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Alma & Earl Burnam Interview, Part 2 of 2

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Table of Contents 
  •  Lon Burnam's political interests and campaigns 
  •  Lon Burnam's first successful run for the State House 
  •  Lon Burnam's fundraising strategy 
  •  Lon Burnam's willingness to accept money from any donor, but unwillingness to allow a quid pro quo
     
  •  Most of Lon Burnam's support comes from doctors, dentists and nurses, not from the tobacco or oil industry 
  •  Lon Burnam has been involved in the fight against the nuclear waste site proposed for Sierra Blanca 
  •  Alma Burnam thinks that victory in the Sierra Blanca case was due to wide public support, including from Mexico 
  •  Alma Burnam's experience managing finances and policy for the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter 
  •  Alma Burnam explains that non-profit groups rely on volunteers and letter-writing to take on big policy problems 
  •  Earl Burnam writes emails and organizes allies on a full-time basis 
  •  Email has helped make environmental organizing more efficient, but has also helped the opposition 
  •  Earl Burnam would urge the next generation to keep plugging away despite discouragement 
  •  Earl Burnam is concerned about a growing population, and says that it is critical to take care of public health by protecting air and water quality 
  •  Earl Burnam argues that water conservation is important, perhaps through desalination 
  •  Earl Burnam sees that technology can play a key part in alternative energy development 
  •  Earl Burnam says that we need to both use technology and change social attitudes to protect the environment 
  •  Alma Burnam takes encouragement from the strength of a weed in concrete, and of nature in general 
  •  Earl Burnam feels that environmental saboteurs give other environmentalists a bad name, and anti-environmentalists look at conservationists as Luddites 
  •  Alma Burnam was dismayed by an old friend's wanton killing of turtles 
  •  Alma Burnam explained to a student why she would not harm a daddy long legs spider 
  •  Earl Burnam finds that some people ignore nature out of inertia 
  •  Alma Burnam enjoys getting a Big Bend "fix" 
  •  Earl Burnam likes the Pecos wilderness and the Trinity River and the deserts of New Mexicoa and Arizona 
  •  Earl Burnam takes delight in oases in the Big Bend desert's oases, beautiful mountains, rock formations, and long views 
  •  Alma Burnam would like the air pollution in Big Bend to be reduced 
  •  Alma Burnam remembers "hiking" the Rio Grande River 
  •  Earl Burnam compares Sierra and Audubon, state and local efforts, birding and conservation 
  •  Earl Burnam sees water quality problems as tied to wetland loss 
  •  Earl Burnam feels that the Sierra Club worries about all ecosystems, all issues, but sometimes gets distracted by outing planning 
 
Transcript 
  •  00:01:52 - 2101
     
  •  AB: Yeah.
     
  •  DT: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how he decided to run and how you helped him in his numerous campaigns.
     
  •  00:02:02 - 2101
     
  •  AB: Well, Lon has been very interested in politics ever since he was in elementary school. And one of his—the persons who inspired him to a certain extent was Jim Wright. And he had heard that Jim Wright was going to make a speech one night at the elementary school. And so he asked his daddy to take him up to hear Representative—Congressman Jim Wright. So, that more or less got him started. And he—he would make yard signs and put up in our front yard for people that he liked and such as that. And, then, he actively worked in campaigns when he was in junior high and high school. And, at that time, they could go around and put fliers on people’s cars in the parking lots. And, evidently, that’s against the law or something now, because they don’t do that anymore. But, he used to go to the parking lots and put out fliers and such as that. Well, Lon lives in a district that was represented by a person who had been in—down in Austin in the—as both Senator and Representative for many, many years. But, that was the district Lon lived in. That was the district he decided to run in, to represent. So, he ran twice in ’92 and in ’94 against that person, who, as I said, was an incumbent. In the ’96 campaign that man did not run again because of his age, and he supported another candidate. And they were—in fact, I believe there were five candidates in that particular race in—in ninety s...
     
  •  00:03:41 - 2101
     
  •  EB: In the primaries in (?)
     
