INTERVIEWEE: Tim Hixon (TH)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: February 15, 2006
LOCATION: San Antonio, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Melanie Smith and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2334 and 2335
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’s David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas and it’s February 15th, 2006 and we’re in San Antonio, Texas at the home of Tim Hixon who has been kind to talk to us about some of his experiences with land management, with developing of downtown properties and with a slew of nonprofit and governmental efforts to try and preserve land and wildlife and probably many things I don’t even know about, but maybe we’ll hear more about. So thank you very much for spending time with us.
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TH: Good to be here. I’m glad you’re here and doing this and I look forward to it. I want to see some of my colleagues’ tapes, too.
DT: Good. Well, I thought we might start with your childhood and if there might’ve been a place or a person that you could point to as maybe your first introduction to interest and love for the outdoors or wildlife?
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TH: And I—I could never pick out one instant or any particular stage in my life. I was just kind of always raised with it. I was raised in Jacksonville, Florida on the Saint John’s River and my brother Joe and I lived in that river practically as kids and we were catching snakes and turtles and crawfish or fiddler crabs and whatever. Just nonstop. And my grandfather lived in, well, sixty-five miles away in—in a little town called High Springs, Florida where he had a farm and we spent every moment we could on that farm. Again, doing the same stuff, just exploring the out of doors and looking for treasures and riding horses and whatever we could. I—and I just loved it there more than anything
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and—and we literally were doing that—or I was m—more so than my—my brother probably, from age five, six, seven on. Fishing and then, well, it’s got to be around twelve years old, we’d get to go on a quail hunt once in—every now and then and it was—it was good fun. My father was a—a—I call him my father, he’s my stepfather, really—and he was a federal judge and he—he didn’t have a lot of time for the out of doors, but we did get a family hunt in at least once a year. And my mother was pretty much an inside person. She didn’t—she didn’t spend a lot of time off concrete.
DT: Do you remember any particular fishing trips or crawfish chases? Anything come to mind?
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TH: Not now, I don’t remember my—remember anything really specific. There’s just a conglomeration of a lot of—lot of good experiences. Had a uncle that used to take us fishing in the Gulf of Mexico some and it was always great fun being with him and I guess we were twelve, four—twelve to fourteen years old when we were doing that. When I was fifteen or thereabouts, I worked one summer for a guy named Ross Allen at Silver Springs, Florida and he had kind of one of these big snake farms, reptiles, alligators, turtles of every description. And I worked—worked for him for a few weeks
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and lived with his boys—he had a bunch of boys and I can’t even remember how many kids were around there, but there were a lot. And we’d just—my job was feeding snakes and stuff when we’re—we had free time, we’d go—go up and down the rivers in a canoe and try and catch stuff and it was—it was really—that—that was a pretty special time there. And there a bunch of Seminole Indians living in this place then and they were just wonderful people and they’d try and show us sometimes the evil of our ways, but it—it was great. It was just—just the—heck of an experience. And in those days, I was—I
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was away in boarding school when—but I even knew the Latin names of most every snake in North America. I mean, I was—I was a snake nut for a while there. I can still remember some of them.
DT: Did you camp out at all or were these mostly day trips?
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TH: Yep. A lot of them were just day trips, yeah. But when—where we were raised on the banks of the Saint John’s River, it was kind of on the—on the edge of town in those days—and it sure isn’t anymore—but there were vacant lots and big wooded areas near us and we camped out a lot from age ten, twelve on. And we’d do it on weekends and—and such and I had a group of friends do that and we made some really bad stew a few times and had some really bad pancakes and things like that. But I guess lots of lucky kids get to do those things.
DT: As you grew up, I understand that you continued to spend time in the outdoors, hunting and fishing. How did those sort of forays change as you got older and where did they take you?
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TH: Well, I—I’ve hunted a lot of different places. I’ve been, oh, I think eight, maybe nine trips to Africa. I’ve hunted there and I—a lot. Saw a lot of changes. I—my first trip was a photo trip in 1955, right after I graduated from—from boarding school. The—and those, of course, were still colonial days in Kenya, Tanzania. And then my last trip there was eight or nine years ago and some pretty traumatic changes in those years. When we used to move camps when we were hunting and such, we’d drive from area to area and if night caught us, we just camped on the side of the road. I—I’m told now you just don’t dare do that anymore. It’s just—it’s gotten to be too dangerous and if—if you stay strictly in the tourist areas, you’re fine. In the big parks and stuff, there would be no problems, but just to strike out on your own, better be careful.
DT: Did you ever find any fishing trips that took you abroad or here in the States?
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TH: Yeah. We fished in Mexico on many occasions. We used to go down to Boca Paila, it’s one of the great spots of the world and—down in Quintana Row on the Yucatan Peninsula. And that was mostly bonefish fishing and I did manage to catch a permit down there in 1972, I think it was, which I was one of the very early people to catch a permit on a fly. And I was always kind of proud of that. I—where else have we been? We go to South America every year. We go to Argentina every year and fish as far south as Tierra Del Fuego for the big sea run browns. And then probably the weirdest
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trip—fishing trip we went on, oh, about five years ago, we went to Mongolia to fish for Taimen, which is a salmonoid type fish and they get really monstrous in these rivers and then they have another fish very similar to our trout, they’re called a lenok. And that was just a wonderful experience. It was a—a—we got to go through China and back out through Korea and we took a day off from fishing and drove those—rode those miserable little Mongolian ponies up in the mountains. It was great; it was just a wild, wild place.
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Fact, it—there was a town kind of near where we were fishing. It was thirty-five miles away as the crow flies, but it took six hours to drive there, so it’s—this is pretty undeveloped stuff. And we just had a great time on that one and where else? And—shot pheasants and ducks in Korea when I was in the Army there. You have to take these opportunities when they come up, I guess.
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TH: Then we fished in Russia—or I fished there a couple of times. We—we—Karen and I were there last year, in fact, fishing for lenok salmon on the Ponoi River.
DT: You’ve been telling us about some of these hunting and fishing trips and I imagine that some of the interesting parts might be the guides that you had that knew about the local area and knew about the local wildlife. Any stories you can recall about some of these people who led you into these areas?
