INTERVIEWEE: Susan Hughes (SH)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: February 17, 2006
LOCATION: San Antonio, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Melanie Smith and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2340, 2341, and 2342
Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers correlate with the time codes on the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera background noise, unrelated to the interview content.
DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s February 17th, 2006. We’re in San Antonio, Texas and we have the good fortune to be visiting with Susan Hughes, who has been active on just a number of fronts from population to urban planning to forests and has focused, though, on work at the Bexar County Audubon level, the Texas State level and at the national level. And as well has worked on many water issues through her role on the Edwards Aquifer Authority and with the South Central Texas Regional Water Planning Group. And there are many other things, I’m sure, we’ll touch on today, but I thought that might give some sense of her role. I wanted to take this chance to thank you for spending time with us.
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SH: It’s my pleasure.
DT: I thought we might start by talking about your childhood.
DT: Well let’s resume. So I basically wanted to thank you for spending time with us and then maybe we could launch into this by asking about your childhood and whether there might’ve been early experiences that introduced you to the outdoors and to a concern about conservation?
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SH: Well, m y—my dad was an avid hunter and fisherman and he had a—a reverence for nature that I realize now is what probably mostly inspired me. He would take me out, you know, and—I mean, of course, he was a—he was a hunter and fisherman who—who likes to do this all year round, so, you know, he would—even if it wasn’t hunting season, he was going out, you know, to the—his hunting lease and, you know, looking around and doing this and preparing that and cutting trails and ha—who knows what else, you know. But while we’d do that, you know, I mean, he’d point out things to me and
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it—it—it just—he made me aware, I guess, in—in many respects of all the components of—of nature. Although h—he, like so many people, you know, was—he knew his game animals pretty well, you know, and of course, you know, the—the obvious ones, but he was not—he was not a birder or, you know, I mean, it was like—like I found most farmers and ranchers to be in the golden-cheeked warbler days. You know, these were little brown birds and—and, you know, and—and that was, you know, as far as it went. It didn’t mean you didn’t have appreciation for them but the recognition that something was this, that or the other, you know, is a—little birds and big birds and, you know,
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and—and quail and doves and, you know, that was—that was sort of—sort of it. But certainly instilled a reverence for nature that—that has carried me through. We’d—when he’d have hunting leases down in the Laredo area or out in the prairie or something, you know, and he was wonderful at hunting for arrowheads and so forth and, you know, just had—had a sharp eye. So nothing really escaped him.
DT: And you went along on some of these hunting trips that your father took?
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SH: I—I went hunting with him up until the age I was—till I was twelve and then I started hunting myself. So that, you know, but always, you know, with—with him beside me. He’d take me hunting for the first few days of the season and I had a—had a lease out, which was—had been his lease, out where the Olympic subdivision—I think that’s what—Olympia subdivision? Right out by the racetrack—that was my hunting lease. So seeing that now turned into a huge housing development, you know, it still really boggles
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my mind every time I drive by it because I think oh gosh, I remember walking along the trails there and scaring up turkeys and, you know, finding tiny little rattlesnakes and all sorts of things. And then, you know, so—so that’s when I started hunting was about age twelve.
DT: And did you hunt with friends or relatives?
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SH: It—if my daddy wasn’t here and my mother went with me and, you know, helped me. I remember the first time I went out and—and—and shot a deer without my dad around to help me, you know, dress it—field dress it. He had given me a little book from Texas Parks and Wildlife on how to dress—how to field dress a deer. And I had my pocket knife that he had given me and I had a flashlight and I had shot this deer in, you know, in the evening and my mother had gone off to get the car and, you know, which was ah, probably a mile away or so and—and come back. And when she got back, I was
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sitting there and I had this deer propped up with rocks and so forth and—and my little book was in the crook of one arm and the flashlight in the crook of the other and here I was. But I got really good reports on what I had done whenever we took it down to the cold locker at the brewery where my dad worked. And—and there were good reports back to him about his Su—Susie sure did go—do a good job on cleaning that deer, so, you know. So I was very proud. But the—the most important thing that I remember is sitting, watching the sunrise and watching the shadows moving across and realizing how
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easy it is to mistake things for something that they’re not and caution associated with that because it’s a—as the sunbeams move through, you know, the shadows would change and you know you’d see—I mean, you could always see a deer popping its head through the brush. You know, I mean, it was always there, so I—I learned very early, caution—caution, caution. And respect, that you never wanted to injure an animal, that you wanted
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a clean shot and you wanted to make sure that that’s, you know, that that’s—that’s what you did to respect the animal. So I have—I have a great respect for hunting. I no longer do hunting. For one reason, it’s pretty darn expensive to do hunting these days, but I have a very good record. I have twelve deer for twelve bullets and I missed one once, so—so that’s a—I also got two with one bullet, so that was my—the last hunting experience. I figured as long as I was even, I was ready to go, so.
DT: You also mentioned that your father was an avid fisherman. Would you go with him on fishing tours or…?
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SH: Oh, yes, you know, I—I went fishing with him all the time. We’d go—and I—there was a place up on the Guadalupe that belonged to a friend of his where there was a wonderful waterfall, quite a dramatic waterfall, and to the best of my knowledge, it was up around Spring Branch. For years I tried to find where that was and then finally it dawned on me that it’s under Canyon Lake. So my, you know, I—I have a great fondness for the Guadalupe River because I did spend a lot of time there growing up and—and then later in life when Tatiana was little, we did a lot of whitewater rafting, so forth there, so good times on the Guadalupe. It’s a remarkable and wonderful, special place. Very special place.
DT: Well, tell us more about trips there, whether it was for fishing or for rafting.
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SH: For rafting, it’s kind of a bittersweet recollection because most of that was done with my ex-husband, who could be an interesting character as far as that was concerned. He didn’t understand the concept of getting down in the boat when you’re going through the rapids. So we—we had a number of mishaps there that were kind of interesting. But, you know, but still just, you know, the—the pleasure of being out on the river, you know, was—was wonderful. And swimming in the river, leeches and all, you know, that’s one
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of my other fond memeran—remembrances of the Guadalupe was it had a lot of leeches in it back in those days. I don’t know if it still does or not. Probably is too—too cold below the—below Canyon Dam now for—for them. But maybe upstream they still—they still have such things. But it used to be a lot easier to go out and find wildlife under rocks and, you know, I remember turning up, you know, rocks with dozens of planaria and all sorts of wonderful, you know, things underneath them and, you know, I just miss those days in many respects. But, you know, it’s—times change.
DT: You had mentioned a couple times now Canyon Dam and I was wondering if you remember the construction of the dam?
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SH: I do. In fact, my cousin was a county commissioner in Comal County when—when Canyon Dam was being built and I remember hearing Henry, you know, talking about this big project. And I still have one rock that’s a little fossil, looks like a mushroom. It’s pr—was probably something like a sea urch—urchin or something and some crystals and so forth that came from the excavation of an area around there, so. That’s—I’d—you know, I had no understanding of what was really going on with the dam at that point in time or what, you know, what the real implications were of a big
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surface water facility. Don’t know how old I would’ve been then, I can’t remember exactly when Canyon Dam was built. It—but it’s, you know, it certainly changed the landscape.
DT: Let’s skip forward a few years, if you don’t mind. You went to Trinity and then began a career, as I understand, in library science, taking care of libraries for corporations?
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SH: Right. I—well, I graduated as—with—with a drama degree from Trinity and my mother saw a little ad in the newspaper—I was going to go to Dallas Theatre Center and work on a masters in drama—and my mom saw an ad in the newspaper that there were fellowships available at UT Austin for people interested in library science, which—you know, and I pretty much got through my undergraduate degree without visiting libraries very much. I had no idea there were such things as indexes, for example. But—and so I applied for this fellowship at UT Austin and received one and so I moved to Austin and
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did my graduate degree there in a little—little over a year. Then my first job was actually directing the theatre at—through sp—with Special Services at Fort Sam Houston. So I have actually made money with my drama degree, which I think is commendable, you know, if not extraordinary. But then after that, I—I had my midlife crisis—or early life crisis, I should say—and moved off to Cleveland and met and married my first husband and moved to Lansing, Michigan and moved back to Texas then after about six months.
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So then my—and my job—the reason we moved back to Texas was because David Eddington had called—he was the director of the Houston Public Library—had called me and said I had been suggested to them for a position as Director of the Fine Arts Department at Houston Public. And—and so I was offered and accepted that job and—and spent some time very happily working as the Fine Arts librarian there. And then my daughter came along. We moved back to San Antonio. My husband finished his degree at Trinity and then went on to work on a graduate degree in environmental management
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at UTSA. So while he was doing that, I started taking some environmental management classes myself and I never finished my degree, but my—that second masters, but I did have the tutelage of a number of wonderful professors there. Leland Hepworth, who was a Professor of Ecology and—and also Ted McKinney, who was truly one of my great inspirations academically. And I felt, between the work that I did with him and Tom Hester, that I really did the first intellectually honest work that I had ever done in terms of you know, being original and—and completely—completely responsible in terms of
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recognizing my sources and, you know, and doing something that actually pulled information together and synthesized it in some way.
DT: What was that project?
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SH: Well, I was working on a Pleistocene extinctions. That was my—my topic and, you know, and I just was so fascinated by that entire area of—of research. I really spent some good time working on—working on that project or those—I had actually continued over several semesters. But it was—and in some respects, I think that might have—that might really have triggered some of my interests in endangered species and looking at overall ecological conditions that contribute to peril for certain, you know, certain species of animals, plants, so forth. So anyway, then I—I had to quit school there
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and—and I went on, got a job as a—as the Technical Librarian for the Department of Aviation in Houston, so I moved back to Houston again and then went to work for McKenzie and Company up in Dallas. So that gave me a good grounding in, basically, as the librarian for a McKenzie office, your job is to make the consultants smart overnight. I would get—one of the guys would come in and say, you know, I’ve got an ap—appointment tomorrow in Chicago with a shoe manufacturer. You know, find me everything you know about shoes, you know, or everything anybody knows about shoes or the aerospace industry or dredging. You know, that—that is how I came upon one of
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my favorite titles, Dredging World. You know, so there—there really is—you know, there’s a magazine for everything, you know. Dredging World. But the McKenzie experience was—was pretty interesting for me because it—it was so broad based and far reaching and really epitomized the knowing less and less about more and more until you know nothing about everything situation. But it was—it—it was very interesting. And then we moved to—I moved back to Houston. I had divorced and married Bruce and—who was at—had been at Rice for many years and so Tatiana and I moved to Houston,
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started working for Mobil and then we moved to San Antonio when Bruce was employed by DataPoint. And then I came on DataPoint, too, as their tech—as their corporate information resource something or other—manager, I guess it was. But—so that’s kind of been my professional history. And once I quit working for DataPoint, I was doing a lot of consultant—consulting work even before that for Richardson Gill, who had—was a very ec—eclectic—a man of great eclectic interests and who has recently written a book on Mayan climatological impacts, I guess you would say, and the—the fall of the Mayan
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Empire and how it related to climatology, so—and—and which I kind of did a little edit for him as well right at the end. So he’s—he’s introduced me to lots of topics again of—it was kind of like working for a one man McKenzie, you know. But—and then I started—you know, my family really said that, you know, I was—since I was doing the, you know, some consulting work and I really was not inclined to go back to work in corporate America again, it’s having been a pretty traumatic experience, all in all. And
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draining—I just really wore myself out at it and so they said well, you know, if you want to get involved in environmental issues, do that. You know, because that’s really where I kept leaning. I kept thinking, you know, gee, there’s something—something that I can do, something that I can contribute, you know, to—to making the world a better place in a way. So that’s kind of what I’ve done since then. I’ve really tried hard to—to do that in—in everything that I’ve—that I’ve done. I always try to, you know, remember that message. Course, having, you know, having a child, you know, makes a great difference,
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I think, in terms of your perspective. You suddenly realize that the consequences of your decision reach much further than your day-to-day experience and that, you know, the responsibilities of next generations is—is a grave and serious one that should be taken with a great deal of—of gravity, really. But still, that there’s so much joy in seeing the—the results that can happen from—from actually concentrating on making a difference, you know, in a positive way. Thinking about the choices that you make and that’s not to say that you, you know, become, you know, completely, you know, wearing cardboard
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shoes or, you know, whatever but—but that you at least think about the upstream and downstream consequences of the decisions that you make. And I suppose that’s my—has been—become my mantra. We all make choices every day that have significant impacts, whether it’s just driving a car to the grocery store or, you know, choosing to turn on the air conditioning or a—planting a plant in your yard that, you know, it doesn’t have any particular ecological benefit to—to your little ecosystem. But if you at least think about
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the fact that there are upstream and downstream consequences of your choices, then maybe you’ll combine that trip with something else or maybe you will raise the thermostat one degree or maybe you’ll choose a native plant versus something that’s purely ornamental, you know. I mean, I have—I have ornamentals in—in my yard. There are some things that I just really like. I love my geraniums. I have lovely irises and so forth. But the preponderance of the plants in my yard are, indeed, plants that are good for—for birds and butterflies and bees and beneficial insects and lizards and, you
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know, I’m not real crazy about slugs but, you know, there’s a—but nevertheless, there’s plenty of things for them to eat out there, too. So it’s just—just a matter of making—making choices and being aware of—of what you do. So that’s my—that’s my philosophy.
