INTERVIEWEE: Ned Fritz (NF)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: May 17, 1997
LOCATION: Dallas, Texas
REEL: 1008 (hi-8 master)
NUMBER OF TAPES: two, both sides (audio copies)
TRANSCRIBER: Judy Holloway
DT: … all over the state, and–much of it, though, of course, in East Texas. And I wanted to thank you before we even got started. This is very nice of you.
I’d like to begin with your parents. I’m curious if they had much interest in conservation or the outdoors and maybe passed some–something on to you.
NF: My mother had little interest in the outdoors or nature per se and she’d liked our back yards–very civilized–that we lived in and–fact, I was born in the busy part of Philadelphia, 52nd and Walnut Street, where there were no trees, except they still had a couple of walnuts scattered down the street maybe. But the sidewalks were paved to the street, and the back yard was closed in with–practically no vegetation. So, my first sight of Nature, other than walking to a park in Philadelphia, was when we moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I saw plenty. My father had a natural interest in the out-of-doors. But he satisfied that by fishing, and he took us boys–that is, my–I and my friends, when I got to Tulsa, Oklahoma–on fishing trips, on weekends, when we could get right there in the water, throwing the bait and soon the flies ’cause we learned to fly-fish–out into the stream and under the trees and that was when I began to get the feel of it.
DT: And then later, when you were in school, did you–did you pick up friends or courses, teachers that were interested in conservation or these sorts of things?
NF: Yes, we had a little bit but in those days, there was–very little in biology except the parts of the body and–and sometimes the–relationships of plants and animals, mostly I guess the–the basic biological facts. But, I really got into it as a Boy Scout and pre-Boy Scout, going to camps. The YMCA Camp, High Y, and the Boy Scout camp outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
DT: And what did you do there?
NF: We had a–young man who knew about Nature and they showed us some of the aspects of Nature. And, mostly I learned it myself by passing merit badges, and the Boy Scouts had instructions on–oh, species and had books with different species in them and–I would learn them out in the woods close to home. We lived on the edge of Tulsa, Oklahoma, from the age seven, on to age 24. And, I could walk down the hill a couple of blocks and be in the woods. It was also on the edge of the–of Osage County, where the Osage Hills at that time, and even–mainly up to today were wild, rugged, post oak–cross timbers area, …
NF:… almost the way Washington Irving described them. And he went through right where I lived. That–his route came–by maps, within a few blocks at most of where I lived. So, he describes it in the wild back in 1832. And, it was still about like that, outside of the edge of Tulsa, when I lived there and would walk into the woods, and learn the trees and plants, for my Boy Scout Merit Badges.
DT: Did you have friends who would join you or were there scout leaders that led you or …
NF: Yes, to some extent, but I was the–main natural–lover of Nature from an early age. It just–sank in and felt right and it’s part of our human heritage if our mind is open to it.
DT: I’ve often seen Mrs. Fritz at–at TCONR events and other environmental outings and I’m curious how you–you share your interest in conservation with your family as you’ve grown up and raised a family yourself.
NF: We share it very well. I never have felt that–my wife, Jeanie, absorbed the feelings as deeply as I do, of natural surroundings. But she likes ’em well enough so that she’s happy to have this natural setting as our house is. We evolved to this place from a residence or two that were less natural. And the daughters have all shown an interest in environment, in various degrees, to the extent where my oldest daughter leads field trips now in England, where she married. And my second daughter is a–a paleoethnobotanist and knows the plants in the communities very well. My fourth daughter actually volunteered to teach in California nature centers and parks, with a bit of guiding and all and knows the birds especially, and many of the plants very well, and insects even. So that’s–our genetic strain, dating back to early human’s love and association with nature, is still strong.
DT: Well, a good sign, a strong gene. Can you tell a little bit about the–the land around your house that you mentioned?
NF: Yeah, well, we have a three-acre lot here and–deep in Dallas. The creek–Bockman Creek runs through the middle of it back there. Our native vegetation still survives, with a constant fight against invaders, such as Chinese privett, or–we have a vast variety of trees here. When Dallas County Audubon, which I helped to found and was the first president, used to have contests for how–who had the most species in one month of birds. We won because we had, like, 72 species in one month. And so then, after a couple of months of outdistancing everybody, why, I just stopped and let some other people have a chance to win.
NF: Jeannie has a front yard that’s bigger than most front yards where she mows. But she has buffalo grass, and–Texas winter grass, and other native species, then she planted something else in there. Have her lawn satisfactory to her and that’s just a small part of our three acres, which I–she and I actually signed a contract. She had so much to mow, and we had the rest to stay wild. That was–50 years ago or more, and we have stuck to that contract all the way, in writing.
DT: Well, it seems like y’all have a very good relationship and agreement, and I’m curious, though, about your neighbors. They seem to’ve taken a very different approach to landscaping. I’m wondering if you’ve ever had discussions with them about the sins and virtues of landscaping.
NF: Yes, on occasion. But, we were the fourth house on–in this long block of 24 homes. And therefore, we have some seniority for policy-making as far as what grows wild and what is tamed, so that we have had really no problem with our neighbors, except an occasional joke cracked or the like. But, like yesterday, a woman comes down the driveway with her little girl and she wants to know if we were willing to sell this wild place there. They were fascinated by it, and she’s looking for–up and down the street. Across the creek it’s almost altogether wild. And so, I referred her to a possible purchase, to come in and keep that part wild for the next purchaser.
