The Big Thicket Tangle

Politicians, lumber companies, and even Time, Inc., are maneuvering to tell us what kind of park, if any, we'll have. That is, if there is any Big Thicket left by then.

July 1973By Comments

MIKE BUCKLEY IS READING Sports Illustrated. Strictly business. He had glanced through this particular issue before, but it had only been a cursory look. As a corporate officer of Time, Inc., the publishers of Sports Illustrated, he feels he needs to know what it’s doing; he doesn’t take the time to read very much, but feels uncomfortable at board of directors meetings if he can’t talk about the magazines like everyone else. When this issue first came in, he hadn’t even noticed the article that now engaged him more completely than anything he had read in years.

The Union Camp Paper Company, said the article, had donated to the federal government 50,000 acres of Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp to be used as a park. Sports Illustrated lauded the company for their generosity and environmental consciousness and, it seemed to Buckley, provided them a wealth of free publicity. Besides, he surmised, they could probably write off the donation for more than the land would be worth if sold outright. It seemed like The Answer, a grand-slam solution to the one great nagging problem that had been looming over his shoulder for a decade.

Mike Buckley is the president of Eastex, Inc., a timber, pulpwood and paper company that is one of the largest single landowners and employers in Southeast Texas. It is, as well, the most profitable subsidiary of that same Time, Inc., that publishes Sports Illustrated, Fortune, and Time. He is 63 years old and has spent the bulk of his life in the timber industry, transforming Texas pine trees into what must by now total a half-million houses and a billion tons of plywood, newsprint, cardboard and all the other incarnations of cellulose. He loves the woods and the outdoors, hunting and fishing, and he is proudly convinced that his company is doing its level best to preserve that environment, to utilize its recreational potential while harvesting its trees. In the years he has been in the industry he has helped to introduce modern techniques of hybridization, conservation, tree farming, game and forestry management, that seem to him a perfectly American blend of profitable private business and public-spirited concern for a national resource.

That’s why he laughed when he first heard the proposal for a Big Thicket National Park, now more than ten years ago. He still hasn’t changed that opinion much but he won’t say it in public anymore. It just seemed ludicrous to him, to take woodland wilderness and protect it, in its natural state, when those same lands could be used to build homes and the Gross National Product. His friend and fellow timber executive Arthur Temple had called the Thicket a “varmint-infested swamp,” and he privately agreed with him, could see no value in maintaining it.

Despite Mike Buckley, though, the idea of preservation had grown over the years, and support for a park had spread well beyond laughing distance. Americans are all caught up in this crazy environmentalism, he thinks, and politicians who ought to know better are scared not to pander to it. It’s been steadily closing in on him, this problem of taking a park out of the middle of his woods, and in recent years it has occupied more and more of his time. He has continually given ground, he feels, been willing to compromise, first with the “String-of-Pearls,” then this fool moratorium on cutting, other things, and now the board of directors is even willing to endorse a 75,000-acre park. Since the first of the year he has been to meetings in New York, Acapulco, Austin, Chicago, Washington, some of them several times, and at all of them the dilemma of the park has been a principal topic. And now, after ten years of retreat from “a silly idea,” virtually on the edge of defeat, he sees in the article a solution.

Mike Buckley hurriedly makes phone calls. New York, Washington, Diboll, Houston. Support from other timber companies is quickly secured. He calls in Ollie Crawford, his right hand, the front man for the timber industry, and prepares to dispatch him to Washington to confer with the National Park Service. About 30,000 acres, they finally decide, just given to the government for that crazy park. He can see it, a last-gasp come-from-behind victory over those damned conservationists. (Jesus, Sports Illustrated will have to give us a story like that other one; we’re both owned by the same company…)

Buckley writes letters, one to John Tower, the one U.S. Senator he knows he can count on (and a Republican, to help grease the rails with the Administration), and to the two congressmen he feels will aid him, Charlie Wilson and Jack Brooks. He xeroxes copies of the article and sticks them in the letters.

In Washington, Fred Bonavita, the bureau chief of The Houston Post, gets wind of the deal…

IT COMES ROLLING IN FROM the north and east, a great green cloud welling up from the gray sandy soil, rich green tiers billowing up one upon another, then cascading down again, occasionally gathered in the shape of loblolly pine or sweetgum, maple or beechwood, a soft, thick foam of green, chlorophyll gone wild. Pin oaks and massive yellow pines strain for release from the dense, dark underworld of laurel, yaupon and magnolia while the world’s greatest cypresses march jaggedly, like the soldiers of Oz, down the banks of secret streams past baygalls and palmetto bogs.