DT: Well, maybe this might be a good opportunity to talk a little bit about your role as a master gardener and maybe elaborate a little bit about this whole issue of planting natives, planting materials that are favorable to the local wildlife, plants that are drought tolerant. Maybe you could touch on some of these.
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SH: Sure. When I was living out on the northwest side of town, off of Interstate 10, we had—it was just a tract home, but it had a—a great hillside in the back, which was just, you know, a limestone, you know, slope. But nevertheless provided me plenty of opportunity to plant natives and—and—and I just—I had a wonderful, wonderful native garden there and probably 100 species of, you know, trees and bushes and so forth up on my hill. And wildflowers in—it was, you know, it was—it was a great place to be. I’m—I—that’s the one thing I miss about living in suburbia was my yard. But a friend of
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mine, whom I had first met at DataPoint and I continued to be friends, and I had subsequently, you know, done a—a—done a master gardener program and—and I had, you know, I had all these—these natives, which is not necessarily the focus of master gardeners, but you know, was—was what I was really interested in, so. She was over at my house one day and we were talking about, you know, my—my garden and she said I want to do this in my garden, too. So—so we started, you know, talking about how she could convert her yard to a wildscape. And, well, we didn’t have a name, you know,
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back then, but—and so as—as she got to working, we started thinking that, you know, wouldn’t it be nice if this were not the exception, but rather, you know, the—a commonplace thing in our community to have, you know, these wonderful natives because, I mean, there’s nothing more beautiful than a flowering garden of native plants, you know, certainly versus a barren scape of Saint Augustine grass, which is certainly the norm out in—still is the norm out in suburbia. So—so she got her yard done and then she noticed that, you know, somebody down the street thought well, maybe they’d like to do, you know, their yard that way and so we started this little program where we were kind of
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looking to see what was going on in the way of any kind of native gardening. We talked with DeDe Armentrout, up—up at Audubon, the southwest region in—in Austin and she had been kind of thinking along these lines, too. And so we—we looked at—at what she had in mind and then we went and talked with the folks at Texas Parks and Wildlife and found that they had just been working on this wildscape program. Na—National Wildlife Federation was doing some backyard habitat things already so we decided we
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would start something in San Antonio. We picked up on the wildscape program of Texas Parks and Wildlife and we got together a group comprising Calvin Finch, who was the horticultural agent here in—in Bexar County at that time, someone from San Antonio Water System. We had somebody from Native Plants Society. We had, you know, a couple of people from Audubon who were interested in this. And, you know, you know, just a few interested folks here and there. Patty Pastor and Debbie Reed and, you know, they were—Susan Rust, you know, we’re all, you know, part of this early planning group.
DT: And when was this?
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SH: Hmm. Well, isn’t that a good question? Let’s see.
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SH: This was in the 90’s. Yeah, it had to be in the 90’s because I really started getting active in about 1991 was when I responded to the newsletter item at the Bexar Audubon newsletter to—for a newsletter editor. And I—you know, that was my first plun—total plunge into—into this. So it was—it was in the mid-90’s, I guess, the—before, you know, I’d gotten involved in the—in the water issues, but. So anyway, th—this—we started doing classes, teaching people about, you know, using the—you know, about backyard habitat or—or some of our cases, front yard habitat. And how to select plants
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and, you know, how to, you know, how good it was in terms of both water usage, which was already a—obviously, you know, has always been an issue in Central Texas. And also that, you know, that you can provide some, you know, some habitat for birds and butterflies and—and—and urban wildlife. It is amazing, even, you know, on a long, long stretch of road or street where there’s one yard that has some wildlife food, it’s alive. You know, or it—the—they find you. You know, you build it, they will come, you know. And it’s a little—really, your yard is a little oasis for, you know, just anything you
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could possibly want to, you know, to—to bring in. Added—added beauty. Living beauty in your yard, so. So we got this started and—and then I guess it was Debbie Reed and Susan Rust and Riva Stephens and Judy Gallen or Judy Green were probably the—the particular leaders in deciding that, you know, that they would develop a curriculum based on the master gardener model that would be available and that we would, you know, train
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and certify people as master naturalists. This is—this—a program that we had started was called Natural Initiatives. So they—they started this program of mas—master naturalists through the extension service and city, I guess Parks and Rec, had a hand in it through Debbie Reed. So there we were. We had this wonderful program. Very quickly, it was picked up by Austin, I think, was the next area, then Houston, and now it’s international. You know, and it started in my yard. So that’s one of the—the great things of which I am—am proud, even though you talk to master naturalists today and
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they don’t know where it started or even that Bexar Audubon had anything to do with it. But it started out as a Bexar Audubon program and it started out in my yard. So—so there. For the record.
DT: You’re talking about the master gardener program and I was wondering if you can describe your yard and some of the wildlife that you’ve seen passing through it? Or maybe they’re taking up roost there?
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SH: Well, it’s—it’s—it’s quite different from my yard out in the northwest side of town. One of the things that happened when we moved down into the King William area was, as you know, San Antonio is right at the juncture of—of what, six or seven different physiographic areas within a—within a—an hour’s drive. So up north, you’ve got this hill country soil, mostly caliche and hard red clay. Down here, we’re right on the San Antonio River, so we have, you know, alluvial soils and the black clay. You know, it’s—it’s way different. And the—the climatic difference between the northwest side of
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San Antonio and downtown is remarkable. Plus we have a microclimate here; right on the river so it’s even warmer, you know, by a degree or two, under most circumstances than it is in the surrounding area. So I had to make some adjustments in terms of what I could, you know, plant and what I could expect to grow. And for one thing, I had planted an—an Anacahuita, the—the Mexican olives up in the northwest side and they would get to be about shrub size and would freeze back every year and I would hope and pray that they would come back up again, which they—they usually did, but it was touch and
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go. Well, here I have a, you know, a glorious native olive—I mean, a—a Mexican olive in my front yard and, you know, and—and like the one—kind of like the one in front of the Alamo. It blooms all summer long. You know, this is right in it—the northern edge of its range. You know, we have a jacaranda tree right by the—the—the fence, you know, which is just really not—I mean, it’s an Argentinean tree, you know, common in the rainforest and, you know, easy to see in Mexico, but not too many of them up in this—in this area. So the—you know, I have poinsettias that make it through the, you know, through the year. You know, you wouldn’t see this in northwest San Antonio. In
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fact, when—when Parks and Wildlife sends out their wildscape kits to people in this area, they do it based on zip code and they have different plant lists, so forth, based on what your zip code is here in the San Antonio area because it—it varies so—so greatly. So what I have now is—is quite a different variety from what I—from what I used to have. And I do miss some of the things that I used to have—Mexican plums and, you know, some of those—those—the—the cherries and things like that that I had in my—in my old
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yard. But I’m very pleased with—with what I have now. I’m—we just really try to keep a good mix of—of—of plants here, things that will attract enough—enough aphids to keep our ladybugs happy, enough berry producing plants like beauty berry and so forth that the mockingbirds, you know, just go crazy over and I—I don’t do feeders anymore. I did for—for a long time, but keeping feeders out is a—is a big responsibility because of the—the requirement, really, to keep them very clean. There’s so much disease that’s been spread by people who don’t keep their feeders, you know, really clean. And of
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course, you know, for hummingbirds, I—you know, I have lots of hummingbird plants in my garden, so—and I’m sure that, you know, I—I know that there are plenty of people around here that provide supplemental feeding, so I’ve—I’ve given that up in favor of just trying to provide as much, you know, native plant material as I can that will provide nectar sources for them. Butterflies absolutely abound. You know, I have—have a good stand of passion flower vine and—and, you know, it—any number of other things that—that are attractive to butterflies, so yeah, we do okay.
DT: You mentioned some of the wildlife that visit your yard. What are people’s reactions that drive by or stroll by?
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SH: Oh, people stop at this house all the time. We just get lots of compliments on the yard and people coming in and being interested in what’s this or what’s that and, you know, can I have a cutting of this? Can I have—you know, so it’s, you know, it—it’s—it’s well accepted in the neighborhood, yeah.
DT: You said that the master naturalist program grew out of the master gardening program and I’m curious if that master naturalist program is about trying to enhance nature through plantings like what you’ve done through the master gardener program? Or is it more about study and appreciation and teaching and understanding of nature?
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SH: Well, I think it’s all of those things and it—it didn’t necessarily grow out of master gardeners so much as it was modeled upon the master gardener program. Fifty hours of classroom work and then with a requirement that you volunteer 50 hours a year. You know, that—that sort of model. The master naturalists study, you know, everything from, you know, the local wildlife and wor—local plants. They’re certainly dedicated to in—to promoting the use of native plant materials and so forth. There’s also a big educational component, they work with schools for, you know, developing school
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gardens, you know, teaching. Doing all kinds of volunteer work, like out at Mitchell Lake planting, you know, the gardens or clearing the trails or, you know, there’s a—there’s just a—a—a broad spectrum of activities that the master naturalists do participate in. So it’s mostly the model that followed master gardeners rather than the content. But it’s a, you know, it’s a great—it’s a great program. And they just—they get a little bit of our theology, they get a little bit of, you know, all the natural history. I mean, it’s—it’s a very broad based program that they have, so.
DT: You told us a little bit about your garden and I was also intrigued by the fact that you had lived in the suburbs and then moved downtown to this, the Baja portion of the King William district, very close to downtown. I was wondering if there was an environmental aspect to that decision to move closer into the center of the city.