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TH: Yeah, well, one of the guys I hunted with in Africa was—he was a third generation professional hunter there in—in East Africa. He hunted Kenya and Tanzania and I hunted with him in Botswana and in Zaire, now the Congo. But he knew very little about wildlife and such and what bird was what and every bird was an Ndege bird, which meant bird in Swahili. Or you ask him what a tree was and he’d say it’s a “Meeky” tree, which means wood in—in Swahili. And, yeah, he didn’t know anything, but he was just a fabulous hunter. The African people just always seemed to love him, they just—he could—raised there, he could talk Swahili and—as well as they could and he—he was dynamite. But on the other side of the fence, I’d had one great hunt with a fellow named
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Tony Dire, who knew everything. He knew every little chi chi bird that you ran across and then, you know, they were the wide spread between those two guides. And—and then you seen the same thing in fishing guides, that for fishing tarpon in the Florida Keys, there—some of these guys know every little thing that’s down there and some are just the darndest tarpon fishermen you ever saw and some of them have both. But it’s a—you—you—you just get a wide variety of people and, in fact, everybody’s got the same interest
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and that’s a deep seeded interest in the—in the outdoor world and in the conservation, preservation of these—of these areas and these—these animals. It—this—this is—this is good.
DT: Well, I guess in hunting, a lot of it is actually the tracking and not the shooting. Can you tell about trying to track some of these animals?
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TH: Yeah, yeah, the—yeah. Good question. Fact, the—the best hunt, maybe purest hunt I was ever on in my life was I was hunting bongo in—bongo in the Congo. It was—then, it was Zaire, but we got over there. We drove, this fellow Glen Cotter, the professional hunter from Kenya and I drove over there and—through Uganda and got into Zaire, which was very nerve wracking, I must say. Going through there and the drums going in night and stuff, it’s a little—a little unnerving, to say the least. But anyway, I—I had a good hunt and I—we met up with another professional hunter in Zaire
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and he said well, he explained his procedures and how he—how he hunted there, because you’re in thick, thick forest looking for these animals that tend to blend in with their background pretty well. And I—he said I’m—if I go with you, I’m just one more person to make noise and said I’d rather you just go with a tracker, this African fellow, his name was Bitay. He was a great, big, strong, good looking guy and seemed to know his way around the forest pretty well. But every morning, we’d search the roads, the dirt roads and stuff and pick up fresh bongo tracks and we’d get on those tracks and stay on them,
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sometimes for ten or twelve hours, until it got dark or darn near it. And Bitay, I mean, he’s following these things—how, I’ll never know as long as I live, I don’t know how he—and he’s sniffing the air and looking and there’d be sometimes when the tracks would go off to the right and Bitay would keep going straight and he’s sniffing and looking around. And pretty soon, he’d pick up those tracks again. He was—he was just incredible. And finally, we were hunting fifteen days and I finally got the bongo on the fifteenth day, at the last—last second. But over there, I—I saw bongo, I think every
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day, as I remember, but they just weren’t suitable and just wanted the right one to come along. Didn’t—one time I sat up over in a—they’d built a little platform up in a very wiggly tree for me over a waterhole and saltlick and the only way to do it, it was so far from camp, was go up there and stay all night. And a storm came up that night, I’m up there by myself and it’s pitch black dark and I had one little, bitty, tiny flashlight with me and this storm came up and the tree was sweeping around and the lightning was popping
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and I said I can’t stay here, I got to get down. And they had this—this so-called ladders going up the tree, just tied together with vines, so you can imagine how strong that was. And I climbed down and sat down on the ground till this storm passed, went back up again. I—I didn’t get a bongo that night. I did that for two nights, it was not a good experience.
DT: You also said, I think, that you’d been bone fishing. I’ve heard that that’s also kind of a hunt. Is that…?
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TH: Yeah, that’s hunting and fishing at the same time, much like tarpon fishing in shallow water is. Yeah, it’s—well, I’ve done a lot of that, a whole lot and it’s a—it’s all casting and it’s wind and it’s learning how to see the fish. And you get after a while, heck, you know, that—can see the fish as good as the guides can usually, it’s—if you’ve been at it awhile. But it’s very exciting, those fish take and all you do is just raise your rod and hold on because they going to go where they—wherever they want to for about two hundred yards. But it’s—it’s good fun. It’s hunting and fishing at the same time, which is great.
DT: Do you do similar kinds of fishing with the red fish down on Laguna Madre?
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TH: Yeah, I—I’ve done some redfishing down here. I used to do it a good bit before the fishing got good down there, back in the 70’s and—and I had a house in Port Aransas for a—awhile and I’d fly fish there for trout and—and redfish, but it—the fishing wasn’t really good and it took a—GCCA [Gulf Coast Conservation Association] and—and—and Walter Fondren’s group to come along and—along with Perry Bass—and got the—these fish made a game fish and that’s what turned it all around. It’s a fabulous fishery now and it’s—it’s just working great.
DT: Well, could you explain more about how that happened? How GCCA got involved to protect these redfish and make them more plentiful?
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TH: Well, it—it was getting where you just couldn’t hardly catch a redfish and trout and there were trotlines everywhere you looked, all over and the by-catch from the shrimpers were terrible, killing a lot of immature fish. And Walter Fondren came along with GCCA and started that organization and—and built it and Perry Bass took care of the legislative end of it and—and lobbied and twisted arms and everything to get—get the bills passed necessary to make those two fish game fish. And God, I remember the whining and the moaning—I wasn’t directly involved then, except for in some minor
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support—but the—(misc.)—I can’t remember the exact numbers, but the commercial fishery was valued for the state at 30, 40 million dollars, something like that. The sport—sports fishing industry at the same time was something like 100 million dollars, the value to the state now. Anybody got a problem with going to where the money is in this? I mean, it’s a very important thing for the state and—and the commercial fishermen
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were killing it. They were killing it. There was a—a great old story that used to be told about a commercial fishing—fisherman who used to run trotlines and nets and stuff and he—when they stopped at—stopped the commercial fishing, he said God, I never knew what—how it would change my life. He—he said my hours are a whole lot better. He’d—he’d become a fishing guide—a sports-fishing guide. He said my hours are a whole lot better, I’m making a lot more money and I’m running around with a lot nicer class of people. And he was—he was thrilled with the whole thing. The—th—this was great and I—I give those two guys full credit for getting it done.