  •  00:03:42 - 2101
     
  •  AB: ...uh huh. And it was a hard fought race. But, it came out that there was one—one other candidate and Lon had to be in the runoff for the primaries. Because they were—all of them who were running were Democrats. And Lon won that runoff—primary. So, he did not have an opponent in the general election. He did not have an opponent in the next general election, nor this year, he has not had an opponent. So, this will be his third term to be down in Austin as a State Representative. Lon’s primary issues are welfare for his constituents, the environment. And he—he has worked very hard on the environmental issues down there and has lobbied his other representatives and s—you’d think the lobbying would be over once you’re elected. But, he—he lobbies the other representatives, too. And he has worked on many environmental issues. He continues to work on them, even though legislature’s not in session, Lon’s working on those issues. His campaign in ’96—okay, I’m getting my years right—was a—a hard fought campaign. But, it was a fun campaign, too. I mean, I worked in his office—his campaign office—every day. And he had a campaign manager, so, I was not the manager. But, I was down there doing all the little dirty work jobs, you know, that nobody else wants to do. And I carried the checkbook. So, if anybody needed anything
     00:05:27 - 2101
    it was my duty to go get it and pay for it. But, it—it—it was a very exciting time in—in the night of the election—the run off election—when we found out that he had won was an extremely exciting time, one of the most exciting times I’ve ever had. Now, that—we were going to go down for the swearing in. You know, that was to be a big event. And, you know, we never have snow storms or anything like that here. And that was when we had the bad snow storm, and in Austin it was—some of the Representatives didn’t even get there for the swearing in because of the snowing. So, we didn’t get to go to his first swearing in. But we did make it for the second one. As I mentioned, I carried the checkbook. I took care of all of his financial affairs that are related to the campaign aspect. He does have a very competent staff here in his district office, as well as in the—the state office in Austin, I think. But, I do the things that they’re not allowed to do because they’re considered to be campaign, such as go make payments on—if they res—reserve a room for a meeting or something like that.
    DT: Speaking of campaign monies, can you talk a little about how Lon manages to raise money, because I understand his district is not the most wealthy?
    0:06:54 - 2101
     
  •  AB: Lon gets most of his money from his friends, who are environmentalists. He has—he has a strong support system. And those who—most of those who worked in his campaign when he was elected were from out of the district. But, they realized that Lon would be working on environmental issues and pushing them, and they supported him along that line. He has his—what he calls his birthday party fundraiser and, so, every July he has a big fundraiser. And that’s the primary source of his contributions, from that.
    DT: Does he get many contributions from industries or special interests that have ideas that they’d like him to carry for them?
    00:07:47 - 2101
     
  •  AB: Yes, he does. And he’s very open-minded, he’ll accept money from anybody. But, that doesn’t mean he’ll vote like they want him to.
    00:07:55 - 2101
    EB: He may not get it the second time.
    0:07:57 - 2101
    AB: He may not get it the second time. But, yes he does, but...
    00:08:03 - 2101
    EB: Is it PACs that he gets the money from, or industry itself?
    00:08:07 - 2101
    AB: It’s the PACs that he gets the money from.
    DT: How does he remain independent when I’m sure that many of his donors expect a quid pro quo?
    00:08:24 - 2101
     
  •  AB: Well, in the first place, he doesn’t get any huge donations. But, most—as I said, most of the people—he gets a lot of money from the doctors and the dentists, the nurses, that those are issues that he can support. So, now, he doesn’t get any tobacco industry or oil industry contributions. So, most of his contributions are from issues that it’s easy for him to support.
    DT: What have been some of his favorite environmental issues?
    00:09:01 - 2101
     
