trees. So there’s a lot of improvement that’s coming out of the Forest Service and that’s happening as part of the natural political process. I think
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Our lawsuits have made a lot of difference in terms of awareness and they certainly kind of staved off some of the destruction for the years—the Red-cockaded Woodpecker injunction was in place for fifteen years and Judge Schell’s decision was in place for, I don’t know, several years. What TCON—TCONR is still very, very concerned about national forests but we’re kind of taking a different approach. There’s not a—a—a situation—we’re not in litigation now. We’re not under an injunction, so this frees us up to work m—more with the Forest Service. When we first filed the—the lawsuits, I’m going to get a drink.
DT: Janice, when—when we left off before we were talking about how the litigation that TCONR pursued bought some time and—to allow both the forest to regenerate but also the Forest Service to evolve and maybe catch up with a better appreciation of the science and ecological needs of these forests and—and also the recreational needs of the communities surrounding or close to the forests. Here you can go on from there about what this means for the forests.
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JB: TCONR has contracted with Larry Shelton, who was long on our board and who’s been a—a volunteer for, oh goodness, twenty-five years for TCONR. And basically we’re contracting with him because we need more of his time than he can give and still make a living. Larry’s knowledge of the forests of east Texas is just absolutely stunning and particularly the Angelina and Davey Crockett and Sabine Forests. He doesn’t work
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as much on—as much on, the Sam Houston. But, he has begun getting involved with projects, timber sales, prescribed burning, at an earlier level, and the Forest Service has been receptive to this, of having him during what’s called the pre-scope—eh, have a pre-scoping meeting, a meeting before they even start scoping out the project. And he will go in and he will actually help them identify—hey, there’s a hardwood area here. You’re cutting for pines, don’t just go right across this, you know, work around this, here’s a stream side, you know, protect it all the way up to this point, not right down to the very minimum that, you know, the law—the law requires. And—and they’ve been very
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receptive to this, to the—they’re—there are what are called Natural Heritage sites, sites that were identified through the Natural Heritage Survey for having, you know, special ecological value. Forest Service has now done an overlay map on their GIS system of all the Natural Heritage sites to help their on the ground people avoid going into those sites and we’re hoping to encourage more of that. So we’re taking a little bit different approach. The Forest Service in Texas w—will be doing a new management plan. They do a—I got—they do a—a management plan abou—very major, huge management plan
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re—planning process about every ten years and they’re about to start their next one and we are hoping to work with them at an earlier level, in the early drafting stages to incorporate some things in the plan that we think would be good management. That maybe they think so too, but it wasn’t in their plan and so they weren’t author—weren’t authorized to do it. So, we’re hoping for some good things but—but we feel like the—
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i—wh—when—when—when we first filed lawsuits over the years, people would say, oh, ya’ll shouldn’t go to court, you should work with the Forest Service. Well, we really tried. I mean, we really exhausted those methods and there was not a—a receptivity twenty-five, twenty years ago, fifteen years ago, but as the new generation of—people are coming on in the Forest Service, there are more biologists, there—there’s—there’s a changing awareness and so there is a different—differ—different working relationship now.
DT: I understand that—that—that some of the flashpoints between the private and the public forests and between the—the public interest groups and the Forest Service that come up around things like pine bark beetle damage, can you talk a little bit about that? Say there’s a pine bark beetle outbreak on public land and they—the Forest Service or—or adjoining private neighbors claim it’s going to hurt other stands that are so far not infected. How do you deal with something like that?