DT: You mentioned earlier going hunting in Africa for bongos. Do you have any stories about going hunting in Texas for white-tails or other kinds? Little birds?
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TH: Oh, you know, I—I can’t think of anything exceptionally—and I think we hunt thr—two or three days a week, year in and year out here, fall and winter. Just—you know, I’ve had a lot of happy, nice times with a lot of—lot of nice people over the years and you get some i—nice invitations o—other people’s ranches and it—it’s just been a great way of life. I think one thing you might find of interest, though. My wife and I have been married for 31 years now and in those 31 years; we’ve been on two trips that did not involve shooting or fishing. And we’ve been to a lot of nice places, I promise you.
DT: We were talking about land in Texas. I believe that you run the Hixon Land and Cattle Company, which has a tract, as I understand it, in South Texas as well as in Idaho. I was hoping that you could talk about the efforts you’ve made to manage the land in these tracts and also the wildlife.
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TH: Yeah. We—f—first of all, the—our—our ranch in South Texas near Cotulla is—is my ranch and then the one in Idaho belongs to my Hixon Properties, which is my extended family’s ranch and my brother, Joe, and I operate that one in Idaho and I do this one down here. And we—we—despite this year long drought we’ve had now, my ranch still looks very good in South Texas. It’s dry—the tanks are drying up. It still looks good because we do rotate—or do rotational grazing and we do stock a lot lighter than we used to. We just go on with steers now and, in fact, I lease it out for steers rather than
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putting my own on there. I prefer to graze in the fall and winter, so we get the spring growing seasons and early summer and—and we’re using fire a lot. We’ve been burning for—been burning for twenty-plus years, but in the last five years, we’ve burned a lot heavier. All winter burns and it’s paying off. If we get these really good, hot fires and we can really set the mesquite back. If you don’t get a good, hot fire, all you’re going to do is make it mad and it’ll come back with a vengeance. But if you get the right fire going, then it’ll—it’ll really set it back. You aren’t going to get rid of it, but…
DT: Do you burn mostly to control the brush and the hardwoods or do you hope that you can push the grasses in a different direction towards natives?
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TH: Well, it’s more to control the brush. I—the—the plus is you do get some of the native grasses coming back, too. We’re cursed in South Texas, and I’m responsible—as responsible as any other person probably in that we’re putting out of a lot of buffel grass. That it just seems to take over the world. It’s very good for a ranch because it greens up with very little moisture and, you know, it looks great and (inaudible) you can get your cattle coming on quicker. And—but it’s got no—little to no wildlife value at all, only as cover, nothing—none as—as a food source for wildlife. So it’s—it’s not a good one. And it seems with the burning that we’re setting it back more and more and—and other native grasses are coming back.
DT: Well, how do you balance the needs of the wildlife that are on your tract and the cattle that use it?
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TH: I don’t try to balance the needs of those things. Wildlife comes first and if we can improve things for cattle, that’s a plus. The—gosh, I got lost there. The cattle—anything we do for wildlife is, in most cases, going to help cattle, too because it—it improves the rangeland generally speaking and that will help cattle.
DT: Let’s maybe change orientation here just a bit. I think you’d said that your tract up in Idaho that you share with your brother and extended family has a threatened species on it and sometimes that’s a real obstacle in managing land. Have you found it to be a problem?
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TH: No, we haven’t had a problem yet. It’s a little ground squirrel—Northern Idaho ground squirrels, spermophilus brunneus brunneus, and it’s one that’s only above ground about two and a half months of the year and—and we don’t really have much of a problem with the federal agencies with it. They just—they monitor everything and we cooperate just a—as much as we possibly can and they—I—I disagree with them on a lot of stuff and I’m not sure it’s as threatened as they think it is because we see these little squirrels scattered around the ranch in pretty good shape. And—and they’ve—have their
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official counts that don’t match up with our eyeballing them. But we don’t sit down and count in different groups and species, but we—we see squirrels where they never go—I mean, where the feds never go. I don’t know, this—this too shall pass. We—we—we are doing our part to help the—help the guys.
DT: What sort of efforts do you make on behalf of these ground squirrels?
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TH: We just watch the grazing more closely. We rotate better. We stay away with vehicles and stuff from the areas that they burrow in. It’s—I said it’s—it just hasn’t been burdensome. We haven’t had to do a lot.
DT: Are there other land management issues that are different in Idaho than those you faced in South Texas?
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TH: Oh, yeah, yeah. There—there’re a lot of land management problems that we have up there that you’d never have down here. It mainly—the big one is riparian grazing because the cattle will flat graze out a riparian area. They’ll knock down stream banks and some ranchers deny that, that it doesn’t happen, but I think they ought to open their eyes. It does happen and we have to be very careful with that. On our deeded land on the ranch, we’ve got all but just a little bit of the streams fenced off now and we have water gaps so cattle can get down to get water, but on our terms and not the cattle’s terms.
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And—and the federal lands, which we’re surrounded by and we graze on and—both BLM land and Forest Service land—we try and keep the cattle pushed out of these things. Now they’re going to get in there and they’re going to graze, but we’ve had Forest Service people tell us that we’re doing heck of a good job on it and they have range tours on our ranch to show other ranchers how these things can be done. But it takes a lot of horseback time to do that and it’s—I mean, we’re keeping the cattle up higher on the hills of the mountains and stuff. And we’ve scattered water around up on the mountains, we built—developed springs and put water troughs in and stuff to keep the cattle away from these riparian areas.
DT: Today we’ve talked a little bit about your rural land efforts through Hixon Land and Cattle and your own personal property in South Texas. I understand you’re also in the urban land development business through Hixon Properties and…
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TH: Herban redevelopment is how we prefer it.
DT: Okay. How does that work interface with some of your interests in conservation?
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TH: They—it—they’re—the two really don’t relate a whole lot except I just hate what’s happening with urban s—or urban sprawl, so to speak, and a—and the word ranchette just turns my stomach. But it’s—we just prefer to do all of our stuff in—in an urban setting and—and redevelop other—or—or properties that already exist and we’ve done pretty good job of that in downtown San Antonio. And I just can’t see us ever going out to the outskirts of town and doing anything, it just—just won’t happen as long as I’m around.