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SH: Well, worked both ways in some respects. While—when we decided we needed to move from where we were, the question, of course, was do we move out further or do we move in? And there’s a lot of (?), I—I was the most resistant one in my family, saying oh, you know, you move downtown, you know, what—and everything’s all inconvenient and out in the suburbs, everything’s, you know, right there for you and—but as—as we made the move, I have realized that everything I need is right here. And I don’t have to deal on a daily basis with looking at the carnage that’s going on out in the suburbs. So in terms of my mental health, this was probably one of the best things we
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could’ve done. Furthermore, right after we moved here, I had seen a little—I mean, I had been active with Audubon, you know, in master naturalists and all this sort of thing before. And I say active with master naturalists, I have never become a certified master naturalist. I just never have done that. But when we moved here, I saw a little ad in the newspaper that the—the Mission Trails Committee was just getting started. And one of the things that had attracted us to this location was the fact that—that the city and county were involved in this Mission Trails project and it was just getting off the ground and it
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was something very interesting to me because it was going to go right in our backyard. So—so I quickly called my city councilperson and said hey, I’m really interested in this and it—I think it was going to council that very same day or the next day, you know. And I said couldn’t I, you know, be appointed to this committee, because I was a real newcomer down here. And so I was—I was appointed. In fact, I was the only person by name in the ordinance who was appointed to the committee. Everybody else was—was there as a representative of some group or—or other, but so—so here I was and that was
00:39:58 – 2340
kind of sort of my being thrown into a—a very interesting group of—of midtown and—and south town activists—South San Antonio activists, you know, that I really hadn’t had any contact with before, so that was—that was really interesting. Plus once I had moved down here, there beca—there came to be an opening or—or there was an election to be held for the—for the Edwards Underground Water District. And there were two spots that were being contested. My friend, Walter Barfield, who was at the time, I think,
00:40:38 – 2340
president of Bexar Audubon and I was someplace on the board, we were both living in—in the two areas that were up for—for election. And so Danielle Milam convinced us that we should run for these seats and both of us were—I mean, you know, we had the—you know, an inkling of what was going on in the—in the water bidness, but we certainly weren’t, you know, deeply en—ensconced in that water culture here. But Bexar Audubon had written some position papers and so forth on water quality issues and aquifer protection and so forth. So we fancied ourselves as having some vague notion of
00:41:21 – 2340
what was going on. Anyway, we ran for this and we were both elected, but there was—the va—that was when the MALDEF filed an appeal to the Justice Department and so that all, you know, got involved and—and we ended up never being seated. So it was a better part of a year that we were going back and forth on this, you know, we could be seated, not seated. Petitioning to be seated, being told no, you know, but so finally, I think we just—we just kind of gave up and—but then the Edwards Aquifer Authority came into being. Of course, it had all been in litigation for several years with the
00:42:08 – 2340
Barshop [v. Medina County Underground Water Conservation District, 925 SW2d 618] case and so when it—when that finally got resolved and the Edwards Aquifer Authority came into existence with an appointed board, then they had to have an—have an election for—for the board. So I ran again and was elected. So that was ten years ago.
DT: Was that part of what appealed to you and, I guess, is a nice part of your life now, that by living in the center city that you feel like you’re more involved in sort of civic organizations?
00:42:43 – 2340
SH: That’s ab—absolutely is what happened. When I was out in the suburbs, I was, you know, hundred percent Audubon. Anything that wasn’t Audubon, I wasn’t involved in. Once I got down here, I got involved in Mission Trails, you know, I got involved in the water, you know, stuff and, you know, that’s sort of been my downfall from there. But being—being right here in the center of the city has really heightened my overall awareness and my connections with—with all parts of the city. And I think that if being raised on, you know, as a—as a north side kid and always living on the north side was
00:43:25 – 2340
—really gave me a sense of sort of tunnel vision. Although going to Keystone was—was—as a—as high school was—certainly exposed me to kids all over San Antonio because, you know, the people—people at Keystone were either there because they could afford to pay the tuition or because, at that time, which was immediately post-Sputnik, there was scholarship money. And so on a competitive basis, kids from all over San Antonio were able to attend Keystone. And so those of us who came there as scholarship kids, you know, were—were from north side, south side, you know, everywhere. And it
00:44:09 – 2340
was strictly based on—on your capabilities rather than anything else, though that, too, sort of started getting me a—a little bit more aware, but still it’s—the fact is that, in many respects, San Antonio starts at Hildebrand, you know. If you look at the city today, you know, it’s—it’s moving further and further north and that north side mentality—and I—
00:44:38 – 2340
you know, I don’t mean that disparagingly, but really there—there’s an awful lot of people in San Antonio who’ve never been south of Commerce Street. You know, oh, maybe Market, you know. But—but really there’s—there’s no real awareness of the rich cultural history of San Antonio. All of—everything that makes San Antonio what it is today, or made San Antonio what it is today is associated with this river and the missions and the other kinds of cultural components that grew up around those natural resources. And the river starts at Hildebrand.
DT: Maybe this would be a good chance to just talk about any overlap you see between environmental conservation and historic conservation. Maybe looking at Mission Trails and how that introduced to the trail itself and the missions and then the fact that there’s some conservation involved with the trail’s development, I suppose.
00:45:45 – 2340
SH: Well, it—it was—it was a real pleasure to be on that—on that committee. There really—I—I guess I was the most environmentally conscious advocate for, you know, a—for doing this remediation work in the—in a way that, you know, made a lot of sense for the environment as well as just for, you know, the—the tourist element, you know. A—a lot of times we are driven by—strictly by perceived economic values and not realizing that there are some—a lot of underlying economic values that oftentimes are—are overlooked and—and I’d like to talk about that a little bit later, you know, as—in looking at some of the challenges that—that have faced us in terms of environmental
00:46:40 – 2340
protection. There’s the economics of the Mission Trails project. We’re strictly focused on, you know, how do we bring more tourist dollars? How do we increase business opportunities and so forth by, you know, improving this portion of the river recognizing that, you know, back in the sixties was when the Corps of Engineers came in and—and—and channelized all of this area, you know, turning what was a—a lovely riparian area into a drainage ditch, you know, as was happening all over the country. Probably all over the world any—anywhere the—the Corps, you know, put a—put its thumbprint.
00:47:29 – 2340
Fortunately, they have had a—a—a renascence in—in their thinking and so the Corps is now looking at—or at least, sections of the Corps—you know, has been very actively over the past five or six years particularly, I guess, looking at ways that they can come back in and fix some of the problems that they created. You know, realizing that, you know, the—the way to handle flooding and water problems and so forth is not just to rush the water down to the next county and hope that they’ll deal with it. You know, that’s—if that—really, you know, there’s a—there’s a reason why rivers meander, you know.
00:48:09 – 2340
There’s a reason why, you know, there are shoals and banks, you know, there’s—it’s not just a—it’s not just because it’s pretty, you know. There’s a real fluvial, geomorphological reason for that. On the Mission Trails project itself, one of the things that—that I can feel responsible for is as we were looking, for example, at revegetation issues, you know, I really focused on making sure that the consultants understood the importance of using natives. You know, that you don’t want to come in here with a
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bunch of crepe myrtles. I mean, as lovely as they are, you know, they have their place, but on the river is probably not it. You know, if you want to have something that looks like a crepe myrtle, you know, use a—what are those? Bloom pink in the spring. Yeah, anyway. But, you know, I mean, there’s—there’s a wide variety of—of—of plants that, you know, that you can use that are perfectly beautiful, well adapted, aren’t going to require a lot of upkeep and, you know, also provide some food and shelter for wildlife. I
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mean, that’s—you know, we’ll never restore the riparian area that existed. I mean, it’s—y—you—you don’t restore ecosystems like that. I mean, it’s just, you know, it’s a—to think of—even to—to think of trying it is—is pretty much folly, especially, you know, in an urban area where you’ve got lots of competing interests, you know. There’s a lot of, you know—you could, perhaps, do that but you’d have so many, you know—it’s—it’s a—it’s hard enough just to get the neighbors to—to let you not keep the grass mowed, you know. So we’re coming in with, you know, varieties of native grasses and so forth
00:49:58 – 2340
and so on in, you know, but we’re going to maintain them in such a way that there’s, you know, there’s some compromise associated with that. Keep—you know, to keep all the neighbors happy, but will still accomplish some of our major goals, which is to, you know, to restore the system to something that is at least more sustainable. Yeah, and also attractive at the same time. So there’s, you know, lots of tradeoffs associated with any kind of work like this. But—and, you know, other things were, you know, in specking light fixtures for the—for the Mission Trails project. You know, I insisted that they
00:50:39 – 2340
spec light fixtures that shielded, you know, the—the—the light so that—this is one of the few places in San Antonio where you can still go out at night and see the stars, you know, the further—further south you go. So, you know, going down there and putting in a bunch of light fixtures that are just going to throw light up into the sky really, you know, is not the kind of thing that you want to do. So we have very nice light fixtures specked for it and very well shielded and, you know, so we’ve kind of conserved that element.
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I’ve tried to help them look at, you know, what, you know, what the native wildlife is around here. You know, what kind of birds we have, what kind of other critters, you know, are—like to live there and what we could maybe draw back into the—into the community over time if we, you know, if we do things properly. So I mean, you know, there’s a lot of just nudges and suggestions and persistence and, you know, I’ve—I never—I never tried to make a huge deal out of things, but rather to—it’s—it’s my style to convince and to educate and to, you know, provide information and make a good case
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for whatever it is I’m supporting and try to, you know, get people on board with what I think is important, you know. And then share the—share the glory for the good decisions.
DT: Well, we’ve talked about some of the issues with living downtown, whether it was the garden or the house or the flood issues down on the San Antonio River and some of the mission development related projects. While all this is going on, you were also very active with Audubon society and at different levels. The local chapter, it’s called Bexar Audubon, and I was hoping that you could talk about some of the local services that you had there, I think, starting in 1992, is that right, on the board of Bexar Audubon?
00:52:52 – 2340
SH: Right. Yeah, I started editing the newsletter in ’91 and then came on the board in ’92. I thought as the newsletter editor, I should go to the board meetings so I would know what was going on. And of course, if you go—if you go to the meetings, you will very quickly be absorbed into the—into the infrastructure of the organization. So I—I started serving on the board and then, you know, it wasn’t too long before I was in the—in the leadership position there. Susan Rust was—was one of my initial sponges, I guess, with—with Bexar Audubon and—and in fact, I had—had met her several years before I
00:53:36 – 2340
actually got back involved with Audubon. She was—when she was first trying to start up the San Antonio Environmental Forum, I guess is what it was called, and she had in—talked to a number of different people around and had brought them together for some meetings from the various environmental organizations here in San Antonio—Sierra Club and, I mean, that, you know, some neighborhood groups. I mean, it’s a—it’s a wide variety of—of, you know, of organizations like the Bexar Grotto and so forth. So I had been tagged as somebody who was interested in bat conservation, which was true and is enough—yet another story. But—so I had gone to some of these meetings, but it—things didn’t really just completely gel at that point and—and I was overwhelmed, you know,
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with my professional life and so I, you know, it just didn’t—I didn’t—didn’t follow through. But then, during our annual planning meeting for Bexar Audubon, after I had become the newsletter editor, our—that first meeting was at the—at the zoo’s education building and I walked into—to the room for the meeting and Susan Rust was there and we were—you know, some people that—that I knew. And as we were going around, introducing ourselves as is typical. I said well, I was Susan Hughes and Susan Rust said ah, you’re my Susan Hughes. She said I thought that might’ve been you, so—so I have
00:55:05 – 2340
ever—ever since been Susan’s Susan Hughes and—and she kind of made sure that I, you know, got completely involved in things and, I guess in some respects, passed some of her mantle onto me as she moved onto other—other places and we still miss her very much. So—and we’ll see her tomorrow since she’s visiting here, so.
DT: What were some of the major concerns, projects for Bexar Audubon during the 90’s and into the aughty-aughts?
00:55:39 – 2340
SH: Well, you know, Bexar Audubon actually got its start as a spin-off from San Antonio Audubon, which was principally a—a—more of a birding club. Susan Rust and Patty and—and some others were very interested in being engaged more in some of the policy issues and—and that was really not something that the leadership in San Antonio Audubon wanted to do. So they decided that they would spin-off and create Bexar
00:56:10 – 2340
Audubon. That’s—there was a big rift, you know, when that actually happened, even though they continued to have a good deal of crossover membership, but—but still there were a lot of people who weren’t talking to a lot of people for a long time. We’ve, thank goodness, gotten over that and work together now very closely and—and…
DT: Can you explain a little bit about the, not so much the personal conflicts, but just this interesting kind of aspect of—I think both Sierra and Audubon have often those who are interested in outings and the social aspects of learning about the environment and going out and enjoying it, and then those who are more advocacy oriented and policy oriented. They want to engage government, engage other citizens and persuade people to change policies and stuff.