Within the soft ambience of the Thicket exists an encyclopedic range of nature’s permutations, botanical anachronisms found little or nowhere else in North America, refuged in a whirlpool of green. And, perhaps, nested somewhere in the recess, lives one of the world’s rarest creatures, the ivory-bill woodpecker, its staccato pleas in prophetic harmony with the dread cries of the Southern Pine Wolf, the Caddo and the Tonkawa Indians, the Tennessee trappers and Alabama emigrants, all those who sought to live in the Thicket’s green fastness.

Resting hard on the western edge of the Southern Pine Forest, the Big Thicket has been called “the biological crossroads of North America,” the intersecting point of eight wholly separate ecological systems, the only spot on the continent where subtropical and temperate vegetation overlap. The National Park Service has described it as “containing elements common to the Florida Everglades, the Okefenokee Swamp, the Appalachian region, the Piedmont forests, and the open woodlands of the coastal plains.” Characterized by one writer as “a biological Noah’s Ark,” the area has spawned the world’s largest specimens of a score of different trees, three dozen varieties of wild orchids, ferns, flowers, mosses and fungi found nowhere else, and four of America’s five carnivorous plants.

For generations the Thicket has been a Woodlands Mecca for Thoreauvian disciples; botanists, zoologists, ornithologists, herpetologists, all of biology’s footsore specialists have made the pilgrimage and announced their wonderment. Tom Eisner, a biology professor in the distant marble sanctum of Cornell University, helps oversee Save the Big Thicket Committees on a hundred American campuses.

For an equally long succession of generations, men have sought in their various ways to exploit the Thicket’s incredible fecundity and regenerative powers. The Alabama and Coushattas, migrating west, displaced earlier Indian occupants in their search for a home that white men couldn’t subdue, and peopled the Thicket. Even the railroads, rumbling precursors of Industry, found the region an impenetrable tangle of vines and swamps, and detoured to the north and south. For five generations the only white settlers were prairie iconoclasts, late-coming homesteaders, Civil War deserters, smugglers, rum-runners, trappers and hunters.

Then finally came Industry, timber and oil companies who rode technology into the Thicket and came out with riches. The oil companies spilled their wastes in the streams and bogs, lumbermen scythed relentlessly through virgin woods and, acre by acre, the Thicket shrunk. The ivory-bill hunted solitude in the deeper reaches while the buzz-saw chased after it. The Big Thicket, by the middle of this century, was little more than a metaphor for the 3 million acres it had once been, and conservationists became alarmed. The only answer, Lance Rosier felt, was a Big Thicket National Park.

Known in his last years as “Mr. Big Thicket,” Rosier was a self-taught naturalist, a man who struck with Nature a Faustian bargain, trading comfort and companionship for the Wisdom of the Woodlands. He catalogued hundreds of species of new plants, discovered specimens of life forms thought extinct or anomalous, learned the secrets of the Thicket in a way few men know themselves. In 1962 he helped found the Big Thicket Association, dedicated to the preservation of the area and intent upon creating from it a national park.

In 1966, Ralph Yarborough, who had grown up in a Huck Finn jumble of home-made rafts and barefooted wanderings down the Neches River, introduced in the U.S. Senate the first Big Thicket National Park bill. An introspective, sentimental man, who rummages deep into his East Texas roots for the populist energies that still keep him going, Yarborough was the first great champion of Texas conservationists. He was the Big Thicket’s first martyr.

He was defeated for reelection in the 1970 Democratic Primary by Lloyd Bentsen, who went on to win the general election and occupy the Yarborough Senate seat. In the lame duck session of the 91st Congress, largely as a personal tribute to him, Yarborough’s Senate colleagues passed the bill he had introduced and fought for through four years: the creation of a Big Thicket National Park of “not more than” 100,000 acres. The House of Representatives did nothing; Colorado Rep. Wayne Aspinall, then Chairman of the House Interior Committee and a feisty opponent of environmental matters, declined to return to Washington for the session and his committee never met.

Bentsen, now the Democratic nominee to replace Yarborough, promptly surprised the timber industry, which had avidly supported him in the primary, by endorsing the notion of a 100,000-acre park. Houston Congressman George Bush, the GOP nominee for the Senate seat, upped the ante by calling for a 150,000-acre park and introducing a House bill to that end. Political expedience clearly spoke in favor of a Big Thicket National Park.

