Andrew Sansom (1945- ) received the Pugsley Medal in 1993. Throughout his career Sansom proselytized tirelessly on behalf of conservation. As a child, he lived in Lake Jackson, in Brazoria County, Texas, where the economy was dominated by the petrochemical plants and especially by the Dow Chemical complex. He grew up on a creek and was in it every day, fishing, swimming, or exploring the woods on the other side. In the summers he worked as a lifeguard in the city pool, a job that expanded until he was in charge of the city's entire summer recreation program. He grew up understanding what recreation means to children. His mother was a teacher. His father, a veteran Navy officer, worked for Dow as a research chemist and patent attorney. Sansom recalled, "He was the kind of guy who every single Sunday would take us and find something interesting -- an archaeological site or a historical area. He was constantly taking us to places of cultural or natural interest."
After high school, Sansom enrolled in Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He recalled, "I was sitting there in class thinking, 'What am I going to do with all this Shakespeare and Western Civ?' when I learned that Texas Tech University had a program on wildlife and outdoor recreation management. "It was just what the fisherman, hunter, Eagle Scout, and former lifeguard was looking for. With two years to graduation, he transferred to Texas Tech.
The program at Texas Tech opened his eyes to a world much larger than he dreamed of in Lake Jackson. Later he remarked, "Up until then I thought of all this in terms of kids having fun. That's the way I imagined this issue to be framed. But when I got to Tech, I became conscious of a clear need to conserve important places, natural and historical."
After graduating from Texas Tech cum laude in 1969 with a degree in parks and recreation administration, he joined the staff of the National Recreation and Park Association in Washington D.C. as executive secretary of the association's student branch. In the fall of 1970, he attended the White House Conference on Youth in Estes Park, Colorado, a meeting that led to his being named a special assistant to Interior Secretary Rogers Morton.
He remained in that position until 1974 when he was appointed director of conservation education at the Federal Energy Administration. Among his responsibilities was operating the department's "Don't be Fuelish" campaign. With the change in presidential administrations in 1976, he returned to Texas to become deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Houston. Here he was involved in constructing buildings that demonstrated passive solar technology and energy efficiency.
In 1979, he moved to the private sector as vice-president for development for Old River Company, a consortium that planned to construct and operate a $13-million superport, a huge offshore bulk liquids terminal at Freeport. He was responsible for environmental affairs, public affairs, and marketing. He later commented, "It was the one time in my life when I thought I might become wealthy." Instead, the superport project collapsed under the weight of shifting energy patterns and changing economics.
By then, Sansom was ready to return to the public sector. When a chance came to be executive director of the non-profit Texas Nature Conservancy, he took it. He recalled, "When I took over the Nature Conservancy, I found that they were $3.5 million in debt. It scared the daylights out of me." Nevertheless, during his tenure in that position from 1982-1987, the Nature Conservancy was responsible for protecting 300,000 acres of ecologically important lands in Texas.
Sansom joined the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) in 1987 as the agency's coordinator of land acquisition and management. In that role, he spearheaded the acquisition of Big Bend Ranch State Park, which at almost 300,000 acres comprised about half the acreage of the total state park system.
In 1990, Sansom was appointed the TPWD's executive director and remained in that position for the next 11 years. His predecessor atTPWD had left under a cloud of allegations. There had been a political scandal that saw the private lands of legislators and friends of legislators stocked with state-owned fish and game. The department was rocked by both internal and external upheaval. Sansom reorganized the department, modernized it and restored morale. He computerized the licensing operation. He shifted the emphasis to long overlooked conservation issues, and began the difficult process of weaning TPWD from its dependence upon appropriations from the general revenues and making it financially self-sufficient. In the words of one observer, he dragged "an old-fashioned state agency kicking and screaming into the end of the 20th century."
Much of his success was attributable to his open accessible management style and his contagious enthusiasm for what he did. Sansom greeted VIPs and common folks with the same hearty handshake, huge grin and "Hi, I'm Andy." Whenever he visited a TPWD facility, he made it a point to meet all the employees, to go around to the office cubicles and shake hands, listen to problems, and solicit suggestions.
Among the highlight achievements of the 3,000 employee agency under Sansom's direction were:
- Reducing the agency's dependence on general tax revenues. TPWD funding was shifted primarily to those who used the state's outdoor resources, with money coming from hunting and fishing licenses, park entrance fees, and a portion of the state's sales tax & derived from sporting goods.
