No Christmas Present for Private Land-Purchasers?
School Land Board says will give National Park Service time to make offer on Christmas Mountains
Controversial plans to sell the publicly held Christmas Mountains to private owners have faltered, after the School Land Board said it would give the National Park Service time to make an offer on the land.
The board, which holds the 9,270-acre stretch of wild scrubs and mountains in far West Texas, was expected to announce a winner of the sealed bidding process at a public meeting Tuesday. But after taking public testimony that almost universally supported adding the land to nearby Big Bend National Park, the board went into closed executive session. It emerged with a new plan, proposed by board member Todd Barth: Both private bids would remain sealed, and the NPS would be given 90 days to submit a proposal to acquire the property.
The board rejected a plan offered Monday by land commissioner and board member Jerry Patterson, who proposed announcing the winner and then giving the NPS and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department 90 days to make their proposals. There was one other key difference: In his plan, the park agencies would have to allow public hunting and maintain the land to attract game species actively. Luke Metzger, legislative director for Environment Texas, described this as a "poison pill" since the general policy of NPS is not to extend hunting rights on its land holdings, and hunting is only allowed on 59 strictly controlled tracts, mandated by Congress. While the new plan only named the NPS, Patterson said it could be revised later to include Parks & Wildlife.
"This is undoubtedly a blow to Patterson's plan," said Metzger, since the new proposal removed the public-hunting precondition. Patterson said the new plan did not involve any preconditions and did not go into further details on the discussion or on the received bids. "The only thing we want to talk about is consensus right now," he said. "Ninety days, then we'll see what we have."
But opponents of the sale were optimistic about the land staying in public ownership. "It sounds like the other two members of the board are not as gung ho as the commissioner," said Ken Kramer, director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. "There's a real hope that the NPS can come up with a proposal that will meet the needs of at least a majority of board members."