The Nixon White House, which had urged Bush to make the Senate race in the first place, rushed down then-Secretary of the Interior Walter Hickel to tell Texans what a fine man George Bush is. Among other things, Hickel said he was “strongly committed to the preservation of the Big Thicket” and rhapsodized at length about the fine piece of legislation that was Bush’s bill.

After Bentsen won and was installed in the Senate his first action was to introduce a 100,000-acre park bill similar to Yarborough’s. By this time, political sentiment in Texas was undeniably on the side of a largish (100,000 acres or more) park. One of Lyndon Johnson’s last speeches as President called for its enactment and most of Texas’ daily newspapers had endorsed the idea. Even the Houston City Council, which has never zealously pursued the creation of parks within its own jurisdiction, went unanimously on record in favor of 100,000 acres.

By late in the next year, 1971, it was beginning to approach election time again, and politicians were dusting off their hiking boots. Rogers Morton, who had replaced Hickel as Interior Secretary, came to Texas to tour the site of the proposed park. He spoke out eloquently on the idyllic splendors of the Big Thicket and promised to “keep the pressure on” to create a National Park. What pressure he spoke of was left rather ambiguous. His one-time, off-the-cuff, whistle-stop remark was and remains the closest approach to positive action the Nixon Administration has made (as of late this spring) toward the creation of a Big Thicket Park.

WHAT WITH HIS BOW-TIES and rumpled suits, his misshapen felt hat and shaggy, forever mussed, greying hair, Bob Eckhardt seems a curious spokesman for urban Houston in a modern Congress. He is, though, of a kind with those people who have made representative democracy work in spite of itself. Eckhardt combines an intellectual facility for the abstract with an earthy affection for the commonplace, and is possessed of a keen instinct for channeling the energies of America’s past to deal with the dislocations of its present. His respect for the country’s traditions, both of its people and its institutions, has made him, simultaneously, a well-regarded Constitutional lawyer, an avid conservationist and amateur historian, a consistant but original liberal, and, perhaps most importantly, a powerfully adept manipulator of the ofttimes mysterious tools of Washington politics.

Charlie Wilson, on the other hand, is a more prosaic Congressman. An Annapolis graduate, he still looks like an ensign, sandy-haired and grinning, with the lanky presence of the junior varsity basketball player who only recently sprouted to six-five and hasn’t yet decided how to deal with those legs. Young and exuberant, country affable, he has brought to Congress the back-slapping, hand-shaking, Good-Ole-Boy style of politickin’ he perfected in 15 years in the Texas Legislature and East Texas stumping. He had always been vaguely typed as a liberal in the Legislature but, as he puts it, “bein’ a liberal in the Texas Legislature ain’t the same thing as bein’ a liberal in Congress,” and he has found himself steadily compiling what can only be called a conservative voting record. He is a freshman this year, representing the East Texas district that encompasses most of the Big Thicket.

Eckhardt and Wilson are, for the most part, the central figures in the parliamentary dance that will see the creation of a federally-protected Big Thicket. It can be easily viewed as an interesting confrontation—the urban liberal, Congressional veteran, thoughtful and intent, vs. the rural neophyte, uncomfortably conservative, contagiously friendly, accustomed to the dark machinations of Austin legislating—but it would be an oversimplification. There are other characters, in many ways larger ones, who figure in the dance, some of them tapping their toes on the outskirts, counterfeit wallflowers helping to set the rhythm.

It is Wilson, probably, who plays the pivotal role; without question he is subject to the most intense pressures of any of the participants. It is within his district that the park, whatever its eventual character, would be created, and Congressional protocol confers on him considerable influence for that reason alone. His predecessor in Congress, John Dowdy, had introduced a bill positing a 35,000 acre park configured in the shape of a “string of pearls.” The String-of-Pearls proposal was the timber industry’s first hesitant concession to the notion of a park and was a collection of smallish, widely scattered plots, or “units”, that the experts all agreed were those most urgently in need of preservation. Dowdy’s efforts in behalf of the timber lobby were, however, largely ineffectual; he was at the time under indictment for accepting a bribe and spent most of the 92nd Congress suffering “back trouble” that kept federal prosecutors from bringing him to trial.