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JB: Tho—those are—those are serious resource questions and—and the big question is, you know, what really works in terms of controlling pine beetles? Pine beetles start with a spot and then they just spread and they get bigger and bigger and bigger and they can literally annihilate a whole forest if the forest is all pines. Of course the best thing would be is if they wouldn’t plant all pines because hardwood trees don’t get pine bark beetles. So, part of the problem has been created by this tendency to convert the forests to pine
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forests. It’s like a pine park beetle smorgasbord. There’s also a lot of controversy about the actual cutting techniques. The—what they tend to do, is they go in and they cut and then they cut a big buffer, they cut the pine bark beetles site and usually they leave them on the ground, they don’t—because if you take the trees out with the beetles in them you’re just taking the beetles down the road to somewhere else to spread them around. But then they also cut a buffer zone and that’s usua—that timber is not—non-infested timber, which is usually harvested and sent to the mill. But our experience is that the
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beetles can cross the buffer zones and so sometimes they’ll wind up cutting huge, huge areas with it—ou—out it having much effect. There has been some research for into pheromones. The beetles send out pheromones and when they find a nice juicy dead tree to swarm on, they send out ya’ll come pheromones. But once there’s a certain number of beetles in an area and they’re kind of, you know, they filled up the tree, then they send out another pheromone that says no vacancy. And so use of the pheromone—the beetles’ own pheromone has been effective in some cases. And, it—this has not been a hot issue
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the last few years because there has not been a big—these—these tend to be cyclical and it’s been some time since there was a big beetle outbreak but I think, you know, I think you’ll see these coming back—coming back to haunt us. It’s been particularly a controversial issue in wilderness areas because in wilderness areas, there’s not supposed to be any logging, no motorized vehicles, no mechanical treatment and there is a—a—an i—a provision in the Wilderness Act that does allow for that to happen within a certain
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distance of the boundary if there’s par—bark beetle infestation that might affect adjacent landowners. But in the cam—you know, we have created an unnatural system by having all this—by planting all these pine trees, so you can’t necessarily just let natural processes work, but if it’s not going to stop the pine beetle cut to buffer cut it, then you’re just doing a huge amount of damage with no—no benefit. So it—it’s an ongoing controversy.
DT: I guess a re—a related question might be over the last, I guess, six, seven years there’s been a lot of talk about salvage con—that—that the Forest Service and—and the private timber companies need to come in and, take out the—the old and diseased damaged woods in order to prevent possible fire or, I guess, waste. What do you think about issues like that?
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JB: I—in—in the west there’s be—it’s been a huge controversy because the—the downed timber builds up a fuel load that—that co—contributes to wildfires. That’s not a major problem in Texas. We get rain in the winter—in the summertime and salvage logging is—can be just as devastating as any other kind of logging. I mean, you’re still using—peop—people who haven’t seen it don’t understand, we’re talking about logs c—you know, giant machines, log skidders and things that—that, you know, we’re not talking about just going in with your little saw and cutting a tree down and sliding it out. I mean, we’re talking about lots and lots of roads and—and a—and a very major impact on the—
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on the area. There was a recent ca—si—situation where loggers were going in and—after, of course, after hurricane Rita, there’s just been a tremendous amount of salvage logging to the point that the markets were all glutted and people were not getting anything for their timber. It was really a very sad situation. But they—what—they were found to be going into an area that was a Natural Heritage site, that—where they weren’t supposed to be doing to—that and we called, you know, Larry called the Forest Service,
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called their attention to it and they went in, you know, stopped that and rehabilitated it. So there’s—you know, it—it’s—it’s an ongoing question, but it’s not quite as major a one here as it is in—in places in the west.
DT: You mentioned the—the problem of—of glut after Rita came through and I had heard something kind of related to that, that the Forest Service ha—has promoted planting of pines on private lands that has ended up glutting the market for soft woods and really not helping the private landowners and has, you know, because they can’t get as much return on their land and also has led to this sort of monoculture that you mentioned earlier. Is that the case?
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JB: The—the private lands in Texas a—have been large—in east Texas, have been largely converted to pines. And the rotation periods on, what are called industrial lands, big companies, are pretty short. As technologies have improved, they can use smaller trees, a lot of chipping going on for particle board and paper board and this kind of thing. And so there really isn’t, I mean, much of east Texas has been converted to these kind of pine farms that—that don’t have the biological diversity that the fore—the forests in east Texas were an amazing place, I mean, absolutely, as—as wonderful a place as anywhere on earth historically but they have been heavily converted to pines. It’s—it’s gene—
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generally referred to as the war on hardwoods because the hardwoods are being eradicated and with it go a lot of the wildlife value. The—the difference is, is hardwood trees, they’re—they’re the ones that produce, you know, oaks, acorns and berries and nuts, hickory nuts, beechnuts, and this is the wildlife food that’s very important. Particularly in the winter during the stressful times the—what’s called mast, nuts and acorns provide the food for deer, squirrels, turkey, you know, everything. And—and then the berries on the trees and bushes provide summer food to all kinds of songbirds,
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everything. And—and when you convert to just pines you, I mean, it’s no accident that Ned called his first book Sterile Forest because pine trees are not totally sterile but they sure aren’t—don’t have the wildlife value, when they’re, you know, very greatly reduced wildlife value.