DT: Good! I’d like to talk a little bit about your–your work. And I understand that for a number of years you were in the private practice of law, and you–you specialized in usury and credit law? And I’m curious if you’d tell a little bit about that and also if there was some connection between your interest in–in consumer problems and–legally and how that might tie in with the public interest and–and more broad sort of citizen concerns. Was there a link there or was–were they two separate tracks?
NF: There is a link, and it’s not readily observable. But, both are out of the ordinary public track of money-making. In the field of consumer credit, I represented borrowers who were overcharged in interest and who were harassed by the lender in order to pay exorbitant interest rates. In the field of environment, I represent another normally unrepresented class, and that is Nature itself, which cannot speak verbally and has no–ability to hire lawyers. And so, the lawyers that come in are–for Nature are generally looking out for Nature, and the environment–various aspects–more than for monetary compensation. These are both public services that–consumer interests and the environmental interests.
DT: Well, considering that that was, I guess the–a different goal than–than many attorneys who are interested in, I guess, their bottom line, their–their financial bottom line. How did your colleagues in the Bar see your–your work in environmental activities when you were serving on the–the Texas State Bar on Historic Preservation and Special Environmental studies? They …
NF: The environment has actually improved in status in the law practice, and I think that–just like consumer representation has improved. And I think that lawyers–are not inclined to–hold it against any group, for being represented. One of the principles of law practice is that everyone is entitled to a lawyer. And so, we look upon–lawyers look upon each other for their–talents and–capabilities more than for whom they represent, although I do believe that there’s more basis for …
GF: [Genie, wife of Ned Fritz.] Yeah, right.
NF:… admiring people who are representing …
NF:… others as a public service than for strictly money-making.
GF: Some don’t. [Laughs.]
DT: Well, we’re just gonna resume now. We’re talking about Ned Fritz’s experience in the law and …
NF: Yeah, I want to make an insert, if I may, at this stage.
NF: My wife, Jeannie, [laughs], who is listening in, points out that she does love Nature, that she has been very close to Nature in many respects. She doesn’t share my desire to identify every tree and plant and animal, bird. But that she feels close to Nature and of course that–very important. In fact, our honeymoon was in Nature. In fact, before we even married, we spent the time in the out-of-doors and that she’s been a lover of outdoors since she was a child. The other thing is about my neighbors. Somebody that I was told was from the Fair Park area–which is unlikely, I was told by the police. Somebody turned me in for this wild setting–as a violation of the Weed Ordinance of the city of Dallas, and–I defeated the charges two or three times, on technicalities. And then, they filed again–or the Weed Ordinance prosec–investigator for the city filed again. And, I decided when–we could’ve beaten that one technically but–and constitutionally. But we decided we’d just try it on the facts and get it over with. So we got a jury, and my fellow lawyers in my firm represented me, and we won the case. They–the jury agreed with us that these natural plants growing here are not weeds. And, as a result, why, only one time since then did some new zealous Weed Ordinance investigator ever investigate, at which time I explained–they were younger and–and better educated then. I explained to them what we had here, showed it to them, and they never filed suit.
DT: Well, a happy ending.
DT: Cool. Thanks for clarifying that. That’s nice to hear because I know that in many neighborhoods it’s very controversial to have a yard that’s actually natural, and you’d think that something being native in–to an area would be a great defense, that you haven’t done anything unusual. It’s the most normal, natural thing to have a natural yard but I guess not everybody agrees.
NF: Well, some of the natural plants, other people consider as weeds. For example, we had lots of goldenrod, and the question was, does this affect other people’s breathing, whereupon I had–probably the leading goldenrod expert in the United States happened to be here at the time of my trial. So we put him on the stand and he was absolutely convincing that the species of goldenrod that we had–it grows out front–is pollinated by insects and not by wind, and it does not get into anybody’s noses. That helped.
DT: [Pause.] Right. Well, I know that you’ve often reached out beyond your neighborhood and tried to protect native areas beyond your lot where your house is and that you’ve written many bills, including, I believe, the Texas Scientific Areas Act, the Texas Parks and Protection Act, the East Texas Wilderness Act, and probably many more that I didn’t mention, and I was wondering if you could tell a little bit about the experience of writing and lobbying for those bills as a lawyer.
NF: When we started lobbying in about the mid 1960’s primarily in Texas, we went at things gradually, trying to get the–imprint of the environment into the minds of–Texas legislators who are imprinted mainly by money. And, so we passed a bird law that protects all the species of birds with three exceptions–the English sparrow, the cow bird and–the starling, I believe. And then we branched out into the law that sets up scientific areas, as it were, natural areas that are part of the park system, and I then got some more legislation passed. But, my big realization that we had to come from another angle, if we were going to pass anything really powerful in Texas, came when we tried to get a Texas Environmental Policy Act similar to the Natural Environmental Policy Act, which requires a study of the environmental consequences before an environmentally changing–government action can take place. We–really ran into the lobbies including the Chemical lobby on that one, and they really had paid more money by far to elect legislators than we could ever muster, and they–got to our own sponsors in the Legislature of the bill. And–the bill was withdrawn after a damaging amendment or two were passed, so that–I have left the Legislature mainly to others to wrestle with and went into the Congress more, where we did get help with some national legislation, mainly defeating eroding amendments that industries of various kind, including polluting industry, tried to get into the early powerful laws–the Wilderness Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. When we got those laws passed, the industry had not yet turned its attention to defeating environmental legislation, and they hadn’t elected their people on that basis. But they rapidly got into that phase of campaign contributions, so–that it would also help them to defeat environmental legislation–environmentally sound legislation–and we’ve had that problem with ’em ever since, so that the environment–the salvation of the environment depends, in my opinion, on campaign finance reform.