Eckhardt was at this time (1971-72) pushing his own bill, calling for a 191,000-acre park. Texas conservationists, in the form of the Big Thicket Association, (BTA) , were as adamantly opposed to anything smaller as the timber lobby was to anything at all. As the BTA saw it, the Thicket had already dwindled to less than 300,000 acres and the String-of-Pearls was a ridiculous crumb to settle for. Their greatest disagreement, over and above the absolute size of the various units, was their determination to include stream-bed corridors. As conservation-minded ecologists pointed out, to preserve an isolated unit of woodlands without protecting the watershed of which it is part-and-parcel is to foredoom that unit to eventual destruction. The Eckhardt bill, together with bills offered by other members of the Texas delegation, again fell victim to Chairman Aspinall’s general indisposition to parks of any sort; the House Committee never even held hearings and the 92nd Congress, like the three Congresses before it, expired without resolution of the controversy.

When the 93rd Congress opened in January the atmosphere had changed and the stage seemed ready for a concluding act: Wayne Aspinall had lost a Colorado primary and the House Interior Committee was suddenly shifted in a more conservationist direction; the several proponents and opponents, almost all of them, bad wearied of the steady buffeting of conflicting interests and the gentle serum of compromise had imbued them all; and Charlie Wilson had replaced John Dowdy as the 2nd District’s Representative in Washington.

Without exception, the conservationists cheerfully welcomed Wilson as a considerable improvement over Dowdy but, as they saw it, a disquieting cloud hovered over him. For two decades Wilson had been an employee of Temple Industries, one of the largest of the timber companies, and it had been with the active support and encouragement of the Temple family that he entered his first political race. His offices still boast a score of photographs, interspersed with pictures of the ships he served on, of sawmills and lumberyards, and he long ago earned the nickname “Timber Charlie.” To his credit, it is a relationship Wilson has never ducked, and he speaks of Arthur Temple, Jr., the company president, as “one of the two or three people in my life I have felt the closest to for the longest time, not just politically but personally, too, in every way possible.”

The Temple-Wilson connection is not as worrisome to park advocates as it might seem at a glance. Temple Industries, of all the major timber companies with large East Texas holdings, is the only one that is locally owned. Together with the other companies, Temple declared a voluntary moratorium on cutting in the general area of the proposed park, but their proscription was far more generous and extensive, not to mention adhered to, than any other company’s. Moreover, Temple has foresworn practices that the rest of the industry has found economical and environmentalists have termed detestable: the wholesale clear-cutting of large timber stands and the razing of cut-over lands, the airborne use of herbicides and defoliants to erase underbrush. Temple has also shown a willingness to encourage slow-growing, often fragile stands of bottomland hardwoods, like cedars and oaks, that other companies have ignored in favor of quick-and-easy pine plantations.

As Eckhardt conceded, Temple has had “a generally salubrious effect on conservation in the area; they have been the most reasonable to work with of any of the industry people.” There is another, more pragmatic reason for Temple’s conciliatory view of the park: their holdings lie further to the north than any other major company’s, and they would be least affected by the park’s creation. The company that would lose land to a federal park is the same one that environmentalists see as the most villainously obstinate: Mike Buckley’s Eastex, Inc.

WHEN FRED BONAVITA BROKE THE story on Eastex’s proposed donation, according to an insider at the National Park Service, “it blew the whole deal right out of the water.” Corporate generosity seems somehow less charitable when it goes down in Washington’s back rooms, and advance publicity about the deal scared the Park Service out of negotiations. Conservationists, who had been caught off guard, reacted with retroactive indignation; said an Eckhardt staffer: “Those sonsabitches, they nearly pulled a fast one there.”

It had been but the latest in a long barrage of fast and slow ones, all aimed at the same general target: halting, or at least forestalling, the creation of the park. From the first, Eastex has been the most forceful opponent of the plan, lobbying against it at every turn. Ollie Crawford, the president of Southwestern Timber Company, a division of Eastex, has led the steadily retreating crusade against the park. Handsome and tanned in double-knit suit, with a Jimmy Stewart kind of masculine charisma, Crawford is an impressive spokesman for any cause. The walls of Southwestern’s Neches River lodge are covered with pictures of him hunting, fishing, and flying in the company of congressmen, presidents and astronauts, photographs from his reign as the Jaycee’s “Mr. East Texas” and plaques commemorating an astonishing variety of Chamber of Commerce-style honors.

Crawford is the timber lobby’s circuit rider, scurrying from point to point to preach against the park, marshalling the diverse forces of the industry into a united front of stubborness. (Even the Louisiana Forestry Association, for some reason, has seen fit to rail against the notion of a Big Thicket Park.) When the Texas House debated a resolution memoralizing Congress to create a Big Thicket Park, Ollie Crawford whisked into Austin to head up the opposition.