DT: And how do you make a viable business out of doing work in redevelopment downtown when it seems like a lot of home developers, at least, and then some commercial developers, feel like they can only make a profitable business out of developing on the fringe.
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TH: Well, you—I—I think they’re wrong and I think we’re going to see more of a move towards urban living and—and new types of housing in San Antonio. There’s a whole lot of space and it’s happening to some degree in these older neighborhoods, between where we are right now and downtown, of people going in and—and redoing and fixing up some really old frame houses. And I think there’ll be more and more of that. Some of these neighborhoods that are really bad, I think maybe some of them will disappear and I’m talking here on the north side mostly and close in on the south side.
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That some of these areas will be developed into—more into condos or row houses or maybe even some high-rises. One of the drawbacks of getting more done downtown is a lack of grocery stores close in. You got to get in a car and drive to—or—or to drive a little ways to—to get any groceries. Well, you do anywhere, I guess, but it’s more of a pain downtown than it is if you live out in this area.
DT: What do you think it is that’s bringing people back downtown?
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TH: Yeah, I think people want to—I think it’s just new trend starting. I think people want to live closer to downtown because of the miserable highway system we’ve gotten, just horrible traffic twice a day for a lot of people working in the downtown area. And you know, a lot of businesses going out north to—to meet that challenge, but there’s some things that—that stay downtown. And it’s—I’ve had people tell me, used to be at
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work in fifteen, twenty minutes and it now takes them minimum of forty-five minutes to get to work. And that’s too long; it’s too expensive, too polluting, it’s just not the right way to do things.
DT: I think when we were visiting about this earlier; you were saying that the pressures of sprawl became pretty clear to you with your involvement with Government Canyon State Natural Area.
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DT: And I was wondering if you could tell not only the story about the natural areas and sprawl, but also the whole, long history of that acquisition and how it was assembled. It’s just a fascinating story.
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TH: Yeah, it’s—I can’t remember all the details on Government Canyon but I got involved—I was chairman of the board of the Parks and Wildlife Foundation of Texas and—no, actually that happened—it started when I was still on the commission. And we had a policy, at that time on the commission, of not buying any land. But state wouldn’t buy any and the Parks and Wildlife Department wouldn’t buy any. And this particular tract came up at a very reasonable price, it came from, oh, Resolution Trust, one of the government agencies in the 80’s and it was just too cheap that I did—I felt that we should
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move on it. Plus it was helping protect our aquifer, the Edwards Aquifer. And plus, it had a lot of sects to it historically, environmentally and it—it was just something that was too good to be passed up. And I convinced my fellow commissioners that we had to make an exception here and Parks and Wildlife Department put some money in. Trust for Public Land, I can’t say enough about them. They—they really stepped up and—and assembled a lot of money and they got a sum—I can’t remember the dollar numbers, but a lot from SAWS here in—in San Antonio. The city put in money. Parks and Wildlife
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Department did and there was another agency that—that did a lot. I can’t remember right now. The—but this place was in the heart of something that several years—many years back was going to be part of a new—whole new city out there called San Antonio Ranch. And there was something—they were trying to develop land for a hundred thousand people or something to live there and this—this Government Canyon area was going to be part of that. And that went by the wayside, thank goodness. And gradually that first piece of land was four thousand acres and I can’t remember what we paid for that. But it was purchased—the whole place was—is right at nine thousand now. Eighty-six hundred
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acres, I think, and it was purchased in about five different tracts. Some of it for—was given to us. Some of it came as low as five hundred dollars an acre. The last piece we bought, I think, was at ten thousand an acre, so you can see the—what’s happening in that area and, fortunately, a lot of factors came together at the right time to put this together. And it’s—it’s—it’s a pretty special place and—and—as I said, we’ve—we have all these different historical, environmental, protecting our water system, there—there is just an unbeatable combination. And I think the Parks and Wildlife Department
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is going to adapt this model for future land pur—purchases. It—close in to an —ur—ur—urban situation and have a water feature of some sort can help protect some water. And this is—it’s pretty special.
DT: You mentioned that it had a historic feature to the land. What was that?
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TH: Well, they—this—they call it Government Canyon because supposedly there’s a government trail going up to the army post, up a bend there and above and to the west. And I assume that’s correct, but there was an old ranch and some of the old ranch buildings are still left and old wonderful old stone buildings there. And, you know, there’re dinosaur footprints in the streambeds and just a—I refer to a piece of land like that is having a lot of sects to it and it’s—and this place does.
DT: You also said that it has some endangered species aspects to it that appealed to you?
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TH: Yeah, well, I don’t how many people it appealed to—these species appeal to, but they are the little cave spiders or some little minnow or such that don’t register very high on a lot of people’s scale and not real high on mine. But, you know, I think we ought to try and keep these things going, too, while we can.
DT: I think the third thing you said is that there is a recharge aspect to the piece of land. How does that function?
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TH: This is ground zero for recharging the Edwards Aquifer. This is a major part of it and it—this protects it from getting paved over and it helps prevent pollution and such.
DT: One thing I’ve heard is that you and your wife were involved in trying to build a visitor’s center out there to try and educate people about this state natural area. Can you describe why you decided to get involved in that and what it encompasses?
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TH: Well, by the time all of this came along, I was chairman of the board of—of the Parks and Wildlife Foundation of Texas and I’m—I decided Government Canyon was going to be my pet project. And I don’t know if that’s proper or legal or what have you, but that’s the way it is—was. And I just gave some money, undesignated for what they want to do, but to support the park and—and help build some infrastructure. There was nothing there except one old ranch building that’d been used by hunters over the years. And we—we had to build something for the public there because I firmly believe these
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places ought to be open and accessible to the public. But anyway, I gave them some money and they decided to name that building after my wife and I. It’s very nice of them. I wasn’t around when that decision was made but I accepted it with great humility—some humility.
DT: When we’ve been talking earlier, you were saying how important you thought it was to expose the public, and kids, in particular, I think, to the out of doors and I was wondering if you could maybe elaborate a little bit about that and how Government Canyon’s visitor center might’ve figured into that?
