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Mary Lou Campbell

INTERVIEWEE: Mary Lou Campbell (MLC)
DATE: April 25, 1998
LOCATION: South Padre Island, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Karen Brewer and Robin Johnson
REEL: 1017

Note: numbers mark the time codes for the audio tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: This is David Todd. It’s April 25, 1998 and I have the good fortune of—of getting to interview Mary Lou Campbell about her many and sundry contributions to conservation in Texas and—and in the South Texas and Rio Grande Valley area. I just wanted to thank you for taking off to talk to me.
MLC: Thank you for coming David. I’m happy to be with you and I hope you will learn something interesting today.
DT: Well, I’m sure I will. Thanks very much. I would like to start with a little question about your early days. I’m curious if you can tell me a little bit about your parents and any early friends who might have encouraged your long-standing interest in conservation.
MLC: Well, I think that, really, my grandfather was the one who—who did the most and always I think back on my grandfather and think that’s probably the start of—of when I became interested in conservation. And I was born right there on the ranch and we lived with my grandfather until I was seven years old. And so I saw him every day and we interacted every day and even as a little baby he would talk to me—he was—he was not a—a lonely man. He had a lot friends and he—and he came and went, but he—his health was not real good so he spent a lot of time at home and people generally came to see him. And I got to visit with a lot of people that I might not have gotten to visit with and got to do a lot of things that an only child gets to do because they are an only child. If you
understand me, they—they get in on adult things more than if you had several brothers and sisters. Not to say that I wouldn’t have liked to have had brothers and sisters, but I did not. So—so my grandfather was really my early playmate in many ways. And he’d tell me about the old times and, as I mentioned to you, he was a Cherokee but adop—he was really Shawnee and adopted into the Cherokee Tribe. His—his mother had been adopted into the Cherokee Tribe before he was born.
DT: And where was this? Where was he living and what was the ranch like?
MLC: At that time, well, he was living then, of course and we were living in Northeastern Oklahoma which is close to Vinita, Oklahoma which was part of the old Indian territory. It was a territory until 1907. Statehood in Oklahoma was in 1907 and I of course, was born later than Statehood. But, he—his father settled ranchland and you could have—if you were Indian or married to an Indian, you could have almost as much as you could fence and ranch or farm. And, but that was before Statehood and before the territory was divided up. And, so, they had three little boys and the boys virtually lived on the ranch and ran it until—while the father was gone and then they really settled there
and built houses and—and lived there the rest of their lives. And we still, although I don’t have an interest in the property anymore, it belongs to my cousin now and his son, but, after my father died, my mother decided that she really didn’t want to be in the ranching business anymore so and my—but she wanted it to stay in the family so my cousin owns much of the land that my grandfather and great grandfather had settled. And it was my great grandfather who settled and my grandfather who lived there.
DT: Is it in the Osage Hills?
MLC: No, it was—it’s close to the Osage Hills. But it’s—it’s—it’s prairie land more than—than—than Osage Hill lands. And close to what is now called The Lake of the Cherokees on the Grand River.
DT: Do you have any memories of what the ranch looked like and things you would do there, out-of-doors?
MLC: Yes, because even little children sometimes get in trouble. And—if—or if they—or they don’t want to take a nap or something like that. So my grandfather would put me on the front of his horse and we’d go off and we’d go down and—and fish on the creek. There were cer—two creeks that joined there and we would fish on the creek and we would take sandwiches which he said he was very fond of, but I’m sure he wasn’t because when a six-year-old fixes your sandwich, it’s hard to tell what it might be. But he said he liked onion sandwiches. So—and we would escape from naptime sometimes, that way. And then, of course, he’d talk to me and tell about how the land used to look and what it was like and…
DT: How had it changed, do you remember?
MLC: Of course, it changed a lot because it had virtually had been a ranch land and fenced and then, of course, it had to be fenced and then he—it came down from what—the acreage that it once was and to—into about, oh, I guess at that time it was probably between the two, because my father’s oldest brother took the part that had been the homestead of my great grandfather and lived in that house. And so between the two they probably farmed and ranched about twelve or fifteen hundred acres at that time, although my uncle was really more of a farmer and he rented out a lot of land. But, mainly horses and cattle were what my grandfather and father did so…
DT: Did they participate in cattle drives?
MLC: No, they did not, although my grandfather did, but my father did not because the cattle drives were over by that time, but my grandfather did. In fact, he and his two brothers brought down from Kansas a herd of cattle to settle on this ranch after my great-grandfather had settled it up. And they went down with probably a couple of hands, I’m not sure, but the tale was that just the three boys went, but I’m pretty sure there were some adults with them because the oldest one was only twelve. So they—their—ranged in age from eight to twelve. And two of the brothers stayed there the rest of their lives. My unc—my grandfather and my great-uncle stayed there the rest of their lives, but then the other brother who had come down with them eventually settled in Arizona. And after
all of that he was shot on his front porch by a stray air rifle, or .22 I think it was. You know, somebody was shooting something someplace, they weren’t shooting at him, but it happened, but after all his life that he—early day settlers and all that, why, to be rocking on your front porch is rather well certainly ironic.
DT: Gosh, that’s awful.
MLC: That’s the uncle, not my grandfather.
DT: You had mentioned that your grandfather has a Cherokee-Shawnee background. Do you think that that had any impact on his instincts in conservation or your interest in it?
MLC: I’m sure it did because I—I—I know that Indians have been much romanticized, but still, they depended so much on the weather and farmers and ranchers still depend upon the weather. The weather is one of the single most important factors in their lives you know, is it going to rain, what’s going to happen if it rains at the wrong time? So the last thing he did at night and the first thing he’d do in the morning is look up at the sky and make a forecast, it was not always perfect, of course. And he was very interested in the stars and told me about the stars and names and, you know, we—I guess I knew about the Milky Way before I knew about, certainly about Broadway (chuckle) or anything like that. But, he—he was self-taught also, because when he was a little boy, he spoke no English. And then he began to speak English because his father spoke English and because he lived with his mother’s father, who was a trader on the—on the—not the Santa Fe Trail but the Chisholm Trail. But he remembered where the buffalo wallows were and he pointed that out to me and it was—and on—on our land where the buffalo wallow was and they’re still—it’s still there.
DT: What would a wallow look like?
MLC: Well, it’s—it would just be like a concave, I mean, you know, like a—a bowl.
DT: How big?
MLC: Oh, maybe it’s probably about an acre or two because, you know, the herds were large. And they would gather and then when the rains would come why they would—or they would go to drink in—in these depressions, of course. And then, buffalo are like, I guess more like horses than cattle in that they like to—to roll and—and, you know, wallow around in this mess and—and the—and it created, of course, more of a bowl and made—it’s called—was just called a buffalo wallow. I never really thought of, actually, until you asked that question, why? But the buffalo, I understand are like that. So—of course, none of us have ever, you know, have seen the great herds that once were. So…
DT: Had your grandfather seen them?
MLC: Yes, as a boy he had.
DT: Do you remember him telling you about them?
MLC: Not in—not very much and—and maybe he didn’t talk about it, or maybe—he talked about the cattle drives. And so it was at the end of the buffalo era, you see, it would have been there, if they having—because he did talk about cattle drives and he talked one time about a herd of Longhorn steers that had come through that had pink eye. And many of them were blind from the pink eye and how dangerous it was to work with them because they were so easily spooked to stampeding. But they did a lot of work—more work with horses than they did with cattle at that time. And they raised horses for the remount stations because there was Calvary, you know, back then. So, in fact, my—my uncle was—was in the Calvary and I still have his Calvary spurs, which is kind of interesting.
DT: Another world. Did you have any teachers or mentors that you recall who had a similar interest in the outdoors and conservation of wild life?
MLC: Um hm. Not so—cause we moved to town when I was seven because—since I was born in 1925, well when I was seven, you can imagine why we had to move to town because there was—that was the depression. And my father, who had never worked outside of working at home on the ranch, had to go get a job so we could, you know, he could hold us all together and so he did. And we went—he worked as a mortgage banker because he knew land. And, at that time, much land was being taken back, you know, loans foreclosed upon and he knew how to appraise land. And so that was his—that was his work. And then he knew what he was doing. It was not a—a very pleasant job and mortgage bankers, I think, got a bad name at that time because—but they also worked with the people trying to—to help them too because they didn’t have any use for—the mortgage banker companies, you know there was no money at that time. It was
something that—that I really didn’t—I can’t say that I lived through the depression because as a little girl you don’t really recognize those things. And we were never hungry or anything like that but it was just that we didn’t have very much cash flow. So my father went to work for somebody else and we had to move to town.
DT: Do you remember the Dust Bowl?
MLC: It—the—where we were in the Dust Bowl, it was—it was hot and dry and we had locusts that ate everything one year. It ate—ate the leaves off the trees, literally killed the trees that were in the front yard and along the creeks. But, as far as the Dust Bowl, no I don’t have any remembrance of it. I know about it, of course, because I’ve read about it and I’ve seen the pictures and all. But that was more northwestern Oklahoma where the—where the so-called Okies came from who migrated to—to California. No one around us really, I think, left the land that I—that I’m aware of. So it was not a factor in—certainly in my life.
DT: And you were in town by then, I suppose. Maybe it wasn’t as big a factor.
MLC: Well, it may not have been, but it was very hot and dry and we would go home, you know, my father still had the ties and my fath—and my grandfather was still living out there. And so we went back very, very often. In fact, my father resisted buying a house anyplace in town because that was his home and he didn’t want to buy a house because he felt like he’d never be able to go back if he bought a house. He finally did, when we lived in Dallas, but he really didn’t want to.
(talking at same time)
DT: Did he ever talk about his connection to that place or that piece of land?
MLC: Oh, yes. That was—that was what people called the home place, you know. And I was born on a holiday and so it was always—I felt people came to see us on the holiday because of my birthday. It was really because it was May the 30th, and that’s a celebration, you know, of—of—it’s called Decoration Day or—or Memorial Day. More Decoration Day in the South and—and—but we’d always have a big family picnic and everyone would come to see us and that was, I thought they were really coming for my birthday. For a long time, I mean, maybe there were a little bit but mostly it was because we lived out in the country and we always, you know, had plenty of things going around. Cause there were horses to ride and things to do that the town cousins could do, you see. So we had a very good time, even—of course, I was a little girl tagging along, but it was fun.
DT: Getting back to once you—the time that you moved to town, do you remember anything about your teachers and their influence?