The Texas Legislature, of course, has no constituted authority in the creation of federal parks; a memoralizing resolution is roughly equivalent to writing to your congressman, with the exception that most Texas congressmen are sufficiently familiar with the nature of the Texas Legislature to pay less heed to it than to their average constituent. As Baytown State Rep. Joe Allen, the author of the resolution, phrases it, “When you get right down to it, the resolution doesn’t mean spit, but they [the timber industry] treated it like we were going to war or something. I’ve never seen that kind of lobbying over just a resolution.” It passed overwhelmingly, with Lufkin State Rep. “Buddy” Temple III, Arthur’s son, voting aye.

Another manifestation of Eastex’s attitude toward the proposed park has been, the parent company’s (Time, Inc.’s), resolute indifference to magazine stories dealing with the Big Thicket. Sports Illustrated and Time, according to staff writers for the magazine, have both either mangled or killed outright stories that have dealt with the area and, inevitably, Eastex’s involvement. One of the most fiercely fought battles at the old Life magazine revolved around a story on the ivory bill woodpecker and the adamant insistance of several editors that Time/Eastex-Big Thicket relationships be at least mentioned. The outcome was a barely discernible footnote and an apologetic phone call from Hedley Donovan, formerly Life senior editor and now Time, Inc., editor-in-chief, to Mike Buckley.

Eastex’s heavily political role in the Thicket controversy has, unavoidably, made them some enemies. Barefoot Sanders, the 1972 Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, and Alan Steelman, a Republican congressional candidate in Dallas, both took strong campaign stands on the side of a large park and both were denied permission to tour Eastex holdings in the Thicket. Another politician they have opposed in the past, though not so frantically, has been Charlie Wilson, who says “I don’t owe them [Eastex] anything; they’ve never done anything for me except hit me over the head when they felt like it.”

When Wilson entered the new Congress conservationists were hopefully optimistic that he would support their new, whittled-down, 100,000-acre compromise proposal. During the congressional interim, Eckhardt had sat down with the Big Thicket Association and other members of the Texas delegation, to arrive at what he felt was a bill most everyone could support. The stream-bed corridors were narrowed and some of them removed, the standing units pared in size. To the conservationists, it represented their ultimate compromise, an effort to pass a bill before the Thicket disappeared altogether.

Eckhardt took the bill around to Bentsen, to Wright Patman, the dean of the Texas delegation, to other Texas congressmen. “I wasn’t going to compromise beyond the 100,000 acres,” he remembers, “but nobody ever said that was in question. I didn’t get the impression that there was anybody at all opposed to it.”

Eckhardt went to see Wilson: “I showed him our compromise bill and we talked it over and he never said a word about being opposed to 100,000 acres. I told him that, since it was in his district, he could take the initiative and I’d just sign his bill [as a cosponsor] if he had one.”

Wilson’s own recollection of the meeting is fuzzier but essentially the same: “I told him to just go on ahead with his own bill.”

Wilson admits that, at the time of the conversation, he had an advance inkling of an event of some import to East Texans: in February, Temple Industries and Eastex, Inc., announced their intent to merge. Between them, the newly enlarged Time, Inc., subsidiary would hold over a million acres of Texas land. Rumors abounded as to the terms of the proposed merger (eg., the Temple family was to become the largest single stockholder in Time, Inc.) but one solidly factual nub stared balefully at horrified conservationists: Mike Buckley would be the operational head of the combined operation.

The announcement, or advance word of it, may also have had repercussions in Washington. A man who is both a constituent and a close friend of Charlie Wilson’s contends that up until that time Wilson was committed to a 100,000 acre park, but “the day they announced that merger, that park lost 30,000 acres.” Reports came sifting out of Washington that Wilson was going to introduce a bill of his own, a park of 75,000 acres with only a Neches River corridor. They were accurate reports.

Although less than joyful (“it’s unfortunate”), Bob Eckhardt admitted that “they kind of have Wilson in the middle somewhat.” Wilson was getting what he called “one helluva lot” of pressure. Mike Buckley sent him a telegram which termed the park proposals “shockingly discriminatory against Eastex,” and predicted “the future of this corporation would be severely damaged with the passage of your bill as I understand it, and as a representative of all the people in this district I do not understand how you can justify discriminating against one company to the proposed degree.”