DT: Well, ha—has there—from—aside from ecological impacts of converting to monoculture pine, have ya’ll seen any problems with this economic yield that, I mean, that—I’ve heard some people say, well, if you’d kept with a older aged turnover in hardwoods, you’d be able to sell higher end cabinetry kinds of woods and so on, whereas if you s—convert to pine and these short rotations, you’re competing with wood from across the country and around the world for, you know, the lowest kinds of uses.
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JB: The—the markets do vary a lot and—and historically there was more of a market for pine but the hardwood market is increasing and I hope we see a trend back to—to not so much just pine mono—monoculture because you know, you can—you can—you can glut the market and certainly when there’s something like a blow down, like a hurricane or a tornado or something that causes a lot of trees to be damaged at once and everybody want—has to sell in a hurry then—then you get, you know, the bottom just falls out, so.
DT: Let me ask you another question and it has to do with forests and TCONR and Forest Service, I understand that TCONR has—has often taken issue with the use of prescribed burning and—feeling that, you know, wildfires did happen in the east Texas woods but didn’t happen as severely or as often as the Forest Service has been sponsoring. Is that fair?
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JB: Is it—TCONR’s position and Ne—Ned Fritz has been widely misunderstood on this, so the—most people think he never met a prescribed burn that he liked, but hi—our position is that prescribed burning should as much as possible mimic natural processes. I mean, what you’re s—supposed to be, you know, what natural—what fires naturally did, there were certain times of year they occurred, there were certain intensities, a certain amount of heat and certain frequency. And the Forest Service historically has used prescribed burning to eradicate hard—suppress hardwoods. I mean, they would go into a
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s—you know, after they would plant pines, hardwoods, young hardwoods would start growing up among their pines, so they would burn it at a c—at a certain place in a way that killed the hardwoods but left the pines. So this was what started Ned down a campaign of being against prescribed burning. Prescribed burning can be a very important ma—management tool, and we’re not against all prescribed burning, but it has been overused and it has been used for the wrong purposes. No—there are no natural ecosystems left except in a very few places in Texas, I mean, a place like Little Sandy, natural processes are being allowed in the wilderness areas, natural processes, but we
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have altered it so much that we’ve taken away the predators so that the, you know, prey species sometimes explode. We’ve—we’ve cut down the historic trees and allowed different ones to grow back, we’ve planted different ones, so we’ve got an artificial situation. And the Forest Service has certain management objectives but those objectives are not always the same objectives we have. And what we’re trying to push for is seeing that the stream sides, the hardwoods, the natural character of forests that support wildlife are protected even as—and given as much weight as cutting down trees for pulp and paper and—and timber. And that’s where the—the yin yang comes in.
DT: You mentioned just in passing that Ned Fritz’s book Sterile Forest and I know he’s also writt—written Realms of Beauty, and I believe also another TCONR affiliate, Richard Donovan has recently come out with a book called Paddling the Wild Neches and I—I was hoping you could talk about how literature and media can affect your cause just as, you know, organizing or advocacy or political (inaudible).