MLC: Well there was one—one, in particular, who—and this was later on when I was taking Oklahoma history, because like in Texas, every child takes Oklahoma history or Texas history, whichever state you live. And so by that time, I was—had—well I was always interested in my Indian heritage but I—that was what I decided that I would write on when it came time to write something and that was in sixth grade. And so—what I wrote impressed my teacher very much and she never gave it back to me. And I had—several years later I had wished that I had gotten it because she said no that she wanted to keep it because she felt—and that was before you had copiers that she could have made me a copy real quick, you know, and given it back to me. So—but I wrote about being an Indian and about some of the Indian history in Oklahoma.
DT: So she encouraged you to pursue these things?
MLC: Yes. And to look into the history and then—and so I do have, you know, have a lifelong interest in history. That’s the teacher that really stands out. Perhaps my second grade teacher, who was just a beautiful little woman, you know, who was so pretty and so citified and all, because we lived in the country and, but that’s not to say that we never, you know, went to town or anything like that, but she was such a pretty woman. I remember her very well and she was very kind and sweet to me and—so one does remember teachers. And I don’t—I don’t remember any mean teachers. I—maybe I didn’t have any. Some people say they do, but….
DT: So you had a few teachers, at least, who encouraged you to study and learn about the world and maybe that was important in your life.
MLC: Well yes, I think so, but I think more of it goes back mainly to my father and my grandfather. My mother was more interested in—I was more interested in—in outdoor things and my mother was more interested in the things that went on in the house. I—she, you know, she was an excellent cook and she sewed and—and I—I—I learned to cook with her too, and I’m not saying that she wasn’t an interesting person, but somehow the outdoor life and the fact that my grandfather was an Indian was pretty romantic, you know. And—and I loved horses as most girls do and had horses and—and those were things I did with my father and I fished with my father and later on I hunted with my father.
DT: You did?
MLC: Um hm. Hunted birds, quail and doves. Um hm. And my father was a hunter. He—he did a lot of hunting. Up until he was in his late 50’s, and one day he said, you know, I’ll go along but I—and I’ll go to the deer lease, but I’m not going to kill anything ever again.
DT: Did he explain what he meant?
MLC: No. A lot of men reach that. I’m not sure why, or exactly what—but a lot of people, not eve—not just men, but a lot of hunters reach that point. I was talking to a man in Brownsville the other day—that they say well, you know, there’s just—I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to be outdoors, I want to enjoy it, but I don’t want to kill anything while I’m doing it. And I haven’t hunted birds in a long time.
DT: How do you resolve the tension between hunting and conservation? I know there are some people who show up at [Texas] Parks and Wildlife [Department] pretty frequently who object to the hunting regulations.
MLC: I don’t think—I don’t think there should be hunting on game refuges, you know, I mean, I—on parks and—I mean, not game re—but Parks and Wildlife property. I—because that is the idea, that it is a game refuge. And I do not believe that there should be hunting there or on national park lands. Sometimes the managers try to justify it by saying well it’s weeding out the herd and whatnot, but since it is considered to be a
sanctuary, I don’t believe that that should happen. I recognize that people like to hunt, I—as I say I grew up in a family that hunted, brothers and cousins and everybody and I did too. My mother sometimes went along, but she never shot a gun because she didn’t like to shoot guns. But, at any rate, I still have my father’s guns. And, you know, I didn’t throw them away, I don’t disapprove really of hunting if you’re very—if you obey the laws and you eat the game that you kill. And it was a tradition in our family that Christmas morning we had quail. And my father was generally the quail provider. And I don’t think any of us ever even thought that we—that there would be any reason why we shouldn’t kill any quail. They were kind of like another crop to be harvested. They—my grandfather took very good care of the game. For instance, his neighbors would clean out their fence rows, but he did not. He’d leave them blackberries in—in the fence rows and brambles because that was good quail cover. You wouldn’t have your quail if you cleaned out the fence rows.
DT: What other sorts of things do you think he did to keep his place as a haven for wildlife?
MLC: Well, he was very careful about the trees and—and—and not—not cutting down any trees that were—that were—unless it was absolutely necessary because they were going to fall on something or old or something like that. And we used wood for fireplaces too, so we, you know, but those were old, usually deadfall. And, at that time, there wasn’t, you know, any spraying at all, to speak of so—however my cousin and his
son use very little spray on their farms. And they use what’s called No Till. And so I guess that they—that, you see, my cousin and—and his son probably got some of this from my grandfather too because my, let’s see, it would be my second cousin, holds fields days for No Till, and to—and to teach farmers how to use beneficials [insects] and—and various ecological–ecologically sensible and smart farming. He went to Oklahoma A&M and graduated from Oklahoma A—A&M and I’m sure he learned some of it there but some of it, I think, are things that he’s learned himself.
DT: That’s interesting. So there is kind of a strain in your family that goes beyond you and extends to your grandfather to your cousins; they’re interested in the same sort of visions.
MLC: And the last time I was up there—my grandfather always had a garden too or you—so we ate the food that—that was in the garden and it was always wonderful. I’d go out to pick tomatoes and we can sit—we’d sit down and have a tomato together and that was very good. But he loved asparagus and he grew asparagus. And the last time I was over there, my—my second cousin took me out to what was really the remains of the garden because that house is no longer there, where we lived—it was my grandfather’s house, but at any rate, and the—the asparagus is still growing there that he planted, you know, many, many, many years ago. But asparagus is a crop that doesn’t—doesn’t die out if you take reasonable care of it.
DT: Were there people that you read about or heard about outside of your family and your world in town who were interested in conservation, who were heroes or examples to you?
MLC: Not particularly. I mean, you know, I—I did think about that question but I have not been—can’t trace it back to—we were—I think from some of the things I’ve said, you could—you’ll see that we were a rather close knit family and that we had—my mother’s family lived in town. And when we’d go to town, why I was then the only small person in the family. And so I was—I always thought I was probably the most wonderful thing that ever happened. I was badly spoiled, if you want to put it that way, and I got to do just any number of wonderful things because I was the only child I guess for a long time in—in either family except for my cousin who was really older than I and had, you know, was a young—a young boy rather than a little kid. So he—he didn’t get as much attention as I did, I suppose. But—but I think, for that reason, and because my grandfather and my parents were very gentle people, and—and—and then on the other side, my mother’s side also, that we didn’t reach out as much as we might have if we hadn’t had such a close knit, warm family association. So our hero—heroes were more within our family than—than at school or—or—we all loved to read and my father—my grandfather taught himself to read by the way. And he—he loved to read books about Africa. He always wanted to go to Africa. He never got there but he really—the travels
that he did in his mind, you know, like going to Africa were—were something that really intrigued him. And if he were alive today, he’d be intrigued about going to the moon or Mars because all of this, you know, was like Africa, was the great unknown, you see. So at that time, for—for an Indian boy in Oklahoma.
DT: What was it that appealed to him about Africa?
MLC: I think that it was, you know, a distant land and a relatively unsettled land. And—and he had seen—in his lifetime he’d seen that change in—in Oklahoma and Kansas. He was born in Kansas and then they came quickly to Oklahoma so…
DT: Did he talk to you much about the settlement process in Oklahoma and Kansas and how the landscape changed there?
MLC: Not too much. I think it made him sad in a way because he never really felt very comfortable in town. He would—and he never really learned how to drive a car. He thought he could and it was kind of a disaster. He ran it in the ditch or something, he gave up and he said, well I just won’t ever drive it again. But there was always somebody around who was—who did. And—and he produced—really, he—he—if he was going to do something, he went on horseback or later in a buggy. And, of course, you know, in his later years, why his—his sons drove him around or—or my mother did or whatever.
DT: Well, after that great childhood you grew up and skipping a number of years, you moved to the valley and became active in conservation work. And I was wondering what got you started in that line?
MLC: Well I did—it’s not to say that I didn’t do any in Dallas when we lived in Dallas, but more than that I was occupied with raising three small children. So we did scout work and that, you know, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and Campfire Girls. But—and I did go to summer camp too, after we moved to Dallas. So I had quite a bit of, you know, mountain stuff and things like that that—that I did. And I learned how to swim and all the different things you do, you know. So I—I—there was always an emphasis on being outdoors and I guess it would be natural. Then we—my family took me to the beach a lot after we moved to Dallas, we went to Galveston a lot and that was fun. My mother didn’t care for the beach but she—she found things to do, and I—I loved the beach. And we’d stay at the Old—what was then the Old Galvez even then, was old. You know, it’s been redone now and it’s much—it’s really beautiful hotel and was a beautiful hotel then.
DT: What did the beach look like then?
MLC: Oh, well it didn’t look as—as refined as—I mean, you know, it didn’t have umbrellas all over it or anything like that but it looked—because the seawall had been built, of course, by that time. So it looked very—very much like that except maybe more beach. Except I can’t remember too well about Stewart Beach which is where most people go now and where we went after I was married and had children we went to Galveston too, often. And so, I’ve always liked beaches and we—we, you know went to Hawaii and we went to beaches in Mexico. And beaches were so much fun and that—for someone who was born in Oklahoma that seems kind of unusual, but you know, they say a lot of seamen, sailors, join the Navy because they—they like that wide open feel, you know, but people that are from Kansas and Oklahoma, they—they see—they can see long
distances and whatnot. So maybe that’s another—another reason why I like the beach. I’m not sure why it is. My—my grandfather actually took his little children to the beach to Galveston, on the train, when they were all ver—quite—rather small. Um hm. And they went down on the train from—from Oklahoma to—to Galveston, because he thought they ought to have an adventure.
DT: Is this love of the coast something that brought you to Padre Island?
MLC: Yes, because we had come down here several—several times and I thought about it. And so—my husband was killed in an automobile accident. And that next summer I wanted to take the children someplace and we, you know, when school was out. And two of them were in summer camp and one, I think Robert, was just gone for two weeks because he was the youngest one. And so when he got out of summer camp, why, Ann and I came down here and then Marcy, by that time she was going to go to Mystic and it was longer, you know, she was six weeks or something like that, I’ve forgotten how long it went but—so then she came on down. Four weeks I guess it was, I’m not sure. So, we
spent the summer and we enjoyed it, so we started coming each summer until my oldest daughter graduated from Highland Park where I did and then we moved down here. So that’s how we got down here, we moved down here. The other two children finished school in Port Isabel.
DT: And this was in the early 70’s?
