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Alma & Earl Burnam Interview, Part 1 of 2

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  •  Interview start 
  •  Development - Traffic 
  •  Mass Transit - D.A.R.T. [Dallas Area Rapid Transit] 
  •  Development - Housing 
  •  Activism - Politics 
  •  Activism - Early Influences [with their children] 
  •  Green Building 
  •  Politics - [Lon Burnam] 
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  •  DT: My name's David Todd. I‘m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. 
  •  And it's October 13, year 2000. And we're in Ft. Worth, Texas, at the home of Alma and Earl Burnam. 
  •  And they've been kind enough to spare some time today to talk about their work on conservation - on a number of topics in Texas. And I wanted to thank you both for doing that...thank you. 
  •  EB: You're welcome. 
  •  DT: I thought we might get started by talking some about how you first got interested in the outdoors and in environmental issues. And maybe Earl could begin. 
  •  EB: Well, when I was a little boy at—up at Chillicothe, Texas, my dad and I used to walk out to Wanderer's Creek. 
  •  We didn't have a car in those Depression days and—about a mile out and fish with our cane poles or willow poles. And, so, we would enjoy nature going out there. And I guess it kind of caught and, then, that was enjoying the outdoor nature. 
  •  And, then, as far as the environmental concerns, it came along when my oldest son was in high school. He started pointing out to us that we ought to be concerned about what's happening to the environment, all of the pollution and everything, we ought to be looking into it and paying attention. And, so, we started and he kept bringing information to us. 
  •  And then, I believe it was his first year in college, well, he bought us a membership to the Sierra Club. That was early ‘70's. 
  •  And, so, we kind of had the opportunity to learn more things and—after joining the Sierra Club and becoming more and more concerned and—kind of drifted into the environmental or conservation movement. 
  •  DT: What were some of the early issues when you first joined Sierra in the early years of the 1970's? 
  •  EB: As I recall, we were fighting for—back in those early days—the timing might not be exactly right—for the Big Thicket, and East Texas, and for the Guadalupe Mountains National Park area. 
  •  And that kind of brings me to another point, one of our sons—our middle son, Dan, had become very interested and capable in backpacking and—and canoeing. 
  •  And he had kind of got us interested in—more so in the out of doors than we had been—getting us out there where we'd be more concerned with nature. And one of the trips that the local Sierra Club made and, I think, at—at that point they may have been—they originally had been joined with the Dallas group and had separated off by that time. 
  •  But, they all had pooled together and took a bus trip out to Carlsbad to speak at a hearing. And this outdoors type of Explorers Post that our son, Dan, who was then 14 years old—they invited Explorer Posts to choose a person to go out with them to speak. 
  •  And his peers chose Dan, our son, to go out. So, our son, Dan, made the trip out to Carlsbad without us, went off with a group people and—and spoke at Carlsbad Caverns to try to... 
  •  AB: Not out at the caverns… 
  •  EB: Excuse me, at the Carlsbad, to try to persuade them to not put up a tramway up the escarpment of the Guadalupe Peak area—Guadalupe Mountain area. 
  •  And that turned out to be a successful endeavor. So, that—the Guadalupe Park situation and the Big Thicket and, of course, there were all s—always concern of the—the clean air and—and water measures. I don't remember exactly just what the detail was in those days. 
  •  DT: How large was the group back then in the early ‘70's? Was it a small group or a large group in the Sierra and Audubon organizations? 
  •  EB: Well, there was—actually, the both organizations, Sierra Club and the local Audubon grew after those times quite a bit. The—I don't remember the exact number and you kind of go by the participation by the number of members that attend the meetings. 
  •  But, there's a lot more out there that gets the national magazines from Sierra and from Audubon, and gets their—the local newsletters that they put out. So, I would imagine that there was probably no more than two or three hundred at the most in Sierra Club at that time, possibly Audubon. 
  •  And Sierra Club had grown at one time to be over 1,200. And I'd—I'm not sure what Audubon is. But, probably somewheres in that amount. 
  •  But, only a few attending and being active, you know, each month. And, then, of those that attend, you might say there's a lot less that are really active in conservation type of activities in both—both organizations. 
  •  DT: Some of the membership in Sierra and Audubon are those who get the magazine or the newsletter, or enjoy the social outings, and there are others that are more into the advocacy and the educational work, is that right? 
  •  Well ... [spoken instructions for adjustments during interview, then repositioning chair] 
  •  EB: Some of the activities of the—is it okay to talk?—of the Audubon group were more local focused. They actually did quite a bit. But, we don't want to get into that probably. 
  •  DT: Sure, please do. Go ahead. 
  •  EB: Is it time now? / DT: Oh, yeah. Go ahead, please. 
  •  EB: Okay, in the early days of Audubon, they—they formed mainly for bird studies, this type of thing. But, also, to try to advocate conservation of—of natural areas for the birds. 
