Controversy Swirls Around Texas Animal Stockings
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ The state stocked elk on land owned by the speaker of the Texas House. It filled a pond leased by the state comptroller with 1,200 fish. And it put 40 elk on a University of Texas regent’s ranch.
In a Texas-size fish (and game) story that’s been growing, a special review has been ordered to see if the state improperly stocked animals on lands belonging to the politically powerful.
″The public is convinced that the average citizen doesn’t get a fair shake, and that the average citizen gets treated one way and powerful people get treated another way,″ said state Sen. Chet Edwards.
The state Parks and Wildlife Department stocks animals on private lands in efforts to increase populations of certain species.
State wildlife officials strongly defend the agency.
Charles Nash, chairman of the commission that oversees the department, said there is neither favoritism nor major problems in animal stocking programs. Nash, however, ordered the review.
″Any time the public’s got a problem with the perception of the way we’re doing (things) ... then I think we’ve got some things we need to take care of there,″ Nash said.
One recent revelation involved Nash. Taxpayer money reportedly was used to stock quail on his ranch.
Nash declined comment on the report, but Don Wilson, director of inland game programs said, ″I think I would have done that (quail stocking) for any land owner.″
Problems mounted last week with the firing of wildlife director Charles Allen. Allen earlier was charged by authorities in Alamagordo, N.M., after serving as the net gunner on a helicopter mission that allegedly strayed into New Mexico while trapping pronghorn antelope.
The helicopter pilot was awaiting trial in the 1988 airborne escape of three inmates from the New Mexico penitentiary, authorities said.
Allen said he is innocent of illegally trapping the antelope.
Parks and Wildlife executive director Charles Travis fired Allen, but said after reviewing the investigation that he thinks Allen did not knowingly violate any criminal statute.
Controversy surrounding the department surfaced in March, with the revelation that six elks were stocked at state expense on a ranch belonging to Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis despite objections by agency employees that the ranch lacked proper habitat.
Lewis, a Democrat from Fort Worth, also had deer and fish stocked on his property. He strongly denied receiving preferential treatment.
″Everything that has happened has been proper, aboveboard,″ Lewis said. ″I am very disturbed to see efforts made to destroy a great department ... by some innuendos and stories that are completely fictional in most cases and certainly blown out of proportion.″
The speaker, a big game hunter, told a reporter to ″shut up″ when he asked which reports were fiction. He apologized later.
″Every contact with those (Parks and Wildlife) people has been at arm’s length, been in the same type of transaction as any general citizen,″ he said. ″I am at this time a caretaker. Those animals belong to the state. They don’t belong to me.″
Other questions about possible favoritism have included:
-Allen taking an all-expenses paid trip to Greece with the operators of the Lado Ranch in west Texas, four months before 40 antelope were stocked on the ranch.
-Allen guiding two Parks and Wildlife members on turkey hunts at a private exotic game ranch near Austin, then later ordering that ranch stocked with 41 turkeys because it ″didn’t have but just a very few birds.″
-University of Texas regent Louis Beecherl getting antelope on his ranch, over objections that the habitat was poor. Six weeks later 39 of the 40 antelope had died of starvation.
″The animals were in very poor condition,″ Beecherl said. ″They (parks and wildlife department employees) managed it terribly. They just didn’t do it the right way.″
-State Comptroller Bob Bullock receiving 200 bass, plus 1,000 coppernose bluegill sunfish, which are food for the bass, for a lake on a Webb County property that he was leasing from the Texas General Land Office.
Bullock had difficulty recalling the circumstances surrounding the stocking, but did say, ″I believe I signed a game management agreement plan down there. If they ever came to get any of them, I don’t know.″