|11 December 2005
COMMENT ON EVELYN MERTZ' OP-ED, HOUSTON CHRONICLE 11 DECEMBER 2005
Dear Viewpoints Editor
I applaud fellow Sierran Evelyn Mertz for exposing problems facing our State Park system, but lack of funding is not the problem. From my position as Forest Practices Chair, Lone Star Sierra Club, I have had the opportunity to see with a clear vision where much, if not most of the problem lies. It is depressingly clear from my first-hand perspective that the problem is caused by waste, mismanagement, and mis-guided priorities.
Let's take just one example: Huntsville State Park. TPWD managers, at the direction of Executive Director Bob Cook, decided that it would be smart to squander millions of dollars to transform Huntsville State Park into a concrete jungle for huge behemoth energy guzzling motor homes. Over 1,000 of the most ancient and beautiful trees that grace the roadways and campgrounds were scheduled to be destroyed in the process. One of the most beautiful wetlands crossings was to be bulldozed and irreparably harmed at great expense for no legitimate reason. Cook et al wasted additional thousands of dollars attempting to justify the unjustifiable.
In carrying out my fiduciary duty of attempting to save these trees for the benefit of present and future generations of Texans along with the birds and other widlife that depend on mature native forests for their survival, I met with numerous TPWD employees involved in planning and carrying out the desecration, at least some of whom were totally upset with their marching orders that had come from on high. I had actually learned of the nefarious and wasteful scheme from TPWD employees who were afraid of being fired if Cook were to find out who blew the whistle. Officials had attempted to keep the scheme a secret until it would be too late for the public to take action to protest, much like the proposed sale of 40,000 acres of Big Bend State Park, which fortunately was discovered in time to stop it.
Working through the bureaucratic labyrinth at TPWD I encountered layers of waste, incompetence and mishandling of resources. My fight to save the trees went all the way to the top in a meeting with Bob Cook and staff at TPWD Headquarters in Austin, where as expected I was not treated either fairly or kindly. Only a short time before I had been assaulted, arrested and thrown into jail by rogue Game Wardens for expressing my dismay at the mistreatment of Texas wildlife at the hands of Game Wardens and TPWD failure to even attempt to halt wholesale poaching of alligators on Lake Livingston.
TPWD officials spent tens of thousands of dollars over a period of two years in their efforts to intimidate me and prosecute me for daring to question the waste and mismanagement in the system. I believe that these two examples of waste and mismanagement are just the tip of the iceberg. I can guarantee, that based on my experience as a military commander and corporate CEO, that I could find millions of dollars of waste generated at the top of the inverted pyramid of TPWD mismanagement and could apply those dollars to the bottom of the pyramid at the State Park level where they are most needed.
Throwing an additional five million dollars at the problem will not solve it. Cook and staff, would no doubt, discover new and even more destructive ways to waste the money and the dedicated park employees at the bottom of the food chain would still be terminated. What TPWD needs is a good house cleaning starting at the top but that will not happen until we have a governor who will appoint concerned and qualified environmentally sensitive citizens to the TPWD Board, rather than political cronies.
George H. Russell
Forest Practices Chair
Lone Star Sierra Club
Board of Advisors
Natural Area Preservation Association
Board of Governors
Texas Committee on Natural Resources
936-891-5245 Alligator Ranch House