  •  And they were key—instrumental and key to getting the Ft. Worth Parks Department to establish a nature center out on the Lake Worth area, which was known as Greer Island. It's about 300 acres out there. 
  •  And, then, they continued to work and more so with help of a lot of other organizations. But—toward expanding that and it ended up to about—well, about 3,300 acres of Fort Worth Nature Center and Wildlife Refuge, as it's known now. 
  •  And that's possibly one of the larger urban types of nature centers in the country. 
  •  Then they—early on—liked to mention a person, Evelyn Edens, was leading them and her suggestion—they persuaded the parks people of Ft. [Fort] Worth to establish a bicycle trail in the Overton area, over on the near south side of town. 
  •  And that was one of the original bicycle trails, which became a pedestrian and jogging trail and used quite a bit by birders, you know. 
  •  So, those were kind of local activities they were successful with—with Audubon. And, of course, they entered into many other things. 
  •  One of the early leaders in Audubon that I should mention is Charles Crabtree, who was—and I'm not sure if it was as Audubon. But, he was a member of Audubon. But, he worked pretty heavily and helped—was quite successful in helping prevent the Trinity River being channelized all the way up to the Ft. Worth area. That was advocated at one time, was proposed. And he worked on that and he's still—still around. He lives in a little place out on the Brazos River now, and... 
  •  DT: Can you maybe tell a little about that controversy? Do you remember, Alma? 
  •  AB: Yes... / DT: Much about the Trinity channelization? 
  •  AB: Yes, they've—for many, many, many years they'd talked about channelizing the Trinity River up to Fort [Ft.] Worth, and using barges on it, you know, as a cheap form of transportation. 
  •  And they had discussed it and discussed it. And, finally, it was in the ‘70's that they had a vote. And it was emphatically voted down. And, as he said, Charlie Crabtree was very instrumental in that, and he had worked long and hard. 
  •  But, another issue that you did not bring up that was an unsuccessful issue, was the greenbelt along the Trinity River, and that was in the ‘70's, also. 
  •  DT: And what was that controversy about? 
  •  AB: Well, we wanted to establish a greenbelt that would go from—where? From—from... 
  •  EB: From Benbrook Lake all the way into the Trinity River that goes... 
  •  AB: Into downtown. 
  •  EB: ...downtown. And that we wanted them to not develop the area in the—the watershed area down there in the little area by the Trinity River. 
  •  The—the Sierra Club was more involved in this activity. The Sierra Club used to sponsor Trinity River Float In Days every spring. They would have it—they'd get the—the—the corps was accommodating and would let water out of the Benbrook Lake, 
  •  and give us a lot of water. And everybody would come out all over town with all kinds of floating gear: canoes, rubber rafts, rubber inner tubes and what have you. And everybody had a lot of fun in those days. 
  •  And there was a—certain places that a—a little small dam that—about halfway down that they had to be careful and help people do the portage over, because it was pretty tricky situation. 
  •  AB: [inaudible] 
  •  EB: And—but, anyway, there—there was that area. And, then, to complement, that could have been a greenbelt in the floodplain—a pretty low floodplain in there. 
  •  And we lost that battle because—mainly because of the leaders of Benbrook City Council wanted to develop it with—have houses in there, more of a tax base. And, so, that was, oh, quite a few years ago... 
  •  AB: 70's. 
  •  EB: ...25, in '70 it was 30 years ago, before the urban sprawl got us, that early even, you know. 
  •  And, so, that's was always kind of sickening to us. There was another person that worked with us on that. Well, he and his wife, Mary Harding and Ed Harding, and both of them are deceased now. 
  •  But they had become good friends and real—they had been real active in the Sierra Club. And a—Bernie Millie(?) had also had been active in Sierra Club and Audubon. 
  •  And he was the Explorer Post leader that was involved in the—the adventurous activities like that backpacking and the canoeing, this type of thing. 
  •  So, the Sierra Club would join with his post and co-sponsor this, and those post kids would help people over that dam. And that was a real favorite type of thing to do, a fun thing to do. 
  •  And now then—that—that area is all been developed—the floodplain—someday, we'll have a problem there. Then, just to the east of it, there was a big ridge 
  •  and all of this area—well, when the—before the Explorers would go on one of their backpacking trips, they'd go in there and practice backpacking in the lower areas. 
  •  And, then, they'd hike up on the edge of the—of the cliff along this ridge and get some pretty good climbing practice in that way, where they're not rock climbing, but, trail climbing with the backpacks. 
  •  Now, then, that ridge has all been developed in there, it's all—the urban sprawl is along Bryant Irvin Road is just—it—it continues to go out. And that's lead to another problem. 
  •  The sprawl out there has made it crowded both on Bryant Irvin Road and a—a—another s—almost parallel street not far from there, Hughland(?) Street. 
  •  The sprawl is terrific. So, the city planners are—they elected—they had to build a new road—it's referred to as the Southwest Parkway—down through there to relieve the traffic. 
  •  And, you know, as—as time has proven, build it and they shall come. You don't really relieve the—the traffic situation in the long run. 