DT: Well, in the interim, until you can get some change in the way political campaigns are financed, how do environmental groups or individuals manage to take on industry groups that have a great deal more clout and resources, in the Legislature and the Congress?
NF: Yeah. We fight them, and the recent situation of the 1994 Congress was an example. Industry was in charge of the Republican majority Congress and set out many measures to undermine existing environmental protection, and was beginning to succeed until the environmentalists managed to–find some media that were not dominated by industry and that would carry the point to the public that–that our environmental legislation, especially, like, clean water, which everybody wants to drink and clean air, which everybody wants to breathe, were in danger. Thereupon, Congress began to become–unable to get further damaging legislation through, and we stopped most of it. But, that would take repeated effort from the environmental activists and spread through the whole citizenry to get that kind of results. And so, it is a difficult fight.
DT: Well, it seems like as long as you practiced law, you’ve also maybe spent as much time or more of–working on these sort of public interest issues as a–as a non-profit volunteer, and–and I was curious if you could tell a little bit about some of the non-profit groups that you actually helped start. I mean, my understanding is that you were active with the Texas Committee on Natural Resources from the very beginning and at the Nature Conservancy and Dallas Audubon and many other groups in Texas, and I was wondering if you could maybe give a few examples of how they began.
NF: Yeah, I helped to start the Texas Consumer Association. And–then, I got into the environmental organization field because you have to have lots of people to effectuate any public service goals. And that’s democracy as it should be. So we–in the middle ’60’s–well, first in–as you say, in the 19 …
[Tape 1, Side B.]
NF: … as you say, in the 19–about 1954, we organized the–Texas Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, of which I was the early president. And, we formed a coalition. The various groups were each out to effectuate some end of their own, which was about all that a small citizen group could do. And we got them together into a coalition, which became the Texas Committee on Natural Resources, with–representation from all over the state and from many different environmental groups. This has been an effective way to accomplish some goals nationally, because we worked with national groups as well. And, on a state basis, it has kept Texas–helped to keep Texas from bowling over totally to the large money interests that do have environmentally detrimental functions. In fact, exploiting the environment is one of the main ways to make money–by big industry, and even, in many instances, little guys, who exploit their own–surrounding nature. So we need to have citizens who are opposing them for non-monetary reasons. That is the way I see environmentalists working.
DT: Can you tell about some of the–the early compadres you had in the environmental field who were helpful?
NF: Well, probably people who most people never heard of. When–I helped to start the–League of Conservation Voters, a national group. Well, Marion Edey, E-D-E-Y, was the first leader. One of those who was in on our early legislative efforts nationally was Brent Blackwelder, who is now the president of Friends of the Earth–or the executive director. [Pause.] There were many good people that helped to start things nationally and–on the state level. Most of them are long gone and–little known. But, in the–fight to get the–struggle, I should say, to get the environmental–activists together into one cause on saving the Big Thicket, well, one person who helped greatly was Geraldine Watson, who is still active to some extent, and Mickey Johnston, who is still active. And–[pause]–the rest, I think, are–of the early fighters are dead except–and Pete Gunter came into it. [Pause.] Ralph Yarborough of course was very helpful, until he was defeated and then, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, who took his place, sponsored the bill that went on through. When Congressman Charles Wilson agreed to help, to compromise, then we got the Big Thicket Bill through. And Congressman John Siberling of Ohio was the one–he was the chair of the subcommittee in Congress in charge of wilderness and he’s the one that got–the Wilderness Act through, which–Congressman Wilson also compromised with us and enabled us to do it.
DT: Well, what do you think tied together many of the–especially the volunteers who work for non-profit groups, what–what do you think set them apart from most people and brought them to work on these environmental issues?
NF: I think the fact that they–recognized the necessity to maintain a sound environment for the survival of the human species, and–or that they–felt, as I did, a natural bond with the native plant and animal communities, out of which we evolved, so that they could struggle to save the environment, without being paid to do so. It was almost entirely volunteer effort. We did come to where we had enough money to employ some people who had worked very well and some of them have a–basic instinct for the environment as well, perhaps most of them.
DT: Can you talk a little bit about how things have changed, between the days when most environmental work was done by volunteers, and the current day when much of the work is done by paid, trained professionals who focus on this for their livelihood?
NF: Yes. We had to get full-time employees to carry out the details of the work, even just to hold an organization together, which is essential to environmental strength. In fact, we need much broader appeal and contact than we have had, if we’re to–compete with all the money that goes into the campaign contributions of the legislators who decide these things. And I would say that most of the paid workers genuinely feel the desire to help to carry out our ends. It isn’t just for money or for winning. It’s because they know that these are the goals that are–vital to humanity. So, I would say that ordinarily there is not as much of the schism that many movements have between staff and volunteers–that schism arising because staff tends to want to take over strategy, if not policy-making, and you–you have to always be careful about that. But, I’d say there’s less of that tendency in the environmental movement ordinarily, because we all–staff and volunteers all deeply feel the same visions.