MLC: Seventies, in ‘71. And it was—it was a very—it was almost like really being on a desert island, you know, because South Padre Island is a desert island. It’s not a tropical island, it’s subtropical. And the weather, you would think would be—it’s more like a tropical island as far as the weather, but it’s—most of the vegetation that is here now is not natural vegetation. Of course, it’s—the palm trees that are planted—there was never a native palm and like the—the palms along the river, there was never a native palm here on the island. There was cactus and—and yucca and sea grasses and things that—that you see further up the island when you go up there. It was beautiful. And it still is to a certain extent, but not as—not as wonderful as it was.
DT: Well, I notice that you have been active with the Cameron County Historical Survey Committee, and the Port Isabel Museum Foundation, and I was wondering if you could give a little background as to how the island has changed, particularly if there are things that you have heard of how the landscape changed and the land use changed here over the years.
MLC: Well I do have some old pictures of the way the island was because I was interested in it. And I guess that’s why I got with—into the Cameron County Historical Survey group because many of the people who are on it are—are what are known as “old timers” on the island or—or not in the island, but Cameron County, of course. And that’s appointed by the Cameron County Commissioners Court. And if you show interest and evidence of wanting to learn the history, why you can—it’s pretty easy to get on, in other words. But it’s—it’s very pleasant and you get to talk to a lot of people who know a lot about the history of—of the area. And this part of Texas is—well all of Texas has a lot of history to it but each is unique to its own self and there’s certainly a long, long history of habitation down here and our interaction with Mexico and the wars and—and
all of that. So—so that, as you want to know more about where you live, well you want to know more about the history of it, and that’s how I got involved with that. The first causeway to the island was built in—although there had been a kind of a railroad trestle before that. The first car causeway was built in—finished in 1954…
[End of Side A]
MLC: …things that—that you see further up the island when you go up there. It was beautiful. And it still is to a certain extent, but not as—not as wonderful as it was.
DT: Well, I notice that you have been active with the Cameron County Historical Survey Committee, and the Port Isabel Museum Foundation, and I was wondering if you could give a little background as to how the island has changed, particularly if there are things that you have heard of how the landscape changed and the land use changed here over the years.
MLC: Well I do have some old pictures of the way the island was because I was interested in it. And I guess that’s why I got with—into the Cameron County Historical Survey group because many of the people who are on it are—are what are known as “old timers” on the island or—or not in the island, but Cameron County, of course. And that’s appointed by the Cameron County Commissioners Court. And if you show interest and evidence of wanting to learn the history, why you can—it’s pretty easy to get on, in other words. But it’s—it’s very pleasant and you get to talk to a lot of people who know a lot about the history of—of the area. And this part of Texas is—well all of Texas has a lot of history to it but each is unique to its own self and there’s certainly a long, long history of habitation down here. And our interaction with Mexico and the wars and—and
all of that. So—so that, as you want to know more about where you live, well you want to know more about the history of it, and that’s how I got involved with that. The first causeway to the island was built in—although there had been a kind of a railroad trestle before that. The first car causeway was built in—finished in 1954. And there was a toll bridge that you crossed over. It was a swing barge actually and then you got on the causeway and came over. And so you still had that sense of being isolated that we don’t really have now with the—with the big causeway that we have now which was built in 1973, ‘74. And the town was unincorporated at that time. And now it was—it was incorporated in 1973. And, in fact, celebrated it’s 25th birthday just the other year—other day, last week there was a birthday cake for the town’s selfhood.
DT: Congratulations.
MLC: (Laughing) Well there’s some of us who say, oh well, why did we do it, you know? But—and—and I’m—as strange—it—it’s very strange but the hurricane of 1967 which was the big hurricane called Beulah, probably did as much to enhance the growth of the island as anything because people saw that there could be a devastating hurricane and yet it could be built back. And—and—and it was and then after that, came the, you know, the real estate rush which was—came out of the savings and loan industry loaning literally oceans of money without much collateral. And, of course, we all know what
happened. But—and you don’t find savings and loans companies anymore, as you know. I mean, it’s—it’s changed the financial situation. But it just didn’t seem like that building boom would ever end. And—and, of course, it did. But we’re the survivors, if you will, from that because there are many, many buil—tall high-rise buildings on the island, which in—in many ways were good because more people can come and enjoy the beach. But then for people like me, who think about beach conve—conservation and how—how pleasant it was too before, it’s not a—a real happy situation. It’s—it’s changed a lot.
DT: Can you talk a little about what it was when you first came out here, what the island looked like? You said there were yuccas and cacti….
MLC: Well in the street in front of me, which is paved now, was caliche and actually there was a kind of a big sand dune in part of it. And so you had to kind of maneuver around the sand dune if you wanted to drive down the street. So the traffic was very slow down this street, and actually we didn’t have a whole bunch of traffic except on holidays and weekends. And the island was, primarily, at that time, a place where the valley people came and they had beach houses and this house was a beach house that was added to after the hurricane Beulah. But—so they would come to spend the weekend or—or a week or two in the summer at the beach house. And they didn’t landscape because, you know, nobody was there to take care of it. So they left it pretty natural and many times did not even have air conditioning because, believe it or not, the nights were cooler then but now
we have a lot of concrete, you know, and we have black asphalt roads and those store heat. And I can remember that I never went anyplace at night without a sweater and now, you know, the nights stay warm until oh, 11:00 or 12:00 at night. And, of course, we all have air conditioning. We wouldn’t, you know, we couldn’t live without air conditioning although I will say, the island’s about ten degrees cooler than the rest of the valley because of the water and the breezes off the water. It’s—it’s still a very pleasant climate. The woman owned this house before me was allergic to the defoliant that was put on cotton. And her husband was a cotton farmer so she came out here to escape the defoliant. And it was just a haven for her as far as health.
DT: Can you talk a little bit about some of your neighbors and some of them who share your concerns about conservation?
MLC: Well, some of the people who—there are not too many people who lived here be—who were permanent residents before the town was incorporated because we–the people who were interested in incorporating really had to scratch to get two hundred and fifty names on a petition to become a town. We had to con—commiss—in other words, you petitioned the Commissioners Court because this was part of the county government. And—and so there was a petition to become a town and you had to have two hundred and fifty names. So that’s—and so—and there were, I suppose, two hundred and fifty people, I’m not sure that there were that many actually, you know. But so—and then, of course,
many of those have moved away or they’ve died or—or, you know, lost interest in the town, you know, gone other places. But most of those people were—either had a—a developing business on the island or lived here because of health reasons maybe, or were retired. And it is still a—a—pretty much the local, the people who live here full time, it’s now about half retired and half business people I would say. And there’s kind of a war going on all the time. Not a war, there’s differences of opinion going on all the time, and sometimes people will sa—say warfare, of course, be—between those who s—who are the local residents and those who are the business people because many times the people
who—who really want to live here and make it their home have different priorities than the people who want to, you know, have a lot of people for spring break and have a lot of fireworks, to be flashy and have people come and that type of thing. So, it—it’s—I suppose it will always be that way. Although we have almost, oh, I think about twenty-five hundred full time residents now. We have about twelve thousand voters and I think we have about—I mean, twelve hundred voters and I think about twenty-five hundred, it may be more. Cause there are a lot of new houses going up now. And there weren’t for a long time. More condominiums for people who were going to retire would buy, you know, invest in a condominium to rent and to use as a vacation house, but not to live there. But now a lot of those people are retiring and coming back. And they want it to stay the same too, once they get back.
DT: Can you talk about some of the conservation challenges that maybe have been controversial on the island that split the business folk from the retirees or otherwise?
MLC: Well there was—I guess what really got me involved, in about 1973, ’74, much—much was going on, building in the wetlands or—and getting Corps of Engineer permits to build in the wetlands. That was one thing. And then the other side of the island was being threatened because dunes were taking down—being taken down and seawalls were being built to put up hotels and condominiums. So the island was threatened from both sides as far as the natural beauty of the island and as far as the best way to protect the island. And, in fact, I—I lost a public relations job because I wrote a Corps—letter to the Corps of Engineers and—asking that a permit be denied on the—on the bay side of filling in wetlands and pointed out the—as one does if you write to the Corps, you need to say your reasons and all of that, and—and pointing out how it would be detrimental to the—to the fisheries. And—and my job was dissolved. It was very—it was handled very nicely, but I was working for the city—doing publicity for the city, doing like
fishermen’s pictures, you know, people would come from Oklahoma or West Texas. They’d take—catch some fish and—and we’d go down to the dock and take pictures and send them back to their hometown, that type of thing. It was—it was kind of fun because you got to talk to a lot of people and—and they appreciated being able to talk to someone local. And they were proud of their catch and so—and we wrote things about natural beauty too, about shells and shelling on the island and, you know, going up the island where you can shell now, and that type of thing.
DT: Can you tell a little bit about some of these articles that you wrote and where they would appear and what sort of things you described in them?
MLC: Well, mostly they were, you know, local or in valley newspapers or in valley publications that had to do with Chambers of Commerce and that type of thing or—or—or statewide things as far as tourism (?). Then I began to work for the Texas International Fishing Tournament which is now the oldest fishing tournament on the Texas Coast. At that time there was one that was older but it has not continued. And so I, of course, had to write a lot of publicity for the fishing tournament. And I worked with a woman who—whose husband had managed the tournament and she’d kind of inherited the management. And she needed some help and I met her through working with—in 1976 in the bicentennial. Of course, we worked about two years before the bicentennial. If you know anything about the way the bicentennial celebration was set up, it was quite
a—there was quite a rigid formula that you had to follow and then you incorporated and went through incorporations not-for-profit and all of that. And I suppose that’s another part of—of my interest in the history because, you know, we did a lot of research on—on the history of the island and the three towns of Port Isabel, South Padre Island and Laguna Vista were incorporated into the Laguna-Madre Bicentennial Commission. And ever since then, it’s been called the Laguna Madre area, but we really started that, a group of women who were working on—it was women for the most part. Women generally do
those things because they have more time or—or they have more feeling for it. We had some men, of course, who helped us, but generally men are gone and we—from the home and—but women, if they work outside the home, still do these things because of—I’m not sure why. I’m not going to get into the male-female work ethic as far as—as why women do more as a general rule in—in that type of celebration, than—than men do. But, at any rate, the—primarily the—the different chairman for the bicentennial were women and I was the overall chairman and—and that was fun. And I—I did travel around too—around the valley and to different places in the state and—and about working with the bicentennial. And, as I say, it had a very rigid structure.
DT: When you were promoting the bicentennial or the fishing festival or other things you worked on for PR reasons, did you find there was an interest among your clients in the natural beauties of the area or the conservation and environmental protection or were they not real sympathetic? What was their attitude?