  •  Of course, we're—all advocate the public transportation or mass transit to relieve those things in lieu of building the new highways. It's like when will they ever stop? I'm probably getting into more things than you want here. 
  •  DT: No, no. This is helpful. I'm curious if you could speak a little bit about mass transit. Dallas, I guess, now has a pretty ... 
  •  EB: The DART. 
  •  DT: ... good light rail system and an extensive DART mass transit system. 
  •  EB: It—it—it's good, it's a real good start. But, they need a lot more as well as Fort [Ft.] Worth area and all of the little cities around in here need so much more—need to make it convenient. So people can use it, will want to use it. 
  •  Because it's—it's going to continue to be a problem, the problem's not going to cease with a few more roads and we just can't lay blacktop all over the roads. 
  •  AB: I don't know if you're aware but they are going to have their train system coming all the way to Ft. Worth. And they opened up part of it—it doesn't come all the way into the city of Ft. Worth. 
  •  But, it does come along the north boundaries of—of the area. 
  •  EB: To Haltom City, which is on the northeast side, but... 
  •  AB: and… 
  •  EB: ...but—but, it eventually—here's tracks there to downtown Fort [Ft.] Worth. And there—they'll eventually get that (?) 
  •  AB: (talking over EB) But, there was an article in today's newspaper about their surprise that the number of passengers that are taking that is about 2,000 a day more than they had anticipated at this point. So, I think it may be successful, and... 
  •  EB: In spite of all the naysayers. 
  •  AB: Yeah. 
  •  DT: Do you recall when DART was started and why it was begun? 
  •  AB: Oh, they—they had been talking about DART for years and years and years over in Dallas, and finally got—it hasn't been in existence very long [inaudible]… 
  •  EB: (talking over AB) Well, I would guess a half a dozen years, give or take or something like that. ( AB: Yeah.) EB: But, there's always been stumbling blocks and things even since they—they've started using it, and.... 
  •  AB: But, it's proved to be... / EB: (talking over AB) But, it—it keeps it going. 
  •  AB: ...more successful than they had thought it would be, too. 
  •  EB: You might learn more about that from some of your Dallas area people I think. 
  •  [hushed tone] DT: I'll visit with them about it. 
  •  EB: You're probably going to talk to Ned Fritz, I'm sure. 
  •  DT: Something else I was curious about when you bring up the topic of sprawl, How do you answer people who say, "Well, we need affordable housing and it's cheaper to build houses in the hinterlands 
  •  and that that's just one of the sprawl risks, and costs are just something you have to bear because of that." 
  •  What do you say to that? 
  •  EB: Well, I really haven't been saying that because I haven't been asked that question. But, however, I would have to respond that there are a lot of places in the—closer to downtown - that need to be rejuvenated. 
  •  And they could use those and build up. And—although, I—it—it doesn't delight me to think of living in an apartment. 
  •  But, multi-story apartments and things like that is one of the answers. And it's—it's coming to that, where—we'll get to that even if we sprawl first and then do that. 
  •  It's got the—the multiple family dwellings can help those situations, especially if it's multiple stories. 
  •  And there's so much that's—that seems to be unlivable that they're—they—they could renovate and rework or—or, if—if not practical, tear it down and rebuild. 
  •  And, then, there's—I don't know that I'd want a home on a—a—an old brown field or something unless I was pretty sure of what had been there and it was cleaned up or not. 
  •  But there's a lot of that type of things around, also. I realize it's a problem. 
  •  It's—it's hard to answer, how do you keep accommodating our population growth, which is a number one big problem, and balance that with—with sprawl. 
  •  Well, one of the things that you could do, also, on the—on the sprawl, is to try to plan it such that you're building not only the houses, but, you're building some of the things that the people would need in those same areas. 
  •  So they wouldn't have to go so far and distant to get to work, or to get their groceries, or to do whatever. 
  •  And, I don't have all the answers, but—but, some type of planning could give some of the answers like that. 
  •  DT: I see, so, having more multiple use planning, rather than having bedroom communities that are many miles from where you plan to work. 
  •  DT: One other thing I wanted to ask you about that's sort of related to sprawl—and I think you've been involved in air quality issues—and are at least in part related to how many cars are used and how many miles are drive. And maybe you could tell me a little bit about the Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness and some of the work they've done on clean air. 
  •  EB: Well, actually, the Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness is—was originally formed because of the concern for household hazardous waste. 
  •  And wanted to try to get the message out to people on that, and—which gets the water—then, it was— 
  •  they expanded from that to be concerned about all the environmental issues, whether it's Tarrant County or—or even things that effects—people that eventually would effect Tarrant County. 
