Thursday, November 08, 2007

Moratorium on Christmas Mountain Sale

After Monday's announcement from Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson that the land board would be accepting one of two bids received from private owners for the Christmas Mountains, Wednesday's meeting brought yet another delay.

The School Land Board postponed action on two bids for the Christmas Mountains Ranch near Big Bend National Park Tuesday and gave the National Park Service 90 days to make a deal for the 9,270 acres, apparently in response to public outcry over the sale.

State Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson wanted the three-member board, which he chairs, to accept the best proposal before giving the National Park Service time to match the offer. Patterson also had established a condition that firearms and hunting be part of any deal.

But the board left the bids pending and did not put conditions on its offer.

"There is no consensus except for the 90 days for the National Parks Service to put something on the table," Patterson said, after the board met in closed session to consider bids.

The delay is good news, but it doesn't mean the sale to the National Park Service is a done deal. Still, conservation groups that had lobbied hard to consider transferring the land to NPS ownership applauded the moratorium. Environment Texas, who submitted 6000 signatures to the board, issued this statement on the land board's decision to delay the sale:
Today's decision by the School Land Board to postpone the sale of the Christmas Mountains for ninety days is encouraging news. Yesterday, Commissioner Patterson announced that he would push the two other members of the School Land Board to accept one of the two private bids for the Christmas Mountains and gave an ultimatum to the National Park Service to change their policy on hunting or lose their right to try to add the property to Big Bend National Park. That did not happen, so clearly the other two board members are not comfortable with this deal. We thank Todd Barth and David Herrmann for respecting the strong public opposition to this sale and for seeking out a better solution. We look forward to working with the School Land Board, the National Park Service, and Congress in the coming months to find a final solution that will keep the Christmas Mountains in public hands and that will maintain the integrity of Texas' word.

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