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Christmas Mountains Sale Delayed Until After Christmas

AUSTIN, Texas, November 6, 2007 (ENS) - Today's decision by a Texas government land agency to postpone the sale of the wilderness Christmas Mountains for 90 days is exactly what environmental groups and many Texas citizens wanted.

More than 6,300 Texans have signed petitions asking for such a delay to give the National Park Service time to find a final solution that will keep the 9,200 acre Christmas Mountains in West Texas in public hands.

Located northwest of Big Bend National Park, the Christmas Mountains were donated to the state of Texas in 1991 "for use as and inclusion in a nature park, wildlife refuge, recreational area or similarly designated use area."

But Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and the two other members of the School Land Board, Todd Barth and David Herrmann, met today to consider the possible sale of the mountains to one of two private bidders.

The School Land Board was established in 1939 to hold some state lands in trust for Texas schools.

The state accepted the land in 1991 as a gift from the Richard King Mellon Foundation but is now unable to cover the costs of protecting the land and its endangered species from poachers.

The Richard K. Mellon Foundation has warned that if the sale goes through against their wishes, the state of Texas should "not look to the R.K. Mellon Foundation for any future help."

On Monday, Commissioner Patterson announced that he would push the two other members of the School Land Board to accept one of the two private bids for the Christmas Mountains. The money from the sale will go in to the Permanent School Fund to benefit public education.

But the other two members of the board voted to allow time for a solution to the impasse to emerge.

Commissioner Patterson has rejected appeals by the National Park Service, several lawmakers and thousands of individuals to delay the sale so Big Bend National Park could have time to further evaluate the possible acquisition of the mountains as part of the park.

Patterson has said he wants to sell the Christmas Mountains to private owners because he wants the property to be available to hunters. Patterson claims this is a second amendment issue. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits infringement of "the right of the people to keep and bear arms."

"We're calling on the state of Texas to keep our promise and keep the Christmas Mountains in public hands," said Luke Metzger, director of the nonprofit Environment Texas.

"The Christmas Mountains would make a fantastic addition to the crown jewel of Texas' park system, Big Bend National Park, but we need our elected officials to put the broader public interest ahead of narrow idealogical agendas," Metzger said.

Other conservation groups agree and they hope the government of Texas is listening.

"The National Parks Conservation Association's 14,000 members here in Texas, and our 330,000 members nationwide, are calling on Governor Perry to step in and delay the controversial sale of the land that includes the Christmas Mountains northwest of Big Bend National Park," said Suzanne Dixon. "We need to give the National Park Service time to pursue options such as a congressionally authorized boundary adjustment."

"The Sierra Club joins today with others to call upon Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and the School Land Board to delay the proposed sale of the Christmas Mountains and give the National Park Service enough time to acquire the property," said Cyrus Reed of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. "There's no need for Commissioner Patterson to be the Grinch who gave away Christmas."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.

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