=k., Photo by Roy Hamric Big Thicket Blues By Pete Gunter Denton Once the Big Thicket sprawled west from the Sabine River almost to the Brazos, carpeting an area as large as Connecticut with an incredibly profuse outpouring of life. Forests, swamps, marshes, prairies, jungles, bogs, canebrakes, hills and flatlands, bayous and swift-running creeks, mingled there in unheard-of variety. Bears foraged in its depths; panthers, jaguars, ocelots prowled its dense, vine-tangled thickets. Today what remains of this legendary wilderness 300,000 acres, largely streambottom land is involved in a conservationist controversy that sometimes seems as complex as its own ecology. In one respect the Big Thicket controversy is simple. We can easily locate and save the Thicket: now, before it slips away from us forever. But in another respect matters are complex indeed. The roots of this complexity reach, with Byzantine sinuosity, far beyond Texas; they probe some of the deepest, richest humus of national corporate finance. Most of the present Big Thicket is not owned by Texans. The relatively recent decision by large corporations to clearcut and bulldoze large tracts of East Texas; including most of the Thicket, and plant slash pines \(a decision affecting the entire in absentia, by absentee landlords. It is important to consider that decision and what it means. But first, a few words about the landlords. By the turn of the 20th century, railroads were built into the Thicket, and lumbermen launched a frontal assault on the wilderness that was not to end until it had been, with but few exceptions, stripped of its virgin forests. In the decades since this original pillage the wilderness has been allowed to regrow and, so far as is possible under conditions of selective cutting, approach its original botanical exuberance. It is over the regrown Big Thicket that conservationists and timber companies debate today, with lumbermen protesting that the region’s forests are not Virgin and conservationists replying that they are more interested in Character than Virginity. TODAY ONLY ONE of the concerns that wrecked the original Dr. Gunter is chairman of the Big Thicket Association. He and Roy Hamric, who took the Thicket photos in this issue, are writing a book on the Big Thicket that will be published by Viking Press next spring. wilderness and allowed it to regrow is still in control of a sizeable portion of Big Thicket land. This. company, Temple Industries, is not involved in the present rush to eliminate hardwood trees. But rush, followed closely by Santa Fe U.S. Plywood-Champion Papers, Inc. \(New is the one locally-based concern doing its share of bulldozing in the region. The Dallas Morning News has close corporate ties with Southland, a fact which cannot fail to have been noticed by the old folks home that does the News’ editorial drudgery. \(The News officially backs a Thirty-percent of Southland is owned by No one writes braver ecology editorials than Life magazine unless, perchance, it is Time magazine or Sports Illustrated. One waits in vain, however, for these giants of the American magazine industry to descant upon the fate of the Big Thicket. Several years ago when Sports Illustrated writers descended on the Thicket to do an article, conservationists were delighted by the prospect of national publicity. The article, however, did not appear. It died mysteriously in Sports Illustrated’s editorial rooms primarily because, I am told, it came out flatfooted for a Big Thicket National Park. This spring a Life editor and several assistants came to the Thicket to do an article on the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker. \(Long thought to be extinct, the ivory bill was photographed October 22, 1971 3
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