MLC: As long as you didn’t—as—as long as you didn’t get too technical or—or—or push protecting of the environment very much, it was considered as it is today, as equal tourism as today, you know. It’s—it’s—it’s not—eco—the word “equal tourism” had not been coined then, but virtually, that’s what we were working on, because we were trying
to sell the island as a very pleasant place to come and what you could do. You could shell and you could fish and you could sunbathe and you could swim and—and do all the of different things that—that you still can do. And, at that time, those activities were not as commercialized as they are now. And we certainly don’t have the—the hang gliders and, you know, the bungee jumps and all of that, we didn’t have all of that then. There was a man with a helicopter for a while who—who gave helicopter rides. And he took me up one time. And it was wonderful, it was a lot of fun. It was one of those little open deals that I probably was putting my life—oh, I’m sure I was putting my life in his hands. (?) he flew real low over the water and we actually saw a couple of sharks down there,
but you weren’t supposed to write about sharks. You know, there weren’t any sharks in our waters and that type of thing. So—but the fishing tournament, I had a more of a free hand and that’s where, as I said, I met the—the woman who inherited the fishing tournament management, so to speak, from her fa—from her so—husband who had died. So—so we worked on it together and it was—and then she eventually retired and I kept on with it until I—I, you know, got worn out with it. I think I retired in, gee, I can’t remember when I quit it, sometime in the 80’s. So I was with it for a while.
DT: How do you reconcile sports like fishing that use natural resources and many fisherman are very interested in habitat and making sure that that’s preserved, yet it is to an extent consumptive and I guess it can be abusive in that way, but how do you balance those two issues out in your mind?
MLC: Well, there were times when it was very hard and there were other times when it was easy and also we worked toward in—rules—we had rules like you have to bring the fish to the dock in edible condition and they were certainly encouraged to take it home and eat it. Now whether they did or not, we didn’t know. Of course, you can’t follow people into their kitchen, but that was what we encouraged people to do. And in the booklet, which was a rather sophisticated rules book that we put out, which was about a thirty-five page publication, while we wrote those stories about conservation and about tag and release and tag and release was just starting at that point. It had been done in other places, but around here it hadn’t been done because the ethic was that there are plenty of fish out there and you don’t have to take of them, you know. I mean, do—why
throw them back, there are plenty more where those came from. But gradually, and by setting limits, and—and the board worked along with it, it was not that they were not open to that because it was governed by a board. And there were a few who didn’t, but most—for the most part they did and they thought it was good image for the tournament to have that—that conservation image. So there really was not—there was some—and it was—there were times when it was not even pleasant when you would see a bunch of dead fish lying on the dock. I mean, that’s not really want you want to see. The ideal would be a tag and release tournament. And we—we tried to go toward that, especially for the big game fish, the fish that are not generally eaten anyway. Some people do, but many people do not eat the, you know, the billfish. So that was—that was the direction we were going and it’s still being carried on that way. The fishing tournament’s still
going on. And it’s going more and more toward that and I think I see fishermen more conservation minded. There’s a fly fishing club here, just fishes with lures and—and they release their fish. And the guides, most of the guides encourage you—if you’re not going to take it home and eat it, to re—to release the fish. And they show, you know, different ways of releasing—and it’s—and try to teach people how to release their fish so it will live another day. And there are a lot of us working on the Lag—Lower Laguna Madre as a—not only as a place to fish but also places for fish to breed and live so that we can keep that resource. It’s a very valuable res—recreational resource as well as a—for instance, the shrimp, you know as a—as a food resource and as a economic resource.
DT: I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about fishing. I remember years ago there used to be a very big tarpon fishery in the gulf and I was wondering if you can sort of tell the story of what happened there and where it stands now?
MLC: The tarpon are coming back today but they were almost gone at one point. And it was due to several things and it is still due to several things. One, though, that had—tarpon are not generally considered eating fish. Tarpon are fighting fish, but they’re very bony and they’re bottom feeders. And—and, for the most part, people do not eat tarpon. In some of the protein-poor island areas, they—tarpon is eaten. But around here, you know, not very many people eat tarpon. And I can remember in the late 60’s and early
70’s, over by the old Causeway there was what was called “the tarpon hole”. And any morning that you went across the Causeway, the old Causeway, you would see many of these large, large fish lying up there dead. Just thrown up there. They had been caught, they were much fun to catch because they are a very fine fighting fish, but people discarded them rather than release them. And, at that time, I don’t think they even knew about—re—re—the thought of releasing them, because the thrill was in bringing them in and catching them, and perhaps having your picture taken with them, but then they threw them out there in the sand. And so that was one thing, but that was not entirely the
reason why the tarpon almost disappeared from our waters. And pollution is—water pollution is—is one of the main things, bay and—and—and gulf pollution. And much of it co—comes from the rivers in Mexico, the Panuco and—and those—many of the other rivers there where untreated sewage flows into the Gulf of Mexico and also the—the—the Rio Grande. But the spawning areas are mostly south and, of course, if—if—if the fish do not spawn or if they’re either unable to or—or they’re—the spawn is faulty or—or—or sick, why then, of course, they don’t live and don’t—don’t thrive. And the flow in the—in the Gulf of Mexico is a—there’s a gyre and it goes around. So whatever, you know, is put in there is—is—spreads all over the Gulf. And, at certain times of the year, the flow comes North and other times of the year, it goes South.
DT: Well I notice that you’ve been involved with the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation and I was wondering if you could tell a little bit about what makes it special. I understand it’s a hyper-saline lagoon and is very rare. Can you explain what that is?
MLC: Well, you know, usually we talk about fresh water inflow and how the bays and estuaries need fresh water inflow, and they do, and they do to a certain extent. But this particular bay, because it only has one fresh water inflow and that’s the Arroyo Colorado, which is a very small—was a tributary, was a part of the Rio Grande at one time, you know, when the Rio Grande used to flood but, of course, they’re not connected anymore. But—so the Arroyo Colorado comes from Mission on down and—and flows into the Lower Laguna Madre. And that’s the only source of fresh water. So the Lower Laguna Madre and the South Bay which is a portion of it has developed into a very hyper-saline atmosphere and that’s the way it likes it. I mean, that’s because it’s developed that way, why it thrives that way and it produces that way. And if it gets too much fresh water,
then it rebels by having brown tide or—not too much is known about the red tide, but often there are different organisms that develop and—and upset the balance because it really doesn’t—it’s—it’s unlike many other bays and estuaries in that it—it’s hyper-saline and it wants to stay that way. In other words, that’s its way of operating. And over the years it has evolved that way. and it’s very, very productive. The sea grasses in it make it productive. And it’s one of the most productive bays on the Texas coast and one of the few left that has sea grasses in it. In many of the bays, the sea grass has been destroyed by pollution and by effects of dredging and where the sea grasses simply don’t get enough light to grow and produce. But, the sea grass has formed such an important
part of the ecosystem because the little fish hide in them and the very, very small organisms cling to the sea grasses and those are eaten by, you know, a little bit bigger animal and it goes on up the food chain. And it just gives very small things a place to hide and to be protected. And then, not only fish, but—but birds and—and the red-headed duck—we have the biggest winter population of red-headed duck in the world on the Laguna Disposal Refuge which borders the Laguna—the Lower Laguna Madre. And the fishing is excellent. It’s a spawning ground for many fish. It’s a—not a spawning
ground for the shrimp, for the brown shrimp, but they come in there after they’ve been spawned in the Gulf and they come in there to—to grow and thrive. And that’s another reason why the sea grasses are so important, because it gives them a place to—these little things a place to grow up because everything that—every—every sea creature loves to eat shrimp. I mean, shrimp is a delicacy for them as well as for us. So they’re a very important part of the food chain and almost, I believe it’s about 96% of the life in the Gulf of Mexico depe—depends upon the bays and estuaries. And since this is a relatively clean and unspoiled estuary because there is no major Indus—there’s no major—major industrial pollution that flows into it, although there is agricultural pollution, and it—it—it does very well. We have had some concerns, many concerns about the Intracoastal Waterway and the dredging of it because it has been open bay disposal and that dredge material is very fine and kind of—it’s like chalk—it’s been compared to chocolate soup and that will spread over the sea grasses and cause them to smother, as well as the many small animals in there. And so we are against open bay disposal of the dredge material.
DT: Is dredging one of the major threats; are there other ones to the Laguna…
MLC: It’s one of the major threats, but there’s also sewage plant disposal out—outfall and occasionally that effluent is not treated as much as it should be and so it becomes a toxic material that flows into—into the Lower Laguna. And I believe, I’m not sure about the number, but I think it’s thirteen towns along the Arroyo Colorado discharge their effluent into the Arroyo. And that eventually reaches the—the Lower Laguna Madre. And if it is not treated properly, well then that can be a danger to the Laguna Madre. And although the EPA and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission have oversight, it is not—I would not say the—the enforcement has been what it should be.
DT: Can you describe, maybe a few little vignettes, of the controversies over protecting the bay, whether it’s the dredging issue or the sewage treatment plants or just to give an example of how you got involved and what you did?
MLC: We—we—Sierra Club, of which I am a member, works very closely with Frontera Audubon Society, of which I am a member. And so, we—we work together and we do a lot of—of action items. For instance, we are very active in protecting the habitat. I have said before that I’m not really a bird watcher, I enjoy the birds, but my interest is in habitat is why the birds are here. And I feel the same way about the fish and
the other animals. The habitat is the important thing. If you protect the habitat, the rest if it will kind of protect itself, although it certainly needs laws and—and oversight. So, we’ve become involved in several lawsuits. We have a lawsuit with the Corps of Engineers. We, in effect, won that lawsuit. We didn’t get what we wanted in that we wanted to stop a period of dredging until they—until an environmental impact statement had been developed. But we didn’t stop that particular segment of dredging, but we did get the environmental impact statement. It is not yet prepared. It is still the process of being prepared. But that was, I would say that was a victory, not as much of a victory as we wanted but we can call it a victory because we did get something that we wanted, which was the environmental impact statement, which we hope will eventually lead to a better way of disposing of the dredge material and if that does not come up, why perhaps
that segment from Corpus Christi on down here could be closed and allowed to—to fill in naturally. That’s considered to be the more radical viewpoint, but many of us do hold that viewpoint because it is not used as much as the other segments of the—of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. And Mary Kelley of the Texas Center for Policy Studies has done some studies on how much of freight and material was actually moved down that segment. And it doesn’t—economically it doesn’t balance out because the companies that use the Intracoastal Waterway do not pay for all of the dredging or anything. They only pay for a small part by user fees. The United States Government pays for the dredging, the major part of the dredging and it’s a very expensive operation, the upkeep of the Intracoastal Waterway. Interestingly enough, it was formed for the protection of the United States at a time when it was thought that Japanese submarines would come into the—to the Gulf and there was—it was thought that there would need—be needed a protected waterway where shipping could be continued. The shipping was never disrupted in the Gulf of Mexico and actually, the rest of the segments were not built until after the war—World War II was over. But that was, you know, that was something that was—National Defense was—was the reason given for building the Intracoastal Waterway.