DT: Well, do you think that the vision is almost a spiritual one or is it an aesthetic one or is it more sort of a secular or biological thing, you know, the survival of the species or a respect for the community that we evolved from?
NF: Well, to me, it is a part of philosophy, and that philosophy–including what you mentioned as spiritual, because–there is a mystery. No matter how much we learned, there are still basic elements that the human mind can never solve, because we are dependent upon our senses. And our senses–we cannot prove, except through our senses, that our senses are a part of reality, so there is a mystery there in which we must have faith. And that faith should be based on all the knowledge that we have, and just fill in the gap from there. So it takes a tremendous amount of science as a basis for what we do. But it also takes religion in that realm of faith, which is really a very powerful realm. [Telephone rings.] Can we break?
DT: Well, we’re just resuming a little later and talking about some of the spiritual connections between people and their environmental work and their environmental interests. And–and I was curious if you could tell me a little bit about your–your role in the–I think you were active in your Methodist Church over here. Did you find that the church responded to those needs in you and that many of your other co-parishioners felt that way?
NF: Yes. I think that most of the–religions or of the congregations even, that I have known about, churches–share this feeling for the environment. It’s–when you get beyond money as the goal of life, you tend to get–and when you get beyond human beings as the entire realm of love and of cooperation, you–naturally bring in the environment, in which human beings live, and in which all other species live. And so churches–ordinarily are environmentally sound in their religions. And, likewise, those who don’t go to church or who are in a–another aspect of philosophy and religion, inevitably come to–maintain the respect for and to develop a knowledge in environmental issues, …
NF:… and a love for nature.
DT: When we were first talking about spiritual things, it was in terms of what brought people to work for nonprofit groups and I was wondering if we could just return to the role of nonprofit groups and how they fit in some sort of ecological niche with governmental agencies, and industry groups and I guess also the general public. When you start talking about environmental protection, what is the special role that you think public interest groups serve?
NF: I think that organizing the public citizens is essential to maintaining protection of the environment, both in and out of government. It takes a lot of people. One person can hang onto the environment and their own property, if they have any, or in their own surroundings if they have any control over them. But beyond that, for the vast arena of public lands and of public oversight such as for clean air and clean water, you have to have groups, and they must be above and beyond the profit motive. “For where your treasure lies, there will your heart be also.”
DT: And I guess it’s very complicated when that treasure is eyed by many different people, and some have different designs. And for some of them it’s a trove of filthy lucre, and for others it’s a wonderful walk in the woods.
DT: So I guess that these public interest groups help focus people on protecting some sort of legacy?
NF: Yes, and while we’re considering that, why, we must realize that the foundations, the organizations that–give grants for certain environmental activities, are a vital part of all this, because when you have groups that are out there, saving the environment, not for profit–well, they still have to have enough money to print newsletters, to make long-distance telephone calls, and if they’re well enough organized, to employ people–staffers and others–to do the–carry out the functions that are necessary to educate everybody on what needs to be done and to enlist everybody into backing up the sound political measures that you’re working on. So that in a nonpartisan way, well, the foundations and the trusts are very important as–providing the funds that are necessary to carry on these actions.
DT: Well, I’m curious what you think of the recent trends away from nonprofit initiatives and foundation money and individual donations towards–I guess the current mantra is–is free market realities, that things have to work in the larger economy for them to come to fruition, that you can’t support things with people’s volunteer time or with people’s charitable donations. Or with their tax money, for that matter.
NF: Yeah. Well, most religions have battled with the question of–how the economy can be carried on, with its almost necessary monetary base, and the–how the–human beings can meet the various issues, particularly environmental issues involved. And my philosophy is that the economy can go on functioning with a free-market basis, and can–maintain the production and the distribution that is necessary to sustain a viable population of human beings. And still, you can have the–non-monetary motivations that are essential to such vital roles in life as–as to love your fellow human beings and to love the nature that has developed you and your fellow human being. In other words, as long as we keep the profit makers out of controlling the religion and controlling the government and the public lands, well, then, we can have the free profit–free market motivation, and also a sound religion and environmental protection. It’s conceivable that–problem is that exploiters of environmental resources are always available, looking for a profit that they can make out of the environment. And unless you keep them out of controlling the government, they will control the government in order to maintain a climate where they can over-exploit nature, and thus lead the human species to inevitable disaster, because humans are dependent upon nature, upon the many species of plants and animals that are on the face of the earth for our own food, for our own medicines, for many other products, and for survival. We’ve got to–remain, to keep a vast field of life, and of government, free of dominance by profit makers, if we’re to save the human race.
DT: Could you give me some examples of how a governmental agency like the Forest Service balances the pressures it gets from, on the one hand its congressional masters, and on the other hand its–its public, and then I guess what it would consider its regulated community or its–as I say, its client, you know, the timber industry. But how in your experience the forest industry, the Forest Service, rather, has juggled those three different pressures.
