New Plans In The Works For The Big Thicket

Not all Houstonians know that just ninety miles northeast of here lies the big thicket national preserve — a biologically diverse space, home to soaring longleaf pine trees and the endangered Texas trailing phlox. For the first time in three decades the National Park Service is changing how it will manage the area. And as Wendy Siegle reports, the Sierra Club wants to make safeguarding this rare ecosystem the foundation of any new plan.
“The fact that you can stand on a sand hill, right next to a prickly pear cactus and look down and see sub-tropical orchids growing — that’s a unique juxtaposition of those species.”

Leslie Dubey is with the National Park Service and works in Big Thicket National Preserve. It’s home to over 180 bird species and 50 kinds of reptiles. It’s part of an ecosystem that used to spread over three million acres. Much of it has been lost to development and logging, but the Park Service manages and protects bits and pieces of it — some 100 thousand acres.

“It’s sort of this mix of flora and fauna from all over our continent that converge right here. And makes it a very exciting place to do research and to study the natural world.”

The Big Thicket is a national preserve — not park — and it’s an important distinction. Unlike national parks, hunting, trapping, and even oil and gas drilling are allowed on a preserve. Still, they’re both publicly owned land, managed by the National Park Service. That agency is currently floating four plans on how the it will take care of the Big Thicket over the next twenty years, and while they all make protecting its biodiversity a priority, the Sierra Club doesn’t think any of them go far enough.

“We’ve actually suggested a Sierra Club alternative, which goes farther toward protecting and restoring that diversity of life, that community of life that we all exist with.”

That’s Sierra Club volunteer Brandt Mannchen. He says he wants the Park Service to spell out in more detail how it plans to care for the Big Thicket. While the proposals talk about connecting more to communities, devoting more resources to research, and adding more recreational activities — think boating or camping — Mannchen says what should be fundamental priorities are absent.

“None of the alternatives speak to land acquisition and we’re concerned about that.”

Mannchen wants the Park Service to buy up additional acres in the surrounding area so more of the ecosystem can be protected. He says the Sierra Club also thinks putting the preserve’s underground mineral rights back in the hands of the Park Service should be a major goal.

“Currently, oil and gas companies can drill within the preserve and under the preserve — in other words, just outside the preserve and slant drill under — and pipelines and things of that nature. And so that has a definite impact on the plants and animals of the preserve.”

But even though these objectives and others aren’t laid out in any of the proposed plans, it doesn’t mean they won’t be included in the final draft. Still, Mannchen’s concerns won’t be eased till he sees them in writing. The National Parks Service is taking public comments on this version of the proposals through January 3rd.

For more information, visit NPS proposed park planning.



This first aired December 6, 2010.