Texas Parks and Wildlife Department commissioners Thursday unanimously rejected a ranch owner's bid to buy more than 46,000 acres of Big Bend Ranch State Park in Presido County.
Park and wilderness activists, conservation group representatives and even former department employees opposed to the land sale broke into applause with the vote. The land under consideration which would have included archeological sites and creek habitat that is home to threatened and endangered animals.
The vote closed two contentious days of testimony about losing a part of the state's largest park and the lack of public knowledge of the proposal until the Austin American-Statesman disclosed the proposed sale this week.
Few people who testified before the commission Wednesday and Thursday agreed with the department's proposal to sell. Many criticized the lack of extensive public input on the state's divesting any portion of the park.
"The area in question contains 14 recorded pristine archeological sites, and at least 100 additional sites are known," said Larry Oaks, executive director of the Texas Historical Commission. "These sites range from prehistoric rock art to rock shelters and ruins of early historic settlements. There are remnants of Late Prehistoric Cielo Complex dwellings native only to this part of Texas."
Oaks said he was appalled by the lack of discussion of the sale before this week.
"It appears not only did you not consult us about this proposed sale, but (you also) didn't consult early with members of your own staff. . . . We are strongly opposed to the sale of any parcel of this pristine area before further study can be conducted."
[Houston businessman and prospective land-purchaser John] Poindexter had agreed to a state-mandated conservation easement on the 46,000 acres. The easement would have been designed to protect creekside habitat along Cienega Creek, the only creek at Big Bend Ranch that has fish. The creek originates on Cibolo Creek Ranch, Poindexter's adjacent resort.
However, the easement would have allowed development of 4,600 acres, including some of the highly prized land along and overlooking the creek. Park activists argued that the department was giving away too much of its control of the Cienega region of the ranch, especially the water, without accepting public input.
One issue that kept cropping up was whether the department can protect water in Cienega Creek. Since the water that makes the creek originates on Poindexter's ranch, there is some question about whether he might capture the water there and reduce or even stop the flow into the park.
"It is mine to do with as I wish," Poindexter said. "It will be used sooner or later by myself or my successors."
Is that last line a threat? I would hope that water law in this state would not allow such behavior. But water law can be very convoluted and primitive, so I can't say.
Thanks to all who helped defeat this proposal on such short notice.