Edward H. Harte, 88, a prominent Texas newspaper executive and ardent conservationist who played an important role in preserving tracts of open space and stretches of seashore in his state, died last Wednesday at a retirement home in Scarborough, Maine. He also lived in Corpus Christi.

He was a son of Houston Harte, a cofounder, with Bernard Hanks, of Harte-Hanks Newspapers, which for many years was a significant player in the Texas newspaper market. The chain, which was started in 1920, eventually owned more than 30 dailies and dozens of weeklies around the country. By 1997, the chain had sold all of its papers to many companies, including the News Corp. and the E.W. Scripps Co.

Mr. Harte was vice chairman of Harte-Hanks and publisher of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times from 1962 until he retired in 1987.

Soon after his family moved to Corpus Christi from San Angelo, Mr. Harte became enthralled by the annual winter return of about two dozen whooping cranes to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which lies on a barrier island near the city. At the refuge he befriended several members of the board of the National Audubon Society. He soon joined the society and served on its board, which he led from 1974 to 1979.

As publisher of the Caller-Times, the paper's editorial board became a strong voice for environmental protection - an unusual stance for a Texas newspaper at the time.

He helped lead a successful campaign in 1962 to declare 67 miles of Padre Island a national seashore. A decade later, he played a similar role in the declaration of Mustang Island, a 3,954-acre barrier island south of Port Aransas, Texas, as a state park.

In 1985, Mr. Harte and his brother, Houston H. Harte, donated their 66,000-acre ranch bordering the Big Bend National Park, about 200 miles east of El Paso, to the Nature Conservancy, leading to its addition to the national park four years later. And in 2000, Mr. Harte donated $46 million to establish the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi.

In 2002, the Audubon Society awarded him its highest honor, the Audubon Medal. - N.Y. Times News Service