‘En­vi­ron­men­tal god­mother of Hous­ton’

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Kim McGuire

Terry Her­shey, an in­flu­en­tial con­ser­va­tion­ist who pre­vented Buf­falo Bayou from be­ing chan­nel­ized and stripped of its nat­u­ral beauty, died Thurs­day, her 94th birth­day.

Her­shey is widely cred­ited with jump-start­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment in Hous­ton by fight­ing the re­viled Buf­falo Bayou project in the 1960s.

She later launched sev­eral con­ser­va­tion groups, in­spir­ing le­gions to pick up the torch for the en­vi­ron­ment. A for­mer mem­ber of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Com­mis­sion, she also was a pow­er­ful ad­vo­cate for parks and worked hard to make sure the state’s most spec­tac­u­lar places were pro­tected.

“She was sort of like the en­vi­ron­men­tal god­mother of Hous­ton,” said Jim Black­burn, a lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal at­tor­ney. “She was a con­stant pres­ence

in parks, in Buf­falo Bayou, ev­ery­thing in­volved in en­vi­ron­men­tal qual­ity … she was in­ter­ested in it all.”

Terese “Terry” Tarl­ton moved to Hous­ton from Fort Worth to marry Jake W. Her­shey in 1958. The fun-lov­ing cou­ple spent years in in­ter­na­tional yacht­ing com­pe­ti­tions be­fore putting down per­ma­nent roots in the Memo­rial area.

It was there, in 1966, when Terry and her neigh­bors dis­cov­ered bull­doz­ers clear­ing land near Buf­falo Bayou. Amazed to find out the Army Corps of Engi­neers had planned to straighten the bayou for flood con­trol but hadn’t no­ti­fied the public, Her­shey called her lo­cal county com­mis­sioner, Squatty Lyons, and was promptly re­buffed.

“And it made me mad, and I stayed mad for 30 years,” Her­shey said in a 2002 in­ter­view.

Her­shey and the Buf­falo Bayou Preser­va­tion As­so­ci­a­tion man­aged to per­suade the county com­mis­sion­ers to tem­po­rar­ily de­lay the project. Know­ing she would need more fire­power, Her­shey turned to newly elected U.S. Rep. Ge­orge H.W. Bush.

But she and her grow­ing cir­cle of friends also con­tin­ued to chal­lenge the Corps, the county com­mis­sion­ers and the Har­ris County Flood Con­trol District.

“She was al­ways charm­ing, but very per­sua­sive,” said Mike Tal­bott, the district’s for­mer di­rec­tor. “She al­ways wanted peo­ple to do the right thing and never hes­i­tated to tell them what the right thing is.”

In­flu­ence na­tion­ally

Their work cul­mi­nated with the pas­sage in 1972 of the Na­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal Pol­icy Act, which among other things re­quires fed­eral agen­cies to no­tify the public of plans that could have any neg­a­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact. Not long af­ter that, the Buf­falo Bayou project was dead.

Her­shey liked to give credit to the “two Ge­orges” — Bush and bil­lion­aire Texas oil­man Ge­orge P. Mitchell — for stop­ping the project.

But both men pub­licly de­ferred to Her­shey, who Bush once quipped was a “force of na­ture for na­ture.”

The de­scrip­tion stuck, and Her­shey would go on to launch sev­eral other con­ser­va­tion-fo­cused groups, such as Cit­i­zens Who Care, the Cit­i­zens En­vi­ron­men­tal Coali­tion and Ur­ban Har­vest. Not long af­ter Ann Richards was elected gover­nor, she ap­pointed Her­shey to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Com­mis­sion in 1991. She was only the se­cond woman ap­pointed to the com­mis­sion.

Her­shey might have seemed an ob­vi­ous choice. She founded the Park Peo­ple, a group ded­i­cated to parks and open space in Hous­ton.

But at that time, the com­mis­sion was geared to­ward hunt­ing. Her­shey was not a hunter. She was widely known for feed­ing the wildlife in her back­yard. It was not un­com­mon for her to take a gi­ant Zi­ploc bag out of her purse at fancy galas and stash away a half-eaten roll or some wilted let­tuce.

Dis­taste for hunt­ing

Her pas­sion for wildlife helps ex­plain why at the end of her first com­mis­sion meet­ing, af­ter a long de­bate on hunt­ing reg­u­la­tions and the dis­tri­bu­tion of photos of dead deer, Her­shey fa­mously re­marked, “All this talk makes me want to throw up.”

An­drew San­som, the for­mer di­rec­tor of the com­mis­sion, said Her­shey was branded “anti-hunt­ing” for her com­ments and faced tremen­dous blow­back from the in­ci­dent.

Yet she was tena­cious and went on to make her mark, most no­tably by pro­mot­ing con­ser­va­tion ease­ments to help pre­serve some of the state’s most eco­log­i­cally valu­able parcels of land.

“At the time, most peo­ple who were ap­pointed to the com­mis­sion were there be­cause of their in­ter­est in hunt­ing and fish­ing, which is ob­vi­ously very im­por­tant for the state,” San­som said.

“But Terry was one of the first com­mis­sion­ers to come in there and re­ally cham­pion the state park sys­tem and things like wildlife view­ing.”

De­flected the credit

Her­shey’s in­flu­ence ex­tended far be­yond Texas. She was a leader in many na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions, serv­ing as a trus­tee of The Na­tional Re­cre­ation and Park As­so­ci­a­tion, The Trust for Public Land, The Na­tional Audubon So­ci­ety, The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Flood Plain Man­agers and The Na­tional Re­cre­ation Foun­da­tion.

Sev­eral prom­i­nent awards bear her name, such as Audubon Texas’ Terry Her­shey Women in Con­ser­va­tion Awards.

Her­shey al­ways brushed off per­sonal trib­utes, ex­press­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion but in­sist­ing oth­ers did the hard work.

In 2013, she told the Chron­i­cle: “I made lit­tle dif­fer­ences here and there. That’s all you can do as one hu­man. You can help by join­ing groups that do good things, and you can give your time if you’re lucky.”

Her­shey was pre­ceded in death by her hus­band, in 2001.

Do­na­tions in her name may be made to The Bayou Preser­va­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, Planned Par­ent­hood of Texas and The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foun­da­tion.

“She was al­ways charm­ing, but very per­sua­sive. She al­ways wanted peo­ple to do the right thing and never hes­i­tated to tell them what the right thing is.” Mike Tal­bott, for­mer di­rec­tor, Har­ris County Flood Con­trol District

Hous­ton Chron­i­cle file

Terry Her­shey was named to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Com­mis­sion in 1991 and made her mark.

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