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Texas | Columns | Bob Bowman's East Texas

THE LOST FOREST

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
"..... 8,500 acres of magnificent pines ..... were destroyed and the red-cockaded woodpecker, an innocent caught in the struggle between environmentalists and foresters, lost its home....."
Some 20 years ago when Congress created several wilderness areas in East Texas, environmental groups cheered the establishment of the Indian Mounds Wilderness in Sabine County.

But, as things turned out, what Washington created was a humongous bug factory that destroyed an interesting piece of East Texas history.

The roots of Indian Mounds reach back to the 1980s when Congressman Charles Wilson convinced Congress to pass federal legislation creating a federal wilderness sanctuary.

The Indian Mounds for which the area was named were not actual mounds. While they resemble early Caddo Indian burial mounds found near Alto and Nacogdoches, archeological excavations have produced little signs of Indian habitation in the area.

Like its mounds, the 11,000-acre Indian Mounds Wilderness Area wasnšt real either.

Instead of being virgin forests, the lands were cut over by gypsy lumbermen in the early l900s. Old photographs show vast landscapes of stumps with few trees growing on the lands.

When the U.S. Forest Service bought the lands in the l930s, they were replanted by the Civilian Conservation Corps to provide new forests to support the region's lumber economy.

Gordon Steele, a former U.S. Forest Service employee, said Congress ignored the agency's appraisal that the area didnšt fit the legal description of a wilderness. The area was laced with pipelines, a road leading to a subdivision, and other signs of civilization, he said.

When it was created by Congress, Indian Mounds' most striking feature was its tall, thick pine trees, most of them 80 years old. Uncut since the l930s, they had been managed by federal foresters for maximum maturity and size.

They had also become a favored habitat of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

But in 1992 Indian Mounds was stricken by a terrorist attack -- billions of southern pine beetles forming one of the the largest continuous beetle infestation in the U.S.

When the U.S. Forest Service moved to control the beetles and save the wilderness, environmental groups protested. They said man should not interfere with nature in wilderness areas.

As a result, 8,500 acres of magnificent pines -- the very feature which resulted in the establishment of Indian Mounds -- were destroyed and the red-cockaded woodpecker, an innocent caught in the struggle between environmentalists and foresters, lost its home.

Today, ten years later, Indian Mounds -- the wilderness that never was one and the Indian mounds that werenšt authentic either -- is a growing concern for Sabine County residents who live near the wilderness.

They fear the falling pine timber, standing snags, and the availability of ground-level fuel has made the wilderness susceptible to forest fires started by lightning strikes and hunters.

"Wešre sitting on a fire disaster waiting to happen," said County Judge Jack Leath.

Congress, meanwhile, has moved on to dealing with other terrorists, unmindful that a band of nature's best assassins destroyed one of its legislative creations in 1992.


All Things Historical May 5, 2002
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
(Bob Bowman is author of Pioneers, Poke Sallet and Politics with Archie McDonald. It is available through the East Texas Historical Association, Nacogdoches)

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