NF: Well, unfortunately, government agencies tend toward protecting themselves and their budget. They come down to a form of the money motive. In–in government agencies, like the Forest Service, it is not necessarily the usually defined word of profit, but it is money, and budgets. The Forest Service tries to produce commercial timber in order to maintain its full budget and the salaries of the individuals in the Forest Service that are working on timber production. And, they could probably maintain almost as big an agency, and as high salaries that go with the size of the agency, out of recreation. But even there, they would be trying to create the type of recreation that brings the most income to pay for their salaries and power, so that–the solution has to be to–change the motivations of agencies. The change would be in the direction of public service, aside from commercial production, …
[Tape 2 of two, Side A.]
NF: … –and therefore a willingness to have a smaller agency that forgoes money-making activities such as selling timber. I think that one of the bills right now before the Congress is to prevent federal timber-growing agencies from making sales that are money-losing, simply because those sales are resulting in a depletion of the timber and resources of the native ecosystems in favor of commercial timber. In the South that would be mainly pine trees that grow faster and bring more money, so far, and in the northwest it would be Douglas firs. Every region would have its species that the Forest Service would like to maintain as almost a monoculture, in order to increase the total income. The money-losing part is bad, because then they will sell it at any price for the industry that wants it. [Pause.] In other words, an agency–to survive, a government agency does not have to make a profit in the same sense as a business does. It can lose money because it has the tax payers to make up for it. And, most forest activists believe that federal agencies should not be able to exploit Nature any more than a business, and that federal agencies can be worse because they can take the money from the tax payers’ pockets to do it. And we should not let ’em do it.
DT: [Pause.] I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about how agencies such as the Forest Service’s regime have changed the way environmental activists can practice law. It seems that for many years before major federal environmental laws were passed in the 1970’s, nuisance law and litigation in court was the most common way to press for protecting yourself against the stink from a neighboring feed lot, for example. But afterwards it seems like a lot of the controversies have been played out in administrative hearings, and I know that you’ve been a participant in many of those, and I’m curious if you think that it’s better or worse than the old way of operating.
NF: One aspect is the vast expanse of administrative law expansion because the courts have–almost necessarily because of the time involved, laid off of cases where the agency had made a decision, even if it was erroneous, as long as it was not considered arbitrary. The judges are often overworked, and they have gone along with the idea that agencies are better trained to handle certain complicated problems–technical problems, such as the timber management–than the judge is. And therefore, it’s easy for a judge to say, “Well, I don’t find that to be too arbitrary and I won’t get into that–the complications of that–any further than I have to.” And so, the–we’ve been reduced a lot to administrative law, which is the agency makes the final decision, for all intents and purposes. And agencies tend to become–dominant and all-powerful, just as most human organizations do.
DT: Well, I guess they have a difficult role to play because they’re reviewing their colleagues’ decisions. And if there’s not much separation, I guess, between an administrative judge, who’s an employee of the Forest Service, and maybe some of his colleagues in another department, if they’re maybe somebody they know or at least respect and that they’re another member of the staff and that they should be expected to be very critical, it’s real hard to think.
NF: Yes. The administrator in the Forest Service is likely to line up support from–the fellow down the hall or in another government building, who is likewise paid by the public to protect the public interest theoretically. And they do tend to get together and to team up, so that no one agency will undermine the power of another agency, and that includes–in the forestry field that includes some of the people in the Texas Parks and Wildlife. People who are trained and experienced in serving in a government agency, paid for by the taxpayers, do tend to link together for self-defense, as well as for increasing their mutual power. And so, you always have to watch for that type of a development, besides which sometimes they are trained in the same schools and they have the same profession. And one profession that is defective, I think, inadequate in the breadth of its training, is, like, wildlife, because oftentimes the government wildlife official was trained the same as the–in one agency, like the federal is the same as in another agency, like the Texas Parks and Wildlife. And they often overlook some factors that–well, they haven’t been trained. One problem is in the colleges themselves that trained them in the first place. The timber industry supports the forestry schools, and it’s–and sometimes the university as a whole that trains the wildlife biologists. And they can be short-sighted in certain aspects, and one example of that is prescribed burning. They try and make it a science that–since there were wild fires, and human beings have built roads and they have decreased wild fires and put out wild fires, why then, the human beings should burn the–take the place of wild fires. But they burn far more frequently than wild fires ever burned, because that helps to build the agency–its personnel, its power over nature, its power of making decisions of all kinds, including timber production. The–unfortunate fact is that the timber agency first supported the research in the universities and elsewhere that found that the prescribed burning was beneficial in getting rid of hard woods and increasing the density of and growth of pines, for example, in the South, of commercial trees, which are often conifers. And, there–the forestry schools grabbed onto that and tried to make fire a scientific remedy for everything. It just so happens that it helps the profits of not only government agencies but also private timber companies that want to raise as many trees as fast as possible to sell, and they don’t care what happens to the general ecosystem in the meanwhile. And that can be harmful in the long range even to the economy, the making of money, because sooner or later, well, they sap the soil enough to where they have to use fertilizers, and–and that does not adequately restore the soil or hold the water or anything like that. And so, the long-range effects can be disastrous for the economy as well.