Ollie Crawford followed that up with a letter even less marked for subtlety: “Certainly Mike Buckley’s position is easy to understand as president of one of the largest corporations in your district which employs more than 1900 people…I would suggest you set up an appointment with him on your next trip to Texas to discuss the Big Thicket.” It was not the kind of correspondence that freshman congressmen are pleased to receive.

There were other pressures as well. Wilson had, like all marginally liberal Texas politicians, sought and received the support of organized labor in his campaigns. When both the Sabine Area Building and Trades Council and the Beaumont Teamsters, two of the largest union locals in his district, denounced the park, Wilson started feeling a little boxed in.

There was little offsetting pressure from park proponents. Said Eckhardt, “There are a lot of selfish interests who are against the park and bringing a lot of pressure to bear. But there aren’t any powerful lobby groups on the other side to counter that.”

Another curious reversal was in progress. In mid-1972, Bob Eckhardt, then five long years into his labors in behalf of a park, had seen his first hopeful glimmer of a powerful ally. The National Park Service, which in typically bureaucratic fashion had been studying the proposals for seven years, showed him the working plans that would precede their own recommendations.

“I was very pleasantly surprised,” he recalls. “It was almost identical with our own [100,000 acre] compromise proposal. They had everything in there we did, the corridors, all of Village Creek, everything. And it was laid out in exquisite detail, with maps and color overlays, aerial photographs.”

In February and March of this year, Eckhardt met with Nathaniel “Nat” Reed, the Nixon-appointed Assistant Interior Secretary and the Administration figure most directly responsible for developing the Park Service recommendations. “He was very encouraging,” says Eckhardt. “He told me he was very concerned about preserving the watercourses. He was very adamant, very strong, about it. We were undecided about including Turkey Creek in our bill, and it was at his urging we did so.”

By April, however, it was apparent that the Park Service recommendations, still not made public, had plummeted to less than 70,000 acres and all of the stream-bed corridors had been removed. Charlie Wilson was saying he has to “fight tooth and nail” just to get them to include a Neches River corridor. They have yet to notify Eckhardt of a change in plans, and no-one at the Park Service or Interior Department is willing to speak for the record on what caused the switch. As Eckhardt says, “there’s a helluva lot of double-talk going on here.”

It is difficult to say what caused the Nixon Administration to back off so far from all those strong words by Wally Hickel, Rogers Morton and George Bush in 1970. Eckhardt blames Senator John Tower who, he says, “has become the major spokesman for the timber interests.” A Nixon-appointed official in the Interior Department, who admits to the backpedaling, blames it on “a tight budget,” but Eckhardt says the difference between the two park proposals is “infinitesimal compared to the total national budget.”

For his part, Sen. Tower says he is “committed” to 100,000 acres but that he will “probably support the Administration proposals.” The fact that the Administration proposals do not square with his commitments is the sort of thing that politicians are able to talk around without ever noticing a conflict.

The House Interior Committee is expected to begin hearings this month on the various Big Thicket park bills. Eckhardt is modestly confident that, despite the opposition of Wilson, the timber lobby, and the Park Service, the Committee will report out a bill more-or-less in agreement with his own. Wilson concedes the possibility but warns “they’d better be prepared for one hellatious Armageddon of a battle when we get down to the mat on the floor of the Congress; I’m not gonna stand for that kinda abuse without taking every One of ’em to the Wall.” In East Texas, that’s fightin’ talk.

Charlie Wilson remembers talking to a timber company official who “told me he didn’t really care about what finally happened as long as ‘that damned Eckhardt don’t win.'”

It’s pretty much come to that. In the ten bitter years that the Thicket battle has been joined, the parameters of disagreement have steadily narrowed while individual perspectives have diverged. It is difficult to support or oppose a cause for a decade without one’s own ego being confused with the rightness or wrongness of it. Again quoting Wilson, “It’s gotten down to everyone just bein’ ate up with who’s gonna win.”

The ivory-bill, in the meantime, is driven nearer to extinction in an effort to find solitude. Every day, fifty acres of climax forest are lost to the rattle of chain saws and the advancing sterile columns of the pine plantations. And Bob Eckhardt’s sad prophecy on the need of stream-bed corridors is being proven correct. Down near Saratoga, suburbia’s advance guard has driven into the very heart of the Thicket wilderness. The unmarked tractors of a land developer are penetrating to the virgin cypress banks of Village Creek, and the wild tangles of laurel and magnolia are being flattened for the front yards of “vacation home sites.”

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