STOP THE UNNECESSARY DESTRUCTION

Scenic Texas

SCENIC TEXAS CALLS ON TXDOT TO STOP THE UNNECESSARY DESTRUCTION OF 250+ ACRES OF TREES IN EAST TEXAS

State Agency Fails to Provide Evidence to Support “New Traffic Safety Program”

(AUSTIN, TEXAS) August 24, 2020 — Scenic Texas, the state’s only non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of our state’s visual environment, particularly as seen by the traveling public, is urging the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to stop two TxDOT highway projects in Northeast Texas from destroying 250 acres of trees. This project is part of a “safety program” that TxDOT is piloting in East Texas to be applied to the rest of the state.

In a July 13 letter sent to the Texas Transportation Commission, TxDOT and legislators, Scenic Texas outlined its concerns about two TxDOT projects (see below for project details) in the agency’s Atlanta District which encompasses nine counties. Combined, these projects will clear approximately 250 acres of trees along 110 miles of public Rights-of-Way (ROW) by an unprecedented doubling of clear zones from 30 feet to 60 feet. Scenic Texas believes these are the first two projects approved under this program but because the program is state-wide, these types of tree-clearing projects could happen anywhere in Texas.

Scenic Texas Executive Director Sarah Tober says that, “Scenic Texas agrees our state’s highway infrastructure should meet rigorous safety standards and provide ample clearance in case of an accident or need to pull over. However, engineers from TxDOT have seemingly based their decision to double this already generous clear zone on intuition rather than evidence. No state or national studies, data, or calculations have been publicly provided to support this decision. While TxDOT provided information to Scenic Texas on the number of off-road crashes in the area, no detail was given to demonstrate whether the injuries or fatalities involving drivers who ultimately hit trees had contributing factors before leaving the highway. For example, distracted driving, drunk driving, texting, or other driver error could have been the actual cause of most if not all of the accidents and thus the real reason the driver left the road and hit a tree.”

Tober continued, “In fact, a number of studies exist that conclude trees along highways help to slow down drivers. Trees also provide valuable environmental benefits including the protection of pavement and a scenic drive that, in some instances, took decades or centuries to make. Additionally, the decision to double the clear zone in the public ROW will have fiscal implications for TxDOT since broader ROWs require more maintenance.”

Scenic Texas maintains that the current 30-foot clearance zone has proven to be ample enough space for public protection, and that clear-cutting publicly-owned trees beyond 30 feet has not been proven to increase highway safety. Moreover, it reflects a lack of good stewardship of taxpayer dollars and harms the state’s scenic beauty. If allowed to proceed, these projects will set a negative precedent for TxDOT to arbitrarily double the clearance zone in the public ROW and destroy hundreds, if not thousands, of acres of publicly-owned trees, many of which are native.

In his August 11 letter to Scenic Texas, TxDOT Executive Director James Bass said that TxDOT, “will be planting wildflowers along the stretch of roadways where the trees have been removed.” Scenic Texas believes that most Texans cherish their trees and would consider this a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars and contrary to the 20-year-old Green Ribbon Program. This taxpayer-funded initiative is intended for abatement of non-attainment standards under the Clean Air Act through the planting of highway trees and shrubs. While Scenic Texas is in support of most beautification efforts by TxDOT, the nonprofit organization of 35 years is adamantly against the clearing of trees only to plant wildflowers in these trees stead. In addition to severely altering the beauty of our highways, taxpayers will first be paying for the clearcutting of trees and then will be paying for the planting of wildflowers and other maintenance of the expanded ROW.

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September 26th marks a decade since Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge opened

This Thursday, from 3:00-6:00, volunteers will be on hand at the Visitor’s Center at the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Zeugner Dr, Karnack, TX 75661, to share history of the refuge, and help direct them to interesting hikes, providing just cold water and interpretation/welcoming.

