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And there’s still no Thicket park By Pete Gunter Denton The first Big Thicket Association was born in 1927, nearly half a century ago. Its efforts died a withering death during World War II. The second Big Thicket Association was formed in 1964, and it has met with greater success. In 1970 Sen. Ralph W. Yarborough managed to pass a 100,000-acre Big Thicket National Park bill through the U.S. Senate. If Yarborough’s long-continued struggle to save the Big Thicket seemed then on the verge of success, success was still to prove remarkably elusive. U.S. Rep. got married and went on a world tour, leaving Big Thicket legislation and indeed all environmental bills locked up in his House Interior Committee until the end of that session of Congress. Score: Lumbermen 10, Conservationists 0. The whole process then had to be started again, including the Rube Goldberg machinery of innumerable committee hearings. \(The Thicket was to go through four hearings, two in the Senate and two in the House, which may set some kind of record for a piece of environmental of Representatives finally passed a bill to create a Big Thicket Biological Reserve of 84,550 acres. This bill, primarily the work admittedly a compromise between the 100,000 acres asked for by conservationists and the 75,000 acres conceded by lumbermen. But, granted that neither side would be perfectly satisfied, it looked early in 1974 as if the Eckhardt-Wilson bill would have easy sailing. As usual, the unexpected happened. Texas Sens. Lloyd Bentsen and John Tower upped the ante, calling for a Thicket bill of “not more than 100,000 acres.” Congressmen Wilson and Eckhardt were upset, conservationists were pleased, lumbermen were ready to wash their hands of the whole thing, and the Senate called for new hearings. In late May of this year, the Senate passed Bentsen’s bill at the “not more than 100,00 acres” figure. What was needed then was a House-Senate conference committee to iron out the differences. Such a committee could have been called immediately. Unfortunately, it has not been called yet, for reasons immediately to be explained. What possible Dr. Gunter, author of The Big Thicket, A Challenge for Conservation, is one of the leaders in the movement to preserve a portion of the dwindling Thicket. He is chairman of the Department of Philosophy at North Texas State University. excuse can there be now’? Who or what is gumming up the works? IT JUST may be that in spite of five years of television talk shows, Sunday-supplement articles, newspaper editorials, books, exhibits and petitions, the words “Big Thicket” are still unknown to some readers of The Texas Observer. If so, the following explanation is necessary. Originally known as a place of legend, a last hiding place for the backwoodsman, the Indian, and the renegade, the Big Thicket has become better known as a sanctuary for plant and animal species indeed, for whole ecosystems which have an increasingly precarious foothold in the land-hungry Lone Star State. Professor Thomas Eisner of Cornell University puts the Thicket’s essence in a nutshell. It is, he states, one of the most, if not the most, “richly substructured ecological regions in the world.” All the plant associations of the Deep South exist there, with the addition of western, “arid sandland” associations and some associations resembling those of the temperate North and Midwest. Along with this botanical profusion there are some endangered animal species \(e.g. bald eagle, some great canoeing streams, some potentially great hiking trails, and some totally unexploited potentials for education and scientific research. Something, surely, should be done to save i t. This is precisely the argument which conservationists, long used to lives of quiet desperation, are now urging on U.S. Rep. steadfastly deferred the job of calling a conference committee to decide the Big Thicket’s fate. “Surely,” they insist, “it should be saved. Surely you can’t let it die for lack of a conference committee.” Congressman Taylor has replied with dignified silence. And time has crept ominously past. Aides on the House Subcommittee on Parks and Recreation, of which Taylor is chairman, plead the necessity of waiting until the time is ripe for compromise. While this could conceivably be true, conservationists reply that some situations may get so ripe that they become rotten. Only two points of compromise remain between the House and the Senate: the size of the park and the speed with which the government is willing to take possession of it. But the first has been solved by the conservationists themselves, and the second may be about to be resolved by the Senate. What excuse, conservationists wonder, will be dug up next to forestall action? It is a rare conservationist who will turn down offers of additional wilderness acreage. But this is exactly what Thicket partisans have done. Meeting on Aug. 10 in Houston with Representative Wilson, they agreed to back wholeheartedly the 84,550-acre Eckhardt-Wilson bill and to give up present efforts to save arid sandland areas along Village Creek. The Village Creek area was the bone of contention between the House and the Senate all along. In giving it up, conservationists hope to obliterate one excuse for argument. The only question remaining, then, should be that of government land possession. UNFORTUNATELY, that has been a very tangled question, at least until recently. Much of the proposed Big Thicket Reserve is owned by large lumber companies Champion International, Time, Inc., Santa Fe Industries, Boise-Southern which have observed a cutting moratorium. Much of the rest, however, belongs to private owners, who may clearcut their land, either for spite or because they fear they will not be reimbursed for their property. Maxine Johnston, president of the Big Thicket Association, points out that between two and three thousand acres of the Thicket Reserve have already been . lost to such cutting. What will happen in the future if the federal government does not take immediate possession of reserve lands? Once again, hopes for action are blocked by a single man, this time Sen. Alan Bible Committee on Parks and Recreation. Bible was burned by his experience with Redwoods National Park, where the government has yet to pay for land it has possessed for over six years, and he has fought all attempts to compromise with the House on a “legislative taking” September 6, 1974 9