  •  AB: Well, for one thing, he was very much against the Sierra Blanca nuclear dump down on the—what is it? Southwest?
    00:09:12 - 2101
    EB: Hudspeth County, I believe...
    00:09:13 - 2101
    AB: Hudspeth County. Yeah. He worked very actively against that and...
    00:09:20 - 2101
    EB: One of the few successes...
    00:09:22 - 2101
    AB: Yeah.
    00:09:23 - 2101
    EB: ...another temporary success.
    00:09:24 - 2101
    AB: And, of course, that’s an issue that we started talking about back in the late ‘70’s or early ‘80’s when I was chair of the—the—the state chair of the Sierra Club. We had a person come talk to us at that time about that particular issue.
    DT: Can you explain a little bit about what the controversy was about?
    00:09:48 - 2101
    AB: Well, Texas had gone into a compact with Vermont and one other state—I don’t remember the other state...
    00:09:55 - 2101
    EB: Maine.
    00:09:56 - 2101
    AB: ...Maine. And, under this compact, we were to be willing to take their nuclear waste and dispose of it here in Texas. And the place that they chose to place this dump was in Hudspeth County, which was down very, very close to the Rio Grande River, which was very upsetting to the Mexicans also, as well as the people—the citizens of Texas.
    00:10:24 - 2101
    EB: In violation of the p—La Paz agreement that we had.
    00:10:26 - 2101
    AB: Uh huh. And...
    00:10:28 - 2101
    EB: ...putting the stuff that close to the river.
    00:10:30 - 2101
    AB: ...and, so...
    00:10:31 - 2101
    EB: A Federal agreement.
    00:10:32 - 2101
    AB: ...this would have been waste being transported—nuclear waste being transported all the way from Vermont and Maine down to the southwest part of Texas to be disposed of. And, in addition to having the dump itself there being so repulsive, the idea that it would be transported right through the Dallas, Ft. Worth area was a little upsetting, too. So, we were very much opposed to that issue. And Lon was also.
    DT: And how do you think that one of these rare victories on environmental issues came about?
    00:11:12 - 2101
     
  •  AB: A lot of people fighting against it. It—it was very—that was—had strong work against that issue. Besides that, as—as I pointed out, we had people from Mexico going to Austin to protest it. And I think that had quite a bit of impact. When you’re playing along international lines and—and doing something that is so objectionable to another country, you’d better watch it, so...
    DT: You mentioned a moment ago that the Sierra Blanca issue arose while you were chair of the Sierra Club’s ExComm [Executive Committee] for Lone Star Sierra.
    00:11:56 - 2101
    AB: Right.
    DT: Can you talk a little bit about your experience in trying to manage the club’s finances and its policy directions while you were on the ExComm?
    00:12:08 - 2101
     
  •  AB: I had some real good people working with me as—I was chair for two years. And we had some really good people working with us. It’s not easy. When you’re out begging people for all of your money all the time to keep an organization going, it’s very, very difficult. And if we’d have a special lawsuit or something like that come up, you’d have to ask for money for that in addition to your regular money that you needed to—to keep the office going and activities goings. Now, there’s—first of all, Texas being the huge state that we are, it’s not very convenient for people up in Amarillo or, even in Abilene, to run down to Austin to lobby. And in order for the Sierra Club to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish in the form of getting bills passed and—and monitoring the agencies and such as that, we had to have somebody there locally to do it. And that meant hiring someone there to stay there and maintain that office. And we were very fortunate and are very fortunate to have Ken Kramer. And, then, he had Scott Royder working with him, also. And they—they were very good, and—and we would have to tell people we’ve got to have the money in order to support their office in Austin and the staff there. Because we can’t afford to be missing work and running down to Austin to lobby. So, that was a difficult task to do to take care of. And we just—we were constantly talking about budget, how much are we spending and such as that. And we had a volunteer treasurer at that time, it was hard the first year I was there—I was chair—it was hard to get a hold of her to get her to write checks that needed to pay the bill, and everything was just one big mess. The second year we had another treasurer who was very good about paying the bills. But, he also realized that we were not going to be able to continue as we were financing as it was. And it—so it—one of the last things that I did as chair—or, that was passed while I was chair—was to make it such that Ken Kramer ran the show basically. He was made the Executive Director. And that ga—and we turned the checkbook over to him. So when he had a bill, he could pay for it
    00:14:41 - 2101
    right then. And I think that helped to get things on a better keel. But, at one point, we had a part time person working for us that Ken really did like and really appreciated his work. And he was doing a good job. We didn’t have the money to pay the fellow with. And, so, we had a vote whether to keep him on or let him go. And the board voted on it and it was split. And that was the one and only tie vote I had to break. And I had to vote to let the person go because we just flat didn’t have the money. And I received letters of complaint from members as well as people from other organizations. And they said, "You can’t dissolve the office, we rely too heavily on Ken Kramer." And my response would be, "I know you do. Ken is wonderful. Help us keep him. Send us money." But, of—if—if—you know, whether that ha—they every said anything...
    00:15:44 - 2101
    EB: Of course this wasn’t Ken that was being—it was a—a lawyer that was working at the time.
    00:15:48 - 2101
    AB: Yeah. Working part time.
    00:15:49 - 2101
    EB: (talking over AB) It was in order to be able to keep Ken.
    00:15:51 - 2101
    AB: Yeah, because we had to keep Ken.
    00:15:53 - 2101
    EB: They wanted to keep Dan McNamara also. But, couldn’t.
    00:15:57 - 2101
    AB: But, it’s very trying. And I had people ask me over and over. And the one person who repeatedly asked it was Jerry Acres, who was the conservation chair during that time. He said, "How do you manage to be a chair and work full time at teaching and bring all your teaching stuff home?" Well, it wasn’t easy. But, it—it was rewarding, too. So—and I enjoy it. But, two years was enough.
    DT: How do you think environmental groups, which almost are always strapped for money and short on active members, can deal with such big social problems like those that cause environmental impacts?
    00:16:46 - 2101
     