  •  That—that could even mean national issues and whatever. So the—it—at one point in time when the North Central Texas Council of Government had formed an Air Quality Advisory Committee—AQAC— 
  •  after they'd been going about it a year or two, well, TCEA—the—the coalition asked to have someone representing the environmental community on that committee, and 
  •  they were successful and I was anointed to—to go. So, I spent about five years on that until the—the powers that be decided that really that ought to be looked at by the 
  •  upper echelons of city management and, so, their executive committee was going to get more involved in that, so, they disbanded the Air Quality Advisory Committee. 
  •  And, that's—that's okay, it—it—that—that committee was made up mostly of people that were trying to prev—with commercial interests in mind—trying to prevent sanctions from the Federal Government and there was only a f—a few of us that were always looking at the—more so concerned with the—the health of people. 
  •  But, I—I—I shouldn't fault them because they were trying to get the air clean also. 
  •  DT: When you mention that, how do you make the pitch for the connection between pollution and public health? Because that seems to come up often and... 
  •  EB: Oh, okay. 
  •  DT: ...there's got to be something to touch many people's lives. 
  •  EB: Well, we kind of looked at American Lung Association for that information, as most major environmental groups do. 
  •  And they, of course, have information that—that show that the ozone actually harms people. And the thing that they're—that everybody always quotes in newspapers, talks about being the more vulnerable people being the small children 
  •  and the older adults and those that already have a respiratory problem. 
  •  But, that kind of ignores the fact that all people are ex—that ex—exposed to the bad quality air eventually are going to have it effect them over a long haul. 
  •  People that work outdoors—young, strong people that work outdoors are in this and have to breathe this all the time, and there are people that exercise outdoors, 
  •  people are outdoors are effected by that. I'm—I'm not saying come in the house because some of the things that are in their house are maybe just as bad, but, 
  •  we—we would like to have air free of the ozone. But, it's been the ozone thing in this area that they have been— 
  •  or, the powers that be are concerned about, because that's where the sanctions are coming down, but, the small particulate matter is another real problem, 
  •  and that has been kind of ignored. There may be more problems with the—some of the other pollutants than—than the ozone problem, 
  •  even though the ozone problem is bad enough, well, we'll take whatever we can get. We can clean up the ozone, we'll clean up the ozone and work on the other problems. 
  •  The—[of] course, the smaller children as the American Lung points out that their—their lungs are—are smaller and—and they work harder outside, running and playing, and they breathe in more. 
  •  So—and—and they're growing, so, this is one of the reasons that they're more affected in the— 
  •  the older people, usually, it's the—have been exposed so long. And, for whatever reason, as they age, their—their lungs begin to have a problem. 
  •  And, as my doctor told me that I had the beginning of emphysema, and I told him, "Well, that couldn't be because I've never smoked." 
  •  He threw out, "Yes, but you've lived in this polluted area around here for so long, that it can be." But—but, most doctors would just say that that's kind of something they'd start seeing with age anyway. So... 
  •  DT: Have you been involved in some of the power plants and maybe some of the cement kilns that, I guess, contribute to the quality problems? 
  •  EB: Well, by involving—involvement—I have, like, written statements for the different groups I belong to. The s—and, then, spoke for myself. 
  •  I've gone to some of the hearings. And—and we've contributed a little bit financially to those groups that worked on that. 
  •  And I—I have not—I was not a—an overall leader as—as much as some of the other areas where you've—you've probably heard of the Dan Winters group and some of their people that were involved in that. 
  •  And, then, the Dallas Sierra Club took a pretty good leading role in that, also. 
  •  DT: What was your role in and view about TXI and the emissions from the Midlothian plant? 
  •  EB: Well, the... 
  •  DT: [inaudible] / EB: I'm sorry. / [DT inaudible] 
  •  AB: Our view of—of it was very negative. Earl is not a one-cause person. And he's been involved in almost everything a little bit. 
  •  We—we were against the TXI, of course, because they were allowed to do things that other plants, who were doing nothing except burning hazardous waste, had strict regulations, whereas the TXI plant did not have the strict reg—regulations. 
  •  But, Earl receives telephone calls all the time from different people who've got a problem. And they want him to work on it for them. 
  •  And—and nine times out of ten, I get so irritated at him. He drops everything else and goes and takes care of that problem for those people. 
  •  So, he's worked on the TXI. He's worked on just clean air. He's worked on greenbelts. He's worked on highways. 
  •  He's worked on a little bit of everything. And, so, that's the reason I say that he's an all purpose person as far as conservation is concerned. 
  •  DT: What do you think the role is for a Jack of all trades, sort of a general layman? 
  •  EB: Can—can we address that TXI in—a little bit more? 
  •  DT: Yeah, talk some more about that. 
  •  EB: In—in the incinerators that burn the hazardous waste, as Alma said, they have to use a lot more control measures than the cement plants do, who are exempted from that. 
  •  And—but, even the—the regular incinerators, who have to be paid to do that incineration—there's stuff that escapes in the air there. 
  •  But it's not nearly as bad as what escapes from the cement plants. The cement plants use this as a fuel. 