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TH: Well, the visitor’s center’s got classrooms in it, too, and—and hopefully—and it’s already started to some degree and it has before the park was officially opened and you’d get classes of youngsters out there and give them a little tour and show them there’s a world outside that doesn’t exist around or function around McDonald’s or concrete or the automobile or what have you and let them poke around the out of doors. And then we’ll
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show them how—or eventually how our water systems work here in—with the Edwards Aquifer and such. The—I—I—to me, this is extremely important to get kids off of concrete and then into a outdoor area and l—let them have an outdoor experience and just—I worry about the city’s urban people making rural decisions at the ballot box in voting for things that they really have little to no knowledge of. And—and, you know, an—anything we can do for education is—is going to be a plus for—for our cause.
DT: I guess along those same lines, I think that you and your wife have been involved with the San Antonio Zoo and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the zoo and why you think it’s merited support?
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TH: Yeah. Yeah. That was a long time ago when we were involved with the zoo. I mean, a long time ago, but we still support it very much and it was just—I was fairly young when I was asked to go on the board there and was kind of flattered. And I was asked to be president of it and I was really flattered for that and we—I—I spent a good bit of time involved there. The—Louis DeSabado and such and we saw the zoo come a long way. It’s one of the finest zoos in the world. And my wife took to it immediately, she was on the first group of docents there and—and the zoos are important because of—they can breed stuff in captivity and they have the knowledge and the facilities and the people that can handle these things. And if we need—well, a—a good example here is the whooping crane. I don’t how many whooping cranes the San Antonio Zoo has raised
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and some of them have stayed in captivity and I think some of them are being released. We now have some Atwater’s prairie chickens over there, which I think is probably a doomed species, but we got to keep trying to keep it going. We can keep them going in captivity, but in the wild, I—it’s going to be tough.
DT: Why do you think that is?
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TH: I’m not sure. I don’t—nobody knows. You know, if we—if we knew, we could maybe do something about it. But people have been trying for a lot of years now and—on—on the prairies where they traditionally existed and some of them don’t seem to have changed that much. And they’ve done the burning and traditional ways of maintaining the prairies and they just—just had to work. I know there was a penguin—there was a heath hen back east and there was a very famous case study in the biological world and
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there were 2500 of them left, think Martha’s Vineyard or someplace like that. And 2500 of them wasn’t enough genetic variability to keep the species going and that might be what we have here.
DT: We were just talking about the Atwater prairie chicken and it’s fate and I understand The Nature Conservancy was involved in trying to protect some land near Eagle Lake and across the state now for other species and that you’ve been involved on the board, not just on the state chapter but also through the national board. And I was curious, what was it about the organization that appealed to you and got you involved in it?
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TH: I—The Nature Conservancy appeals to me because I like what they do. They buy land and preserve it, keep it going and that’s very basic because they do a lot of other stuff now, too. The—my involvement goes back for a long, long time. I was on the national board, oh, probably in the 80’s sometime for several years and I was probably not a great board member there. And now I’m on the—on the state board. I—and I’ve been involved with the Idaho Nature Conservancy to some degree, too. Not in (?), but in support and there’s a Hixon sharptail grouse preserve in Idaho and here they’ve just
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done a lot of good work. They had tough years, oh, probably ten, twelve years ago, back when Andy Sansom was Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy here in the state and had big, big problems with ranchers, in particular in west Texas. They—and Andy really got things smoothed over and at least got people talking to each other. For a while, that wouldn’t even happen and we had some meetings—this was back in my Parks and Wildlife days—and we had couple of meetings in west Texas that I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I approached them with some trepidation. But the—you know, everybody talks now and everybody gets along. I heard one rancher say out there at a
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meeting one day that he would rather see his ranch split up into four-acre ranchettes than see The Nature Conservancy get it. Well, I can’t do much, nobody can do much about that sort of mindset except, you know, point out the error of his ways and—and—and—and hope his neighbors don’t feel the same way. But it’s come a long way. We’ve got an excellent guy that lives out in west Texas, lives at Fort Davis, James King, who’s really doing a bang up job on landowner relations. And Andy was very good at it. The new Executive Director, Carter Smith, is very good at it. And it’s—it just come a long way.
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Now the Conservancy doesn’t have to buy the land, either, and they will take conservation easements. In some cases, they purchased—in very important tracts, they purchased conservation easements and—and they’re chipping away at it. You know, they’re—Andy Sansom told me once, he said if we had a billion dollars to spend buying land in the state of Texas, you couldn’t change the ownership by one percent. And with Texas being—well, depends on who you ask—but 97 percent privately owned, that’s not very much. In fact, I think we’re probably right at the bottom of the pack in the United States for public lands per capita.
DT: Well, how do you think the Conservancy—given what a tall order they’ve got—how do you think they strategically focused on particular areas that were worth conserving?
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TH: Well, the—the—the—the Conservancy finds the important places. They’ve got their own scientific teams and they work closely with Parks and Wildlife and they find the most important pieces. That doesn’t mean they won’t take something at a brother-in-law price or for nothing. It’s maybe not quite as important. But that’s—that’s how they determine what they get. And as I said, they—I used the term earlier, they’re chipping away at it and that’s the best we can do now. That’s the best we’ll ever be able to do.
DT: You said that ten, twelve years ago, things were pretty polarized between The Nature Conservancy and some private landowners. What was the tension about?
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TH: The landowners didn’t want the federal government anyplace near them and sometimes, in some cases, the Conservancy will resell the land that they get to a agency of the federal government and so the feds end up with it. And I—I must say, I’m not 100 percent on that. In some cases, like land that adjoins a national park or something like that, it’s—it’s the only way to go, probably. And I—and I can understand people’s concerns about that. The other concern that the ranchers and—had was losing the income from taxes because Nature Conservancy doesn’t have to pay taxes and there were—you
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know, there was a lot of concern about that. The Conservancy sin—since has a policy that they will pay the taxes—pay a fee in lieu of taxes. They didn’t want to call it taxes for reasons—various reasons. But they pay the fees to the b—counties involved in lieu of taxes. And I don’t know where anybody has said that they can’t take land. People used to feel that the Conservancy could just come in and take it. They couldn’t. They—they
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have no rights, the legal rights to take land. They bought—bought it in an open market. A willing buyer—or willing seller, willing buyer. And the—the other organization I’d like to touch on, too, is the Texas Wildlife Association, TWA. It was right there, leading the pack in hatred for the—for The Nature Conservancy. And few years ago, and we all sat down—I say, we all and I did and a couple of other guys—and sat down with board members and said this stuff’s got to stop. And then—they’re all friends of mine and I said we’ve got to get along. We want the same thing. See, we want to preserve some of
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this stuff that we’ve got, some of these natural areas and we aren’t going to get them all, but let’s work together on this and there are ways we can help keep these big ranches together. And—and now TWA and Nature Conservancy work very closely together, which is—which is great.
