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On Eve of Possible Sale of Christmas Mountains, Group Asks for Delay

For Immediate Release

AUSTIN - One day before the possible sale of the Christmas Mountains to private interests, parks advocates made a final plea to Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Governor Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott to halt the sale to give time to the National Park Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to prepare bids to acquire the property. The groups announced that more than 6300 Texans have signed petitions asking for such a delay.

 
“We’re calling on the state of Texas to keep our promise and keep the Christmas Mountains in public hands,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “The Christmas Mountains would make a fantastic addition to the crown jewel of Texas’ park system, Big Bend National Park, but we need our elected officials to put the broader public interest ahead of narrow idealogical agendas”.

 
On Tuesday, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and the two other members of the School Land Board (appointees of Governor Perry and Attorney General Abbott) will meet to consider the possible sale of the mountains to one of two private bidders. The Christmas Mountains were donated to the state of Texas in 1991 “for use as and inclusion in a nature park, wildlife refuge, recreational area or similarly designated use area." However, Commissioner Patterson has rejected appeals by the National Park Service, several lawmakers and thousands of individual Texans to delay the sale so Big Bend National Park could have time to further evaluate the possible acquisition of the mountains as part of the park.

 
The Richard K. Mellon Foundation, one of the land’s original donors and one of the nation’s leading public land philanthropies, has warned that if the sale goes through against their wishes, the state of Texas should “not look to the R.K. Mellon Foundation for any future help.” The state of Texas hasn't funded a major land acquisition program since 1967 and has primarily relied on the generosity of private foundations to fund natural area protection, including public hunting lands. Parks advocates warned that the sale of the Christmas Mountains could create a “chilling effect” on future philanthropy.

 
“Commissioner Patterson's move toward selling the property has prompted actions that might not otherwise have occurred,” wrote state Rep. Donna Howard recently in a letter to the School Land Board, “thus motivating concerted efforts on the part of both the NPS and the TPWD to find ways to acquire and properly manage the donated lands”. Howard is a member of the House legislative committee which oversees park issues.   

 
“The National Parks Conservation Association’s 14,000 members here in Texas, and our 330,000 members nationwide, are calling on Gov. Perry to step in and delay the controversial sale of the land that includes the Christmas Mountains northwest of Big Bend National Park,” said Suzanne Dixon of the National parks Conservation Association. “We need to give the National Park Service time to pursue options such as a congressionally authorized boundary adjustment.”

 
“The Sierra Club joins today with others to call upon Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and the School Land Board to delay the proposed sale of the Christmas Mountains and give the National Park Service enough time to acquire the property,” said Cyrus Reed of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.  “There’s no need for Commissioner Patterson to be the Grinch who gave away Christmas”.