  •  So the hazardous waste can be sent to them to burn at a lot cheaper price. So, that's where it's going. And they keep expanding. And this TXI requesting permits to—to 
  •  expand the use of the hazardous waste, it—this really concerned us. And I had gone to—to Austin to testify against the TNRCC [Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission]. 
  •  I'm—don't remember if it was called TNRCC then—TNRCCC at that time, or whether it was still Texas Air Control Board. 
  •  But, anyway, at that point in time, they reached conclusions that we really shouldn't be burning the toxic waste, at—at cement plans—plants without them using the same controls that the incinerators had to use. 
  •  And, then, that was all put aside and they've ignored those—that original position so—for reasons you probably wouldn't want me to mention here. 
  •  DT: No, I want [the reasons why?] 
  •  EB: No—no, it would be political stew. 
  •  DT: Maybe you can talk a little bit about your experience in being a minority view or less powerful view when many of these questions become political, and how you deal with playing on that playing field. 
  •  AB: You become frustrated. 
  •  EB: You—you—you just tell yourself you need to keep on trying. I—I don't know what else to say. 
  •  Well, you—you—you can also, like the Sierra Club does, work on trying to get the political candidates elected that they feel are more friendly to the environment than the others. 
  •  Sierra Club is allowed to do that. Audubon is not. They can't endorse candidates. They're a 501(c)(3). So, that's some differences there. Is—is this what you're looking for? 
  •  DT: Maybe we can explore a little bit more going on past TXI and talk about some other air quality issues I think you've worked on. Some people are urging use of nuclear power as one way to combat global warming and climate change. 
  •  And I was wondering if you can talk about your experience with Comanche Peak, and if you think that that is an option that should be explored? 
  •  EB: I think there are too many concerns there for that to be an option. First, the—the—the mining situation. They—they haven't taken care of those problems that they've caused in the mining of the Uranium. 
  •  All the transportation that needs to be done, but—and, then, the actual operation itself at the plant. 
  •  Then, the big problem is the stories of nuclear waste. Once it's—once it's happened, what do you do with it? 
  •  We have that problem with our military as well as the nuclear power plants. But, why should we add to it with generating more of the radioactive waste at the nuclear power plant? 
  •  So, I'm very much opposed to it. As you're aware, we never have reached any conclusions as what we can really do to store the things safely. 
  •  And, there's so much of it that it's just not a practical solution. You don't— 
  •  you don't try to go with something that could be even a lot worse, that lasts for so many years to solve another problem when there's other ways of solving it. 
  •  The ways of solving the problem, of course, is alternate energy sources. But, that could be solar energy. It can be wind energy. 
  •  As far as the automobiles, which do most of the polluting in this area—the air, the—we can look forward to maybe fuel sales driven cars in the near future. 
  •  You know, like they're all trying for, the hydrogen and oxygen to make a little bit of water but a lot of energy. 
  •  That—and I—I shouldn't be getting into technical things, I'm not that smart on the technical stuff. 
  •  But, there—there's lots of options out there to nuclear energy, and I'm—I'm very much opposed to nuclear energy. 
  •  In fact, I guess I was probably instrumental in—quite some time ago getting the local Sierra Club to develop a position station—statement opposing the nuclear energy. And we worked on that awhile, 
  •  and—and we—we would speak. Course, we took advantage of the trip that then Texas Electrical it was called, Texas Utilities made free trips to go show us their nuclear power plant. 
  •  And, then, taken—took us on down to the lignite plants—generating plants run by lignite down in East Texas. 
  •  And—but, you see what the enemy is doing, I guess, to—if they're offering it, well, so you'll better understand what, maybe, you can do. 
  •  DT: Could you talk a little about some of the lignite plants you visited? Maybe Big Brown? 
  •  EB: This—this is a long—this was quite some time ago. And, of course, I—I feel like that they should be gas powered rather than powered by lignite coal. 
  •  Because natural gas is a much cleaner type of thing. And coal is pretty polluting type of a—of energy source—fuel. So, I can't talk much more than that on it. I—I—I'm—I'm not sure what you're—you're looking for there. 
  •  DT: Maybe you can tell me a little bit about how you've tried to teach citizens and directly teach legislators about some of these options that you think are more sustainable 
  •  than nuclear power, or fossil fuel building, or sprawl, or whatever the environmental push there might be. And I understand you've been very active in trying to promote lobbying and advocacy, and maybe talk a little bit about your efforts there. 
  •  EB: (talking over David) Well, of course, most of my activities in lobbying is going to the—to the—the organization—local organization meetings and talking to them and providing handouts that they can use with the information of how to contact our legislators, or city officials, or whoever—state officials, whatever. 
  •  But, along the way I have been asked by people to, well, "Why don't you try to teach more of us about this?" And, like, invited by a man that—one of the naturalists out at the nature center to hold a—a workshop out there. 
  •  And, in doing that, I knew that I was not qualified to talk about everything. But, I could kind of pick some people to help on different aspects of it. I chose a—an Audubon member, who was also a government teacher in—in high school to talk to them a little bit about the Texas legislature and the—and the Congress—Federal Congress—and 
  •  teaching things there, what—what goes into passing a law. So, they know a little bit about that. 