DT: I see. And what…
MLC: And, as you know, it’s the Army Corps of Engineers so that would follow, wouldn’t it?
DT: True. And the sewage plants that you’ve been involved with, can you give us some examples of how…
MLC: They’re out of compliance a lot and it’s very unfortunate that they are out of compliance and very recently, our latest, although we urge the Texas National Resource Conservation Commission and also the—the EPA to take stronger enforcement measures than they are sometimes willing to take, although I must say the EPA is—is—is being a little bit more reactive and so is—so is TNRCC. TNRCC is doing a study on the lower—
on the Arroyo Colorado right now which I think will be a comprehensive study. At least, they’re starting out that way. So we hope so. But if enforcement doesn’t follow or if the people who are doing the poll—polluting are the people who are allowed to do the reporting, you know, without oversight, there is a tendency to make your plant look good. And we have found that to be true and we went to…
(End Tape 1, Side B)
MLC: …was—was the reason given for building the Intracoastal waterway.
DT: I see. And what…
MLC: And, as you know, it’s the Army Corps of Engineers so that would follow, wouldn’t it?
DT: True. And the sewage plants that you’ve been involved with, can you give us some examples of how…
MLC: They’re out of compliance a lot. And it’s—it’s very unfortunate that they’re out of compliance. And very recently, out latest—although we urge the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission and also the—the EPA to take stronger enforcement measures than they are sometimes willing to take, although I must say the EPA is—is—is being a little bit more reactive and so is—so is TNRCC. TNRCC is doing a study on the lower—on the Arroyo Colorado right now which I think will be a comprehensive study. At least, they’re starting out that way. So we hope so. But if enforcement doesn’t follow or if the people who are doing the poll—polluting are the people who are allowed to do the reporting, you know, without oversight, there is a tendency to make your plant look good. And we have found that to be true and we went to—to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission protesting a permit application to enlarge a plant here on the island, which is the North Plant and they—it was to be enlarged—to be—the cap—the
capacity was to be doubled which would, we felt, for two reasons, we were against it. One was the pollution of the bay because they had been out of compliance a lot. And the other one was that we thought, at this time, it was not needed but—and it was being done to enhance further development on the island, on up the island, if you will, past the city limits. And under the rules, that—you’re not supposed to—you’re supposed to build for need but not to enhance need, if you understand, we’re not to encourage, you know, growth but you—if there’s—if there’s a need there, yes, the permitting process goes forward unless, for some reason, you know, there are reasons why it shouldn’t. But when the track record has been that they—that there has been pollution of the bay by the improperly treated—supposedly improperly treated effluent, well then we wanted to talk about that. But it’s very difficult to get into the process with—the permitting process at TNRCC. And so it—you have to—all—you’re almost forced to go through legal means. And fortunately here in Texas, we do have a law firm in—in Austin that’s a very good environmental law firm and they have helped us a lot. Now that—that—that case is still pending. We still—we still—we’re going to have to sue, in other words, to get standing
to protest that permit. And we feel that, as citizens, not that—that is not the proper way to go. We feel that we should have standing as residents, to go before the TNRCC council, the three—the three members that are appointed by the governor, that we should go and be able to state our case or before the Executive Director. And—but you first have to have standing. And if you can’t get standing, then you can’t protest, you see. So that is why we must then hire a lawyer to get a standing, to go to court to get standing so then we can tell our story, which is not exactly an open process of government and it has not only happened to us but it’s happened all over Texas with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, I am sorry to say. And I think it’s well known. I’m not
blowing the whistle on anybody. I think anyone who’s worked with—with conservation and particularly with water conservation measures, has found that to be true.
DT: Well I understand that you were active in the Democratic Party, as precinct judge and on the State Executive Council for the Texas Democratic Party. Could you talk about that whole question of public access to government and your role and politics’ role in environmental regulation and protection of natural resources.
MLC: Well I belong to the Democratic Party because I think that—that with all its faults, it—or any—any political party’s faults, that the Democratic Party is much more open than any other party that I know about. And—and that the process of—of, you know, it’s all about process really. Any—any work that you do with—whether it’s with legal work or conservation work or whatever, you have a process that you go through. And if you follow the rules, you should be able to get into the process. And we have found that the Democratic Party is—is interested in being—in having open government for the most part. And that’s—that’s what we’re working toward. And that’s why I, you know, that’s why I’m a Democrat. And—and—and there has been a much more marked openness—openness toward conservation, although certain, you know, certain Republican presidents have—have signed very good—good conservation bills. But the—this President, Bill Clinton and Al—and Vice President, Al Gore, have, you know, campaigned on an environmental platform. And, for the most part, they have carried it out. There are—are—there have been pressures and they have not done all that they said they would do
but yet they have done more than—than has happened at any—any time in the—the recent future about—about conserving the environment. And—and people laugh at Al Gore about the greenhouse effect but it is a fact and it is a scientific fact. And the sooner that we recognize it, I think the sooner that we will be better off and can do more about it. You know, we just celebrated Earth Day in April and it was about earth as a water planet and if we didn’t have water on this earth, we wouldn’t, you know, we wouldn’t live here. We couldn’t sustain life. And so conserving water and thinking about how you can work toward that is—is very, very important.
DT: I noticed that you had been a Precinct Judge—since such important things are being played out on the federal and state level by our elected officials, can you explain why people are so reluctant to go to the polls and vote? I understand that turnouts have been very low in recent years.
MLC: I—I—I don’t know. I wish I knew. If I knew, I could probably help to do something about it. And I think South Texas has a very good history of voting but they are not voting like they used to. And I don’t know why that is. I don’t know whether people think that vote won’t count or whether they get too busy or whether—I—I don’t know because certainly there’s—in—around any election, there’s enough noise being made and with all the different ways we have to communicate now, you would think that everyone would come out and vote because it’s—you know, before election whether it’s local or national, it’s—that’s all you see on television, all you hear on your radio. They’re, you know, the traveling circuses that go through town and all of that. And so I would—and people are excited, you know, like when the president came to the valley, why people were very excited. And—and turned out in great numbers for him. And when he campaigned before—before the election, why, the airport at McAllen was just full and running over and—and it was 3:00 in the morning before most of us got home
but we stayed until he came. You know, his plane was late. And politicians are always late cause somebody else is always wanting to shake their hand. But, you know, I’ve seen President Carter come to the valley and that was the same way. People turned out for him. It was wonderful. And—and the—the valley is primarily Democratic but they are going toward a two-party system. And there are changes being made. And I don’t—I don’t say that a two-party system is wrong. I think it’s good. I think it makes for some checks and balances. We don’t yet have that particularly in the local races. There’s not—there are very few people run in the local races of the Republican party but on the national—I mean, state and national race—races they are.
DT: I guess the political playing field is where a lot of opposing personalities and perspectives get played out. Could you tell some of your memories of the different participants in these fights over whether it’s dredging or the sewage treatment plant or other environmental issues and…
MLC: Well we—we’ve been talking about the Laguna Madre but there’s also the beach side. And there is a—a national protection, if you will, protection bill for—for beaches and it’s—well it started actually in the ‘70s and has—has—some of the fight is still going on to this day. But—and then, of course, now Texas has coastal management too which they did not have. So that’s another—whole ‘nother story working on coastal management. Before that though, there was the Coastal Protection Plan which was—which came about in order to protect coastal areas that were not already developed. And so if an area had not already—did not already have infrastructure, than it could be declared within the coastal natural resources and then could be in—being in that would
then protect it from further development. In that, for instance, from beyo—there’s a road that goes up the island for seven miles past the city limits. And that beyond there, it is in the National Coastal Resources Protection Act. And that means that you can build there but you have to build with your own money that you cannot receive—you can get a loan but you can’t receive federally funded flood insurance. And so no one is going to give you a loan if you can’t get federally funded flood insurance, if you understand me. And so because, of course, bankers want their—their money, the—the collateral. And that—this is an area prone to flooding and hurricanes. So all over the United States, there are beaches that are being protected by the—by the Coastal Resources Act. And the—we
had a—a rather large fight about it and—because we felt that it should be right down to the city limits because that road—really that’s the only piece of infrastructure that was up there but it was exempted to the end of the road. But the rest of it is—is—is in the—in protection and cannot be developed unless you develop it with your own money. It’s basi—virtually what it comes down to the hammer is that you can’t get the—the thing with the federally funded flood insurance. So you’re not eligible for any of that. And that then is—there’s a division on up the island called the Port Mansfield Cut which is a manmade cut in the island and then the other side is the national seashore. And the national seashore was—bill was enacted under Senator Yarbrough from Texas. And Senator Yarbrough was very strong in getting the national seashore. And that was one of
his acts when he was—was a Senator from Texas. He also wanted it to come on down into—into South—what is it—now it’s called South Padre Island, now it’s called North Padre Island up by Corpus and this is South Padre Island. And—but he was unsuccessful in getting that portion in because of the real estate lobby on the island and they felt that someday the island would grow. And they were right about that. And so Senator Yarbrough did not get his dream of having that portion in the national seashore. But later on, it did get in the Coastal Resource Act. So it’s—it’s in the inventory there. But there have been several times that that has tried to be broken. And the latest was when an insurance company owned some land up there that they had gotten through foreclosure
called the American General Insurance Company that was home-based in Houston. And since then it’s changed hands and it’s been bought by another company. But they were going to develop it with a huge resort up close to Port Mansfield but on the beach side. And we got word of it and actually that’s how the Laguna Madre Foundation grew out of that. And we did a lot of lobbying, mostly in Austin, not very much. We didn’t particularly lobby in Washington about it but we did in—in Austin and there was quite a fight between Senator [Eddie] Lucio and Senator Carlos Truan because Senator Truan, it was—most of that was his—in his senatorial district. And Senator Lucio had some part in it but Senator Lucio was for the development and Senator Truan was against it. And Senator—ex—well we’ve always called him Senator Yarborough—Senator Yarborough was—was against the development and he helped us immensely in—in beating back the forces that, you know, the political forces that—things that were going on in the—in the Texas senate
about allowing this infrastructure to come a—about. And there were several bills introduced that we believe were—were written by the American General Lobbyists but they failed. And some of them failed because of Senator Truan filibustered them. And enjoyed it. Would bring his tennis shoes and get up on the floor and—and so he—he and Senator Yarbrough were both our heroes. And they—and they truly remain our heroes to this day. And several times, I got the privilege of going to Austin and—and going to see Senator Yarborough cause he was no longer working out of his office but he and Mrs. Yarborough would ask me to their house. And we would have wonderful conversations and he loved to bring out things, you know, from his past and the accommodations that
he—com—commendations that he’d gotten. And—and he gave me one of his books and—and autographed it for me and a picture and all. And, you know, I just felt that was such a wonderful thing to—to get to know Senator and Mrs. Yarbrough too, cause she’s a lovely lady. And it was—was fun. And he—they were always—anytime, you know, that you went to Austin and you—you wanted to call him and—and he—he’d want you to come out. Some—and as his health was failing, why you felt sometimes that you didn’t go because it was an imposition but—but he was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful man and a great, great asset to Texas.