DT: Oh. I was wondering if you could sort of teach us a little bit more about how silviculture has changed. I know that east Texas has been cut over several times, and I’m curious how it has changed, the way they used to cut, I guess more selectively, perhaps, and how they cut and replant now is different.
NF: Yeah. The timing of that is–tricky. In Texas, for example, by–the–selection management was not necessarily a practice before the timber industry got into clear-cutting. The change–main change–since around 1890 when they clear-cut and left most of the vegetation to grow back and–and ultimately obtain a native balance, and current clear-cutting where they grow back one species of tree, is very important. In both ways, why, clear-cutting is the most destructive form of logging ever devised by human beings but modern clear-cutting is the–is worse than clear-cutting used to be, and selection management has come into it. In Texas in many places, as a–the more modern approach, where they maintain a canopy of trees at all times but take a tree out here and a tree out there, leaving room for natural regeneration in the sunlight that that tree formerly occupied. In Europe, selection management originally went way back. It was one of the earliest forms of logging in some places, and very successful but it–the clear-cutters replaced it, because they could make a quicker profit, they thought, by selling it–everything and they and the rest go, and then by selling all the good commercial timber and wiping out whatever was left. Bulldozing it down and planting a crop of one type of tree, so that the timing can go in both directions–in either direction but it remains a fact that the clear-cutting and other forms of what’s called even-age management where they grow all one or two sets of trees on each stand of the same age is–it became predominant. And that’s the main evil that we have to confront in our–on our public lands, where the–certain phases of the industry have learned how to buy clear-cut sales. It takes big equipment to do it the most profitably in the short term, and they–it takes a certain knowledge of how to bid with the government knowing all the regulations, and only a certain element of the timber industry can do that. A lot of the small land owners in east Texas and everywhere else, with forests, do not know how to and do not participate in buying public timber, so that the public timber lobby prevails over–they get these people into their associations, like the Southern Timber Purchasers Association–and these people pay dues. They don’t care so much about the dues as they do about making the profits for those that buy public timber. A small–relatively small part of the total timber production and purchasing that goes on, where–we have a lobby–this is another example of where money counts and we have a lobby that is dominated by those who make the most money out of buying public timber and in a certain extent, the fact that they can–bid more successfully for this public timber keeps the price down slightly. It’s a–they buy at a slightly lower price than if it were open, if everybody could participate. And the fact that it’s public brings the taxpayer into it, which means that even though the price is money-losing for the public, why, what that does is slightly lower the whole price of timber, so that the people who are not in the public timber purchase but who are in the timber industry lose a little bit by the overall lowering of the market price. But they don’t know it, and they go on paying dues in a group that is for lowering the overall price at the taxpayer’s expense.
DT: You had touched on some of the changes in, I guess, forests in general, and I guess national and public forests in particular, from a diverse stand to a plantation of monoculture, I guess. Firs in the northwest, I think you said, and pines down here in the southeast, and I was wondering if you could explain a little bit about why that’s a problem, and why a plantation is somehow worse than a more diverse stand of trees.
NF: Yes. In the first place, the–from the soil to the water usage to the recreation, in every way, a naturally diverse forest is superior to a–a plantation of one or two species. Beginning with the soil, in the South, for example, where they plant pine trees, they are eradicating hard woods by burning too frequently or by–in the old days it was girdling, or by herbicides that killed the hard woods and not the pines. They are reducing the hard woods to a disastrous extent, and that disaster includes in the soil the hardwood roots–actually participate in a nutrient-building process, and in a water-storing process that the pine roots do not participate in. And furthermore, fungi come into it because fungi, particularly on the roots of hard woods, sustain a great many species. And these fungi provide certain nutrients to the trees that the tree cannot–that the tree roots cannot actually produce but the trees in turn sustain the fungi by–because they have chlorophyll in the leaves, then they are able to produce certain sugars that go over to the fungi that the fungi cannot produce, so that the natural–then there are–you can go beyond that into the relationship between certain birds and certain insects in the trees. They’re depending upon each other, and once you get rid of a part of a certain plant community in order to boil it down to commercially profitable trees, so then you begin to lose the health of that community. The current talk of the timber industry that wants to produce more commercial–have the government produce more commercial timber for it to make a–for certain parts of it to make a profit out of, that is–that the health of government forests is maintained by–more drastic management processes, such as more prescribed burning or more logging, even, they say. This will maintain the health of the forest, whereas what they’re doing is reducing the health by all these management processes. Their prescribed burning, for example, changes the ecosystem from one that is accustomed to a certain fire frequency to one that can survive a more intensive fire frequency, such as they’re giving, which means pine trees instead of hard wood trees.
DT: I see.
NF: Pine trees can survive the more intensive fire frequency, and that’s what they want for money.
DT: Well, what sort of impact is there on wildlife by having a plantation versus a diverse forest?