  •  I got a man from—that worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to—to talk to them. I got different people with different talents to do different things. And, so, we—we talked about letter writing, how to write letters and what have you. 
  •  And I would choose someone that could talk better than me and—and probably provide them in—probably provide information that showed them what they should be telling the people. 
  •  But, we—you know, I had a—at least a dozen different people that would work on these different things. And eventually we talked about—after teaching them how and whatever, we'd take whatever it is, talking about some particular issue at that time that we wanted them in and try to get them to get busy on—on that particular issue. 
  •  I had probably at least—maybe not the same type of event, but, different things, we— 
  •  possibly earlier than that, we had organized a—a smaller type of workshop at the downtown library and invited people into that. 
  •  And I got different people to talk there and—and try to teach them how—we'd—seems like I may be going backwards here. 
  •  At one time we had organized an air quality group. One time we organized—zeroed in on pesticides, which is such a polluting type of thing. 
  •  And I don't remember where we had that. But, we—I re—I remember we had an awfully big crowd—turnout on that. And I had worked with that on a—mainly on—with a—a young man who was going through what we called TCOM at that time, Texas College for... 
  •  AB: Osteopathy. / EB: ...Osteopathic thing. He was—he was interested in it and he was able to get some of the professors out there to come and talk. And, also, with one of the leaders in the Sierra Club that had the three of us kind of got—got this thing going. 
  •  It was a pretty good success. And the—I have helped organized air quality committees for certain things, like when the Clean Air Act maybe was going through one of its phases. And I use all those contacts at—at one point in time to—to help get people interested in coming together to form this Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Mana—Awareness that you asked about earlier. 
  •  And the—the Scotts were very instrumental in—in that. I—mainly—my contribution, mainly, was getting people there and—and going to—to get them organized. The Scotts did a lot of work—I should mention Bob Scott, too. He came along a lot later—or a little bit later than—than I did. But, he met me in—in Audubon and listened to me. And he started backing me up. 
  •  I was getting pretty worn out and kind of am I going any place? And—but, when he came along, it helped kind of spur me on it. And someone else was—was he—willing to help and—and get busy with it. So, Bob Scott is really worth—has been a great friend. And—and very important to me in this, and he's the current President of the Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness. 
  •  And he takes on the water qualities. And he's very good. He's a lot more technically astute than I am. He was a chemical engineer. And that guy, he worked with an aircraft industry. And he worked as—as an engineer—a—a metallurgical engineer. And what it is, as I worked in administration in—in the engineering department. So... 
  •  DT: Have you found that it's difficult to recruit people to become politically active and lobby their representatives and contact the media and so on? 
  •  EB: Well, we like to think that—what—the first answer is yes. It's very difficult. We like to think that we reach some of the people. And some of the people seem responsive at the meetings. And we like to think that these newsletters that are put out. We get articles in there, and asking them to lobby. And we like to think there's a lot of people that are not able to come to all the meetings that write the letters out there. We don't know that. We—that's the way we encourage ourselves. There's a lot of people out of there. 
  •  AB: One of Earl's major activities is writing for the newsletters of these various organizations and having handouts at meetings. And sometimes when we would go to events that were not even scheduled by the Sierra Club or the Audubon, well, Earl would have handouts. 
  •  And somebody made the comment, "One of these days, we're going to go to the Pearly Gates, and there Earl Burnam's going to be with his handouts before we can get in the gates, to visit with St. Peter." Because he always has handouts on a topic that he needs somebody to work on." 
  •  DT: And what sort of reaction do you think you've had either directly or through the people you've taught about lawmen from state Senators, state Representatives, local council people? 
  •  EB: You mean results? [David laughs] Not a lot of results. Things don't normally go our way, especially in the last several years in the Federal legislation. 
  •  You know, things had been kind of turning around in the Texas legislation and kind of trending toward recognizing environmental causes. And, then, a few years ago there was all of a sudden the big concern for private property rights that someone—it could have been a former Vice President of the United States—helped organize out in the west, and they spread the word of private property rights. And people got to thinking like they did back in the Civil War, you know, "We're fighting for our rights." And, so, private property rights became a big issue and the Texas Legislature began to go back on their environmental thing. It's—it's really gone downhill, and... 
  •  DT: And what was there fear and what were the issues? Was it about endangered species? 
  •  EB: Yeah, that was—at—at that particular time that—that—that caused that change—it was their fear of an—not being able to do something because of an endangered species being on their property or... 
  •  DT: Don't you think it was a realistic fear? 
  •  EB: I'd—I don't—maybe there was reason for some concern. But, I don't think it was as bad as it—as it looked. I think it was a cry wolf type of thing. People—because, ex—excuse me and—and—and not just the endangered species, but, when you start doing things on your property, you effect things downstream as far as water flows are concerned. 