  •  AB: Well, you have to rely on the volunteers to—to—to help. And it’s this letter writing. If you have issues, it’s those letters that are being written that really pay off, I think. Ken can go down in to the l—legislature and—and lobby to the world’s end. And if he doesn’t have some back up support in—with letters and people saying, "Listen, we do want this issue and we are in favor of it, and we want you to pass it," or, "that’s a no no," those letters are important, too. So, you need the money to have the organization, to keep it going. But, you’ve also got to have the volunteers doing their share.
    DT: Do you think that some new technology like faxes and e-mails have made it easier to solicit people’s interests, since it takes a little less time to contact them?
    00:17:47 - 2101
     
  •  AB: Well, that’s what Earl does full time. He goes in there every morning and he takes about 10 to 15 emails off. And he responds to them. And he dis—disburses them out to other people. And he spends an awful lot of time at the computer. And it’s nearly always on email. So, yes. Definitely. And the, you know, faxes also. But, the email has really helped because you can get to the individual volunteer more quickly and get it out.
    DT: Do changes like that make you optimistic, Earl, about environmental lobbying and advocacy for the future?
    00:18:31 - 2101
     
  •  EB: Yes, I think that the word will—will be getting out to more people eventually. I’m—I’m reserving my optimism, though, for a while. It certainly makes it easier for me to get the word out to more people on a timely basis. Because so often that when we rely on our newsletters or our meetings, time is already gone, we find out about something that’s about to happen in a day or two most of the time, maybe a week or a little more. And it—it doesn’t fit in with waiting for a general meeting or a—a newsletter to come out. So, we’re able to reach a lot more people this way. And that’s—that’s in our favor. But, also, there’s a lot of up—anti-environmental things that can go by the electronic mail also. And that is happening. That probably started happening before the environmentalists got smarts and said, "We need to do this too." So, that — at — at least it’s—well it’s easier to communicate now. And, perhaps, the people will—that gets both messages, might try to pay attention to who’s sending this message and why. And the only thing I can hope is that they s—they say, "Who’s wanting it for economic reasons? And who’s wanting it because of their beliefs in conserving our natural resources for future generations?"
    DT: Speaking of future generations, do you have any sort of message that you’d like to pass on to your children and grandchildren and children and grandchildren of other people as well? What might be important to you that you think should be important to them?
    00:20:27 - 2101
     