DT: Can you tell me about some of the people who have been not so friendly, maybe some of the opposition to some of the conservation initiatives you’ve had?
MLC: Well I think I may have mentioned that the real estate lobby that had kept some of these things from happening that we were working on happening, so I think that’s probably been the unfriendliest although some of the other things that happened later on with—with maquilladoras in Mexico and—and there were some others who weren’t from down here actually against the NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] or the NAFTA as it was proposed. We wanted to see rather than side agreements, we wanted to see environmental safeguards built into the NAFTA and they were not. And it—it’s worked out that we were right that, you know, the things that we were afraid would happen, have happened. You know, the side agreements have really not worked. I think we’re really making a giant jump
here but I agree with you that—that—that they do tie together because we, you know, it’s not all friendly and it’s not all sweetness and light. A lot of it is—is overcoming disagreeable circumstances by—by working within the system. We always try to work within the system and within the legal system. If we have to resort the courts, we do. But we think we gain much more or I personally at least feel that I—I gain much more by being reasonable and by buying—having all my facts together if I possibly can. You know, learning as much about the situation as I can, trying to be as truthful as I can about not being—sometimes environmentalists are accused of being hysterical. I mean, oh, you know, they’re just saying that or it’s a scare tactic. Well I don’t think it’s ever really a scare tactic because when you’re dealing with the environment, you don’t know what will upset the balance. And the balance is so upset now or we wouldn’t have endangered
species. So I—I sometimes don’t think it’s too hysterical but it’s better not to use sc—scare tactics. It’s better to just use the facts. And get as much knowledge as you can, get as many people who know, you know, who are experts in their field together. And that’s what’s happening with the dredging of the Lower Laguna Madre. That’s, you know, there’s an—there a professional panel that’s dealing with this and dealing with the environmental impact statement, that we’re not doing it. We ask that it be done. And when—when we were working against what was known as the Playa del Rio Resort which is another resort that was planned below on Boca Chica, very close to the—to the mouth of the river. Why we worked with Texas Parks and Wildlife and—and U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Environmental Protection Agency and all the agencies that we could
find actually that had anything to do with it, in order to beat back that particular development. I will say that—that our delay tactics and our way of—of, you know, putting so many obstacles in the road eventually paid off because the Savings & Loan industry collapsed. And that was a house of paper. The—the—there was not actually, you know, too much real money in it. There were a lot of loans in it but the—the gentleman who was developing the—planned the development was basing his ability to pay it back on sales, of course, of his development. But he never got to do the development so, of course, there were never any sales. And several Savings & Loans—loan organizations did collapse because of that. And, of course, it went back to the FSLIC and the—and the federal backup there. But eventually and just very, very recently happened, that U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Texas Parks and Wildlife received the—the area that was known—it was about twelve thousand plus acres, known as the—the Playa del Rio development on Boca Chica. And it is now in federally protected hands and will
be a wildlife refuge and is. And they’re working on a development plan for it. And by a development plan, I mean, they’re working on how best to preserve it. And yet, include public access. The beach, of course, is open beach and so it will remain open but they’re working on the—on the dune areas and other areas. In fact, dune areas to see what they can do to—to protect it as well as allow the public to use it. And—and so we—we feel really that was a wonderful victory, we feel very good about it.
DT: Congratulations. I think that’s wonderful.
MLC: It wasn’t very long ago either. Just, oh, actually just about two months ago that the—that U.S. Fish and Wildlife finally did—did the last acquisition. And they had to buy it from—from the federal government of, you know, FSLIC, through the Land and Water Conservation Fund which is money set aside to—to purchase fund—U.S. Fish and Wildlife sanctuaries and—and refuges.
DT: I guess that the Boca Chica site is right near the border. Could we talk about some of the international issues you’ve been interested and involved in? I read that you served as a member of the International Committee of the Sierra Club. What can you say are major, international, environmental problems?
MLC: Well, of course, pollution is one and then around the world, and particularly in undeveloped countries, it’s the cutting down of the forest, the pollution in the rivers because of the cutting down of the forest and the runoff. Recently because of the El Nino effect in many cases, they say the El Nino effect, there have been vast forest fires in the rain—in the rain forests also. But there’s been much clearing because there’s population growth every place you go and people need to eat. And so it was a—land has been cleared for—for grazing and cattle raising and for farming and for big production
farming. Much of our farming has gone south. You know, which are the citrus farming in the valley and—and vegetable far—farming has gone south. The big companies have—have moved. And in—in some of the countries like Nigeria and there’s—there’s been mining of different kinds of—and oil production. And it’s been not carried out as environmentally safe as it could be. And—and that happens in Mexico also. That we see that—that enviro—Mexico has environmental laws. That’s not to say that they don’t but that they have not always been enforced or carried out. And that’s true in the South American countries, I mean, the emerging African countries. And there’s actually been, you know, people have been persecuted for—for taking up with the indigenous population. And—and the indigenous population, the natives have been moved off their
land to—to develop it. And—or are used as labor, very poorly paid labor and child labor and people have been killed. There have been, you know, there are several national, international heroes and same thing has happened in Russia where in the far north in Russia, there’s been a lot of oil exploration and that has not been carried out in a environmentally sensitive way. And—and much of the radioactive pollution that’s gone on up there, the—the sinking of the—of the Russian submarines which, of course, have—without being properly decontaminated from their nuclear—nuclear submarines is what I’m talking about. And there are a lot of—of international environmental heroes actually.
And we, you know, we hear about them and learn about them through the international committee. As an—as a committee, we only meet twice a year. And I would say that we are not terribly effective because we, you know, there’s—what can we do. But we do
give a—a—a presence. We do know about things. We do try to publicize them. Some of our Texas companies have not always been good neighbors when they’ve gone south. And Freeport McNamara is one which is (?) in the Austin area. And I—I think that’s been real publicized. I don’t believe I’ll talk about it today but, at least, we have discussed it in an international committee. I am on the international committee because of my knowledge about Mexico and yet, there are so many things going on around the world that it’s very hard to get the committee’s attention to Mexico. I’m—and I have a terrible time sometimes and I get very unhappy about it. And yet there’s so many things going on. We’re called, as you know, we’re called NGO’s, we’re non-governmental officials. And so in many places, we’re not paid very much attention to. But in Mexico, there is some progress being made. And there are some groups rising up in Mexico. There are no Sierra Club groups in Mexico but there are groups that—that at some—at some point, we might be able to affiliate with. There is a—a Sierra Club group in Can—in Canada that—that is affiliated with the National Sierra Club. And their issues are mainly forestry issues. But, of course, they’re so close to the Arctic Circle that they work on some of the Russian issues also.
DT: What sort of reception do you think you get in the domestic realm when you start talking about international issues?
MLC: People are interested. They’re—they’re very interested but they think it’s so far away that it doesn’t really mean much to them. I mean, a lot of people do. Not everyone. There—there are a lot of people who realize that the world is growing so much smaller that what happens in Asia, you know, the—if the banks sneeze in Japan knowing they have a—that—that type of thing, both economically and environmentally. And if we lose—what the effect will be if we lose those rain forests, what would be on the world climate. And many rains are formed over those—over those rain forests. I mean, that, you know, the upsweep of the tropical environment. And will we continue to get drier and drier. We’ve been in a—we’re—we have, you know, climactic changes that are—that go back and forth. We have rainy seasons and dry seasons but the valley is—is really in a water shortage and it’s not going to be helped by rain or hurricane. It’s a
chronic water shortage. We—we—we will now talk about it and recognize that the river (?) is finite, that we must search for other ways of water. I think we will eventually have to go to a—to desalinization which has its pluses and its minus—minuses environmentally but I think it’s probably the only way we can go. I don’t think conservation is the answer. It’s one of the answers and it’s certainly we need to learn it but it is—it is short-term. And if—I think that—I—I (?) Regional Planning Group and I think that the people on there are pragmatic and realize where we are and that if we’re looking toward a fifty year horizon which we’re planning under Senate Bill One, why we’ll have to—to look at desalinization. I don’t think any of the water transfer schemes, you know that water transfer scheme that’s an old one from—from the late seventies, early eighties, none of those I think would be practical for us. That—very expensive but beyond that, they’re not practical cause those people need their water too. I’ll go back to Earth is a water planet, we’ve got to conserve the water and have the water or we won’t,
you know, we won’t live as we live now.
DT: I wanted to talk about the groups that actually do a lot of the conservation work in the state. You have been involved with quite a few of them. I noticed that you’d been involved with both the Frontera Audubon Society and the Lower Rio Grande Valley Group of the Sierra Club. Can you describe how the culture of those two very large membership organizations differ and how they might be alike as well?
MLC: Well I think, down here, they’re very alike because we—we’re both activist groups. And we work primarily on habitat, habitat protection. And we’re called sometimes in emergency situations where people don’t know anybody else to call, and they suddenly think of our names. For instance, if someone is doing some dredging or filling that they don’t think is proper or something like that, they’ll call Audubon or they’ll call Sierra. Actually Si—Audubon has more of a presence in the valley because they have an office and they have an Executive Director whereas the Lower River and the Valley Group of Sierra Club is done out of—in our pockets, so to speak. We don’t have—we’re not a professional, organized group as far as that goes, although we think that our work is professional. But we work with Audubon. Sometimes Audubon calls us and says this is more your line, can you do it? Or—so we work together, go back and forth or whoever. Sometimes it’s whoever has the time or the interest to go to a meeting or a—or something that’s going on hearing, we’ll go and represent both groups because
we do—we do work together very closely. I think it helps too because Jim Chapman is our Chair of our Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club and Cindy Chapman is the Executive Director of the Frontera Audubon Society. And they’re both members of each other’s organizations too. So we have a very close relationship there.