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JB: And you—you missed one, which was Ned’s book called Clear-cutting: A Crime Against Nature. The—these books make a lot of difference. It’s an opportunity—Sterile Forest and Clear-cutting: A Crime Against Nature were an opportunity for the ordinary person who was reading, who wasn’t technically—ha—didn’t have the technical expertise to read a lawsuit brief or a—or a management plan, could understand the story of clear-cutting and why environmentalists—what environmentalists were concerned about and what needed to be done about it. I mean, Ned wrote it for a popular audience
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and I think it made a—a great deal of difference. It won—won some awards. His book Realms of Beauty was completely different. It’s—it’s designed to talk about the wilderness areas, to talk about how beautiful they are and to help people understand how they can access them, how the—where they can hike. And it is a beautiful book, the—the photographs were done by a former TCONR board member and—and they’re ju—it’s ju—it’s a small book, it’s—but the photographs are coffee table quality and—and so it
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s—it’s a wonderful mixture of a, kind of, almost like a guide book, a—but with great pictures about the ne—wilderness areas in—in east Texas. Richard Donavan’s book Paddling the Wild Neches has just been absolutely a tremendous asset to us in the—it came out in May of ‘06. It has been the best selling book from A & M Press several months since. They have already sold out their first printing and we are hammering on them to get it—get that second printing done and over here, it’s in—in process because we’re selling them as fast as we can sell them. Richard was so concerned, not only with
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Fastrill Reservoir, which really hadn’t come up tha—at that point, but the proposals do—up and down the Neches for Rockland Dam, for increasing B.A. Steinhagen Reservoir, for what—what was happening to the Neches River, that he canoed the entire length of it, and he did it two different times. And we used it as a media attention, he had reporters canoe various stretches with him, we had other people canoe stretches, we had elected officials canoe some stretches. Whenever he would reach a—a—a bridge crossing, the radio and TV people would meet him there and do an on the spot interview, right on the
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river. We got front page coverage in the Houston Chronicle, the Lufkin and Beaumont TV and newspapers and Jacksonville paper did series of articles about this whole trip, he spent three weeks going down the river. His daughter, Gina, who now works for TCONR and who just an absolutely enormous asset to us, did the p—was then a volunteer, did all the publicity for his, you know, for his canoe trip and canoed part of it herself and she just did this as a volunteer on her own. What it has done, it has given the Neches a new
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level of visibility. The book is wonderful; it doesn’t just talk about his canoe trip. It—he’ll be canoeing down the river and he’ll get to a railroad trestle, so he’ll talk about the role of the railroad in the history of east Texas. Or he’ll get to an old abandoned sawmill and he’ll talk about the timber industry. Or he’ll get to some place that the Spaniards had a fort or whatever, and he’ll talk about that. So the whole book has—uses the river as the tie for some fabulous stories about the history of each Te—east Texas, about when they first fenced east Texas, when they first stopped letting them hunt all over each others’
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land and the controversies, it’s just a fascinating book. And the history center at Diboll, which was funded by the TLL Temple Foundation, by the Temple family who had cho—Temple Inland is the biggest timber company in east Texas. They have a history center and when they did a book signing for Richard, they did a beautiful exhibit of photographs, not only of the Neches River and the beauty of it, but of the—there were also a lot of historical photographs of the history of the timber industry and they used to float the logs down the river. That’s how they got them to market. And they would—
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they would create these giant rafts of logs. I mean, sometimes if they got away from them, they could block up the whole river and not be navigable for a while. The people would ride these lo—raft logs—lo—lo—these rafts of logs down the river to—to market. And later on they developed a way of branding the logs, just like you’d brand a cattle except it’s done with an impact, you know, where you put your brand on the log. Then they didn’t have to be there, you know, the—the mill owner knew whose log it was he
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was cutting when he got it—got it down at the other end of the river. That was all put into this display that the Di—the history center at Diboll has done. And now they’ve done a traveling exhibit of it and we’re going to be having a symposium on forest and nature tourism in Lufkin next week and it’s going to have its debut at our symposium, that the Lufkin and—and join the County Chamber of Commerce and National Wildlife Federation are co-sponsoring with us. So, we think this is just a, you know, exciting—this has been an exciting thing for us to have Richard’s book as a—a—a tool.
DT: This might be a—a good chance to talk about a—another media outlet and effort, and that’s the one you’re participating in now. The Conservation History Association of Texas, you know, as you know, has been collecting interviews with veteran leading conservationists in—in the state and trying to—to create that history and then also disseminate it to a—a new generation. And I—you’ve been on the board for many years now, and I’m curious what your perspective is on the project and group and, you know, where it’s—it’s made some progress and where it’s been held back and so on.