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SH: Well, there’s, you know, it—it’s—it’s odd to me that there is this discrepancy because, in truth, unless you—well, something I—I guess I learned pretty much early on in the—in my environmental activism is that—that that’s how decisions get made. You know, I mean, I was apolitical—I mean, I—I voted, but, you know, I didn’t really want anything to do with politics or politicians or anything else for most of my—most of my life. And one day I woke up and realized that, you know, that’s how things get done. You know, like it or not, that’s the way it happens. And the people who are particularly interested in outings and, you know, soaking in the out of doors and going birding and so forth, but aren’t worried about the policy issues or advocacy are denying the fact that it
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ain’t going to be there if there’s not somebody out there advocating for its protection. By the same token, introducing people to nature and to—to the out of doors and giving them some experience like that is the one thing that can make them aware of the fact that advocacy is a necessary part of protecting the things that they—that they love and enjoy. It’s one of the reasons, if I can backtrack a little bit, why I think the master naturalist program and the whole backyard gardening and wildscaping concept is so vitally important in terms of creating a new culture of conservation, which of course is the
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Audubon term. But whatever you—whenever you don’t have a very close communication with nature and it’s an abstract thing out there, you have a tendency not to give it much mind and—but for me, the idea that—that you have a plant in your yard that you’ve put there because it a—is going to attract a butterfly which is going to lay an egg, which you can go out and look at and you can watch as it hatches into a caterpillar. It strips all the leaves off of your plant, you know, when you might ot—you know, you might be inclined to go out and say ah, it’s killed that, you know, because here it is
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stripping the, you know, stripping all the leaves. But you realize that you planted that plant because it’s a food plant for that particular species of caterpillar, hence butterfly. And then you watch it as it crawls off and goes and pupates someplace and, you know, the next thing you know, the pupas opened and there’s a butterfly. And it’s—it is—somehow it’s your butterfly then and your relationship with that butterfly and the relationship that you had with the caterpillar and so forth leads you to be anxious for the
01:00:16 – 2340
next time—and eager for the next time that butterfly comes and lays an egg on that plant that you have nurtured for its benefit. You know, it’s that kind of connection and—and the really palpable relationship that you can develop with something that is not, you know, of a household cat or dog or whatever, that a lot of people think is, you know, perhaps a little bit weird, but you know. But it makes all the difference in the world, in my opinion and, you know, kids who can watch a—a spider spin a web and take it down in the morning and spin it the next night and take it down in the morning, I mean, this
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whole cycle is so amazing and it does, you know, provide such a great sense of wonder and awe that I think it’s absolutely elemental to creating advocates and activists that we have this kind of outdoor relationship. I mean, if I hadn’t been exposed to being out in the outdoors with my dad, you know, would I ever have paid that much attention? I mean, I can—my dad had a—a real eagle eye. I mean, he could spot wildlife, you know, at, you know, ten miles away practically. And I—I—or—inherited a little bit of that, so I mean, I—I am very ob—observant, typically, of things like that now. Course, I can’t
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fight my way out of a computer problem in spite of the fact that, you know, it should be obvious to me, according to my computer programmer husband, that, you know, that you just did these steps and, you know, you should know—should know what you just did. I don’t know. But I can tell you that, you know, this was moved in the garden, you know, or that that—boy, that wasn’t there yesterday or, you know, look at that bud. You know, all those I’m very aware of so it, you know, we each—we each have our own special set of skills, but…
[End of Reel 2340]
DT: Well, let’s resume. We were talking about how Bexar Audubon was formed originally as a spin-off from San Antonio Audubon and as a group to handle more policy and lobbying kind of educational efforts, while…
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SH: We call that advocacy now.
DT: While San Antonio Audubon would tend more towards trips and outings. So with this kind of portfolio that Bexar Audubon had, what sort of things did they take on while you were on the board?
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SH: Well, some of the—some of the early interests were in open space, which was certainly something that Susan Rust was very much involved in. (clearing throat) Also, you know, they had developed a policy statement on—on water issues and water quality. They frequently provided comments on environmental impact statements and so forth. They were—you know, they—it was pretty broad range of—of things going on, everything from the building of the—well, that was even earlier, but yeah. You know, road construction and, you know…
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SH: Yeah. That—yeah, that was back in the 70’s, really, but—but, you know, I mean, there were—there were plenty of issues and they did—they did weigh in on them pretty—pretty regularly, so. You know, I was—I was really not very much involved with Bexar Audubon, you know, in those—in those early years, so in spite of the fact that I’ve filed a lot of the archives, I haven’t necessarily, you know, read them thoroughly. But they were pretty—pretty active—pretty active group. So—and—and still very interested in birds and birding and envir—en—endangered species issues. They had adopted
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Frederick Wilderness Park as in their—and the Audubon had had a—an Adopt-A-Park program for its chapters and—and since we didn’t have a refuge, a national refuge in this area, they adopted Frederick Park. And then of course, one of—one of the interesting things about Bexar Audubon, it—in my opinion is that it—it served for a long—for many, many years as the fiduciary agent for a number of other groups. And really, one of the reasons that Bexar Audubon has not grown the way that, for example, Houston Audubon did, and Houston Audubon has made a—has had a very firm policy, I think,
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of—of not spinning things off. You know, they’ve really kind of kept things in—intact, as it were, within one organization. But we’ve spun off many organizations. We spun off Friends of Frederick Wilderness Park. We had—we were working for a while as the fiduciary agent for Friends of Medina River, which then was dissolved and, of course, you know, that—that was all that Applewhite property and so now if, you know, we have
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a Medina River Natural Area that’s owned by the—the city. There’s a Parks and Wildlife effort out there. Texas A&M—I mean, there’s a lot of activity out in that area. And we also spun off, of course, the master naturalist program, you know, which was a—a big part of our activity for a long time. So there’ve been a number of things. Friend—Mitchell Lake Wetland Society, you know, spun off from—from sort of a combination of San Antonio Audubon and—and—and Bexar Audubon, but we were the fiduciary agent for that for a long time. So there’ve been quite a few things that we have sort of spawned
00:05:06 – 2341
over the years that have gone on to, you know, to be their own organizations fueled by people who had specific interests in—in those areas. As a result, trying to keep generating more volunteers that are interested in the broader Bexar Audubon mission, you know, has been a bit of a struggle for us and we are, you know, we remain a pretty small core of folks that, you know, just keep trading hats from, you know, from election to election pretty much. But—but still trading hats, yeah, so. It’s—it’s been very—it’s been very interesting because, you know, we have this sort of inherent apparent conflict,
00:05:59 – 2341
but, you know, in truth, now that we’ve gotten bi—you know, enough people died that were carrying a lot of baggage to where, you know, now, you know, we really do work together a lot. And—and there’s been discussion about whether San Antonio Audubon and Bexar Audubon ought to combine forces and not be two separate organizations. But I remember that Bryan Hale, you know, mentioned to me one time that in Austin, it was—it was very—it was very problematic having this sort of core organization that on
00:06:34 – 2341
the one side that was advocacy oriented and then the other group of people who really just wanted to go out and—and bird. And that there was a, you know, a conflict there. A—at least, by having two separate organizations, you know, we’re—our—our missions are pretty clear. And now we routinely publicize San Antonio Audubon’s birdwalks and, you know, their—their various outing activities and—and they do the same for us. And, as I say, we have a lot of duplicate membership so—and—and we’re both very, you know, much supportive of the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center and we’re all involved in—
00:07:21 – 2341
in making that actually happen. So I—we—we’re just at a nice, kind of balanced state now. You know, I’m—I hesitate to even begin to think about rocking the boat. So we have Mitchell Lake Wetland Society, which is very much aligned with many of our goals. Bexar Audubon, of course, San Antonio Audubon and we’re all just—we all just get along, you know.
DT: There were two projects I think Bexar Audubon was involved with and you, in particular, of the South Texas…
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SH: The Farm and Ranch Forum.
DT: Farm and Ranch Forum. And then the SAEN, San Antonio Environmental Network. Can you talk a little bit about those two?
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SH: The Environmental Network was—was, of course, an outgrowth of what, you know, Susan Rust had—had started and she, in fact, was a one person show as far as the Environmental Network was concerned for a long time. Not too long before Susan left San Antonio, she came to be of the opinion that probably the—the network had done the job that it had set out to do in terms of communication and the contemplation was that we would just abandon that activity. But Bexar Audubon had a—a meeting and talked with the people who had—had been involved in it and said you know, do we, you know, isn’t this still a valuable activity to get folks together on this? And everybody said yes,
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yes, yes and so we tried for a while ha—keeping it sort of a cooperative arrangement where, you know, different organizations would sponsor programs different quarters. But in truth, Bexar Audubon was the driver behind that. So we’ve just kind of come to grips with the fact that if we want the Environmental Network to exist, that we’re pretty much going to do it and try to be as inclusive as we can for these issues forums and invite everybody to come. But, you know, we just not only are taking—taking the responsibility for it, but we’ll also try to take a little bit of the credit for it, which is a—
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something that we haven’t always—always done. So we continue on pretty much a quarterly basis, doing these issues forums, typically panels. We, you know, try to get something that’s at least a little bit controversial, try to provide it in a balanced way and en—engage the community to the greatest extent possible in, you know, some of these timely issues.
DT: Can you give some examples of some issues that were discussed?
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SH: Well, the one that’s coming up pretty soon is—is—in—in March is entitled Mow It or Grow It and that has to do with the—the issue that we were talking about earlier of wildscaping, for example. And—and I guess about six months or so ago, the city started putting up billboards around town that says—say mow it, don’t grow it and, you know, with the idea, you know, that people should keep their lawns, you know, tidy and so forth. So—but that kind of, you know, flies in the face of some of the things that we’re trying to achieve by, you know, not keeping, you know, or encouraging people not to do
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manicured lawns. So one of the questions posited is well, you know, when we have, on the one hand, Texas Parks and Wildlife sponsoring this wildscaping program across the state and we have e—even San Antonio Water System has a wildscape program and a rebate program if you turn your turf grass into, you know, something less, you know, irrigation intensive. And, you know, so aren’t we sending some kind of mixed messages here when we put up, you know, big billboards that say, you know, mow it, you know, don’t grow it and here we’re saying grow it, don’t mow it. And I think there’ve been the cases where citizens have been cited for, you know, for having, you know, too much growth in their yards and they’ve come in—I don’t know this particular case, but it’s—it’s one that was referenced by someone. People have come in—in and—and done all
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this, you know, clearing out and then they’ve been cited for having cut down a tree, you know, in—in—in conflict with the tree ordinance—tree preservation ordinance. So while that may be an extreme example, we do have a little bit of contradiction going on and it would be nice to clarify some of these things, which, you know, San Antonio Water System, the—the—the Ar—City Arborists, you know, they’re saying one thing, the city code compliance folks are saying something else. So, you know, let’s kind of try to get
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our stories straight. So that’s one thing. We’ve had a number of—a number of forums on water issues. We’ve had a number of forums on transportation issues. We’ve, you know, just—we kind of go all over the board.
DT: I think you also mentioned that you’ve been involved in this effort to improve the dialogue between the farm and ranch community and the environmental community through this farm and ranch forum. Can you talk about how that got started and what efforts you’ve made?