DT: Good communication.
MLC: Yes, but there are people who—who work with—with both groups and then there are some people who just work with Audubon or just work with Sierra. But it truly doesn’t make any difference because our goals are the same. We have not done as much in education as Frontera Audubon has. Frontera Audubon has actually put an educational program in some of the schools, in the—in the lower valley. In a prog—there’s a program in Rio Grande City and there’s a program in Brownsville so they’re anchored at both ends of what is considered to be the lower valley.
[End of Side 3]
MLC: …that they don’t think is proper or something like that, they’ll call Audubon or they’ll call Sierra. Actually Si—Audubon has more of a presence in the valley because they have an office and they have an Executive Director whereas the Lower River and the Valley Group of Sierra Club is done out of—in our pockets, so to speak. We don’t have—we’re not a professional, organized group as far as that goes, although we think that our work is professional. But we work with Audubon. Sometimes Audubon calls us and says this is more your line, can you do it? Or—so we work together, go back and forth or whoever. Sometimes it’s whoever has the time or the interest to go to a meeting or a—or something that’s going on hearing, we’ll go and represent both groups because
we do—we do work together very closely. I think it helps too because Jim Chapman is our Chair of our Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club and Cindy Chapman is the Executive Director of the Frontera Audubon Society. And they’re both members of each other’s organizations too. So we have a very close relationship there.
DT: Good communication.
MLC: Yes, but there are people who—who work with—with both groups and then there are some people who just work with Audubon or just work with Sierra. But it truly doesn’t make any difference because our goals are the same. We have not done as much in education as Frontera Audubon has. Frontera Audubon has actually put an educational program in some of the schools, in the—in the lower valley. In a prog—there’s a program in Rio Grande City and there’s a program in Brownsville so they’re anchored at both ends of what is considered to be the lower valley. And that was put
together by a—a—a group of consultants who Cindy worked with. And it’s quite a—quite a good educational program. So—and we didn’t have any part in that but, for the most part, we do work very closely together. And particularly, as I say, in things that—that we need to turn out people for, that we need to educate people about. And a lot of our work is done simply giving interviews to interested news people because as anyone who reads the newspaper knows there—the newspapers like conflict. So they like to know both sides of the story. And we’re able to—to do that. And we know most of the news people in the valley and so we—we appear on television and radio and—and talk about our interests and try to go to as many hearings, public hearings, as we possibly can cause we do believe in the public process.
DT: What sort of reception do you feel the media gives you?
MLC: Most of the time, I think they’re very fair. We don’t—we don’t seem to have any great problem with the media. Sometimes they’re interested more in the sound byte as they are nationally it seems like, than in hearing the whole story but we work very hard in trying to get our stories out. And, for the most part, it works out well. Most reporters have inquiring minds. That’s why they’re reporters and so they want to know the story. And they’ll generally listen to you and give you the benefit of at least a line or two. Even in—and particularly if you’re a participant in a hearing but oftentimes, they’ll know
that—what side you’re on and they’ll come up and ask you afterwards too. So we have a good relationship with the press. I think environmentalists as the rule do. I—I—I have not, you know, traveling around the state or going to Washington or different places where I’ve gone, I’ve never felt that the press was not willing to listen. And that’s both—you know, (?). And radio, radio is listened to a lot in the valley cause we’re in our cars a lot. And so we—we use the radio too. And they use us.
DT: You’ve also been active at different levels, not just within different groups. I noticed that you had been active with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Group of the Sierra Club but also that you’d served on the Executive Committee of the State Chapter, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Chapter. Could you talk about how those two experiences differ and how they might be the same?
MLC: Well it—they’re the same in that you—you—you have a position where you—you hear most of the things that are going on and you have an opportunity to—to make some things happen that you might not if you didn’t take that interest of going to the—either to the state group or the—or the—the local group. I had not been involved in the national organization except in the international committee and then there was a weapons committee that I was—but it has since been dissolved and gone into a—more of a water committee and—and I’m not involved in that anymore. But I was in the—on the National Weapons Committee too and that was—that was very interesting. And also I
worked with the—it’s called the Gulf Coast Regional Conservation Group which is made up of the Gulf Coast states and people from Sierra are delegates to that and then they talk about common interests. And, of course, we have many—we are a Gulf Coast state so that was of interest because the people from Florida on around serve on that.
DT: Do the national and regional groups tend to be more interested in policy regulations, laws and less in the specific permits and precise areas that is more generic. How would you split the two groups up?
MLC: As you know, overall their national priorities are set and then the—the chapters and the groups are supposed to work on things—on the national priorities that have to do with their region. For instance, if you’re in a forestry region, there’s a national priority on forestry or like—of course, you work within whatever is going on with the forestry problems or the forestry region. And—and what the national priority is and, at one time, the national priority was—was NAFTA and—and, you know, and getting good environmental law and labor law into NAFTA. And so we all worked on that together because that touched us down here in the valley very severely and strongly. But some of the things we don’t work on as much simply because we don’t have as much time and then the state sets priorities also. And then we have our own priorities. So there’s—
there’s a difference and then there’s a like thread that runs through too because it’s all—works on conservation. And then there’s, of course, the very famous Sierra Club saying is that everything in the world touches everything else. So you get involved in a lot of things that—that one wouldn’t think that you would be involved with but one thing leads to another. And so it’s—it’s never without its interest. The—to me, it was—it was satisfying to work on the—on the Lone Star Chapter business and to be an Ex Com [Executive Committee member] because we heard about problems all over the state and sometimes we were able to help with them and sometimes we were (?) projects. And also gave us an opportunity to bring our local problems to the Ex Com and ask for help there. And often we got help. I was never turned down on anything that I, you know, requested like interest or funding or—or to be able to go forward with a lawsuit or an inquiry or to be part of a—part of a lawsuit,
even if it didn’t involve money to—but to be going as a friend of the court or something like that. And so it’s a very good clearinghouse. I enjoyed the work but it’s time consuming cause you have to travel to Austin, usually to Austin once a month. And, although they were kind enough to come down here once or twice too.
DT: I guess one of the differences between the local and state levels is that oftentimes there’s staff at the state or the levels and it’s mostly volunteer run when you get into local groups. I was struck by how much you’ve accomplished while you’ve been working and trying to carry on a career and yet doing all this stuff as a volunteer. Could you talk about how you managed for balance, your very time-consuming hobbies…
MLC: Sometimes it didn’t balance.
DT: …and the 9 to 5 part of your life?
MLC: Well all of this happened after my children were grown so I didn’t have the housekeeping duties that I might have had. You know, I mean, as far as children to school and back to school and their activities. So—so that was one thing that I was eased up on. So I could work in the evenings or whenever I wanted to on this. And then dealing with the two things that I worked with, public relations and then the art gallery, meshed very well in that I—I was my own boss so I could take time off. And, as far as the art gallery, if I had to go to a meeting, why I simply put a sign on the door and went because I didn’t have any employees and it wasn’t lucrative enough to have employees probably because I didn’t spend enough time with it. But I enjoyed it immensely and I found artists to be, most of the time, very interested in environment and interested in working, you know, for a clean environment and—and very interesting people to talk
with. And so that was—that was a plus. It wasn’t a minus to—to what I was doing. Sometimes I could enroll them in certain things also so I did a lot of recruiting but artists are also very busy people too. So it’s not always easy to and they get—if they’re professional and really that was the only type of artist that I wanted to work with because you—you want to have good work. If you’re—if you have an art gallery, you want to—to be able to be proud of the work you—you sell. And so you—you try to get people to—to either consign or you buy work that you think will fit in with what you—what you
offer. And I tried to have local work as much as possible and there are many fine artists in the area. In fact, that’s why several of us started the art gallery and then it fell back to—everybody went other directions and let—and I was doing it but—which was all right. They went onto other things. I mean, it just was one of those things that happens. And but we started because there were several good artists in the area who didn’t have a place to show or who said well why don’t you? And we were lucky enough to have a very nice building at that time that—that wanted us. And so we, you know, that worked well together. But balancing, you know, every—I think—I think almost every woman in the United States does that now. They balance. You know, they balance their lives out between—between working and child care and home care and—and a friend and companion to their husband and—and the rest of their families. And so it’s—we’ve
grown to a very complicated lifestyle but fortunately, we have washing machines and things like that. Somebody said to me one day, well, you know, you’re always talking about the environment. You don—you—do you want to go back to the good old days? And I said, well I—I grew up in the country and we had running water in the kitchen and we had an outside shower and that was it. And the rest of the water, you know, was hauled. And I said, fortunately, we had people who helped us. And—but we, you know, we didn’t have washing machines. And I said, the one thing that I would not want to give up is a washing machine. Said, I think I could give up a lot of the others but a washing machine is something I really don’t want to part with. So—but I still hang my clothes out on the—on the line because I like it. I think I’m one of the few people on the island who does that. But that’s getting away from where we were. And…
DT: How do you think these environmental groups, how are they going to manage without this supply of people they’ve grown accustomed to who had the spare time to come and contribute to the non-profit?
MLC: Well I think there needs to be balance. I would, at one time, in fact, we did apply for a grant to have a South Texas office. It didn’t come through because actually the—the money wasn’t there at national that we had thought there was, you know. And we applied through the—to the region of—of—of—and—and because we had hoped that maybe we could do some work in Mexico through that office. In other words, if we had the money, we could—we could expand a little bit, maybe not set up a chapter in Mexico but at least serve some people in Mexico and get some of the Mexican problems, at least some (?) some help. But I—I do think that it’s very good to have a balance. We work well with the Austin chapter but it’s not always—there—they have many priorities and it’s not always easy to get all of our—of attention that we would—we truly believe that we need. But—so we—we pretty well do it ourselves.
DT: Do you think that’s the trend is that where there’s enough demand, those jobs will become paying jobs?
MLC: Well I think so. And I…
DT: And that the working women will help contribute to that and the working men as well?