- Reducing the backlog of deferred maintenance in the Texas State Parks System by 80% through directing the most comprehensive repair program in the department's history.
- Opening two state-of-the-art hatcheries. The $13-million Sea Center Texas, a marine hatchery, aquarium and education center, opened in 1996 in Lake Jackson. The complementary $18-million Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens was a hatchery, research laboratory, aquarium, and education center which also opened in 1996, with the primary goal of increasing sportfish fingerling production capabilities. The two state-of-the-art fish hatcheries combined for the first time, fisheries production and research facilities, with museum exhibits, aquariums, kids' fishing ponds, and touch tanks.
- Creating the Parks and Wildlife Foundation of Texas, which provided funds for department programs through private donations, and garnered private sector support for projects such as theTexas Freshwater Fisheries Center and the Sea Center. The foundation's goals included establishing an endowment for every state park, wildlife management area, and fish hatchery in theTPWD.
- Creating the Texas Wildlife Expo, a free festival for hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts which highlighted the role they play in conservation. The expo typically attracted over 40,000 people during the fall weekend when it was staged and became a national model for other states.
- Creating new urban fish and wildlife programs designed to promote awareness of conservation issues in large urban areas where most Texans live. These included KIDFISH, Becoming an Outdoors Woman, Outdoor Kids, and the Buffalo Soldiers Program. Sansom commented, "The highlight of my tenure came when I began to see biologists, game wardens, and park rangers excited about teaching kids to enjoy the outdoors."
- Creating the World Birding Center in the Rio Grande Valley area of the state and the Texas Birding Classic festival.
- Creating the Conservation Work Corps, a partnership that put inmates to work deaning up and revitalizing Texas Parks and Wildlife Management Areas. Prisoners, parolees, and probationers provided over $2 million worth of labor annually.
- Improving customer service by installing several new high-tech systems including the Central Reservation Center (a computer-based system that allowed visitors to book reservations at most state parks with one phone call) and theTexas Outdoor Connection (an automated system for the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and other products). Texas Outdoor Connection is the largest automated licensing system in the world.
- Expanding the department's technical assistance service which it offered to private property owners from 1.5 million acres of land to 7 million acres. Even small-property owners could get sophisticated technical advice for managing habitat for the maximum benefit of all wildlife. This exemplified the cooperative spirit he created between the department and stewards of private lands.
- Fostered legislation that established a liability cap for landowners who opened their property to public use, and that set up a tax incentive for landowners to remove livestock and change the focus of habitat management to wildlife.
He served in a voluntary capacity in an array of non-profit organizations including: commissioner of Brazoria County Parks Board; trustee of the Texas Historical Foundation, Board of Bat Conservation International; and Board of KLRU PublicTelevision in Austin; and he was founder of the Cradle of Texas Conservancy. Sansom wrote eloquently about the wildlife and wild places of Texas. He collaborated on two books with master photographer Wyman Meinzer, works that detailed his conservation philosophy and priorities. Texas Lost in 1995, was both a wake-up call listing some of the last great natural places under siege in Texas and a positive showcase of success stories showing how they might yet be saved. Texas Past in 1997 similarly covered state historic sites. His published work also appeared in Texas Monthly, The Texas Observer, Houston Cfty Magazine, Politics Today, Texas Highways and Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Upon his retirement from TPWD in 2001, the state's press, outdoor sports writers, constituents and stakeholders were unanimously laudatory in their appraisal of his tenure as director. Accolades came from across the spectrum -- from hunters and fishermen to environmentalists; from the Texas Wildlife Association, the state's most powerful landowners group, to the Sierra Club. An editorial in the San Antonio Express News characterized his resignation as "a major loss for the state. Sansom has done an outstanding job for more than a decade; during the administrations of both Democratic and Republican governors. Sansom has been an excellent steward of the state's land and an excellent public servant."
Sansom had long recognized that the most critical conservation issues in Texas revolved around access to and use of water. The major Texas rivers could no longer support both the exponential growth in demand for water created by the state's growing urban population; the pressures for water from agricultural interests; and the needs of wildlife and habitat. During his career, Sansom had acquired a deep understanding of the issues involved and so when he retired from TPWD, he established and headed a River Systems Institute at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, whose mission was to address Texas' water problems.
Marvel, Bill. (1997, October 5). Andy Sansom: A passion for the outdoors makes him a natural. The Dallas Morning News.