  •  EB: Well, what comes to mind is the—is the fact that we are defeated so much we tend to give up. And my advice would be to feel that obligation to keep plugging regardless of—of how bad it seems—the situation—we’ve got to keep working toward saving our natural resources for not only our f—what we would call our grandchildren, but beyond that.  
  •  And with the population coming as it is, we’ve—we’ve got to try to take care of things, conserve things as much as we can and keep from polluting. I—the—the main concern is the—is the health of the people. Sure, I like to say the—the habitat is for the wild things and for—for both the—the plants and the animals—the wildlife—we—that’s very important. But, I guess I always go back to the first important step is taking care of our health, which is air quality and water quality. I—maybe I’m getting too—it’s hard for me to pin down some particular issue. There’s so much that are—that’s important there. We’re making some—gaining some grounds on air quality and on water conservation. That’s—that’s really going to be an important thing.  
  •  You know, we’re—we’re consuming so much water. And—and we got to keep what we have, a finite amount of water, we’ve got to keep from polluting it. It’s going to be more costly to clean it up than it would be to keep it clean in the first place. And, in order to keep it so we will have adequate water, conservation has to be a—play a big part. That can’t be all of it. But, maybe elucidating more than you wanted, you know, where we need to develop technologies for desalinization—getting the salt out of the sea water to make water more abundant. They have that technology. But, it’s not an economical thing right now.  
  •  And the more we get into these things we’ll be able to do it more cheaply, you know, the more the technology is developed and get into it. It’s just like the technology for the energy, that’s such an important—plays an important part in every aspect I think. The energy—we mentioned some of this before, some of the energy things about the alternate energies that we have, the renewable energies are so important. Because that helps prevent pollution of the air and the water, as well as giving us energy to use to keep us warm when we need it, to keep us cool when we need it. I mean, like, you know, in—in Texas you can believe since we’ve gotten used to air conditioning, we almost—it’s almost mandatory that—we’ve lived without it in the past. But, it—it’s hard to go back to—to those days.
    DT: Well, do you think that the more promising solutions for the future are technical fixes in a sense? That to have an air conditioner that runs more efficiently? Or social fixes where we learn to do without having the air conditioning set so low during the summer or set so high during the winter?
    00:24:08 - 2101
     
  •  EB: Can I ride the fence?
    (misc.)00:24:13 - 2101
    EB: I’m sorry? Well, I’d like to ride the fence there. I think both are very important. We’ve done so much with technology so far to go the other way, that—that we’re at the point now where we’re going to have to depend on technology to help overcome these problems. And whether—you can’t say all technology is bad. I’ve been mentioning some things that we need to technology. And we—but, we s—the—the—the social attitudes, that’s what you’re meaning? That’s got to change. We’ve got to be willing to accept things. The—they—they’re both equally important as I see it.
    DT: Sort of a false choice, I guess.
    00:25:01 - 2101
    EB: Sir?
    DT: It’s a false choice in a way between the social fix and technical...
    00:25:04 - 2101
    EB: Well, I don’t think there is a choice between them and I think you’ve got to have both.
    DT: Alma, what do you think about the challenges and the future and...?
    00:25:10 - 2101
    AB: Well...
    DT: ...the challenges and the message?
    00:25:13 - 2101
     
  •  AB: ...it’s a challenge alright. But, you know, I—I get real discouraged sometimes. And then I go outside, and out here in my driveway that’s cement there is a crack. And there’s a little weed growing up in that crack. And I think that weed’s not supposed to be there, but, here it is. I mean, it’s growing. And I think that nature can overcome an awful lot. The—it’s—it’s awfully strong, and if we just step back a little bit and leave nature alone, our problems wouldn’t be quite so big.
    DT: You think it’s pretty resilient.
    00:25:52 - 2101
    AB: Yes, I do. And it’s—it’s amazing, you go out to where they—at the forest, where they’ve had a bad burn, and you see things coming back alive. And I think—I think there’s hope—I hope there’s hope.
    00:26:10 - 2101
    EB: Would this be a good place to talk about the Luddites?
    DT: Sure—sure, what do you think of Luddites?
    00:26:17 - 2101
     
  •  EB: I think it’s a matter of the way you want to look at it. I think that the Luddites are the people that spoil all our natural areas and p—pollute our water and pollute our air. I mean, I—I—I’m only using that term because, yes, the term is used. There are a f—a few environmental type of groups that go out and destroys things. And I don’t—I don’t go for that, and it gives a bad name to all environmentalists. And I think that—that the—especially the—the anti-environmentalist looks on the environmentalist as—as Luddites. But, I also look on them as Luddites. If—maybe not destroying man made stuff, like the—the original Luddites were. But, destroying what God has given us, all of our natural resources.
    DT: Well, speaking of that, I think before we went on...
    00:27:16 - 2101
    EB: Now, you mentioned Luddites is the reason I brought it.
    DT: Right, right, I follow you. You had talked about people sort of wantonly destroy things like the turtles, can you tell about that story from out west and maybe speculate a little bit about why?
    00:27:31 - 2101
     