MLC: They’re—there just isn’t quite enough money to—to go around. You know, you have to—I mean, to—in order to have a—a professional office and—and professional workers all over the state. It just has not—it’s—it’s not that way. You know, it just isn’t because we’re—the—the—in the first place, we’re not-for-profit group so how do we get that money? And we get that money—as—as I’m sure you know, from grants and—and institutions that are interested in furthering the environment and furthering the relationship and recognizing that it’s important and through educational groups who—but we don’t ever have enough. And I don’t know whether we ever really will or not because as we get more problems, the demands grow greater. And so we—we’ve learned how to make do, you know, we—we—we—we pay for some of it out of our pockets and we go and ask somebody else to—maybe they’ll, you know, run us off a thousand copies of
something or something, you know. So we have a lot of in-kind that is given to us. And we carpool a lot and do things like that. So—and room at hotels together when we go on trips and—and—and—and there are a lot of the foundations that are willing to, you know, both large and small that are willing to—to work and to put their money into—into the bettering of the environment or into environmental education.
DT: It seems like environmental groups have traditionally been white, middle class people. And the society is changing and it’s not white and middle class as much as it once was. And I’m curious how you see the future playing out for environmental groups, whether they’re going to come sort of a marginal, odd bubble of whiteness or if they’re going to become more integrated? And, if so, how’s that change going to happen?
MLC: It’s going to take work on both sides. And down here, down in the valley, we’re about eighty-five percent Hispanic, Hispanic roots. And yet I will say that our Sierra Club is not eighty-five percent Hispanic. And I don’t know when that day will come but I know that through environmental education, there are more and more children wanting to become involved. And—but also there are, oh, that’s April—and, excuse me—and more and more wanting to preserve their environment, preserve their homeland.
DT: We were talking just a moment ago about conservation and race, I think you said when we were off tape, that some of those encouraging things is how the staff of some groups have changed. I was wondering if you could mention that?
MLC: Well I know that—that the—the state office of the Sierra has—has a consul—actually she’s on as—as a consultant now I think but, at any rate, she works out of the state office. Her name is Leslie Fields and she’s a very fine lawyer who used to work for the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People]. And so they have taken on—through Leslie, they have taken on a number of—of issues that have had to do with Black neighborhoods and I think that that has been a very forward move and something that eventually will pay off by having more members of all different races and colors. And that’s really what we’re working toward because that’s what United States has become. We—down here the other night, we had a meeting with Ken Kramer who’s our State Executive Director and we had to call people to come mainly from the Ex Comm [Executive Committee] or people we knew that were particularly interested in—in meeting with Ken. And it was over half Hispanic. And we were very pleased because
we have a number of teachers particularly who have joined our group down here. And, to me, that is wonderful because they’re teaching the children and the teachers—I think there were seven teachers here the other night out of a group of about twelve people. But that is—is one of the—the jobs in the valley that is needed and that also draws that middle class that is having more time to do things and you wouldn’t think teachers would really have more time to do thing but they do. They take it on because it’s part of their work—work ethic or—of good teachers I think. And so that—that, to me, is—is very important. I—Senator Truan, for instance, is one who is constantly telling me that we need more Hispanic members and I say Senator, I agree with you. You just forward them our way and we’ll take them in. You know, we’re not—not wanting to—to exclude anyone. But—and there are some people that simply don’t have the leisure time and won’t have the leisure time until we have a better job market down here. And for so
long, we have been the leaders in the valley of—of—of the lowest income and the lowest salaries and the lowest employment rates. And so it’s—it is difficult for people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from to think about the environment. And yet, those are the people who are most affected with unclean water and—and unclean living conditions that—that are caused by environmental problems.
DT: A lot of the non-profits, particularly the ones in the conservation field have had women as officers and volunteers and as founding members. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about why that is and how that’s been part of your life. I noticed that you were with some of the first female appointees to some of these conservation agencies. Why is that?
MLC: Well, of course, there’s been more awareness and there’s been, you know, equal opportunity laws and talks about having more women in—as well as, you know, more races in—into—into decision making—into the decision making process. And also it’s not always—it’s not always easy. Sometimes, for instance, I am the only woman on the policy—water policy group for the Lower Rio Grande Valley. And I’m one of two women on our regional planning group for—under Senate Bill One. The majority are
men and are business men and are white business men. So, you know, we’re not entirely there but I—couple of years ago, I went to a—an (?) party or lunch or something given by the American Association of Uni—University Women and it was on the—the anniversary of women’s right to vote. And so they asked several of us to come who had done things. And since I’d been a—a election judge and—and active in the Democratic Party, why I was asked to come. And they, you know, asked you to say a few words when you accept your plaque and whatnot and so I said, well, you know, it’s—it’s—I’m really honored to have it because when my mother was, you know, this has become within my mother’s lifetime that women could vote because my mother couldn’t vote when she was a young woman nor could she have been an election judge or—and yet I
have an aunt who just retired from being an election judge. At that time, she was—so she had—maybe I followed in her footsteps except I really didn’t know for a long time that she was an election judge. She was a business woman and she kept busy doing so many things and we didn’t really talk about her being an election judge. So or maybe it’s just built into a—a family to want to do things, I don’t know. So I—I think that that is more, you know, there’s much more equality between the sexes and the races than—and it’s coming more and more and should—I think the environmental field should be a leader in it.
DT: Well you’re helping that happen.
MLC: Well I hope so.
DT: Let’s talk about how things have changed over the past. I was wondering how do you think times have changed in your conservation field and in your work since you began this kind of work?
MLC: Well really the reason that I became affiliated with—with Sierra Club is because I started trying to do some things on my own here on the island, you know about, what things are about, beach conservation. And—and one person really can’t do a whole lot. I mean, you need to be a group. You need to have a group behind you, not only for the exchange of ideas but—but for—well mainly for the exchange of ideas but if you say, you know, I’m with the Sierra Club or whatever group that you’re in and particularly if it’s a national organization that has a good reputation as I think Sierra and Audubon both do, why, that is behind you and they know that—that you’re not just speaking off the top of your head. But if you have an organization behind you that trusts you, that feels that you are doing something right or else you would not belong to that organization and you feel that the national organization is there to back you up. And this has happened, you
know, several times. And people will say, well what organization is you with—are you with. Is you with, not with the National English Teachers.
DT: I know what you mean.
MLC: So—so, at any rate, it’s—it’s—I think important to belong to—to organization. There are all kinds of organizations and—and I’m not particularly a joiner and yet I—when I go through things, I do see my name attached to several things but I try to—to not be in anything that I can’t be active in.
DT: So you think that that’s one of the big changes, is that these groups have grown much larger in the last twenty or thirty years?
MLC: I think they have and then, you know, we go back to maybe women having a little bit more time or being able to take more time. I’m not sure which it is. And yet, most of the people—I—I think it’s about half and half in our valley group of—of—made up of men and women. And we—I think I’m the only one now that doesn’t work. I think the rest of them are employed.
DT: Locally, what do you think is—of this period that you’ve been involved with things down here, is the most important conservation effort or problem that you know of?
MLC: Well they keep coming up, you know. So I think the water right now—what I’m working on with water—not that I’m going to make a change but that the people—you know, that all of us together concentrating on water, I think will—will…
DT: Supply or quality or…
MLC: Water supply and quality both. Is—and then working with the lo—with the Laguna Madre trying to protect it is important. The—the victories that we have had and the growth of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Corridor which is the—a refuge system that is primarily along the river to—to retain and keep or reforest riparian woodlands along the river. That’s—that’s a very important one and it’s a—it’s federal—federally funded in that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages those lands but we work as a—as a group who can lobby for them and—and work toward retaining the lands. We actually, in the case of the Boca Chica area, filed a lawsuit. Sierra and Frontera Audubon did – to clear the title. They—clear the title so that—that the land could be purchased by U.S. Fish and Wildlife. So we have played an active part in—in gaining that land. We—Audubon has—has a—Frontera Audubon has a ha—part-time person in
Washington. It’s—she is paid for by a—a—some monies that were given sev—several Audubon people who are in the valley whose families had wanted to contribute to Audubon. And so they gave the money for this woman to be—to work part-time in Washington. So she can keep up with what’s going on in Washington and then let us know what’s going on so they—we, in turn, can lobby our officials. And—and it’s a—it’s been a great help.
DT: Do you have some advice for people who are interested in conservation?
MLC: Well it goes back to the idea that everything, you know, is important. Everything touches everything else. But I think it’s important to be involved and to—I think it’s important to get to know your elected officials because—or the policymakers because you’re going to have to deal with them. It’s kind of popular now to say, you know, to look down on elected officials but truly they—they are the ones who make the laws. They are the ones who—who—that actually make the policies. And if you don’t interact with them, you may get some things that you don’t want. And so the—the best part is to at least, if you don’t feel friendly toward them, at least try to work with them. And work through their offices. Their all have public representatives who—who they by, almost by law, have to—to listen to us and—and work with us. It doesn’t mean they’re always going to vote the way we want them to. But we—they are accessible. And so that’s one very important thing that—that anyone can do. You know, anyone can—can write a
postcard. You don’t have to have fancy stationary or letterhead. You can write, if you feel strongly about something, you can pick up your pen and write or call. Telephone is very economical now. And so it’s—I think that people need to get involved and if they have a problem, call someone from an organization that they know something about and get directions. Sometimes that organization doesn’t, you know, maybe they don’t do wetlands or they don’t do this but they will—they can point you to someone else who does.
DT: One last question that I’ve got and maybe you’ve got something to say instead of me rambling on.
MLC: I think I’ve said a lot.
DT: Do you have a favorite outdoor spot that you can describe, both how it looks to you and why it’s important to you?
MLC: Well it used to be my first home, if you will, in—in Vinita where I was born. And it—it still means a lot to me and I—but I go up there on such an infrequent basis now. I—I used to go at least twice a year and I haven’t been in two years now. So that, you can see that I haven’t visited my favorite spot. But now I have another favorite spot along with my daughter and son-in-law in a small farm outside of Mercedes. And we raise horses and—and dogs and children. And—and we have a lot of old, old trees out there and it is so wonderful in the evening, about the time the moon comes up, to sit out at our new barn and listen to the horses munching and listen to the coyotes and hear the evening sounds and birds and maybe we’ll hear an owl or two hoot and watch the moon come up and just sit there. You feel like you’ve done a hard day’s work and you probably have but not, you know, not as hard as if you’d been out making hay or something. But—but still, it’s—it’s probably my favorite spot now. We have some comfortable chairs out there and we generally take a little something to drink and we have our cocktail hour out there and watch the moon, listen to the horses.
DT: Sounds nice. Well thanks for telling me about that and all these other things. This has been wonderful and I really appreciate your time.
MLC: Well thank you. Well I appreciate your asking me. I feel really honored and, you know, if it doesn’t work out…
End of reel 1017
End of interview with Mary Lou Campbell