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The Insanity Behind the Christmas Mountains Sale


The debate over whether the National Park Service should be allowed to buy the Christmas Mountains for an addition to Big Bend National Park should not be dominated by the personality and rigid mindset of pro-gun Texas land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. So says the Dallas Morning News:

Here's one theory of how the Christmas Mountains got their name. Long ago, this 9,000-acre mountain tract wandered in the Far West Texas wilderness, looking for someone to take it in. There was no room at the Conservation Fund, which donated the tract to the state in 1991. The state also sought to cast it away. Finally, a shelter beckoned at nearby Big Bend National Park.

But three not-so-wise men appeared from the east, in Austin, bearing bad tidings. The three, who comprise the School Land Board, were charged with deciding the property's fate. One not-so-wise man, General Land Office Commissioner Jerry Patterson, thus spake: No hunting, no firearms, no deal for Big Bend.

Pardon this ridiculous attempt at a parable, but it's hardly as ridiculous as the real Christmas Mountains saga. Mr. Patterson has been adamant that the tract's next owners permit guns and hunting. The requirement makes it impossible for the National Park Service to accept the land because federal law prohibits firearms in national parks.

The Virginia-based Conservation Fund now reportedly wants to buy the land back – land that it donated – just to make a transfer to Big Bend possible. The group is neutral about hunting but is eager to find an owner that will honor numerous other restrictions that the land not be developed, mined or broken into parcels and sold. That's why Big Bend is so attractive.

State Sen. John Whitmire of Houston wants to broker such a deal. He agrees with us: "It's nuts that someone who donated the land has to purchase it just so they can donate it again."

Jim Suydam, spokesman for Mr. Patterson's office, says the commissioner agrees that the donor buyback proposal is ridiculous. Two private bidders also want the land and might offer a better price. Mr. Suydam says the buyback idea, as well as the guns issue, are just a sideshow in this debate.

If we start talking about sideshows, we risk mixing metaphors with a parable about the clowns and the wandering three-ring circus. No matter how we tell it, the Christmas Mountains saga is a story of unbelievable ineptitude.

However the Land Board resolves this, it must honor the original restrictions that the donors placed on the land. The real sideshow – Mr. Patterson's meddling and unnecessary requirements – sends a warning to future philanthropists that Texas can't be trusted to handle donated land properly.

We hope a Feb. 5 Land Board meeting will bring clarity and closure to this issue. Mr. Patterson should lift his hunting requirement, or his two board colleagues should overrule him and put an end to this nonsense.


Mr. Patterson should be removed from office. The State of Texas agreed when the land was donated to it that the land would be preserved as a state park. Now, Texas (read: Ye Old Land Commissioner) is going back in its word.

“We feel strongly that the state's intended sale of the Christmas Mountains sends the wrong message to foundations like Rick King Mellon, one of the few in the country which have focused substantial resources on land and water conservation to assure perpetual protection of these assets in the public domain,” Conservation Fund Executive Vice President Richard Erdmann wrote in a July 16 letter to Patterson.

“Should this sale proceed, the Richard King Mellon Foundation has informed us that it would find it very difficult for it to consider the state as a potential beneficiary of any future conservation contributions on its part."

If Mr. Patterson will not honor his commitment and do what is right, the Governor needs to step up to the plate and ask for his resignation.

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." - Emerson

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