Christmas Mountians To Remain In Texas Hands - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

02/06/08 - Austin

Christmas Mountians To Remain In Texas Hands

The School Land Board voted unanimously today not to accept either of the two private conservation bids for the Christmas Mountains. As a result, the Permanent School Fund retains ownership of the 9,269-acre tract of land.

To comply with the Open Meetings Act, the board was unable to take action or discuss a proposed National Park Service management plan because it was received too late to place on the School Land Board agenda. Patterson said the National Park Service plan could be discussed at a future board meeting, pending further examination and clarification of the plan details.

"We needed to resolve the issue of the two bidders that had money on the table," said Patterson. "With the question of private ownership resolved for now, we can now more fully explore the option of public ownership.  And there is a lot to consider.  But there are some things we can do in the meantime."

Following the board meeting, Patterson outlined a series of immediate steps he will pursue to ensure better public access no matter who owns the tract.

Patterson has directed his legal staff to create a permanent public easement between the Christmas Mountains Ranch tract and Big Bend National Park.  This easement will allow public access -- in perpetuity -- across the mile-long common border.   It will improve public access immediately and does not require board action.

Patterson also pointed out that private owners own 18 of the 19 miles of the property boundary.  To access the one mile shared with the National Park requires a rigorous four-hour hike.

"Right now, Texans can't get to this property," Patterson said. "I've made that four-hour hike, and believe me, the public deserves additional ways to get to the property, regardless of whether the state or federal government owns the land."

Ptterson is also pledging to work with members of Congress for a federal designation and appropriation for the Christmas Mountains that will provide for the long-term maintenance of the property while allowing public hunting and compliance with state firearms laws.

Patterson reiterated that while the National Park Service generally does not allow hunting, many other federal agencies - like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service - allow and actually encourage hunting.

"Federal ownership and hunting in the Christmas Mountains are not mutually exclusive," Patterson said.  "It is possible to do both.  We will explore all options at the federal level."

Cathryn Khalil, reporting.

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