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SH: Well, it really got started—and I go back to Susan Rust again, who along with Larry White, who is now—well, is now retired from Texas A&M, but he was the County Ag Agent here for awhile. But she and—Susan and Larry had put together something called a Rangeland Environmental Issues Forum and it involved a—a number of environmentalists, a number of ranchers and so forth that had come together and they’d
00:13:08 – 2341
done some field trips and so forth, trying to get some communication going between the—the landowners and the urban conservationists. REIF kind of eventually petered out a little bit, but I had been involved in a number of forums, I—I guess you would say. Some panel discussions and so forth centering around the golden-cheeked warbler incident that—that happened back when. And—and that was another issue that really catalyzed the idea that, you know, we really must communicate one group with the other and we cannot have these—these divisive relationships.
DT: You’re talking about the critical habitat designation?
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SH: Yes. The critical habitat designation for the—for the golden-cheeked warbler. When—which was probably one of the most unfortunate things that ever happened in central Texas. When—when that—when that story broke and the headlines in the San Antonio Express News were—you know, I can’t remember what the number was anymore, but you know, 30 central Texas counties, you know, to be designated critical habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler, you know, which of course was grossly incorrect, you know. But once it was on the front page of the paper, you know, it became truth and a retraction on page six just doesn’t really change the fact that the perceived truth is that all these counties were going to be designated as critical habitat. Well, as you, you know, as you know, I mean, people brought out their bulldozers and cut down every, you know, pushed down every cedar tree they could find and—and, you know, dragged cedar trees
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down the—down Congress Avenue to the Capitol and, I mean, there was a—a great hue and cry about, you know, the—the impact on property rights of—of these designations. And, you know, I mentioned earlier, my dad, you know, was one of these folks who, you know, little birds were just little birds. You know, it wasn’t a matter of, you know, there being warblers and chickadees and, you know, all these, you know, der—different species, they were just little birds. And I think the same thing is probably the case for most farmers and ranchers. This doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate them; it means
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that their appreciation is a different type of appreciation from that of a birder or someone who’s really interested in species conservation or species recognition or bird watching. So what happened immediately is whenever—it—this is—it’s totally my perspective but is whenever this happened and the big hue and cry came about, you know, some little bird—of course, we had the same thing with salamanders, you know, (inaudible) that some little bird, you know, is going to make a difference in how I manage my land. And of course, the truth, the—you know, the facts of the matter were not brought out in terms
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of what comprised habitat and what, you know, what didn’t. But the response from the environmental community was something to the effect of you stupid farmer, rancher, whatever. Don’t you know that you have habitat for an endangered species on your property? And when somebody is attacked like that, the immediate response is well, n—no, I don’t know that, but why should I and why should I care? You know, who are you to tell me, you know, what I know or don’t know or what I’m doing, what I’m doing
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wrong and accuse me of, you know, of being this big, bad rancher person who’s—you know, who’s going to, you know, not provide habitat for this stupid little bird. And so we had this immediate conflict, you know, whereas if we had come in and said let’s talk about—let’s talk about this and let’s understand that there are some very specific areas that comprise habitat for this little bird. Native Texan—every golden-cheeked warbler in the world ever was born—hatched right here in Texas, on your land. How—how fortunate, you know, that there is this wonderful habitat. It’s not area that you would
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ever raise crops on or try to ranch on. You wouldn’t run cattle in those areas, you know. But look what a—what a nifty little thing this is that’s right there on your land. And it’s so easy to take care of, you know, if we just, you know, let’s talk about this. Instead of setting up this, you know, this immediate conflict that then made everybody—put everybody on the defensive, you know, and it would just, you know, just stark raving nuts, you know. When—when this story first broke, Lamar Smith called a news conference and he—he called it out on 281, just a little bit north of 1604, you know, and
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in front of this, you know, stand of regrowth cedar, you know, which was now—this property, you know, as well. I got word from somebody who worked at one of the news stations and so I very quickly, you know, pulled together a fact sheet on what actually was habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler and what wasn’t and what the im—you know, what this really was all about. And that it wasn’t, you know, all of 30 counties, whatever the number was, but it, you know, what—what actually the proposal was. And I crashed
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his—his news conference and I started pulling all these reporters off into the—into the brush, saying you know, you cut all this down. You know, this is not a problem. You know, this is regrowth cedar, it’s not habitat for anybody. There’s no, you know, minimum 50 percent hab—canopy. There’s no oak, you know, trees or any other hardwoods mixed into this. You know, this is what is involved in providing habitat for this bird so let’s understand what the issue is. I don’t think he liked me before then, I had lobbied him before. But, you know, I don’t think he really liked me much after that and,
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of course, now, fortunately, I’m sure he’s completely forgotten about me, but you know, that was sort of the beginning of it. And then Ted Eubanks and I did what was called a debate with Marshall Ja—Marshall Kuykendall and Harvey Hildebrand at the Kerr County Republican Club and that was the instada—incident where Marshall Kuykendall said that, you know, he thought that—that when Lincoln freed the slaves, it was the taking of private property. And I had just happened to take along a tape recorder that a friend of mine was operating in the back of the—of the room and that tape just got in the hands
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of somebody from the Office of the American Statesman. So that was an interesting little foray into—but I didn’t do it. I was—had given it to the folks up at Audubon Tex—or Tex—the Southwest region, at that point. And it was just lying around whenever this guy came in to talk about it and there it went, so anyway. So that’s where all that got started. But—so that was kind of my foray into—into that kind of politics, but it really pointed out to me the absolute importance of good communication between these two communities and that we really do share common values, common goals and we’re, you know, there’s no reason for us not to get along, you know. So long way of answering your question, but.
DT: No, helpful. Very helpful. Let’s talk a little bit about Audubon’s presence throughout Texas, if you don’t mind. From 1994 through 2005, you held different posts with Audubon Texas and Audubon Council of Texas and I was curious if you could talk about the creation of this new sort of Audubon presence, Audubon Texas, and then its predecessor, Audubon Council of Texas. And maybe the whole effort to try and pull the many diverse chapters, these local groups that represent Audubon in various towns and cities, together to discuss their common concerns and try to have a united front.
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SH: That’s—that was a real—a really enormous challenge and, at the time that I was president of Audubon Council of Texas, oh, was the time when Audubon changed administrations and started talking about doing state offices, doing away with regional offices. Involved personnel changes, trying to write a new charter, trying to ruf—unruffle a lot of feathers, if you’ll pardon the—the reference, but it was—it was a time of—of significant conflict and probably still is. We—I think that the shift in Audubon has been a very difficult one for many areas. Texas certainly had a hard time getting off the ground, finding an executive director and another executive director and now, yet another executive director. And trying different models, always—try—trying to bring the—the chapters together and looking at common concerns has—has been difficult
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because of the—the difference in focus. As we were talking earlier, some of these organizations were strictly birding clubs and many were much more activist organizations. And there were huge chapters like Houston and tiny little chapters like Bastrop, you know, or—or somebody out in, you know, Lubbock or Amarillo. And, you know, the—the amount of money that they had, you know, was—was a real issue because there’s only so much you can do with—with a dues share if you’ve only got 20 members in your chapter—or 30—I think 35 is supposed to be the minimum, but—and
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that’s, you know, you’re just living on—on that. And of course, there’ve been lots of changes in Audubon; there are cuts in the dues share and so forth. So these are all, you know, newer elements, but it’s—it’s hard to find that, you know, that common ground. But I guess the most important thing that happened whenever we would get together for these meetings would be that you at least realized that there were other people in other parts of the state that were struggling with some of the same issues and were trying to make a difference. And that’s, again, finding that—that common thread amongst these
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very diverse organizations, you know, is—is always im—always important. You know, focusing on commonalities wherever we can find them, you know. So it was very—it—it was a very useful experience. I—I think that the model that exists now is probably going to change again with—you know, we had tried this sort of regional delegation approach because, you know, when you have a meeting and you’ve got people coming from—from the Golden Triangle area over, you know, around Beaumont and you’ve got people
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coming from El Paso and people coming from Lubbock and Brownsville, you know, getting together is just a logistical nightmare. And if people don’t have the money to get supported on that travel, then, you know, you have very uneven, unequal representation and that is more fodder for conflict. So it’s—it’s—it’s just real difficult. And in Texas, you know, the—the ecological issues are quite varied. You know, it’s not like we have a little state that has, you know, pretty much a—one landscape or even just half a dozen landscapes. I mean, we’ve got everything in the world, you know. El Paso should be
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part of New Mexico, you know. I mean, their issues really aren’t the same as those in Beaumont. I mean, there’s—so there’s—there’s that also so it’s very difficult sometimes to find, if you’re looking for, say—say projects that an Audubon Council or, you know, an Audubon Texas can work on as a—a group of—of concerned individuals, it’s kind of difficult to, you know, to actually identify what that is. You know, the big quail initiative. Wonderful for, you know, our part of the country, you know, but maybe not so important to some of the other areas. And speaking of quail, can I segue back into the
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farm and range forum things? It was as an outgrowth of an initiative in Audubon Texas, and this was while I was on the national board, and we were talking about the—the—I think Dale Bush actually brought to the attention of the group and, you know, Jim Tier, the decline of quail, you know, across the—the southeast and in Texas as well. So we started looking at that a little bit more and—and…
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SH: Pardon me?
DT: Bobwhite quail?
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SH: Well, bobwhite quail and—and all, you know, all of the—all of those little guys, but, you know, bobwhites are the most common around here. But—but we’ve got Blue and Scaled and, you know, whatever, you know—I—I don’t do species (inaudible). But we—I was sent off to the National Board meeting with a resolution that this was a critical area and one that Audubon should be taking a look at. So I took it to the science committee and they agreed and sent me back saying well, why don’t you guys do something about, you know, about this? So we decided to have a quail conference and
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that was our first farm and range forum. We’re now on number seven, I guess. But the quail conference brought together every authority on quail in this region. Fred Guthrie, who is now in Oklahoma, but nevertheless had a great grounding down here in the—in south Texas and, you know, folks from Kingsville and A&M and so forth. And it was a really wonderful, wonderful meeting and that—that launched the farm and range forum. And the whole focus of this—well—well, this first meeting really was, you know, at least
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the morning—the morning program was 100 percent quail. But in the afternoon, we had, you know, other—other programs on talking about habitat management and, you know, what—what you can basically do to improve your—you know, improve your land for quail and other critters and for livestock as well—oh, by the way. And it—really, we had a wonderful response from the—from the ranching community. It was just, you know, just wonderful. My biggest disappointment with the farm and range forum is that we have failed to attract the number of urban conservationists that we had hoped. It’s almost
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always farm and ranch people that come to the Audubon South Texas farm and range forum. Frustrates the daylights out of me, but I will on the other hand say that of all the things I’ve done in committees in my life, this has got to be the best bunch of planners that I have ever had the—to work with. Helen Holdsworth with—who’s now with Texas Wildlife Association, is, I mean, I have become her left hand rather than she my right arm. It’s—she’s just dynamite. And Philip Wright and Larry Allen with the USDA—with the RCS have just been wonderful. We’ve had participation from extension and so
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forth. And when we have our planning meetings, we get in there, hour and a half later, we’re out. We’ve got programs planned; we’ve got people with assignments that they have volunteered for. Oh, I’ll do this. I’ll do this. You know, it’s like how wonderful and everybody’s, you know, entirely dedicated to this—this whole concept of talking about how we can help to manage habitat. You know, and—and because of the fact that it’s very broad based, we’re not just saying just wildlife. I mean, this also helps you
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make a living. I mean, that’s been the—the subtitle for—for every one of these, has been Managing to Make a Living. And that’s the whole focus of it, you know, is how do you manage your land to help you make a living, to be able to stay on the land, which means that we have less habitat fragmentation, we have more habitat for wildlife. You know, all these kinds of things that, you know, move along which makes every—you know, makes everybody happier and the world healthier. So that’s—that’s been the—the way that’s—that’s kind of gone. And the farm and range community is right there, you know. They really are.