NF: They–from–from insects to–large mammals, well, the effect is to help momentarily those mammals that can survive in the pine monoculture and to reduce or eliminate those species that depend upon a native biodiversity for survival. And that includes, for example–they–they think they can help deer by more–throwing more grasses under the pine trees, and they–they thereby vastly reduce all the species–animal species of the inner forest, which includes many of the birds that require a–shaded forest, a deep forest to survive, and that includes several species of warblers. It includes several species of animals: lizards–certain lizards, salamanders, and vireos–and many species of plants that have to have a shaded–a fairly dense forest for survival. It also has the indirect effect of–when you open areas up, well then, more cow birds come in, for example, and the cow birds nest–lay their eggs in warblers’ nests, and other smaller birds. And the net result is to vastly reduce the warblers, which in turn vastly reduces the checking of certain insects that can be very deleterious to the hard woods and so forth, and your overall effect is to ruin the existing ecosystem–the native ecosystem–and to replace it with a man-made ecosystem that, beginning with the soil, is poorer. These fungi and these hardwood groups and so forth enrich the soil. They hold carbon and other nutrients, and the soil is the basis for the rest of the vegetation.
DT: Well, I imagine that a lot of this is frustrating to you because you’ve been so active in arguing for acquisition and protection of public lands and I understood that you were on the land acquisition committees for the Nature Conservancy for a number of years and …
DT: … and with the Natural Areas Preservation Association as well.
DT: And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your views on acquiring land and maybe give us some examples of some of the areas in the Big Thicket or other parts of Texas that you were active in getting protected.
NF: Yeah. I might start with the current situation, namely that these–the human processes have drastically reduced the native ecosystems. Whoever is desirous of saving Nature for future generations–examples of Nature–can do that best by …
[Tape 2, Side B.]
NF: … Whoever is desirous of saving Nature for future generations–examples of Nature–can do that best by–creating provisions that will maintain their own land, or land that they will help to–a group to buy, in its native ecosystem forever. And, the ones–the types of native communities that need it most right now are, like–native forest tracts and native prairie tracts. Anything that’s in a natural state that an owner is willing to give or to sell at a very low price to an organization like the Nature Conservancy or the Natural Area Preservation Association and many other land trusts in Texas–can be a great asset forever to many species that live in native ecosystems. And we’re always finding some of those species to be new benefits to human survival in the form of medicines or certain types of health-producing foods or other products, so that their–these organizations, along with the donors, can really save humanity in the long run by their donations. The–it’s better for private groups to do it than government groups because you–although government groups are necessary to do vast acreages on a quick basis, why, private groups are not subject to a subsequent raid from profit-making groups, such as government groups are. So the soundness–the longest-range approach is to give land, or money, to private land trusts that can hold–that will hold that land forever in a natural state. And the Nature Conservancy, of which I was an early president, has–is–concentrates primarily on large areas or areas with endangered species, and has kindly given three small tracts to the Natural Area Preservation Association–is one approach to it but a–their average donor will need to give to one of the other land trusts, which–especially the ones like Natural Area Preservation Association, that have volunteers who will look after–would be stewards. We have a Stewardship Committee for each tract, and each preserve, and that’s also the least expensive way to maintain nature forever.
DT: Can you give an example of a acquisition you’re really proud of, that you thought went well and that you were, you know, pleased by?
NF: A person?
DT: No, an acquisition of land that …
DT: … that you think went well?
NF: Oh, um-hmm. Yes. There’s–almost any of ’em that I think of, I’m pleased with the results of. And …
DT: Was there a particular tract of land you were very fond of, that you were pleased to …
NF: Well, one of ’em is Winters Bayou, for example, which combines saving a marvelous natural community with the state champion laurel oak and with several species of orchids, with a vast diversity of plants and animals. Combines that feature with the fact that it fills an alcove in a natural area–scenic area that the Forest Service had set aside to preserve, one of the few that it has. So that instead of Winters Bayou scenic area having a big dent going deep to the center of it, where somebody would be logging forest–private owner would be logging the forest. Well, we bought the forest–Natural Area Preservation Association did. And now, we’ve saved not only the–close to a hundred acres that we bought, but we also helped to save the surrounding Winters Bayou scenic area from fragmentation. The–the more edge that you have–people used to think edge effect was probably great because a lot of things grow along the edge. But the more edge you have by clearing an area and making a bigger boundary of forest wall up against the–due open space, why, the–the bigger and solider an area is, the–the less fragmentation, why, the more species it can maintain.
DT: I …
NF: So we’ve eliminated a lot of the edge effect there in the Winters Bayou by making a solid area around there, all of which is preserved.
DT: Well, I know that you’ve been interested in bottom lands like Winters Bayou and stream courses and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about some of the struggles against dams. I believe you worked on Cooper’s Reservoir and some others and …
NF: Oh, yeah.
DT: … and I was wondering if you could tell us briefly about some of those controversies.