DT: You mentioned some of the strategies for trying to keep these big ranches together in the face of estate taxes, I guess. What do you think are the most promising ways to do that?
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TH: Eliminate the estate tax would be a giant step forward. I think that’s probably not going to happen. There are ways—well, selling conservation easements is one way because you can put some money into the hands of the landowner without him having to sell off part of the land. He can still operate the ranch pretty much as he’s done. The Nature Conservancy’s going to have some oversight on that, however, because they—they—they have to just to protect their investment.
DT: What do you think about the wildlife valuation, the exemption that sort of tracks the ag exemption on land taxes?
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TH: Yeah, that—we refer to that as the Garner Fuller bill. He was one of the guys that really pushed that bill to get it—get it done. I’m—I’m all in favor of it. Hunting’s become much more valuable than—than the ranching end of things. And I’ve made this statement before; I said there aren’t any ranches in Texas sold today as ranches. They’re all sold as hunting places and that’s the way of the world right now. And weekend places and, you know, people do still continue to ranch on them, but if it wasn’t for that hunting, there wouldn’t be much value of them—on them. In fact, I’ve said if—if it wasn’t for the hunting that south Texas land would be worth about thirty bucks an acre.
DT: It’s just that the cattle business doesn’t pay as it once did.
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TH: No, it’s looking pretty—cattle business is looking pretty good these days, but it hasn’t in the past. It was pretty grim. The last few years have been pretty darn good too.
[End of Reel 2334]
DT: We’ve talked some about your efforts for nonprofit groups, like The Nature Conservancy and the San Antonio Zoo and briefly touched on the trust for public land, but you put in a number of years—1989 through 1995, I believe—of serving on the Parks and Wildlife Commission. And I’d be curious to know how you came to be part of the commission and what some of your interests and efforts were while you were on the commission.
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TH: Being on the Parks and Wildlife Commission was about the best job I ever had. I just loved it. And Governor Bill Clements appointed me—I never knew him particularly well, but I’d supported him some and always liked Bill. But anyway, he asked me to serve and I said not only yeah, but hell, yeah. You know, I’ll do it and Lee Bass and John Kelsey and I were in the same class. We all went on together and I’m very proud to say that Lee—neither Lee nor I ever missed a meeting and Kelsey only missed one, so I think we—we did—we showed ourselves pretty good. But I don’t know how or why, but I
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ended up as kind of a specializing in—in land and—and parks and in particular, land maintenance and supposedly ah—acquisition, but there wasn’t much acquisition except little—little bit that was given to us. And we did buy some infield places at the Big Bend Ranch in west Texas and Government Canyon, of course, was the biggie for us. But I enjoyed it and I focused mainly on the parks while I was there and my friend, Terry Hershey, she—she was a very interesting person. When she came on the commission, the first in history of an anti-hunter coming on the commission and everybody was in a dither about that and I never worried because she was one of nine. But I—Terry only got a little carried away one time when—I think it was over turkey seasons or something and
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she didn’t really want any part of it, but on parks, she was very, very good. And she took a very deep interest in it and in water issues; she took a great interest then. But if it came up to wildlife issues and stuff, and she always sat next to me, she’d lean over and say Tim, how do you want me to vote on this one? And so I—I got along with her just great and she was a good friend to the department. And I—I just—I—I just had a good time with that—those whole six years with—we did, in those times, have a couple of
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interesting situations arise. One was with shrimping and that’s all—always interesting. Made a—lot of threats are thrown around and we tried to tighten up the shrimping and I can’t remember if it was then or maybe just after I left, but we started the shrimping license buy back program. I think it while I was on the commission. And that’s worked to some degree. It’s not fast enough and there isn’t enough money to do it. We’re trying to get some additional funding so we can make—make a major impact. And that’s only for bay shrimping. It’s just what those nets have done to the bays over a period of the last
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sixty years or so is—it’s pretty bad and it’s something like fifteen pounds of by-catch—meaning little fish—for every pound of shrimp caught. And—and boy, that by-catch is dead when it—when it comes on one of those boats. But we’re getting there and—and most of the shrimpers understand. The offshore shrimpers probably are in our fave—or—or pro-Parks and Wildlife because anything you do for the nursery areas is going to help their offshore shrimping. The other really interesting situation that came up was deer hunting with dogs in east Texas. Now that was—boy, you talk about threats. There
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were a lot of threats there and we—some counties were just having their deer populations just decimated and these bubbas would turn their deer dogs loose and they’d all line up on the road and any deer that darted across that road went down. And dogs all had radio collars on them and all this stuff so they could track them. And—and I never really had a problem with dog hunting like that if people did it the way their grandpa’s did, either horseback or walked and, you know, took a legitimate stance. But tracking everything
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with radio collars and—it’s not my bag and I don’t—I don’t think it’s very ethical. One game warden over there—and I can’t remember exactly where—while we were on the commission, had his house burned down. He’d just finished it, built it himself. Just finished it. And right—they caught the guys, I don’t know whatever happened, but that house was burned to the ground. There was a lot of hatred over there.
DT: And what the commission was trying to do was to regulate it or stop it entirely?
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TH: Yeah, we were trying to stop hunting deer with dogs, period, and when we did. And then you get the guys that want to hunt hogs with their dogs, so that—which nobody’s got any problem with that. There’re too darn many hogs there, but how do you separate them and who’s going to tell those dogs not to run the deer, too, so. But I think they’ve worked around that or I don’t—I don’t hear much anymore about it when I’m there. Those—those were some interesting times, they really were. They—and the shrimpers and the deer dog guys, they would bring busloads of people to testify at these commission hearings. I mean busloads. Some of them screaming and shaking their fists and—but that passed.