Background: September 26th marks a decade that the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Karnack, Texas, has been open to the public.  Many elected officials at the local, state and federal level, as well as employees of their agencies, alongside local nonprofits and local people, all had a hand in the journey to opening this resource to the public.  In 1997 the decommissioning of the Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant allowed the Caddo Lake Institute to lease significant lands at the plant to prove the ecological value of the site.  That resulted in an agreement for the transfer of ownership from the U.S. Army to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, creating the overlay Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge on October 19, 2000. The plant has been gradually conveyed to USFWS as as clean-up of the contamination of the areas of the lands were used by the Army of manufacturing explosives, and other munitions are completed. 

The Refuge Officially opened to the public on September 26th, 2009.  Open dawn to dusk, the public has access to:  a 6 mile auto tour route, and many more miles of road suitable for cycling; 6 hiking trails providing over 10 miles of trail; 9 miles of horseback trails; multiple bird blinds; the Visitor Center; Starr Ranch Pavillion; and a boat ramp for canoes and kayaks.  The Refuge also hosts white-tailed deer hunts and feral hog hunts. Included are opportunities for youths and hunters with disabilities. 

The Refuge purpose is the management, conservation, and protection of migratory birds and other fish and wildlife.  This bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem provides essential habitat for a diversity of migratory and resident wildlife species in Texas.   Caddo Lake NWR contains some of the best examples of mature flooded bald cypress forest in the United States and includes cypress trees nearly 400 years old.  The Caddo Lake wetlands also support one of the most diverse plant communities in Texas.    The wetlands of Caddo Lake are very important to migratory bird species within the Central Flyway.  The area supports one of the highest breeding populations of wood ducks, prothonotary warblers, and other birds in the United States.  With recent reports showing a steep decline in our nation’s birds, this key habitat is even more crucial.  Fish and Wildlife Service Water right, resulting from the Refuge designation, now helps protect flows into the Lake and thus habitat for many fish, bird, and vegetation species, including the state threatened paddlefish.

For more about visiting the refuge: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/caddo_lake/.  For more about how to volunteer to help at the refuge:  http://caddofriends.com/ or the Texas Master Naturalists at https://txmn.org/cypress/.  For more about the cleanup at LHAAP: http://www.longhornaap.com/. For more about the Caddo Lake Institute: www.caddolakeinstitute.org

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Viansa Winery Thirty Years Ago

By Deloris Munden

By Deloris Munden

About 30 years ago my technical writing company was a 7-day a week job. It was supposed to be my “retirement” job following my retirement from Uncle Sam. The one where you work a couple of days a week. In this case success was not a good thing.


In the meantime I saw an ad for a new winery nearby that featured 90 acres of wetlands, a deli and wine by the bottle. The name of the winery was Viansa and it was just too close to pass up.


My first trip there was everything the ad promised and more. The wetlands were filled with birds and migrations were fantastic. Wine, cheese and bread was good and I found myself turning away work so that I could visit the winery.


Eventually I was able to get Ron away from his office long enough to see the winery and he liked what he saw.


Bad move! Ron thought I should get a job there. No way. Most of you have been spared the experience of the Munden sales pitch. Ron can become the most nagging, in-your-face person you ever want to meet. I received multiple calls from him daily asking if I had scheduled an interview. He shoved and I would give in a bit. He would shove more and one day I found myself behind a wine tasting bar saying “Hello and welcome to Viansa.”


I must have been crazy.


That was my introduction into the Sonoma Valley wine experience. At the end of the day it was not uncommon for Sam Sebastiani to come in to the winery and share with us what he had been doing in the vineyard that day, the progress of the vines and fruit and to ask us what was selling and what was the feedback.


I couldn’t believe it. Sam’s father, Samueli, was the first generation Sebastiani in Sonoma and he was the driving force that helped Sonoma become what it is today.
What an incredible experience. It was a slow start. We would park our cars by the highway so people would think that we had a lot of visitors.


We started serving triple chocolate cookies with Cabernet Sauvignon which sent our sales soaring. 


And all the while Sam is planting and planting. Olive trees so we could make olive oil, focusing on Italian varietals and having staff meetings to keep us informed.


Ron visited Viansa last week and he said it is so lush and green with lots of visitors enjoying a glass of wine and the beautiful view of Sonoma Valley.


Thank you Ron for being a pest and pushing me into one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever had.