Patterson’s Xmas Mountains soufflé 

If the same frontier justice of Pancho Villa’s day ever revisits this remote corner of blasted volcanic rock, it would likely mean Jerry Patterson’s hide curing in the sun.

That is to say, the Texas General Land Office Commissioner is not a popular man in Brewster County.

Did the foul rep begin with his continuing conversations about selling rights to the region’s underground water or during the attempted sale of a chunk of the Big Bend State Park?

Perhaps Patterson is simply the most recent sign of urban-interest encroachment on this West Texas jewel. Compared with the variety of more tangible incursions such as the Air Force’s low-altitude bomber training, El Paso’s recurrent threats of a water grab, and the development, bankruptcy, and failed auctions of the offensively watered Lajitas Resort (or simply La Hideous, to most locals), the Christmas Mountain sale chaffed but didn’t inflame the senses quite the same way.

Beyond the Bend, it proved differently. It was the Christmas Mountains, a 9,200-acre parcel gifted to the state more than 15 years ago for preservation, that got the attention of state papers in ways the other more potentially devastating matters (like La Entrada) haven’t. Editorial writers across the state pleaded with Patterson to delay the sale and give the National Park Service time to come up with a bid of its own.

Brewster County Judge Val Beard does not share that urgency.

“The property is off of our tax rolls now,” Beard said, with an inflected shrug. “If it goes to a private individual … the restrictions on the property are so onerous it will be preserved and taken care of. If it goes to the national park, it will be preserved.”

Patterson only wants what is right for the Christmas Mountains, said GLO spokesman Jim Suydam. “If that means he has to take a raft of shit, then so be it,” he adds.

What is “right” is public hunting access, according to Patterson, something the National Parks Service allows in only the rarest of cases.

Still, Patterson announced Monday he would give the NPS 90 days to come up with a plan to manage the preserve (with hunting). If that plan proves better than the one submitted by the top bidder by providing better (hunting) access, than NPS could still get it. In his gun-love, Patterson appears to be carrying over a page from President Bush, who in an acknowledgment that Americans are hunting less, recently issued an executive order urging all managers of federal lands to provide increased opportunities for the blood sport.

Former South Brewster resident and gallery owner Dale Jensenn said Patterson was finding out “there’s a lot more interest in the area than they thought.”

Suydam said “clueless” editorial writers and journalistic “clip jobs” hadn’t swayed Patterson’s position.

Apparently. After all, what does the 90 days offer but a prolonged Patterson dictate?

11/07/07 UPDATE: Two-thirds of the three-member School Land Board (another Patterson post) turned on the GLO chief's gun-mandated stance Tuesday, leaving the door open for the National Park Service to acquire the Christmas Mountains without opening it for seasonal shoots.


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