  •  AB: Well, this—this man is very fond of guns and hunting, and...
    (misc.)
    00:27:50 - 2101
    AB: I went to a—a reunion—a class reunion out in New Mexico. And this man, who has been a friend of mine ever since we were in high school. And I con—still consider him a—a good friend, even though he and I disagree on everything. But, he was telling—I had asked him what he had—how he had spent his free afternoon while we were out there at the reunion. And he said, well, he had gone down to the river and gone hunting. And I asked him what he was hunting. "Well, I was killing turtles." "You were killing turtles? Why were you killing those turtles?" "Just wanted to shoot at something." So, he went down to the river and was just shooting these turtles because he wanted to shoot at something. It wasn’t that there was any need. There was no purpose, or anything else. Now, I think that’s ridiculous.  
  •  Back to my school adventures. Well, I
    00:28:52 - 2101
    had—had a little boy in my class one year, who’s father was a taxidermist, which really made things tough for me. Because I—I had told him, I just, you know, unless you need food, I do—I don’t see any point in killing animals. But, if you’re hungry and you need food, that I could go along with. So, we were in a port—one of these portable buildings outside. And somehow or another a—a daddy long legs spider got into our classroom. And the little girls were all upset because the daddy long legs were in there. And I said, "Oh my," and I went over there, and picked up the spider off the floor, walked over to the door, and put the spider outside. And the little boy, whose father was a taxidermist, said, "You really don’t believe in killing anything, do you?" And I said, "Why? Why do you kill something needlessly?" And that’s the way I felt about this man who went hunting and shooting turtles. Why would anybody go out and shoot a turtle? It’s not hurting a thing. But he just wanted to kill something. So, that’s the kind of person who really upsets me.
    DT: Earl, why do you think that people maybe pay less attention than you would hope to some of the environmental things that you have been lobbying for?
    00:30:17 - 2101
     
  •  EB: Is the term inertia—is that—or—they have other things that they’d rather do or fool with. They’d rather plan their outings. Or they’d rather just study the birds and look at the birds. I don’t know if this answers your wanting, but that’s...
    DT: As a representative, when you make your pitch to them, do they say they’d rather be out hunting turtles?
    00:30:47 - 2101
    EB: No, of course—of course not. They always give some kind of a story of how great they are at doing something other than what I’ve asked them to do. It—it’s kind of like that. It’s not—no, they—they say, "Well, we’re concerned, too, and this is why, but, we think that such and such..." No, I thought you were talking about the—the people that I try to get to write letters (inaudible– talking over David)
    DT: (inaudible – talking over EB) how people deal with competing issues and what their priorities are.
    00:31:23 - 2101
    EB: But, there are very few politicians out there and—and elected officials that—that listen to you and—and try to do it. But they’re—they’re in the minority normally and it doesn’t happen.
    DT: One last question I often try and ask people is many people have wonderful times outdoors. And that’s part of what gives them some passion and compassion for the environment. I was wondering if each of you could tell us about places in the out of doors that are special to you and why? Alma?
    00:32:09 - 2101
     
  •  AB: Big Bend National Park. About every—about every two years I have to have a Big Bend fix. And—and we have to go down to Big Bend. And we’re to the stage in life now that we can’t canoe the river down there, or backpack like we used to. In fact, we—our camping now is c—confined to a motel room. But, we went down there this last spring. And it’s terribly dry, very bad. But, we just went around to the different places down there at Big Bend, where we had been before. And—and it was a walking the memory lane trip. And we talked about, "Remember the time we came here and so and so did such and such?" But, I don’t know. I—I grew up in the desert. I wouldn’t want to live there again. It’s the last place in the world I’d want to live. But, there’s something about going back to Big Bend. It’s special.
    DT: And Earl?
    00:33:15 - 2101
     