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JB: I—I think it’s absolutely a wonderful project. I—I don’t feel like m—I—my contribution has been anything like what some of the other people involved had but this is—this is an amazing thing. To have the story of conservation in Texas, not only recorded on video in—in—in an oral history form but it’s also being transcribed and placed in archives. And the University of Texas is doing a very innovating web storage
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project, they’re—the li—through their library school that’s, I mean, they’re one of, like, maybe, I think maybe Harvard also—or Yale, one of them has a similar program, but, I mean, we’re talking cutting edge technology of—of using the web—the—the internet to store large volumes of—of information and to access it so that it—it will—it’s all being indexed so that if people want to know, well, I need something on Marvin Nichols, they can go in—use the index to find out what Janice Bezanson said on Marvin Nichols, what Max Shumake said on Marvin Nichols, what somebody else said on Marvin Nichols or
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if it’s forests or what—clean air or whatever issue they need. But they can also index it by the—the person. And—and this me—makes—means that we’re not only prot—preserving the heritage and the information, but we’re making it available to people, and—and that excites me greatly. And then a lot of—we’ve been—conversations with, teachers and educators who are excited about how to—how to make this—this information available. It’s being accumulated very professionally, with excellent videography and—and, you know, done in such a way that segments of it can be made
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into streaming videos for the—for the website. It—it’s a project that I just think is absolutely fabulous. I’m just a huge fan and have been happy to se—you know, s—my—my small po—portion of this serving on the board, I—I don’t feel like I’ve done very much but I sure am excited about it.
DT: Well that’s great; it’s nice to have you involved. Maybe we could skip ahead to another project that you’ve been involved in a good deal, is—is, you know, we talked about water conservation in Texas, forest conservation, but another piece of the puzzle is land conservation itself, to prevent from being fragmented, you know, put in uses that are abusive and you’ve been on the board of the Natural Area Preservation Association, even serving as president. And I was curious if you could tell me about NAPA and also the whole land trust movement that’s…
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JB: The land trust movement in Texas has just been absolutely wonderful. What a land trust is, is a conservation group that is specifically set up to protect land in preserves, either by owning them or by having a relationship with the owner, generally what’s called a conservation easement, whereby the owner donates the development rights on the property to the land trust. And each conservation easement is written individually to fit the—the specific situation and the landowner will say, okay, I agree I’ll never dump a—any—put any dumps on this, I won’t cut the trees or I will—won’t cut the trees above a certain size or I won’t cut certain kinds of trees or I’ll, you know, not change the
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contour of the land, I’ll protect the springs. It spells out exactly what the landowner is donating. It’s a wonderful tool for landowners because if they have th—their land appraised with the conservation easement and without the conservation easement, then the difference in that value is treated as a tax donatio—as a tax—as though they had made a donation to a non-profit group and they can get a tax deduction for it. It sometimes als—it also alters the value of their land in terms of being appraised for estate
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taxes and—and so forth, and sometimes for property taxes. So it’s a—it’s a tool by which a landowner who wants to protect their land for wildlife habitat can afford to do so. It also helps land keep—he—helps families keep larger blocks of land in the family so that they—it doesn’t get fragmented. One of the main things that’s happening, particularly in west Texas, but everywhere in the country, the land is getting cut up into such small pieces that the wildlife values ar—are being lost. You know, wi—wildlife migrate, they need—they need a lit—you know, if you got a little bit of habitat here and
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there’s not anymore habitat ‘til you get way over there, the wildlife can’t get back and forth. So having big blocks of land and contiguous river—or corridors is very, very important. And so this is a very, very important tool for wildlife and—but it’s also a way that a landowner can manage his property economically while being good for wildlife. So it’s been a wonderful relationship. Texas Parks and Wildlife took the lead. They had several conferences, had three hundred people attending, mostly landowners and—and they would give continuing education credits to attorneys and—and you know, bu…
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JB: …accountants, thank you, people who mana—who advise landowners. Natural Area Preservation Association was involved. I was on some of the planning committees for some of these and were instrumental in helping establish a land trust council for all the var—other land trusts around the state of Texas. So this has been a—a—a very exciting initiative for conservation in Texas.