DT: Well, you’ve told us some about the work of Bexar Audubon, the local chapter, and about Audubon Texas and the Audubon Council of Texas, the state presence for Audubon. You’ve also been elected to serve on the national Audubon Society and I thought you might be able to tell us a little bit about their efforts and particular your interests and work on population, which has involved a good deal of your time.
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SH: When Ted Eubanks was elected to the National Audubon Board and I sort of helped him campaign, it was one of the first times when, you know, in recent history when there was a contested race for someone for the Aud—for the National Audubon Board from the regional repress—for the regional representatives. But we got Ted
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elected and he was very influential in really shaping the—the nature of Audubon, I think, for into—into the future, although Ted, quite a strong personality and—and there are some people who remember him very fondly and some people who said oh. Yeah, Ted. But—but he was really a great inspiration to me and when—and after his first term there, he decided after a year that he didn’t want to finish his term. So—so I decided that I would run for that office and was indeed elected to—to complete his term. So I had quite huge shoes to fill there, but he had laid great groundwork. And in fact, it was—I—I still
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have the communication between him and—and the group of us that were known as the Zapotistas del Norte. We had T-shirts and everything. We even went to Kearney, Nebraska for a board meeting before Ted had been elected to the board to—to basically protest what we saw as—as sort of a miscarriage of direction on the part of National Audubon. So we had—it was a—it was a group that came together only because of the miracle of email. So very, you know, kind of early on in those—in those days. But—but we were rabble rousers and—and so Ted got elected to the National Audubon Board and—and we were doing all the strategic planning, you know, throughout the country
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and it—we got to the—they got—they got to the point in strategic planning where they were, you know, writing all this up and coming up with this great, you know, grand strategic plan. But it didn’t have the zinger that it needed to really get, you know, get it all pulled together. So late one night, Ted drafted this statement and sent it out and said you know, what do you guys think about this? And it was the culture of conservation and
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this wonderful prologue that was adopted as the prologue to this—to the strategic plan, which is—remains to me one of the—one of the most eloquent statements ever written by a conservationist for—for anything. And Ted was a—is a great writer anyway and a great visionary, but he really nailed it on this one. And so it’s that culture of conservation that really is what, you know, is—drives most of us who are still with Audubon to, you know, to stay with that—with that vision. So he gets kudos, awards, obeisances, you know, whatev—whatever it takes for—for this wonderful contribution that he made to—
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to conservation in many ways, but especially in encapsulating that vision. So—so I got on the—on the board and, you know, my—my big deal was always, because I had had some communication or—over the years with people like Jessie Grantham and some other folks that I had met who were working with—with—with Audubon and the—on the—in the refuges. And I had such a—a great deal of—of respect for—for these people as scientists and as land managers and so forth. So I, you know, I kept—there was less and less emphasis being—being placed on and support for the people who were actually
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on the ground doing the conservation work that we, you know, supposedly were—were there to do and to model and so forth. And so most of the time that I was on—on the board, I—I spent a lot of time talking about supporting the staff and the importance of chapters and—and how valuable this grassroots network of people all over the country really was. I mean, we were unique and this was something that was identified in the strategic plan but has been absolutely minimized in terms of the—the value that’s been
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da—been accorded them by the current ad—administration of Audubon. I think it’s maybe changing a—a little bit but it’s been very frustrating to many of us and it’s the primary reason, I guess, that I declined to run for another—for a—a third term on the board was just the—because I just felt like my message was, you know, I—I could talk till I was blue in the face. And—and after meetings, people would come up and say I’m sure glad you said that, but you know, they wouldn’t give me support at—during the meeting. You know, it’s like, you know. So that was, you know, a little bit frustrating.
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But you know, and—and conservation happens at the local level, so you know, I just thought I would go back and dedicate my time to—to this. But—but my association with National Audubon really started when, you know, I was just a—a chapter, you know, person and they were having a series of—of what we referred to lovingly as boot camps. And they would bring activists from chapters to Washington and put us through a week of intensive learning activities and then at the end of the week, we’d go to the hill and—and lobby. And spend a couple of days doing that, you know, and—and it was a
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remarkable experience. I—I did a number of these. I think the first one was on endangered species issues and then I did a population boot camp and that was what really kind of got me solidly in the population camp. I was—when I—when I got interested in conservation, you know, I—I started off thinking about, you know, these furry creatures because I really like furry creatures. And then I kind of moved from that into—to realizing that, you know, well, that, you know, these are problem issues. I wasn’t really
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important—focused on endangered species issues. That kind of got me aware of endangered species issues in this area, which of course, you know, are not furry creatures, but—you know, but rather critters that live in the—in the springs and are dependent on same. But, you know, but that was the connection and so I went from looking at endangered species and—and not wanting anything to do with people issues because, after all, people were the problem, right? So didn’t want to deal with people. And then suddenly one day, I woke up and, you know, realized uh, yeah, people are the problem,
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you know. So if you want to protect habitat, you’ve got to deal with population—human population issues. And, you know, in spite of the fact that I didn’t care for that very much, I realized that that was elemental to everything. So I kind of threw my hat in the population cart and went off that. And of course, Pat Waak was the head of the population program at National Audubon for many years and Audubon has the finest populat—you had the first and the finest population program of any mainstream environmental organization. Even though many people, even on the board, didn’t know
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it, you know. It was something of a stealth program, I guess, in—in many respects, but it was absolutely top notch and really well respected. And I would find as I would go to the hill and lobby on these issues that it was, indeed, as—as Pat told us, it was really significant that an organization like Audubon brought a population message to the hill because they were get—being lobbied all the time by Planned Parenthood and, you know, all of these more traditional, you know, the—the Population Reference Bureau and, you
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know, I mean, all of these—all of these—Zero Population Growth and so forth. And the message, while somewhat different, was basically the same. But somebody from Audubon comes in and starts talking about the impacts of human population on wildlife habitat and the ability of the ecosystem to sustain all of us, it’s a different message. And, you know, these staffers that had sat through, you know, ten million presentations by various and sundry lobbying groups all of a sudden get this message from Audubon. And they say why is Audubon interested in human population issues? What do you care about
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birth control, you know? Why should we support the UNFBA? You know, and—but it was—became obvious to some that—that there really was a connection and it was a different way that they could approach it.
DT: What is the link?
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SH: Well, the link is that the more—human population, human—human people versus all our dog and cat people. But—it—it—really do—are—are resource intensive. And, you know, we—we consume a lot of resources. We clear a lot of area that’s habitat for other creeter—critters without even beginning to think about what the impacts are, you know. Influencing the amount of water that goes downstream, you know, is a major impact on the animals that live in the streams, the animals in the bays and estuaries. You know, all—I mean, we’re—we’re the 600 pound gorilla in this story and we throw our weight around without much concern for what the impacts are going to be on—on anything else.
DT: What do you say the folks who—because part of it’s population, but it’s more of consumption. That it’s—you know, you have a relatively large population in the Third World, but it doesn’t have the same effect as the similar population or a similar growth rate here in the United States or Europe because we just use so many more resources.
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SH: Well, it’s both, certainly. There’s no—no question about that. I mean, we do consume resources at a phenomenal rate in developed countries. But—but everybody—I mean, we are the model for the rest of the world. And even though, at this point in time, some of the developing countries aren’t as resource intensive in their—in their consumption as—as we are, that’s their aspiration. And, you know, and if you—you can’t just sit here and say well, our population isn’t that great but you over there, you know, you got to—you got to cut back on this and, by the way, you know, it’s really not
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appropriate for everybody to have an automobile. You know, I mean, we—we know because we’ve done it—I’m sorry. That—you know, that argument just doesn’t fly. You know, everybody has to take responsibility for reducing consumption, for maintaining—or trying to achieve some level of stability in terms of overall population growth and to, you know, to—to try to balance all that out, to think about what the impacts are. And one place that I—I want to make sure we talk about is—is the failure of economics in terms
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of our ability to cope with resource depletion. And we do not have an economic model that takes into consideration the value of resources that are consumed and the life cycle, accounting for, you know, for resources and all these kinds of things, you know, that—that, you know, Hawken and others have talked about quite eloquently. But we still don’t have any kind of an economic model that really takes that into consideration. That it—it’s in the mainstream, I mean, you know, there—there are those who are making attempts, but it certainly isn’t part of, you know, what goes on in the—you know, in the
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halls of Washington. You don’t necessarily see people accounting for those kinds of habitat impacts or, you know, whatever and deciding any kind of an economic value to them. And until we do that, a lot of people in the world aren’t going to understand, you know, u—unless it’s translated into dollars and cents. So I think that’s a major failure of our economy and—and that of the world.
DT: What happens if you can convince folks that the population is a serious problem and something ought to be done, but you quickly run into territory that’s pretty sensitive, whether it’s controversial issues like abortion or xenophobic issues involving immigration? How do you get the message out there in a way that it doesn’t run afoul of those concerns?
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SH: I wish I knew. No, it—it is. It is very difficult. It’s a very, very sticky issue and I think there’s—probably the only—the only and best things that we can do is to try to look at what are the factors that most influence the—the stability of a population or—or a trend towards stability in a population. And I think the evidence is pretty clear that such things as empowerment of women is very important. Offering options to people, which of course, is all, you know, part of that. Providing people the security to know that if they have one or two or three children that they will live to maturity. I mean, there’s all—this whole complicated situation and—and just the responsibility that we—we
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mustn’t think just about the fact that we’re here now and, you know, that—that maybe the world won’t last through this generation, so what difference does it make? I think we—you know, we really must instill in people the idea that, you know, we’re probably here for the long-term in some way or another, so let’s not make life totally miserable and—and unsustainable for generations that come. I—I, you know, I’d—I—I wish I knew the secret, but I think the—I think as close as we can get is to—to look at ways that we can make it possible for people to live at a little higher level on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you know. You’re not going to get to people sitting around thinking about, you
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know, self-actualization if they can’t feed their children and then they don’t have shelter and, you know, these basic things in life. And we—we have to make it possible for that to happen. That’s how I—I really got involved in the work that I’ve been doing in Mexico is—is through my friend, Susan Smith, whom I met in 1991 at a—an Audubon population conference. And she worked for so many years there trying to help the people in the state of (?), which probably exports more migrants to Texas than any other state in
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Mexico, to im—improve the quality of life and to help them protect their watershed and to, you know, do all these kinds of things that—to make it possible for—for people to have a—to develop a different perspective on—on mortality, I guess.
DT: Well, speaking of the watershed you’ve been working on down in Mexico, this might be a good chance to visit about the Edwards Aquifer and the watershed that San Antonio finds itself in and some of the water troubles and shortages that you’ve been dealing with as a board member of the Edwards Aquifer Authority and also as the environmental representative on the South Central Texas Regional Water Planning Group. Maybe you can get into that.
DT: Susan, maybe you can tell us a little bit about the role that you’ve taken on with Edwards Aquifer Authority and also what the Authority in general has done over practically the last decade now that you’ve been involved.
