I have very strong opinions on public lands and the takeover of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by Bundy and his bunch has me foaming at the mouth. As I write this, I am a guest on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and I’ll focus on my observations here. Aransas is a special place to me for so many reasons. This February will be the 21st anniversary of me leading my first college field trip here. The marshes and swamps and many of the species remind me of my childhood home in Florida.
I had the opportunity to see parts of the Refuge from the water, launching out of Goose Island State Park and heading up the coast to the boundary of the Refuge. The classic refuge boundary signs are not necessary to know when you have crossed onto refuge land. Here the marsh reaches the edge of the Intercoastal Waterway and water birds of all kinds are abundant, including the majestic whooping crane. In the absence of the Refuge’s protection, huge homes painted in costal pastels push out into the water and over the marshes on mounds of fill. Areas once used by anglers, human and otherwise, are under million dollar homes. Their docks jut hundreds of feet into the shallows and are clearly marked no trespassing. Areas that served as nurseries for fish, crabs and other wildlife are gone. It’s the American Dream, at least for the lucky few. The rest of us are crowded into ever-shrinking areas of access to the water and its resources and recreation.
Our destination was Matagorda Island, one of only two Texas barrier islands not connected to the mainland by roads. The island has a long history of use but remains relatively wild. We landed on the southern end of the island in the protection of a bayou but in sight of the surf of the Gulf. I saw more avocets in one place then ever before. There were no buildings in sight and were it not for a sign or two and tracks of previous visitors we could have imagined we discovered the island. Our knowledgeable local guide Ron Smudy, however, explained all the changes that had occurred in the recent past.
The Gulf’s waters were not so kind to the island, depositing trash along the sandy beach. I tried but failed to look past the plastic bottles, pieces of ropes and nets, styrofoam floats from crab traps and more. Combating this mess will have to fall to others, I try to stay focused, as much as possible, on wildlife.
Time and strong winds prevented us from visiting the island’s wetlands and other habitats. I know they are there and will be when I return again, thanks to the protection of the Refuge. The same can be said for the other 500+ National Wildlife Refuges (minus 1 that has been stolen temporarily from all of us), National Parks, Wilderness Areas, BLM and Forest Service Lands.
These lands are OURS and I will not easily relinquish my hold on my 1/319,000,000 share and neither should you. I bet Teddy Roosevelt is turning in his grave at the events in Oregon. He started the National Wildlife Refuge System with the protection of Pelican Island in Florida. Roosevelt was no fool, he knew the importance of wild places and wildlife and set them aside for responsible use by future generations. I’ll take it a step further, I believe access for every human to wild areas is an inalienable right.