Oil & Timber Desperadoes BY CAROL COUNIRYINAN Tool, Texas IT’S TOUGH ENOUGH being an endangered species but, like Chicken Little squawking about the sky falling, property rights advocates in East Texas are pointing trembling fingers at the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and kangaroo rat and yelling, “Land use restrictions! Land use restrictions!” The oil, timber, agricultural and real-estate interests driving the property rights movement are determined to protect their rights to log or drill or raise chickens and goats. In Texas, they helped turn the governor’s election last November and now they have yelled loud enough for Washington to hear. Washington is listening. At a recent conference at East Texas State University, Jim Chapman, the Democratic Congressman from Sulphur Springs, told businessmen, county and municipal leaders, and environmentalists that he has looked for opportunities to put more “common sense” into the Endangered Species Act. “Very intrusive and burdensome measures have been required to be taken to protect one of God’s critters that has managed to get itself on the endangered species list,” he said. Chapman has felt the wrath of the property rights advocates first-hand in recent months, as they have organized in his Northeast Texas district to force the termination of an environmental study of the Cypress Valley Watersheda study that is nearly completed. The study is a significant part of the Caddo Lake Initiative, which was started in 1993 by Chapman and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and funded by the federal Bureau of Reclamation. It was an ambitious attempt to survey plants and animals in the entire Cypress Valley Basinsome 4,000 square miles embracing 11 counties and parishesfrom Hopkins County, Texas, to Caddo Parish, Louisiana. The Initiative’s stated primary goal was to promote the protection of the environment and sustainable economic development, along with traditional land uses, such as logging and drilling. Now, the environmental study will be shelved and the data collected will go unused. There will be no computer database established and no recommendations issued, Chapman said. In response to environmentalists who claim he is pandering to big business, Freelance journalist Carol Countryman lives in Tool. Congressman Jim Chapman Chapman said that he didn’t bow to timber and oil interests, but just cancelled one point of an 18-point project. “They [property rights advocates] viewed the study as a threat to property rights,” Chapman said. “It is my judgment that their fear was largely unfounded, but it was clear that the opposition to that piece had been sufficiently strong.” Chapman said he believed that if the environmental study were not cancelled, the entire Initiative would have been jeopardized. “It was one component of 18, it would be ridiculous to jeopardize the other 17 components to protect that one, Chapman said. In January, a beaming Chapman announced the formation of the Cypress Valley Alliance, a diverse group of eight area residents who would form a non-profit organization to assist lawmakers and state and federal agencies with the Initiative. That announcement brought out the organized opposition to the environmental study. Representatives of regional timber interests claimed that the goal of the study all along was to find endangered species that would jeopardize logging. “With all the things that happened in the Pacific Northwest, with all the Sierra Clubs banding together against the cutting of trees, people here in the South have wised up to that and we organized right off the bat,” said Richard Hill, management forester for Dean Lumber Cornpany in Gilmer. “Land owners were afraid of restrictions on land use. We simply organized first.” David McKnight, an area driller, and John Bradley, a logger, quickly formed the Cypress Valley Property Rights Association and began to pressure Chapman to kill the water study. “We opposed the ecological study in the watershed,” McKnight said. “We felt the federal government would have to come onto private property to do the study.” That was not the case. Using the Geographical Index Survey, a precise series of satellite photographs showing what kinds of wildlife inhabit the area, how much livestock the area could sustain and problems that might be occurring in the watershed, that portion of the study already had been completed. But the Cypress Valley Property Rights Association flooded newspaper offices with letters making the property rights argument. The group also disseminated information, including videotaped horror stories of farmers jailed or having land confiscated by the governmentfor disturbing the habitat of an endangered species, The property rights activists also were backed by Governor George W. Bush and Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry, who had supported McKnight’s successful 1994 campaign to defeat the proposed Outstanding Natural Resource Waters designation that then-Governor Ann Richards had pursued, then backed away from, after she saw the property rights activists coming out of the corporation offices. At that same time, McKnight, who is president of the Jefferson Independent School District board of trustees, also helped push the Caddo Scholars Program out of Jefferson’s public schools. In the scholars program, state and federal agencies collaborate with nationally and internationally renowned botanists, biologists and other scientists to introduce environmental education into schools. Much of the project’s funding is provided by Don Henley’s Isis Foundation. Henley, who gained fame as the lead singer and drummer for the Eagles, is from Linden, and spent much of his boyhood exploring the lake. The experience laid the foundation for his environmental endeavors, which include his work to preserve Walden Woods in Massachusetts. FILE PHOTO 6 JUNE 2, 1995
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