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SH: I’ve never held a job this long, at least not one for pay. Maybe that’s the secret, I should’ve been working for free all these years. But when I was elected to the EAA board, was the—at the first election that they had and I—I—I—there were seven or eight, maybe ten candidates in this particular district and I think I won by a margin of maybe 32
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votes. Something like that, it’s a plurality election, so that’s—that was my mandate, you know. So they called me Landslide Susan Hughes, ran in the newspaper. But anyway, I came there and I, you know, I had a very clear, you know, environmental bent to my—to my interests. I think nobody—nobody had any misapprehensions about why I was there and what my interests were, so. And I’ve tried to keep it that way always. I think transparency has been perhaps my—my greatest advocate and—and weapon and whatever you might—might want to call it in my—my political career. But I came in
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and, course, th—you know, there were people there who had been water warriors forever, basically. People who—you know, everybody there, you know, says well, I was in the room when they, you know, pounded out the Senate Bill 1477 and I was in the room and I know what the real message was and I know, you know. I didn’t know any of that, so I was coming in pretty much fresh, ex—you know, except that I had been elected to the underground water district boards, despite the fact that I never got to serve, but. So I was pretty much of a newbie and came in and—and we set about trying to forge relationships
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out of this previously very contentious group. Several of us pretty much insisted that we put some resources into an offsite meeting of the board members where we would get to know each other as people, not just as, you know, representatives of positions and interests and geographical areas and so forth. But—but that we really got to know who we were, where we were coming from and, you know, could appreciate each other’s backgrounds and perspectives. And I think that early effort to bring people together that
00:52:00 – 2341
way, that we’ve continued every year, really set the groundwork for us being to—able to work together as well as we have. Certainly I wouldn’t begin to say that we haven’t had times whenever, you know, we would’ve, you know, thrown our fellow board members, you know, in a—down into the deepest sinkhole we could find, you know. But—but still, all in all, we have managed to adopt a regional approach, recognizing that, you know, we have three or four very distinct interests represented there. Certainly the—the western interests, which are principally agricultural. The center area, which is, you
00:52:40 – 2341
know, Bexar County and environs, you know, which is the—the big player in terms of water consumption. And the springs area, which has its recreational interests—I mean, that endangered species interests and so forth. And then, of course, there is downstream and the bays and estuaries. We can’t, you know, we cannot forget them. So it’s a system and that’s the sort of thing that I—I guess I’ve probably become a broken record saying, you know, you can’t manage a natural resource based on geopolitical boundaries, but here we are trying to manage a natural resource based on geopolitical boundaries, you know. So how do we best try to manage to do that in an effective way so that everybody,
00:53:32 – 2341
you know, you—we used to say win-win. I learned recently in some mediation training, the—the better term is that all gain. And I like that very much because we’ve really tried to—to do that and make sure. I mean, I’m not a big fan of irrigated agriculture. You know, I—I wouldn’t be. Why would—you know, why would I be a big fan of irrigated agriculture? But I also realize that it’s really important for those communities
00:53:58 – 2341
economically to have an—a productive irrigated agriculture, you know, industry. That’s—that’s why there’s teachers there. That’s why there’s people that work on the tractors. That’s why there’s people that, you know, sell seed. That’s why there’s people that, you know, that—this whole community is—revolves around the fact that there is irrigated agriculture there. Now I may want to encourage people to move to dry land farming, choose more appropriate crops, whatever it may be, but I have to recognize that that has to be done in the context of—of a conversion process rather than just saying well, we don’t care whether you have irrigation water or not. You know, that and, of
00:54:44 – 2341
course, you recognize that, you know, the Uvalde Pool. When—when things get dry over here, you know, they’re st—they’re still running fine, you know. I mean, it’s the—their—their water lines, their water level lines, you know, are pretty much like this until prewatering starts and then we drop down a little bit and then we run till the Fourth of July and then it pops back up again, you know, so. So there’s, you know, it’s a—it’s a different hydrological system and you have to take that into consideration as well. San Antonio and this kind of spills over into some of the regional planning issues, you know.
00:55:17 – 2341
Yes, we are, you know, a million some odd people. Some odder than others, but, you know, we still nevertheless are the economic generator for this region. The people in every county that surrounds us live, work—somehow economically depend on—on San Antonio as an economic generator. We need to have water to do that. We have the best record in terms of conservation of any city in the state and probably in the country. So
00:55:53 – 2341
we have been responsible in terms of our water usage and the way we, you know, go about, you know, doling out, you know, who gets—who gets what and how we use it. So I don’t feel too badly about that, but we still do have a limited resource. And the thing that is the—again, it’s sort of canary in the coalmine—is, of course, the springs. It would be great if the springs were lower, you know. We’d have a lot more water to work with if they were, you know, if they were geographically lower than where they are. But they’re not. So if we’re going to keep the springs going and that’s another economic generator for New Braunfels and for San Marcos. And, you know, plus, you know, the—the—the
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downstream and we’ve—it’s—it’s incumbent upon us to keep that system working. The springs dry up. Now granted, you know, there are droughts of record. You know, we cannot guarantee that the springs will never dry up, even if we cut pumping to almost nothing. But we can do our dead level best to make sure that—that we take whatever precautions are necessary to keep the springs flowing to the extent possible and also to provide, you know, habitat refuge, you know, whatever for the species, you know, in the event that—that—that the springs would dry. And, you know, we’re—we could be faced
00:57:23 – 2341
with that this year. I don’t—you know, it’s not looking real good for us in terms of precipitation around here. So—and then, you know, never forget the bays and estuaries, you know. So what we’ve tried—what I’ve tried to do and I’ve had remarkably good support from—from everyone on the board, you know, over the years is to—is to try to—to keep that regional approach and to try to balance those interests and, you know, and—
00:57:59 – 2341
and—and try to make it work for everybody, you know, so that—so that we all take stock in the future benefit of all of us. We have a fifteen minim—member board and two appointed members and so there’s a, you know, a wide diversity of—of interests. But, you know, all in all, we’ve been pretty good about, you know, keeping things on a level playing field. When I—when I first came on the board and I—I became the—I have been for ten years now, the chair of the research and technology committee and one of the things that I asked early on to the hydrogeologists, you know, that I—that I knew,
00:58:45 – 2341
what—if—if you could have anything, you know, that you wanted in terms of helping to manage this aquifer, what would you—what would you want? And I could—you know, I had in mind, you know, all these different things that they could want. Well, almost I would say to a man—and they were all men—but they said well, we would sure like to have access to the El Seiri well that’s over by Comal Springs. This was a well that was drilled during the drought in the 50’s and provided water to the—to the power plant there whenever the springs dried up. And there’s always been this threat, I guess we would call it, from folks that have talked about recharge and recirculation and artificial aug—
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augmentation of the springs and so forth which is—was the root of so much conflict in—in this region. And great distrust, I mean, just absolute distrust. They—the people at LCRA and New Braunfels Utilities, I mean, if they saw anybody in the world coming close to that well, which had been, you know, not plugged, but, you know, but sealed and inoperable for many, many, many years, I mean, they would just go ballistic. Absolutely
01:00:10 – 2341
ballistic. So no, no, no. Nobody’s getting access to that well because as soon as somebody gets access to that well, we’re going to have this augmentation thing and we don’t want that and, you know, because we want to keep the springs flowing and this is, you know, it’s all part of it—part of the—the great big huge, you know, cumulus cloud of—of activities around this. So—but it’s—the well was in such a location that it was probably in the same fault block as the springs and if we could get access to the well, we might have a much better opportunity to understand the hydraulics of the springs because, you know, we didn’t have any other monitoring wells close by. And J-17, you know,
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the—the well out at Fort Sam Houston just isn’t close enough. I mean, there’s pretty good correlation, but it would be so nice to have a well that was really much closer to Comal Springs. So I set that as my—my first goal was getting access to that well. And so I started calling meetings between all these people who were coming in, you know, was wondering whether there were submachine guns under the coats, you know, and trying to—trying to establish credibility. Trying to establish trust. Trying to delineate very clearly what the objectives were that we had in wanting to get access to this well and
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what the benefits could be to them and to the rest of us in the region if we had this extra monitoring capacity at that well. And after—I don’t know how many months it took, seemed like forever, but finally, we got a—an agreement drawn that we could have access to that well. And that was undoubtedly my finest hour in terms of my—my service on the EAA board because nobody thought that we could do that. Nobody thought we were going to be able to—to get over those hurdles. So that was a—that was a big one.
[End of Reel 2341]
DT: Susan, when we were on the last tape, you kind of referred to this interest in using this well perhaps as a way to enter into augmentation of the Edwards Aquifer so that the springs could be supported, but that the aquifer as a whole could be pumped lower, below what would normally be supplying the springs. Can you try and explain why that option probably isn’t a realistic one?
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SH: The hydrological studies that—that we’ve done so far have not—had been done before are—are not hopeful in terms of being able to continue the existence of spring flow, natural spring flow, nat—well, you know. Natural augmented spring flow—that’s kind of contradiction in terms, but keeping the springs flowing and functioning if you draw down the aquifer below the lip of the springs. So we’re continuing to, you know, to look at some of these options and possibilities from a—from a scientific and—and technical perspective, but it really doesn’t look like it’s very promising. I mean, there’s—a lot of the ways the—the aquifer functions has to do with—with pressure. You
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know, it’s not—it’s not a matter of, you know, water coming into the recharge zone and flowing immediately to the springs and coming out. It’s a matter of, you know, these pressure pulses and so forth and that’s why we see, you know, variations in the—the levels of the aquifer after we have rainfall and so forth that are—that are quite rapid, frequently. The responses are—are amazingly fast. But the fear was that if there were access to this pump so near the springs that it would be—that the natural spring flow would be sacrificed in favor of being able to pump the aquifer more deeply or—or at—well, never have the right words for that. But a bring—taking the—the aquifer to lower levels, you know. So that was why—you—and—and for a lot of reasons, the people in
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New Braunfels and—and San Marcos did not want to sacrifice having natural spring flow. Now there’s also some biological reasons, you know, associated with the endangered species th—situations there. Why, you know, we’ve—we have also believed that natural spring flow is very important for the maintenance of the species. So, you know, once you start taking—and the—and that would be, you know, that—that well would be probably the closest in terms of chemistry and temperature and so forth to natural spring flow, so you could theoretically take that pump and—in—in that well and
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run some water around and, you know, kind of figure out a way to—to get it in there. But the thing is, too, that—and that—or I’m not a hydrologist and don’t even play one on TV, but you know, there’s—there—there are a lot of just physical problems associated with—with trying to recreate something approaching natural spring flow. So anyway, they didn’t want us to—to bypass the springs and let them dry up, just like we’ve done with San Antonio Springs and San Pedro Springs and so forth over the years. And just by running a pipe down into one of the spring runs and saying well, there’s water that’s
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going downstream, that’s all you need, you know. So that’s, you know, one of the sources of the endangered species lawsuit, Sierra Club’s Babbit suit was, you know, to protect natural spring flow and to, you know, to sidetrack the folks who were looking at some sort of artificial augmentation, so.
DT: So the distinction was between spring flow that was pumped spring flow, you know, water coming out of the spring aquifer and natural spring flow that was because of the head in the aquifer.
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SH: Right. Mmm hmm.
DT: This might be a chance, after telling about that success, to talk about your work with the South Central Texas Regional Water Planning Group, which not only had this groundwater as part of its purview, but also the surface water and how you can provide for a growing city like San Antonio that’s in a pretty dry region of the state.
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SH: Yeah. Somebody should’ve thought of that. The—excuse me—the South Central Regional Water Planning Group, besides being quite a mouthful, runs all the way from the Rio Grande to the coast. And it’s nineteen and a half or twenty and a half counties that are part of this group. So you look at the Edwards Aquifer community as a, maybe not entirely a microcosm, but a maybe a—a semicosm of this larger group and—and just multiply the interests by this larger geographical area and you see that, you know, the complexities are enormous. Again, we have similar sorts of interests. We have the agricultural communities to the west, we have the big city of San Antonio and its, you know, surrounding counties and we have, again, the downstream interests and, you know, all the way to the coast. So that—so they—the interests are really quite similar to what we experience in—in the Edwards, it’s just that there’s more surface water issues
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and—and so forth. But groundwater and surface water, you know, are connected at some level, so most everything that runs down the—the Guadalupe has something to do with—with the Edwards or springs up in the Trinity or something—we have a few more aquifers to deal with in the Regional Water Planning Group than just the Edwards. We have the Trinity, we have the Gulf Coast, we have the Carrizo-Wilcox, we have, you know, so—I mean, it’s, you know, a—assorted little ones here and there. So it’s—it’s—
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it’s complicated by—by those factors. The other thing that—that, of course, we’re—we are an appointed body and we have a representative from a lot of—involving a lot of water walks. I mean, we’ve got representatives from the River Authorities and Public Utilities and power generating plants and, you know, counties, cities, you know, and so forth. And then we have these few representatives and we have one person that represents the public. We have one person that represents the environmental interest. We have a couple of small business people, so forth. So…
DT: And you’re the environmental rep…?