DT: You mentioned the land trust council an—and I—I gather there’re—within the council there’re over thirty land trusts, what do you think makes NAPA distinct among those?
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JB: Natural Area Preservation Association, NAPA is the largest Texas-based land trust. The Nature Conservancy Trust for Public Land, the Conservation fund are affiliated with national groups. The other land trusts in Texas tend to be very regional, they’re the Valley Land Fund or, you know, one that’s Houston based or Dallas based. NAPA covers the whole State of Texas. It now has eighty nature preserves, some of them may own o—owned outright, some of them—many of them under conservation easement and—so their scope is larger. It’s another Ned Fritz product, was started in the eighties.
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I am very proud to say that my son, who’s been the executive director of it, David Bezanson, for some years now and under his management and with the leadership of Ned and all the wonderful people on the board, Polly Shields has been one of the presidents, Sandy Pinze, Katherine Goodbar is an integral part, Michael Young, I mean I could name names all day long, Genie Fritz, Ned’s wife, who’s a—a—a major player in everything that—that I’ve talked about. These people had the vision and the foresight to—to start protecting land early on and consequent—and it’s just, you know, w—we get offered properties faster than we can asse—you know, assess them and take them. And we get offered properties that we can’t take sometime because they don’t have enough conservation values. But—but it’s—it’s an exploding conservation technique in—in Texas.
DT: We’ve been talking about NAPA, Natural Area Preservation Association and it has this wonderful network of eighty odd preserves and I was curious if you could describe some of them that are special to you.
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JB: Well, that—I certainly can and—and I have to say that the first thing that Ned Fritz taught me was that if you want somebody to protect an area, you got to show it to them, you got to let them fall in love with it. And some of the places in NAPA’s stable of preserves were places that you would fall in love with very quickly, bottomland hardwood forest with huge towering trees, wetlands, one place called Grass Lake that’s kind of like a swamp but it’s a freshwater swamp, it’s not—not—not a coastal marsh and periodically otters, alligators, other exciting inhabitants. Prairies, people don’t realize how diverse prairies are and how rare prairie is—a pasture has one or two kinds of grass, a prairie may have two hundred and fifty or three hundred kinds of grasses, forbs,
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herbaceous plants. And they bloom—when they bloom in the springtime it’s just, you know, knocks your eyes out. We have western preserves, Big Bend area preserves that have, you know, gorgeous mountains and—and—and stunning wildlife, really all over the—all over the state. Some interesting partnerships, the City of Ennis, for example, owns a prairie, NAPA has a conservation easement on it and we jointly manage it. There’s—there’s one down in south-east Texas that’s owned by a city and they’ve put a boardwalk in, they’ve helped clean it up, but we have an easement on it, we’re the ones
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that are responsible for protecting it. If you want to see somewhere really beautiful, this is a real good way to do it. One that we o—open to the public twice a year is known as Ivy’s Wildlife Refuge and this is in—it’s near Elkhart, Texas. It has scads and scads of dogwoods, so if you go in the spring, you get these gorgeous dogwood flowers. It’s just wonderful forest habitat, upland, bottomland, creeks. And—and Earl Matthew, Dr. Earl Matthews, who is on our board and Dr. Heinz Gaylord of Nacogdoches are the primary ones who lead walks at this place and we—it’s kind of a standing joke, that if you go on a
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walk with Earl, you’re going to see the whole place, man, it’s going be a forced march for a mile. If you go with Heinz, you may be gone just as long but you won’t get very far because he’ll tell you the name of every plant. And we’ve even got a mushroom that glows in the dark. The—for anyone who loves the outdoors, these preserves are just miracles, I mean, they are just so beautiful and they are so incredibly diverse with lots of wildflowers, lots of kinds of trees, just fabulous, and water, wa—rivers and waterfalls and ponds.