  •  When you have pollution on your property, it doesn't stay on your property. So, you know, where does your private property rights begin and where do they end? It's kind of like, oh, forgive me, the old grade school principal would tell us that, "Your freedom is great, just remember that your freedom ends where the other men freedoms begins." So, kind of similar to that in my opinion, that... 
  •  DT: Well, maybe part of it is that it's difficult to educate some of these people about where, you know, freedoms start and responsibilities begin, and that you have start educating people earlier. And I was wondering if Alma, as a long time school teacher, could talk a little bit about efforts to expose kids to environmental issues and concerns maybe at an earlier age, when they're a little bit more open. 
  •  AB: Well, in—if you have a teacher who's so inclined, that's the key point right there. I know we received some materials in our school that were put out by a group of people who thought they were being very helpful. And I was teaching Texas—the unit on Texas. And they provided this information about farming and ranching in Texas. 
  •  And they had a lot of real good activities in there. But, then, they also talked about the value of pesticides. And, you know, dusting the fields with the crop dusters and things like that. And I just—I just put that material aside. I would not even use it in my classroom. Because I don't think there was that much value in spraying pesticides in the air. 
  •  So, you have to be careful. One of the things that I would kind of sneak up on them about is that I would maybe introduce an issue in—in—with small children, if you're talking about animals and birds and fish and things like that, you can usually get their interest. 
  •  And I would point out a problem that—in some particular area or something. And, if possible, we'd have a little filmstrip or video about it. And we would talk about pros and cons of the particular issue. And we'd list those on the chalk board and talk about it. And, then, one of their assignments would be to write a letter. 
  •  And this is something that fit right in with working on the TAAS [Texas Assessment of Academic Skills] test is they have to be able to write persuasive. And, so, then I would have them write a per—persuasive letter to a legislator, either for or against that particular issue. Well, the kids just ate it up. Because they were writing a real letter to a real person on a real issue. 
  •  And it wasn't a made up issue of how do you persuade the principal to let us have chewing gum in the cafeteria or something like that. And the children would discuss those issues, and they would look at them from both sides. And I would tell them very emphatically that, "You can either write for it or against it." 
  •  And, you know, that nearly every letter that they would write would be wanting to protect those animals or—or whatever it was we were talking about. So, children can make a decision. And you can influence them in a sly way if—if you want to. But, the curriculum is such today that you really have to work to be able to get something like that in, in a day's, you know, in your lesson plans. 
  •  Because we've got to get back to basics. And you hear that, and we've got to pass the TAAS test. And you hear that over and over and over. So—but, children—if we could have really environmental education in our schools, it would be great. 
  •  Earl and I visited New Zealand here about three or four years ago. And one of the things that I noticed about New Zealand is that they have environmental classes. And Friday is their environmental class day. And we would see groups of children on Fridays out in the countryside. And they might be digging, looking for rocks or something like that. 
  •  But environmentalism is included. It is mandated in their curriculum. And it's a Friday lesson. 
  •  DT: What do you think the reason for the resistance here to including environmental education through teaching about all of our outdoor... 
  •  AB: I don't know that there's really a resistance. It's just that it's not mandated. And we're going to teach what we have to teach. And all the emphasis is on the basic skills and passing these TAAS tests. 
  •  And, when that's what's—the pressure's put on the teachers to pass those—pressure's put on the principals first of all. Your school's got to be an exemplary school. And the principals put the pressure on the teachers, your class has got to pass these tests. And the teachers put the pressure on the kids. And—because it reflects on—on the schools. And they don't include environmental testing on the TAAS test. And, so, it gets left out. 
  •  [inaudible question] DW [undocumented speaker identity]: What grade are we talking about with these students? 
  •  AB: I was talk—I taught fourth grade. 
  •  DW: So they were 10 years old. One, did any of the legislators you sent letters to ever write back to the class? And, two, did you ever get a kid's parent call you later and say, "What the heck is this you're having my kid talk about in school?" And you can direct the answers to David Todd. 
  •  AB: The children who wrote these letters were very excited. Because they would nearly always get a response from the legislator. Now, I felt real sorry for the legislators, I mean, we mail in 30 letters to them, you know, four or five a day on this issue, and their staff has to send out replies to all those letters. 
  •  But, the children were just absolutely thrilled. And they would bring their letters to school to show me that they'd had an answer. And they were so proud of those letters. The parents never objected to what I was doing. I've had some parents tell me that they liked what I did. 
  •  But, I think one of the reasons I never had any objections, was because I didn't tell them, "You have to write this way, or you have to write, you know, certain things—request certain things." I left that up to the kids. And if they'd been opposed to it, and wrote a letter in opposition, I would have sent that letter in for them also. 
  •  But, it was—it was a tremendous experience, I think, for the children. And I've had some of them come back to me in later years and mention some of the things that we did like that in class. So, I think it made an impression on them. 
