Profiles Dallas’ Environmental Gadfly

Ned Fritz is a Dallas attorney whose most important clients are forests, rivers, and wilderness. “Environmentalist” is too bland a word for him; “crusader,” “proselytizer,” and “gadfly” come closer to the truth.

Since giving up a lucrative civil practice to concentrate on environmental law, he has helped found Save Open Space and The Organization For a Sound Trinity, been chairman of the Texas Committee on Natural Resources, rescued Meridian State Park from the clutches of developers, won a preliminary injunction against clear-cutting in Texas National Forests, and advised, cajoled, and hectored about every conservation group west of the Mississippi. To supporters, he’s the John Muir of Texas, to critics he’s an abrasive Nader’s Raider type in Bean boots and a Kelty pack. Among timber and utility companies, he’s as welcome as a nest of fire ants.

Before discussing any of his activities, however, Ned insisted on showing me his garden, a low tangle of grasses and wild flowers that the city tried to force him to mow.

“Many of the plants are native to this area,” he explained, “while a few are endangered species that I’ve brought from all over the state.” He gently fingered a stalk of Texas Bluegrass that he had salvaged from an industrial development near Waco. Through a fringe of Golden-rod and Indian grass, I could just make out a row of tidy, manicured lawns along Cochran Chapel Road.

There were more surprises inside: a large picture window looking out on a lush wood, several sideboards and coffee tables, where one might ordinarily expect to find Waterford decanters and Dresden figurines, covered with tottering stacks of magazines and newsletters, the tools of the trade.

“There’s never time to read them all,” he muttered somewhat distractedly. “I’m weeks behind.”

But there was nothing distracted about his analysis of local and regional environmental problems. He ticked them off with the precision of a man who’s spent half his life before .committees.

“The Big Thicket was a victory for the people,” he said, “but in the whole campaign it’s more like a holding action. For every battle we win we lose another ten because we simply don’t have the resources and the personnel to fight industry and government on every front.”

The Big Thicket is also at the center of the heated clear-cutting controversy that has been smoldering for years and probably won’t die out until the government decides how strictly it will enforce the provisions of the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960. Conservationists favor a program of selective harvesting in National Forests whereas the timber industry, backed by the Forest Service, wants to cut everything and then replant almost exclusively in pines.

“The timber industry thinks of trees as wheat to be planted and harvested as quickly as possible,” Ned contended. “No matter that this depletes soil and water resources, drives out wildlife, and ruins entire areas for recreation.”

To illustrate what he termed the “splendors of a pine monoculture,” he handed me a viewer and a box of slides. The first was a shot of what appeared to be telephone poles topped with arrows. None of the others seemed any more inviting. “Those are our forests and our trees.”

The words “we” and “our” occur often in Ned’s conversation, not because he is an especially self-effacing man but because his approach to environmental problems is decidedly ecumenical. The days of the Lone Ranger types are over, he believes. The land can be saved now only through the cooperative efforts of the public and all the different conservation groups. Consequently, when he’s not writing or lecturing or in court, he’s out recruiting members for the dozens of local task forces.

“When the public knows the facts, not just the environmental facts but the economic facts, they generally vote sensibly. That’s why they defeated the Trinity River bond issue in 1973 and will defeat it again. They know what the priorities ought to be, and boondoggles aren’t on the list.”

Ned’s own priorities include comprehensive planning for Dallas, development of a non-structural flood control plan for rivers and streams, a mass transit program, and some type of energy conservation policy that would include time-of-day pricing and a more balanced rate structure.

While insisting that the city is moving too slowly in some of these areas, he concedes that it has become much more sensitive to environmental issues in the last five years. He gives much of the credit to sympathetic councilors like Adlene Harrison, Richard Smith, and Juanita Craft, as well as to the generally enlightened editorial policies of the Times Herald. In contrast, the News got an F on all of its positions except sup-port of the Meridian State Park project.

Our conversation was interrupted by the second Ford-Carter debate. Although Ned applauded whenever Carter scored a point, for most of the time he skimmed newsletters, made notes on a legal pad, and reminisced about running the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers.

At the end of the evening I felt not only that I had earned six credits in environmental science but that my name was probably down for half a dozen task forces.

I was about to inquire about this when the telephone rang.

Ned answered, asked a few questions, smiled, and hung up.

“A neighbor just spotted five foxes coming down Bachman Creek,” he announced proudly.

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