DT: As I understand it, you mentioned that you were involved in land acquisitions, but there wasn’t much acquisition being done because, I guess, funds were short.
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TH: There weren’t any funds then.
DT: Can you give us a little bit of a summary of why Parks and Wildlife has had a hard time keeping the funding levels up for the department over the years?
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TH: I—the funding levels are so bad. We got a—a tax passed on sporting goods equipment and gosh, I wish I remembered the numbers, but it produces millions of dollars a year and we only get six percent of those dollars. Now these are hunters and outdoor people and parks people agreeing and wanting to be taxed to support their interests. So—but it isn’t happening and the rest of the money’s going right in the general fund and God only knows where that ends up and it’s not where we want it to. And there are movements afoot now to—to change that. And when the department threatened to sell off part of Big Bend Ranch State Park this last summer, I think it was, that really brought attention and focus to it because they needed to raise some money to
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keep other parks going. We’re either—I think we’re either 49th or 50th in the United States for expenditure per capita on state parks. I mean, we’re right at the bottom and I want to see any Texans say boy, that’s where we ought to be here. That’s—well, now there’s somebody out there that’ll say that. It’s—it’s deplorable and there are funds available if they were just directed our way. We had some—when we were building Government Canyon, putting the houses on it and—trying to get houses put on it, they
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have—I had the houses were going to be donated. Two houses for parks people to live in. I had the money donated; it amounted to about 180,000 dollars, maybe two hundred, to build two houses. We couldn’t do it. The maximum amount of money you can spend on a house in a state park is 25,000 dollars. Now you can’t buy a trailer house for 25,000 dollars and that’s what it is. And that’s set by the—a group called the legislative budget board and that’s their policy and they’ve stuck by it. Now we got—did
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get a waiver from them, but you have to go through a process, it takes a while. And we are—we got a couple of houses donated and they’re going up, I think, as we speak. They might be up now, I don’t know.
DT: Well, you’ve brought up the Big Bend Ranch issue, which I think has been interesting to a lot of people in that, I think it’s Mister Poindexter was the fellow who was considering buying the tract and he’s done a pretty impressive job at restoring his land that’s close by. And so some people feel like he’d be a good custodian and yet others say well, this is public land, it should stay public land. What’s your feeling about that?
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TH: Well, that’s the—that—you know, it almost comes down to that recent Supreme Court case on private property taken for…
DT: The new…
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TH: Or public property taken for private use. And—I—I’m opposed to it. I just—you’re—you—you go—you—you must go see this land to see how remote and rocky and such as it really is. Plus there’s a lot of different ownership inside the park. There are a lot of little small tracts all through it. The—but basically, to—to sell off any of the little bit—dab of public lands we’ve gotten as state for any reason, I’d—I would—I will never say never, but boy, it ought to be looked at hard and fast. And I’m—on the other side, if
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you’re going to, that’s probably a pretty good piece to sell because it’s—we don’t have real access to it. It’s very tough to get to and it’s very rugged land, too. Basically a rock pile.
DT: Another place that’s, I think, where private property rights or interests, at least, have had a kind of collision with public lands is the—it’s called Falcon Lake and there were oil and gas rights that were underneath the park. And I think that this came during your tenure, is that right? Where there was discussion about how do you recognize those rights but also protect the park? Can you talk about that experience?
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TH: Yeah. I—I—I was there when it—when all that came up and nobody liked it, but this fellow, who was an ex-commissioner, by the way, owned the mineral rights under there. And I think legally you’ve got to give him the right to drill. And we figured if we did, we would have some control of locations and how it was done and—and rehabbing the area when they were through with it. And that’s why the decision was done. And see, it did throw a good bit of money our way, too, from the—from the thing through—
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through the parks. And it—you know, I could’ve gone either way on that decision, but I felt it was the right thing to do, to do it the way we did it. I wasn’t—wasn’t proud of it, but that’s a—that’s—that’s the way it turned out.
DT: We’ve managed to talk about some of the issues here in San Antonio. Government Canyon State Natural Area, the San Antonio Zoo and also some state issues, The Nature Conservancy and Parks and Wildlife Commission. But you’ve also been involved in national-international conservation efforts and one of them is through a group called The Boone and Crockett Club and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what they do and why you think it’s valuable?
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TH: Yeah. The—and not many people know much about the Boone and Crockett Club. It’s like it keeps a record book in—of trophy heads and of North American wildlife. And—but it was founded in 1887 by Theodore Roosevelt, who was the first president of the club, and it was founded by—or the—or the initial members in it—founding members, I guess, were all outdoor people. They were forest—they started the Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and all of those organizations and various people—Gifford Pinchot and those types of people—were original members, along with
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artists and stuff. Albert Bierstadt and some of them are all—all Boone and Crockett Club members. And there was a conglomeration of people, it wasn’t just the science side or the hunting side or—but there was an academic side and a—a artistic side and the—the outdoor writers of the time were members and stuff. And it—I’m not sure when it happened, but it’s limited to 100 members and it—we tried to expand it in financially lean times in some years back and that didn’t work, so we went back to 100 members.
