DATELINE TEXAS In late October, a pair of brothers named Olen and Seaby Love gave me a tour of some of their property on the Sulphur .River in Bowie and Red River Counties. Along the length of this river in rural northeast Texas lies some of the state’s last remaining prime bottomland hardwood forest. From its springs in Fannin County, about an hour northeast of Dallas, to Wright Patman Lake just south of Texarkana, the river runs through some of the least populated country in the state. Most of northeast Texas is cotton country, but the bottomlands of the Sulphur flood too often for farming. Those who still live along its length make a living raising hogs and cattle or cutting timber, though few can get .by without also taking a job in town. In the state water plan currently under consideration by the Texas Water Development Board, this portion of the Sulphur would be dammed, and the Loves’ land, along with the holdings of scores of other area families, would be at the bottom of a new 72,000-acre lake. The $1.7 billion project, which planners are calling the Marvin Nichols Reservoir, is the most controversial of several large, capital-intensive projects in the plan. The water, for which there is no current or projected need in northeast Texas, would be pumped to Dallas to meet the long-term water needs of a metropolitan region that is projected to grow by 90 percent over the next 50 years. Critics of the plan point out that Dallas, which already has the highest per capita water use in the state, has no significant conservation plan in place. Even moderate conservation measures, according to figures compiled by the Sierra Club, would make the new reservoir unnecessary and save taxpayers millions of dollars. The scheme is emblematic of a flawed planning process, critics say, in which the state has largely abdicated its responsibility to ensure that the state water plan is financially responsible and environmentally sound. Landholders in the bottomlands, meanwhile, feel they have been sold out by planning authorities in their own region and left out of the loop about a decision that will end their way of life. Both in their seventies and still bachelors, the Love brothers have never lived outside of the Sulphur River basin, nor have they ever lived apart, aside from the four years the older, quieter Olen spent in the Philippines in World War II. With their crisp blue overalls, clean white shirts and battered tennis, shoes, the brothers’ opposition to the reservoir has made them minor celebrities in the area, where they have come to symbolize a rural culture that is gradually disappearing. Neither has ever punched a clock or done a day’s work for anyone but themselves: The descendants of homesteaders who came to the area after the Civil War, the brothers have inherited and acquired over 1,000 acres, and the land has always supported them, mainly through cattle grazing. Few know the river bottoms better than the Love brothers, who can tell a story \(many of them ending with a perbend and hole, whether on their property or another’s. Bumping along through briars and mud puddles in a new Ford Superduty truck with a Depression-era shotgun beneath the seat, Seaby pointed out the various trees native to the bottomlands: sweetgums, hickory, ash, .hackberry and blackgum, many of them turned brilliant shades of yellow and orange. State wildlife officials have designated this land as prime habi tat for a wide variety of species, including several that are threatened or endangered. When the brothers hunted this land as children, deer had yet to be introduced to the area.The boys trapped raccoons \(212 in one record-setting pelts in town and the meat to black families in the area. Riding on horseback, they helped their parents run cattle in pastureland along the river, much of which was free-range at that time. “I could run them seven or eight miles up and down this stretch without hitting a fence,” Seaby said. For the highlight of our tour, Seaby stopped the truck beside a man-high metal trap set in a muddy clearing. Inside the rusty. cage were two feral hogs, the kind which have run wild in the river bottoms since their ancestors escaped in generations past. “I think I caught this un’ here oncet before,” Seaby said, pointing to the larger of the two hogs, a giantyet alarmingly quickboar with a hoary, salt-andpepper-marked hide. It jumped to its feet and let out an explosive bark when Seaby kicked the cage. “Stick your finger in there and see what happens,” he grinned. Though both are still very active, the brothers recently sold a portion of the land because they could not get around to it as often as necessary. If they ever sold the whole ranch, the land would make the brothers wealthy, but they have no desire to do that. “We just want it to be left like it is,” Seaby said. Drowned by Dallas Will the Sulphur River be Dammed for Dallas Lawns? BY NATE BLAKESLEE 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11/23/01
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