DT: Well, just—you said Ned Fritz inspired you with—saying you had to recruit people to go see these places. How would you inspire a future generation to—to carry on the kind of work you’ve been doing?
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JB: The main thing I would like to tell people is they can make a difference. People think, oh, you know, these are decided politically; I can’t make any difference in that. Or somebody I ought to write a letter to my o—elected official, but he’s not going to pay any attention. It’s not true. Most of the conservation work that has been done in the United States was done by people who just cared about a place or an issue and they organized and—and—and they got their neighbors to go along with them and they got more and more visibility. It always starts with a core group, a purely grassroots effort and you may wind up with conservation groups, nationally known ones, you may wind up with
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congress dealing with it but it starts with people locally caring about their homeland. And the letters you write do make a difference, I actually sat in a state representative’s office one time when I was lobbying for a Texas Rivers—Scenic Rivers bill and he said, give me my correspondence on that and I watched him sit there and count how many letters he had gotten for it and how many he had gotten against it, and because he had gotten more for it, he said, okay, I’ll vote for it. I mean, that’s how much difference—and—and we’re not talking about a lot of letters, he had maybe ten for and four against. I mean, you know, a dozen people turned his vote around. Now if it’s a big—great big issue, it might take more than a dozen but, believe me, elected officials pay attention to what their constituents want and decision makers at all levels do, and you can make a difference, big time.
DT: Well, now earlier you had said that—that one of the people that recruited you first, Beth Johnson, had somehow finagled you into this whole affair and—and I’m curious if she gave you a similar pitch that you can make a difference or what did she tell you?
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JB: Oh, she—she started me small and this is the way I tend to recruit people. I give them something to do and then they see it ho—you know, they s—have some success with it. So you give them something else to do and you make them part of a—of a coalition of people who are doing something so they can see it grow and build. And if they feel like, you know, you push them to do a little more than they feel like they can do and when they are nervous about it, you kind of hold their hand and say, okay, don—you—just draft it and I’ll edit it or just go do this one and I’ll help you, you know, I’ll
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help you. As long as they feel like they’ve got—you know, it’s kind of like the story of, you know, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, as long as he’s got his feather in his trunk, he can fly. And so part of my role is to give people that confidence and encourage them to go just a little father than they think they can go and before long they get into it and the next thing they know they got—my favorite current example is Michael Banks with the
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Neches River Group. I mean, a year ago he didn’t even know he was going to get involved in this and now the media, you know, the TV reporters are calling and talking to him and he’s asked to be on this board and that committee and he’s meeting with all these elected officials and he’s like, I couldn’t believe they gave me an appointment. I was like, I can believe they gave you an appointment, you now control a lot of votes because you’ve become the leader of a—of a big local coalition. People don’t have to beco—go that far with it, every member of that coalition is a key member and everything they do,
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every his—petition they sign, every, you know, every time they attend a meeting, they make a difference. Oh, you were asking about Beth Johnson. She recruited me, she babied me through. She tr—held my hand, she encouraged me to do a little bit more and a little bit more and she never has gotten tired of hearing how I started Janice into the road of conservation and she lived happily ever after.
DT: Well, I think that’s a—a happy ending, but I wanted to give you a—an opportunity to please add, because we asked your prodigies to answer all kinds of questions. Is there anything else you’d like to contribute?
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JB: I think y—the—the remaining thing that needs to be said is that what this is all about is people. Ned Fritz was the most amazing person in terms of having both vision and the abili—be—being a visionary and a—and a successful purpose—person at carrying out that vision. But there’s been a long line of people coming along behind him that I work with day in and day out, members of my board, members of other conservation organizations, some of them professional, some of them volunteers, but they really care about what they’re doing and they’re willing to—to learn detailed—study detailed
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documents that this—that are this thick or take people out in the woods or whate—on a cold day, you know, whatever it takes, because they care about the resources of this State. They care about whether our grandchildren are going to be able to go out and see the animals, the wildlife, the birds, the trees that we grew up seeing.
DT: I hope they will. With your help, I’m sure they will.
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JB: Thank you.
DT: Thanks very much.
[End of Janice Bezanson – Reel 2386]