NF: Yes. Of course, a dam obviously floods–drowns a vast acreage of nature. And that’s one of the reasons that bottom land forests are vanishing the fastest, because the more human beings we have, why, then the more water is necessary to sustain them. And so there have been more and more dams, until people turned to desalting the oceans, and less and less bottom land forests. And so, we fought the Cooper Reservoir and managed to get–we won that battle. The Fifth Circuit overturned our victory. But it did–came back to court and we did manage to save the mitigation part, which means that for flooding a lot of beautiful bottom land forests, the Army Corps of Engineers had to buy some other land that was still in good shape–some other forests on one creek there–to set aside forever theoretically. That other forest could’ve been set aside forever without building the dam, but they call it mitigation. However, then, people started trying to make inroads into that other forest that was theoretically to stay and replace the Salton River forest that was drowned, and we had to fight that. So it’s a constant–and saving natural areas is a constant struggle. There are always those that want to use–exploit it for one reason or the other–exploit nature. And the reason generally has to do with big money but I would like to add a definition of the water hustlers that John Graves wrote a book on before he wrote his great book, Goodbye to a River. The water hustlers include the politicians who either get their name on a dam, or the–and the developers who make money out of building the dam, and this applies to channels and levies as well. Although they move in when this structure–the so-called flood damage reduction structure is constructed, hen that enables developers of various kinds to sell land there. It enables certain businesses to construct inside the area that’s theoretically protected by the flood damage reduction structure, and it enables all those businesses, like in the small town of Cooper, who service the construction contractor or the lake-side building developers–for example, the drugstores and the grocery stores and all those aspects at Cooper think that they work–they make a big profit out of all this. They’re all part of the water hustlers. And, their–anybody that can make money out of this deal–of–of a dam is out there trying to get the other water hustler, namely the federal agency that’s doing the job, which is often the Army Corps of Engineers, to go ahead and get federal money for it. And the taxpayers pay for it, and they don’t know what-all is causing them to suffer but most taxpayers know that they’re paying too much. Well now, the Green Scissors Program would stop–would save the taxpayers’ losses on these things by stopping all these flood damage reduction projects that are not necessary, and that are only temporary. I mean, a dam lasts so long, a levy lasts so long. And then, it will be–have to be replaced with more taxpayers’ money, or something else will have to be done with more taxpayers’ money, to solve the water supply situation or the flood situation. So–and they’re also temporary because they don’t handle every flood. They’re built for a certain level of floods. For example, a flood that occurs–is likely to occur only 1% of the time and in–like, 1% chance of a flood on a certain area within–every year, that–called the hundred-year flood level. IF the flood level exceeds that–if the rains exceed that, why then, they go over the dam or the levy and they flood–all this development has come in there and relies upon the dam or the levy. And that’s much bigger development, more expensive development, so the dams are much greater, so that the total cost to the government to repair all this or to pay insurance on all this vastly increases. And the result is that even if the flood is less–of a lesser frequency than the structure was built for, the water may come in from outside the levy or from below the dam and cause damage to these areas that was unanticipated, and–so that the structures, even if they’re perfectly designed and don’t break, still result–are temporary in how much they can actually protect.
NF: Whereas the modern solution, according to the report of General Galloway, is to acquire the areas involved that are subject to flooding, and the structures–and the houses, rather, and commercial buildings that are in–already in those areas–just acquire them and let the flood–let the river go on its natural way of spreading out over those areas. And those areas will be park lands, usable by the people a vast, vast majority of the time, except when the flood …
NF:… an occasional flood does hit. And that can often be done with less or little more than the costs of the structure, and it’s permanent. You–those areas are protected for good and the people should be given the voluntary option of whether they stay there, or whether they sell and get out of the flood plain. And that voluntary option usually works at–in a way to–that they all get out of the flood plain voluntarily, so that the voluntary relocation plan is the modern approach to flood damage reduction.
DT: I see. Well, I see we’re winding down, out of time. But I had two more questions that I thought you might be able to help me with that I try and ask everyone because it’s something that people often have different responses to and it’s interesting to me, at least. One is to ask you, what is your favorite spot? Is there a place that you enjoy the most to visit, and could you describe it?
NF: There are many beautiful spots off the Catlan for the question but I like natural spots the most, even though I can–enjoy the beauty of open spaces where the forests have been totally denuded, like most of Ireland. My–pet spot in Texas, for example, is probably Milk Creek Cove, which we’re trying to get the Forest Service to make into a research natural area. It is on the edge of the banks of Toledo Bend reservoir, between Texas and Louisiana. And, it has ancient beach magnolia forests, a rare–in fact, threatened plant community, along with dozens of other tree species that–survive in this forest that’s never been logged in east Texas, so that–you see birds, for example. This–last month we saw the nest of another bird in there–exceedingly rare finding. You see flowers–the praying flower that is doing well in Milk Creek Cove. It has the–all of the aspects of–of the native hard wood bottom land. It has even a few pines left in there that have lived right on through the entire development of–of an old growth forest, so that the diversity is about as rich as any place that you can find. And, everyone that I’ve ever talked to that’s gone into there says that it gives them a vast new feeling, a feeling of peace and contentment and fellow existence with the rest of the earth.
DT: Well, I think I get a nice picture of it. Thanks. And one more question. In a sense this is like a message in a bottle. We don’t know where it’ll go or who’ll read it or hear about it. But I’m curious if you have a little message that you’d like to pass on to other people who might come across this.
NF: [Pause.] Yeah, I have lots of them.
NF: But, I think that the–basic message that comes to me at this moment would be that all the time that you can spend working for good projects to help your fellow human beings and your environment is the most valuable contribution that you can make to humankind, and also the most satisfying and fulfilling function that you can carry out in your life, so that the–one of the best things that you can do is to get with the–fellow public servants, citizens, and particularly I think those in the environmental field, and devote a part of your time and your money to strengthening the environmental movement and to saving as much as possible of our native species forever.
DT: Well put. I know–and many thanks. You’ve been very generous with your time, and I hope that I can come back because there’s lots of stuff that I’d like to visit with you some more about.
NF: That’s fine.
End of reel 1008
End of interview with Ned Fritz