  •  Also, one year I was teaching a fifth grade Social Studies class. And I kept talking about different things that were involved in the environment, and pesticides, and such as that. And we have the adopt a school program. And we were—had been adopted by an industry in the area. 
  •  And, so, the next year, when these fifth graders, of course, were going on into middle school, but, this next year, we went to the—that industry for a tour—the teachers did—prior to school opening to—to look at it. They were our adopt a school, we needed to—I mean, they were sponsoring us; we needed to know a little bit about them. 
  •  And the man who was leading us on the tour says, "You know, you really have a great, inquisitive bunch of students out there at that school," said, "When we had them here, they had the fifth graders here last year, they kept asking us about our use of pesticides and how—how we disposed of things and such as that." And I just kind of crowed, you know, to myself. 
  •  Because I thought, hey, I really did get through to those kids and they questioned those people about what they were doing. So, that wasn't in the curriculum, though, and, unfortunately, it was something that I did on my own. So, how will they ever get it into the curriculum, I don't know. 
  •  DT: Maybe you can compare - Seems like the kids when they're ten and eleven are quite receptive to environmental issues... 
  •  AB: Oh, they are. / DT: ...and to animal concerns and, then, as we get older, seems we become less interested in politics and less concerned about environmental issues. What happens? 
  •  AB: Well, you take a little group of little boys and then you give them a bunch of bugs and things like that to play with, they're delighted. But, you take these 18 and 19 year olds and give them a bunch of bugs to play with; they're not very delighted. Their interests just change entirely. You give them—18 and 19 year olds are more interested in the girls than they are in the bugs, and it's just as—as they grow older, they just lose that interest—most of them do. (misc.) 
  •  DT: Speaking of kids and how they change, you've raised three boys, I believe? 
  •  AB: Yes. 
  •  DT: And each of them seems to have had an environmental interest, but have taken different approaches to that interest, and maybe we can talk about one of the boys on this tape and then we'll pick up with the rest on the other. 
  •  How did you raise them? What sort of interests did they take? 
  •  AB: They raised us. No, really and truly, as Earl had mentioned earlier, Lon is the one—our oldest—is the one who got us started in being more aware of our environment and in the issues and things like that. 
  •  Dan comes along, and he gets us more involved in the out of doors and in camping, and in getting out there and seeing what's going on. 
  •  And, then, when Bob, our youngest, comes along, he gets us involved in birds. Bob loved the birds. And he—he was working on a—a scout merit badge on birds, and he'd sit out in the backyard for hours at a time, studying that one particular bird out there for his merit badge. So, they've all three come at it in a different way. They've all three influenced us to be—to have different awarenesses and interest also. 
  •  EB: When Bob would talk about the birds, we'd get interested.. 
  •  AB: Yeah. / EB: ...and we became more interested. / AB: Uh huh. 
  •  EB: Eventually became involved in... / AB: And I've had people say, "Well, how did you raise this child to be like this?" I don't know. If—it just—who raised who? It was just one of these things that th—they developed that way. 
  •  Now, Bob is building an environmentally friendly house up in Colorado. And he uses recycled materials. He uses cement. He has done everything to that house that's been done. He did the electrical wiring. The house is not within the city limits. But he has county codes he has to abide to. 
  •  EB: Then inspectors. / AB: Inspectors. He did the electrical wiring, it took him so long to get it all in that they had rewritten the code, so he had to do the entire wiring system again. So, he wired the house twice. But, he's—he goes about things in that way, whereas, our oldest son looks at laws and working with agencies. 
  •  DT: This is Lon Burnam? / AB: Lon, yes. / DT: A local state representative. / AB: Right. 
  •  EB: And Bobby, the youngest, at his houses he uses the—the solar energy. 
  •  DT: Is it entirely off the grid? 
  •  EB: Yeah, it's—it's off the grid completely. Both the house he built and what they refer to as White Hog, just north of Denton, which he now rents out. It's—it's completely with solar energy. And the one he's living in in—as he fit—completes the building of it up in Colorado is solar powered and actually he—has the feral cement that they use. And his—he had to use what he was building at Denton as part of his project. He—he—he got his degree in, I think, the last degree they gave over at North Texas State in... 
  •  AB: Industrial Arts. EB: ...Industrial Arts, and that was a—a part of that. Course he—so, he was living up there in it—camping mostly, while he was finishing up his degree. 
  •  DT: And then what sort of solar energy... (misc.) End of reel 2100. 
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Title:Alma & Earl Burnam Interview, Part 1 of 2
Country:United States
City:Fort Worth
CreatorBurnam, Alma (interviewee)
Burnam, Earl (interviewee)
Todd, David (interviewer)
Weisman, David (interviewer)
Source:Conservation History Association of Texas, Texas Legacy Project Records
PublisherDolph Briscoe Center for American History
Rights:Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
Original Format:Mini-DV


The rich media version of this video was created by Alexandra Myers, July 2009. Her work was made possible by the School of Information, University of Texas at Austin and the Institute for Museum & Library Services.