  •  EB: Well, I—I can remember lots of places that are—that I’ve enjoyed and—and can remember, like the Pecos wilderness, backpacking and even routinely down here along the Trinity River. Of course, even though I took a paved walk now. I used to walk it when it was just dirt along there. We enjoy walking along there and—and taking walks along there. But, I have to go with Alma on my favorite place is also Big Bend. And I’ve lived in Texas, not west Texas, but, up near the panhandle, which is pretty dry. But, found my wife in the desert out in Artesia, New Mexico. And I’d work the summer out in Arizona in a—in a mine out there, and visited my brother, who had lived out there several times. I—I love the desert country too. And—and Big Bend is also my favorite place. I—I probably kind of hold her back now because I can’t do the things that I used to do at Big Bend. And I think she could probably go ahead and get some of them done. But, not as easily as she used to either. But, there are some things that I—I would just be too slow at anymore at Big Bend.
    DT: Can you explain a little bit about what it is about the desert that appeals to you? Because I would think many people would see there are not many trees, the animals aren’t as evident, the grasses aren’t as green, it’s a pretty harsh environment. Yet, there’s something that appeals to you. Can you explain what it is?
    00:35:05 - 2101
     
  •  EB: Well, I think that the—the people haven’t gotten out to look at that detail, or that small stuff that there is there and appreciate it. And they haven’t probably gone to the areas in the—in the desert country that—where you find an oasis. That gives you a delight, coming from the desert into a—an oasis. Like at Big Bend, as the park rangers there told us, "Well, we don’t talk about this place, because we don’t want everybody visiting there." But, you know, if you’re out there a lot, you—you learn about these places where waterfalls and all kinds of flowery growth and ferns and everything growing. Of course, that’s not at all surrounded by a desert. You—you camp out in the desert and you go to these places, and you find it. Then, of course, being able to go down the river and—and get so far lost from any access to the outside world is—it just—of course, we were talking about desert and not the river, but—and, then, Big Bend and the—the desert type of country. You can appreciate the—the beauty of the mountains, though they be small, and the rock formations and things like that more so than you can looking from a forest, you can’t see very far. But, you can see a long ways on the—on the desert. That doesn’t mean that I don’t love the forest too. But, if you know what I mean, it—it’s the—I’m not sure why that I enjoy the desert so much.
    00:36:54 - 2101
    AB: At one time you could say that it was the clean desert air. That’s no longer true in Big Bend. I mean, Big Bend has their air pollution problems now also. But, it’s still...
    00:37:08 - 2101
    EB: Transported from other areas.
    00:37:09 - 2101
     
  •  AB: Yeah. So, that’s—that’s something I would like to see happen in the future. I would like the air pollution problem to be taken care of enough that such remote places as Big Bend are not affected by dirty air. But, that—it has—you wake up in the morning and there’s just a different aroma. And it’s so refreshing.
    DT: Alma, could you mention any of your memories of some of these canoe trips that you took on the Rio Grande through the canyon?
    00:37:48 - 2101
     
  •  AB: You want me to talk about my very, very first trip? We went through at the canyons and took out at San Ale—and went through Santa Elena Canyon. And it was about 50 explorer scouts and leaders. And most of us were in rafts instead of canoes. And we did a lot of walking. That was the time I hiked the Rio Grande River.
    DT: It was a little low.
    00:38:14 - 2101
    AB: It was a little low. But, most of—most of my canoe trips—all of my canoe trips on the Rio Grande have been with Explorer Scouts. And, so, my—my experiences and memories are mingled not only with the—the outing itself, but, with the companionship of those kids. They were a great bunch of young people and just a lot of fun to be with. But, we did the—the lower canyons. And, of course, that’s—you’re on there for about five days with no contact—outside contact at all. That’s the exciting thing. Well it—it’s up to me. I’ve got to make it through this. You know, it’s a challenge. But, it’s—it’s just a—a neat place. Enjoyed.
    DT: Well, I think we’re probably drawing to the end. But, do you have anything that you might like to add? I’ve probably asked altogether too many questions.
    00:39:20 - 2101
    AB: Write your legislators. I don’t know that I have anything to add.
    00:39:29 - 2101
     