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SH: I’m in the environmental representative, yes. So sometimes we—those of us representing the public and the environment and so forth feel like we’re a little bit shortchanged in terms of what our influence can be in such a—a situation as that. But we try to hold our own, nevertheless. It’s—I think once again establishing the fact that I was
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not going to come in and be a wild and raving, you know, enviro was very important in—in what influence I could have in the Regional Water Planning Group. I—I already had a reputation based on my service on the Edwards board as being somebody that, you know, that could be reasonable and dealt with. It’s a find—fine line in there, you know, between—between really being the—the—the stalwart environmental advocate and—and who just turns around and—and ticks everybody off and, you know, becomes ineffective and trying to be the person who can at least be—listen and try to find some common
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ground and, you know, move forward with solutions that, you know, that are—are reasonable for—and that other people—that people could live with. I—I’ve been criticized from time to time by—by folks who say, you know, you’re not—you’re not in there, you’re not, you know, pitching enough for this side or the other. But, you know, I—I could do that and be completely ignored, you know. Or I could try to weasel my way into some issues and try to, you know, explain why they’re important and why they’re good for everybody and maybe—maybe get, you know, some of the pie, even if not all off the pie. So that’s sort of a tightrope I’ve walked over the years.
DT: Is there a particular niche that you’ve tried to fill or a particular goal you’ve tried to pursue?
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SH: Well, I found myself over the years in a—in a role of—of mediation. In fact, I—I, you know, I just did mediation training at UT Law School last month, or in—finished in December, I guess, because I’ve really been drawn to this—to this role of trying to find common ground and trying to, you know, ex—explain positions and to, you know, to try to desensitize issues and, you know, help get facts on the table and so forth. And really, I’ve—I’ve sort of feel like I found a—a niche there over the—over the years in the work that I’ve done and it’s—it’s one that I’m—I feel very—very comfortable in. I think
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I’m respected for—for that and the fact that I, you know, have not—I’m—I’ve tried very hard to understand how much I can compromise on any given issue. You know, you have—you know, you could go from being a total pushover, you know, and just say I’ll just go along to get along or you could be so hardnosed that you really just—you know, you can have your standards set so high that you have no room for negotiation. And I’ve tried always to figure out where that line is beyond which I cannot compromise, but up to which I can try to work around things so that—that we can come to something that will
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move us forward in a positive way. It’s real important to know where the line is. But it’s really important to have some room for compromise. So that’s what I’ve really worked hard on is knowing, you know, where that is for any given issue.
DT: To give an example, would you find it acceptable for the planning group to propose any new reservoirs?
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SH: That was somewhere where I really dug my heels in. You know, it was—it was my intention going into this whole planning issue that—that no new reservoirs.
DT: So that’s a bright line.
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SH: That’s a bright line for me. In terms of, you know, some of the other issues, I—I have been perceived by some, perhaps, as being a little wishy washy on some things like the pipelines and stuff like that because one of the problems that I’ve seen in some of these areas is—is that there is a proposal for a pipeline, as an example, and someone would say well, absolute—you know, absolutely not because the environmental impacts of that are going to be terrible. Well, the environmental impacts of that probably won’t really be understood until you get further down the line and start looking at the
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engineering associated with it. There’s probably twenty places that you could put a pipeline and of those, fifteen may be really terrible, five may be possible. You know, realistic op—realistic options. And it depends on the way they’re engineered, designed, so forth. Where they’re placed, you know. What—what choices you make. And you don’t really know that necessarily going in. So you know, the—the environmental studies that are done, usually by the engineering firms, you know, lack a little in terms of their scope and, you know. So I—I just don’t usually see any sense in getting up in arms about something that is so nebulous as to, you know, not really be measurable, you know. So let’s took it—talk about this. I mean, we know what the impacts of a reservoir are going to be and a pipeline can be pretty, you know, pretty enormous impact as well.
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Especially, you know, sometimes the—the—the same folks that were talking about augmentation all the time were talking about, you know, recirculation and—and, you know, and we’re looking at some of these issues now. And you know, the—the—the size of a pipeline that you would need to capture floodwaters from the Guadalupe and ship them, you know, west to recharge the aquifer, I mean, we’re talking about 20, 30 foot—40 foot pipelines. I mean, these—you know, huge things that, you know, that have to flow maybe two ways, that have to, you know, be kept charged, you know, all the time.
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That have to, you know, all these technical problems and, you know, I say they’re—they’re going to fall out by themselves whenever you start doing the economics on them. You know, so I’m not going to get in an uproar about something that’s going to prove to be, you know, improbable or, you know, along the line anyway, so.
DT: Well, am I following you that while you serve as the environmental rep and try to bring in conservation concerns, that you think that some of these more aggressive proposals will fall of their own economic weight?
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SH: Yeah, I really do.
DT: Without environmental critique.
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SH: Mmm hmm. You know, and the—the economics will—will play out or, you know, you’re not going to do these things without an environmental impact statement. You’re not going to do these things without further, you know, ob—observation and involvement from the public and so forth. And a lot of them, you know, you don’t necessarily have the—all the data that you need to really prove your case early on. You may know, you may believe in your heart that this is a—a dumb idea and that it’s not going to work, but that’s not going to convince the people who are, you know, heels dug
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in, that this is the absolute solution. So you kind of have to sometimes let these things play themselves out. It—and, you know, it doesn’t really—doesn’t really gain you anything to sit around and just, you know, just wait until I can say I told you so. But you know, just let it—just let it work itself out, you know. Something else is going to happen, we’ll learn something new, you know, things change. None of these projects will be completed in a matter of two or three years. Some of them are—you know, many of them are on the—on the books for, you know, long after I’m gone, so just don’t worry too much about it, you know.
DT: Some of these things are long term problems that your descendants will be involved in and whole future generations and I’m wondering what sort of advice you’d give to them from your dealing with all sorts of disparate people on big organizations over the years?
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SH: I think that the most important thing is—is to focus on common ground. Try not to spend a lot of time worrying about where you disagree with people and look at where you agree with them and how you can move forward rather than ending up at a stalemate. That’s the way to—to get things done and if you are, you know, if you listen and if you engage people, you are much more likely to get your point across to them and to get to the end that—that you will be happy with than if you go head to head with them. I think that’s really important. The other thing is to always try to consider upstream and
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downstream impacts of the decisions that you make. And perhaps the other thing is to not do what I did so much of my life, which was to avoid being in a position of decision making and take DeDe Armentrout’s advice, which was that the best way to influence a decision maker is to become one—or the easiest way and—and I think that’s what I chose to do when I got involved, somewhat with Audubon, and then also, you know, whenever I chose to run for office. The Edwards Aquifer Authority may seem like pretty
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small potatoes, but it’s—it’s a pretty influential body and a pretty influential experiment in water management in Texas, completely overturning the old, traditional rule of capture and establishing rights in groundwater, establishing a market, changing the way people think about water, providing an economic—an economic measure for the value of water. It’s—you know, it’s a—it’s a very significant experiment that we’ve been conducting here for the past ten years.
DT: You’ve invested so much of your time and effort in San Antonio and the Edwards Aquifer and planning for the future for this area. I was wondering if you could talk to us a little bit about place and if there were a particular place, maybe in San Antonio or maybe elsewhere, that brings you joy and solace and sort of reminds you of why you got involved in this effort?
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SH: You know, it’s funny because I’m—I’m frequently confronted by people who say oh, I—you know, I really—I love to go out and do this and I love to go be this place or the other. And the truth of the matter is, I do most of my conservation work sitting in front of a computer. Part of that happened whenever my—my joints started giving away and the—then before I had all these joint replacements and so forth, going outside was really painful for me for a long time. But I love my garden. I can just take a step outside, you know, and—and be with nature all around me, in spite of the fact that I’m in the middle of the city. I have wonderful memories and recollections of time spent out in the
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hill country and in the Texas brush country, which I dearly love, and—and you know, Bracken Bat Cave where I went—you know, my dad took me very early on, when we—I guess when we were in high school. Three friends of—you know, from high school and I—my dad took us out to Bracken Bat Cave to see the guys that—the—the family that owned it, they worked down at the Pearl Brewery where my dad did. He had this opportunity to take us out there and it was just like, oh, God, what an amazing—amazing
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thing that was. It was before anybody even really knew much about it, you know. And subsequently, the friend—one of the friends that I took out there with me has become a, you know, a world recognized bat biologist.
DT: Maybe you could tell us for those who haven’t been to Bracken what it’s like.
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SH: Bracken Cave is, you know, this hole in the ground that is home to, what is it, 40 million bats after the—after the—the nursery activities, the nursery cave. Twenty million females show up pregnant each year and, you know, give birth and then there’s forty million at the end of the—at the end of the season. And every night, we are blessed with this wonderful emergence of all of these bats that come out and—and really keep, you know—it’s—it’s the best thing that—it’s better than irrigation in terms of its benefits to the agricultural community in South Texas. Absolutely, by—because they consume, you
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know, tons and tons and tons of bugs and a lot of them are corn borers and other kinds of swarms of insects that move up here during the seasons and—and they just nibble on them, you know, all night long. Come back and—and sleep during the day. Just the most amazing thing to watch them come out and every once in a while, you’re blessed with the emergence of an albino and so you sort of watch—you can watch—actually watch them as they circle and circle and circle out, you know, because you can spot this one albino that will, you know, fly off. And oh my, what a—what an amazing experience
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it is to watch them. One of—when I—when I really got the bat bug, as it were, was one time when my friends, Bill Rainey and—who—who I went to high school with and Dixie Pearson, his wife, who are both bat biologists, were here and—and in the—in one of the buildings at DataPoint, where I was working, there had been a, I guess, a cold snap or something happened and—and a—a bat had gotten into the building. And so they were all freaking out and, of course, they knew that, you know, I was the one to call, right? So they—they called me and said well, what are we—what are we going to do with this bat?
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So we went over and Dixie brought a—a bag and so forth and got this little dehydrated bat off the wall and we brought it home, put it in the closet during the day and then that evening, we got it out of the closet and—and were trying to rehydrate it. And so I was holding it in my hand and this wonderful—the only thing that I can compare it to was—is seal fur. You know, just soft and thick and remarkable and—and it started vibrating and Dixie says oh, it’s getting ready to, you know, to go out for the night. You know, to—raising its body temperature and so we took it outside and put it on the post, you know,
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down—downwind side of the post. And after a little while, it climbed up for—then all of a sudden, it just took flight. It was a precious, priceless little creature went off to, you know, to do its job again, one—one more night, this little Mexican free tail bat was, you know, going off to—going off to work. And then I got to know some Mariannus fruit bats that Bill and Dixie had had for a while, one of which even had gone to Congress whenever they were trying to get the Samoan National Refuge at—established and—and
00:25:36 – 2342
he had lived with them for a while. So he had—he had been to Congress and very influential in convincing Congress to set aside this—this wonderful preserve. So I’ve—you know, I became a real bat nut, was no question about it. And in fact, my—my jewelry business is entitled Bats About Beads. So that’s…
DT: Well, I think it’s wonderful how you’ve woven conservation into every aspect to your life and thank you very much for telling us about it. I really appreciate it.
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SH: Oh, it’s been fun.
DT: Thank you very much.
End of reel 2342
End of interview with Susan Hughes