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And I think it was the right decision. We also have professional members and they are the—the Chief of the Forest Service or the BLM and university professors and some professional guides and stuff are—are members on the professional side and there’s no limit on that number we can have. And we usually attract the biggest names in the business and other than the record book, which I think has had some value in
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measuring success in—in big game development, you know, in different areas of the country. We had a grants and aid program to—in wildlife—for wildlife biologists and such in related fields in universities across the country. Unfortunately, we never had enough money to do that the way we should do it, but we’re going to have enough money eventually to really make that a strong program. In addition, we’ve recently created a—a chair of wildlife management; first one’s at the University of Montana. We’ve just done one at Texas A&M and we’re doing one at Wash—Washington State University and
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we’re going to continue that—that program. That takes a lot of money, that’s a million and a half bucks per chair and Boone and Crockett Club doesn’t have a heck of a lot of money, if any. And it’s been a—a very, very influential organization for a lot of years behind the scenes. And its members today con—continue in that same vein. We were getting away for a while, fr—for a short while, on membership and people are—were coming in because they were big hunters or they were good old boys and stuff, but some of us have insisted that the conservation factor be a major part of membership in the
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club and it’s come back around to that, too. When I first got in, boy, it was so much fun. We’d go to meetings and drink our heads off and have fun with our friends, but—but now we’re doing a lot more than that and it’s—one of the members, Dan Pedrotti from south Texas, was—was president of it for a while and he put together a group called Wildlife Conservation Partners of all the hunting organizations in America, like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Ducks Unlimited and Foundation for North
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American Wild Sheep. But—but he had about thirty of these organizations and have had great influence in Washington and had two or three meetings with the President in trying to get him off his rear end on conservation issues. And these are practical people; they can look at both sides of an issue. They aren’t single focus, like PETA or—or animal liberation groups or, what is the other one? Earth Firsters, those people that are just—seem to be anti everything. They’re—some of them are listed as terrorist groups by the
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FBI. And they’re still sometimes the darlings of the press, but I think the club’s done a lot over the years and I was lucky enough to be president of it for a while. And fact is—oh, well, the other thing they did, they bought a ranch and it’s a research ranch up on the eastern front, in west central Montana, which is—and it’s called the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch. And another project, Theodore Roosevelt had a—his own ranch in Medora, North Dakota and he was there, oh, God, it was before the turn of the century. I can’t remember the years. But anyway, there’s some of that ranch left, including the
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headquarters that we’re currently trying to put together groups to buy and we’ll add that to the—some federal land that adjoins it. So it’s a—hope that one works. Club’s been good over the years, it’s been great.
DT: You mentioned that the club had talked to the Bush administration about their conservation direction. What was the discussion about?
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TH: I—I—I was not in on that one. I—I helped set it up, but I didn’t make the cut to—to go to the meeting. The—I—I can’t answer that. I never really saw what the outcome was, but apparently Mister Bush asked pretty good questions about which way the government ought to be focused in—but yeah, I can’t say that anything definite’s come out of it. Except it’s opened some doors.
DT: You’re talking about conversations with the administration, but also what if you had a conversation with the younger generation. You know, you’re talking to your sons or their kids, what would you tell them about conservation? What do you think’s important, what they should try to carry on?
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TH: Well, I—I hope there would be increasing awareness of this urban sprawl and—that’s—that’s where I would like to preach to them. In fact, I—this—this is something that really, really bothers me. And—and hunters of this world and—and what exists for their own special interests, well, that’s okay by me. Selfish interests, that’s okay by me. They, you know, want to protect these things, these wild areas and if I’m protecting wild areas for bighorn sheep, I’m protecting it for a lot of little pikas and a lot of little chi chi birds and what have you. So it’s—it’s all part of the same. To tell a young person that, it—it’s kind of hard to explain unless you’ve lived with it a lot. I mean, we’re talking kids—I mentioned earlier, they’ll grow up to be voters that have never been off concrete
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and they often go to vote on environmental matters and this—this—this scares me. It really does. It makes me very nervous. We’ve seen it on water issues and your Senate has become pretty darned aware of our water situation and I think we can get increased support. We did have one last year of a—Proposition One, when we got 90 million bucks approved for land purchases over the Edwards Aquifer. And that, to me, shows people are aware of how important it really is.
DT: Well, how do you make the pitch to, as you say a younger generation that grows up around electronics and concrete?
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TH: This is—this is tough. And I’m not sure. I can’t—I don’t think I can answer that question except, again, chip away at it and get them out to places of Government Canyon and—yeah, Government Canyon’s 25 minutes from where we’re sitting right now. It’s not—not that big an effort to get there and parents take their kids out for weekends and hike and picnic and see some, what I think’s pretty neat stuff and it’s a—I don’t know what else we can do. Pick them up and take them fishing. This is—this works. It—and TWA has a pretty good program for youth—a youth hunting program and they’ve hunt—made arrangements with ranchers all over the state to host six to eight children at a time, up to fourteen years old, to go hunting, to shoot some deer or quail or what have you. It’s all done with very close supervision. But we do it on my ranch and it’s really well done, well organized, very thorough and game wardens are involved. They come and talk to
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the kids and they must have a hunting license before they can do it, which means they must’ve taken the hunter safety course. And it’s—it’s been a very good project.
DT: So do you think that it’s—the message is that it can’t be just a textbook lesson, that it has to be something that’s hands on, that has to be in a field to make kids understand?
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TH: When—when I was very young—well, I say very young, I was seventeen, maybe—sixteen, seventeen—and I worked one summer just for week—couple of weeks in a children’s museum in Jacksonville, Florida. And one of the museum people said with kids, you got to have hands on for them to remember or learn in—in this world. And I think they were right. I think being hands on and seeing how much fun you can have in the out of doors, I—I—I—I think it’s the only way to go.
DT: We usually try to wrap these interviews up with a question about favorite places. I know tomorrow you go on a fishing trip. Maybe you could tell us of places that you’ve enjoyed that are special to you?
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TH: I—I could never, ever in a million years name one place that I—I’d like to go, but at our ranch in south Texas is—it’s pretty stark and barren and everything that grows down there has got a thorn on it. There’s an amazing amount of wildlife. The place in Idaho is beyond belief, it’s so beautiful. You can go along Hell’s Canyon for a long, long ways—27 miles of it on the Snake River. And go from 1800 feet to 8000 feet on the ranch and it’s all run off horseback. That’s one of my favorites. Argentina—oh, that’s out of the country, but we do that every year. My trip to Mongolia, while the fishing was
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not good at all, was one of the great experiences ever. But it’s—I’ve been to a lot of nice places and seen a lot of nice things. Met a lot of nice people.
DT: Is there anything you’d like to add?
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TH: Yeah, I—I couldn’t pick one place in a thousand years. When I was in boarding school in Connecticut, I used to walk to hills up there and—and the headmaster let me keep snakes in his basement and made me take them out of my dorm room. But I, you know, some of those hills and those walks and those ponds, they are—it was all pretty special.
DT: Well, thanks for taking us on a little trip here. I appreciate it.
End of tape 2335
End of interview with Mr. Hixon