Monday, September 17, 2007

Christmas Mountains Decision Tomorrow

I recieved this email from Luke Metzger and wanted to pass it on to my readers. Wild Ed

Tomorrow, on Tuesday, Sept. 18th, at 10 AM, the School Land Board will meet in Austin to decide the fate of the Christmas Mountains. With more than 2,800 people sending emails to Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and a flurry of media stories, the Commissioner and the School Land Board are under a lot of pressure to cancel, or at least postpone, the sale.
We need to make sure we have a good turn-out at the hearing to reinforce the message that the public opposes the sale of the Christmas Mountains to private interests.
WHERE: Stephen F. Austin Building
1700 North Congress Ave. Room #170
Austin, Texas 78701
WHEN: Tuesday, Sep. 18
Meeting starts at 10:00 A.M. (Christmas
Mountains is item 10 on the agenda).
If you can attend the meeting, please RSVP at:
Many of you have received an e-mail from Commissioner Patterson explaining his position. Here is more information on why Environment Texas opposes this sale:
1) BAD PRECEDENT. The Richard King Mellon Foundation, which donated the land and is one of the nation's largest funders of open space preservation, is expressly opposed to the sale. The lease they signed with the state says GLO has to get their permission to sell, but Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson (who chairs the School Land Board) says that provision won't hold up in court so he's ignoring it. The Statesman reported that Richard King Mellon Foundation officer Mike Watson wrote that if the auction goes through "the state [should] not look to the R.K. Mellon Foundation for any future help." Other funders may follow suit.
2) NO GUARANTEES OF PROTECTION OR ACCESS. It's unclear who will monitor and enforce the development restrictions and there are no guarantees of future public access (particularly if the property is flipped down the road).
3) WE CAN DO BETTER. Patterson's argument is that since the government doesn't have the money to protect the land against poachers, invasive species and irresponsible public use (e.g. ATVs), the private sector will do a better job. But the state does have the money, they're just diverting it to other purposes. In addition to park entrance fees, the state parks system is funded through sales taxes on the purchase of sporting goods, which are estimated at $105 million in the current fiscal year. But the Legislature has put drastic caps on the amount received by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, diverting most of those dollars back into the state general revenue fund. After a public outcry, this spring the Legislature tripled funding for our parks for the next two years, primarily to catch up on an enormous backlog of repair needs. However, they dedicated no new money for land acquisition and failed to remove the cap on the sporting goods tax and set up a guaranteed fund for our
4) PART OF A PATTERN. This is not an isolated incident of the state selling public land to private interests. In 2005, TPWD proposed selling 46,000 acres of Big Bend Ranch State Park to Houston developer John Poindexter (one of the people bidding for Christmas mountains). In 2006, they proposed selling the Eagle Mountain Lake State Park (through GLO) in Fort Worth to developers to build condos. Both proposals were shot down after a public outcry. GLO is also pursuing an irresponsible investment strategy, buying up ecologically important open space and selling it to developers (e.g. the Fort Worth prairie and Hays county land on the Blanco river) and are reportedly considering selling property on North Padre Island which was purchased with federal money to be protected, but the protections have expired after ten years and is now hot property.
5) TEXANS WANT/NEED MORE PUBLIC LAND. Only about 5% of Texas land is publicly owned and according to a study by Texas Tech, "Texans are becoming increasingly frustrated about the lack of access to lands to experience nature". As the San Antonio Express-News pointed out yesterday, there's also a big lack of public hunting land. Selling off places like the Christmas Mountains moves in the wrong direction.
If you can attend the meeting, please RSVP at:

Luke Metzger
Environment Texas Director
P.S. Thanks again for your support. Please feel free to share this e-mail with your family and friends.

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