FEATURE MISADVENTURES WITH THE NEW TEXAS NATURALISTS by Nate Blakeslee Almost four decades have passed since Roy Bedichek, the great Texas naturalist, was memorialized in these pages following his death in 1959. Bedichek’s Adventures with a Texas Naturalist, published in 1947, was immediately celebrated as a classic in nature writing, in the tradition of Emerson and Thoreau. Adventures was also compared favorably to the work of Bedichek’s contemporary, Aldo Leopold, perhaps the most famous naturalist of the twentieth century and the founder of modem wildlife management. Bedichek’ s bronze likeness, beside those of his lifelong friends J. Frank Dobie and Walter Prescott Webb, now guards the entrance to Barton Springs swimming pool in Austin. The triumvirate of Texas letters, bare-footed and bare-chested, are seated on a rough-hewn reproduction of Bedichek’s Rock, the poolside limestone perch on which the three men spent so much of their adult lives, discussing philosophy, literature, and their next foray into the Texas wilderness. Though Dobie and Webb have cast longer shadows in Texas literature, the sculptor of this particular idyllic scene chose to focus on Bedichek, who preferred the outdoors as his classroom. Shaded by the ancient oaks, cottonwoods, and pecans he cherished in his writings, Bedichek is depicted holding forth with book in hand perhaps an early draft of his own Adventures as his colleagues listen intently. At some point the modern stewards of wildlife in Texas, the officials of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, stopped listening to the wisdom of Roy Bedichek and Aldo Leopold. “There are people in my profession who worship Leopold including myself,” said T.P.W.D. executive director Andy Sansom, “but who have come to the realization that we could be entering the postLeopold era.” It was Leopold’s classic Game Management, the bible of wildlife professionals, that first advocated centralizing and rationalizing wildlife conservation efforts, by establishing statewide commissions which would administer policy based on scientific management principles, rather than the provincial concerns that dominated scattered management efforts at that time. This aspect of Leopold’s philosophy was slow to take root in Texas. Until the early 1980s, for example, bag limits for whitetailed deer were still set by individual counties, resulting in 254 different sets of game regulations in the state. But what really distinguishes the work of Bedichek and Leopold \(particularly in the latter’ s classic is their willingness to take up Thoreau’ s inquiry into the relationship between people and nature. At the very heart of their concept of conservation is the idea that humankind lies not at the center of the natural world, but instead forms merely one part of a fabric of living things. The distinction is akin to the difference between a king, who controls all he surveys, and a steward, who cares for something he does not own. Stewardship is the bedrock of traditional wildlife management. But in present-day Texas, it appears that the property rights movement the resurgent ideology of powerful Texas landowners threatens to usurp the philosophy of Thoreau, Bedichek, and Leopold, once and for all. But Thoreau didn’t hunt, he didn’t raise cattle, and he didn’t hail from a state that was 97 percent privately owned. According to several current and former members of various agency departments, in recent years the T.P.W.D., under the leadership of Sansom, deputy executive director Bob Cook, and wildlife division director Gary Graham, has increasingly ignored, undermined, or silenced outright the voices of the agency’s own staff biologists. Some state biologists, reluctant to join the “post-Leopold era,” have discovered the hard way just how incompatible stewardship and property rights really are. Some fifty years after the publication of Bedichek’s Adventures, it is instructive to revisit a few of his still-timely observations, documenting by contrast the misadventures of Bob Cook, Gary Graham, Andy Sansom, and their underlings, as they mold and squeeze the square cornerstones of “conservation” and “management” into the tiny round holes of the property rights movement. FENCES: FIELDS AND PASTURES I have been looking over a two-hundred acre plot of fenced land and trying to compare the life it now supports with that which it had been supporting for thousands of years when the first white man occupied it a hundred years ago…. Natural life in North America has been more profoundly affected by fencing than by any other of man’s devices, ancient or modern, for it is the fence which has enabled him to multiply at will those species which minister to his wants, while suppressing plants and animals which do not…. The fence has fenced off or, fenced in certain natural life from one resource or another that it must have to survive, and has given priority to other forms favored by the fence maker. Adventures with a Texas Naturalist The fencing of Texas was complete before Bedichek’s death, but the recent proliferation of high game fences in Texas is changing our landscape once again. Designed principally to contain deer, the sixto eight-foot chain link fences are not new. But they have become so popular in recent years that Texas now has more highfenced acreage than any other state, with estimates running as high as one million acres. High fences are the technological prerequisite for a growing cottage industry in Texas expensive hunts on highly managed ranches where hunters are all but guaranteed a shot at a prize white-tail. Fees begin around $5,000, escalating ac8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 14, 1998
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.