  •  EB: Well, you had—prior to the session you had alluded to some questions about how do we think that the local activities with the groups in conservation compares to what the state level is like. I’d like to respond to that that I feel like that sometimes the local groups leaves it up to the state organizations to do more of it. I—I feel like that they’re—the—the state organizations are really more concentrated for both Audubon and Sierra Club—concentrated more toward conservation than they are doing like the—the local groups do, which is the—the outings for the Sierra Club, the backpacking and canoeing and whatever, and the—and the Audubon people, their—their birding trip—field trips. And in—in comparis—comparing the local organizations with each other, now, the—I feel like that the local Audubon did probably have a lot of more successes in their—what they were trying to do in the early on, and I think there were a lot of people that were r—in Audubon because of, not just the bird, but conservation. And they did a lot of activities that were successful and I—I really admire what those people did. I’m kind of sorry that I came in after all that good excitement, good things were—were happening. And as far as the Sierra Club is concerned, I think their activities weren’t as much local. But, it concerns me quite a bit that the Audubon—current Audubon mix now seems to be more with the popularity of birding that has come along. And they’re—the membership has really grown and those that attend the meetings, it seems to—they’re paying a lot more attention to birding and field trips situations than they are conservation measures.
    00:41:49 - 2101
    And as far as the Sierra Club is concerned, they are dedicating a lot more of their newsletters to the conservation measures and allowing a lot more time at—at the—the meetings. Their attendance of meetings in the Sierra Club is probably down from what it used to be. And I don’t know what the membership—that’s possibly down too. I don’t know. But, what total Audubon membership might be down or it might be up due to popularity of birding. But, as I—as I see the two local groups, the Audubon has, and rightly so, been more concentrated toward preserving habitats for birding and other wildlife. And they do address air quality problems and water quality problems, also.  
  •  Well, of course, one of the water quality problems has to do with wetlands, which is very important habitat. But, it also—the wetlands have been, you know, 50 percent been destroyed since we—white man set foot on the area. It’s so important to habitat. But, it also cleans the water, takes toxics out—toxic chemicals out. And it—it helps control flooding and it helps replace the groundwater. But, seem like the—the—the main thing there is—is—with Audubon—is it’s for the habitat, which it’s very important and we agree we need those things. The Sierra Club really delves in onto a more cross section. Everything is their concern. And I really tend to appreciate that quite a bit, because they get more involved in the air quality, you’ll see much more response—more response to the water quality and—as well as habitat. And forests are a big thing with the Sierra Club. You know, if it’s a forest to anybody, and some of the politicians, they think that’s all we need to worry about.  
  •  You need to worry about all—all things. And I think the Sierra Club worries about all things. Some of the pre-information you would see at—had asked
    00:44:10 - 2101
    about this. And I’m not saying that the—that the local Audubon people are not concerned about the en—environment. They just—I’m afraid that they’re getting more oriented toward just the birding. And it’s hard to g—on the Sierra Club side, it’s hard to get some people away from their outing planning and their outings to pay attention to conservation.
    DT: Well, I guess it’s like an ecosystem, it takes creatures in every single niche and groups and every single role to make some of these things happen. I sure am glad that you’ve worked so hard—both of you in your different capacities. And thanks very much for spending the time today to talk about what you’ve done.
    00:45:06 – 2101
    AB: It’s been our pleasure.
    DT: Well, thank you.
    (misc.)
    End of reel 2101.
    End of interview with Alma and Earl Burnam.

     
 
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Metadata

Title:Alma & Earl Burnam Interview, Part 2 of 2
Identifier:Burnam_Alma_Earl_2101
Related:Burnam_Alma_Earl_2100
Country:United States
State:Texas
City:Fort Worth
Date:2000-10-13
CreatorBurnam, Alma (interviewee)
Burnam, Earl (interviewee)
Todd, David (interviewer
Weisman, David (interviewer)
Spalding, Gary (light and sound technician)
Goldsmith, Lacy (transcriber)
Johnson, Robin (transcriber)
Source:Conservation History Association of Texas, Texas Legacy Project Records
Language:en
PublisherDolph Briscoe Center for American History
Original Format:Mini-DV

Files were edited by David Todd on 1 September 2017.