AUSTIN- Environment Texas launched an online petition today calling on Governor Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott to direct their appointees on the School Land Board to cancel the sale of the Christmas Mountains to private interests and work to arrange permanent protection of the property as part of Big Bend National Park. Environment Texas condemned Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson (chair of the School Land Board) for blocking the park’s protection and asked Perry and Abbott to intervene.
“We have a great opportunity to add to one of Texas’ most valuable natural treasures: Big Bend National Park,” said Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger. “Commissioner Patterson is unreasonably blocking this conservation effort, so it’s up to Gov. Perry and Attorney General to show leadership and save the Christmas Mountains.”
On October 12, the Superintendent of Big Bend National Park (BBNP), William Wellman, wrote Land Commissioner Patterson asking him for a delay in the auction (which could happen as early as Nov. 6), to allow time for the National Park Service to "re-evaluate the feasibility of adding the Christmas Mountains to the park " Unfortunately, Commissioner Patterson refused that request, because he has a personal complaint against NPS policy which prohibits concealed handguns and hunting on park property.
However, Patterson is just one of three votes on the School Land Board. The other two are David Herrmann of San Antonio (appointed by General Abbott) and Todd Barth of Houston (appointed by Governor Perry).
The Christmas Mountains were donated by the Mellon Foundation and the Conservation Fund to the Permanent School Fund in 1991 to hold until a permanent solution like adding the property to BBNP could be arranged. The lease they signed with the state says GLO has to get their permission to sell, but Commissioner Patterson says that provision won't hold up in court so he's ignoring it. The Austin American-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. The state of Texas hasn't funded a major land acquisition program since 1967 and has relied on the generosity of private foundations to fund natural area protection.
At a parks summit in Austin this weekend, the Austin American-Statesman quoted Governor Perrry saying "Our national parks ... are such an important part of Texas. They provide the absolute perfect setting for a family."