Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Monday, September 26, 2016

An Animal Corridor? Really?

Do these pictures . . . 

look like this:

Unless there is some magic left for TxDOT to do, it isn't even remotely the same as the plans shown for an animal corridor.

Lois Balin, our Urban Wildlife Biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department had this to say after visiting the site:

"I inspected the wildlife crossing with Rick Bonart on Friday afternoon.  I am sincerely hoping that they are not finished with it yet.  Currently, there are many shortfalls.  It looks more like a new entrance to FMSP than a wildlife crossing.  There are wide graded roads along 375 on the south side as well as continuing on through the underpass into the park on the north side.  It currently does not look very wildlife friendly.  There is a very steep enormous drop off on the south side of the crossing that does not encourage the use of wildlife.  I see no significant difference in grades for the humans and wildlife.  I thought there would be a narrow surfaced section for the hikers and bikers and a wide natural and soft earthen section for the wildlife.  I had suggested using a barrier between the two sections.  I see no difference whatsoever at this point. The surface is hard and compacted.  Of course, they are not finished.  I can only hope they  will reduce the steep grade on the south and use natural surfaces and native vegetation to make it more attractive to wildlife.  Also, I didn’t see a funneling fence into the corridor as yet."

As to Ms. Balin's observation that "[i]t looks more like a new entrance to FMSP" - it does. I too have inspected it and the "road" not corridor ends where eastbound Transmountain is. Another entrance for vehicles to the park? Is it in anticipation of the new FMSP Visitor's Center? That Center was to have been built on the eastside of the mountain near the current Archaeological Museum. Concerns about water and electrical utilities have dictated a change to the opposite side near the entrance of the Tom Mays Unit.

Something is very wrong here.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Pay Attention: What's Happening in North Dakota is Happening Just South of El Paso

Presidio Chapel of San Elizario erected in 1877 on site of older Mexican mission. Photo by Jsweida

A little more than a 30 minute drive, just over 21 miles south of downtown El Paso is the City of San Elizario, Texas, a part of the historic mission trail. Its web site proudly claims that it was established in 1598 and incorporated in 2013. It was also ground zero of the Salt War of 1877-78 which didn't end up well for the people and common land but resulted in a land grab for "private property" advocates.

Comanche Pipeline Route from Waha to San Elizario

Today it is ground zero of yet another struggle - one that they have already lost. "The knife is halfway through the heart," is Mayor Maya Sanchez's metaphor. Both the pipeline through Big Bend and San Elizario to Mexico are being built by Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas, the exact same company that is building the Dakota Access Pipeline which is currently getting most of the press attention. The Trans-Pecos Pipeline is also getting some press due to the fact that resistance to it is well organized by the Big Bend Conservation Alliance. (See also No Trans-Pecos Pipeline on Facebook.) There have been no organized efforts to oppose the "Comanche" Pipeline through San Elizario.

Photo: El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1
San Elizario has barely received any attention especially from local El Paso activists who have concentrated on solidarity with Native Americans in North Dakota. However, the recent El Paso Times story about a canal collapse caused by pipeline construction has resulted in more calls to Mayor Sanchez. That collapse happened in Fabens, Texas just outside of San Elizario. 

Archeologist David Keller witnesses the destruction of ancient indian site Trap Springs in the Big Bend region of Texas. Photo by Jessica Lutz. From Censored News.

A canal collapse while boring a hole under the canal for the pipeline should be a wakeup call. The fact is that there are numerous gas and oil pipeline leaks, explosions and spills each year. Not only are lives and property endangered but so are water tables and aquifers. And, in the case of North Dakota and Big Bend, sacred Native American burial grounds and spiritual places are being desecrated.

So, if this battle is lost, what next. Mayor Sanchez is looking farther down the road. "My heart is broken," she says, "but we can focus on policy reform and what we can get to benefit the community." She wants Energy Transfer Partners to keep their word and provide more emergency equipment for San Elizario and build new libraries and parks. Beyond that, Sanchez argues for some key policy reforms:

  • Change the ways that energy companies are given permits.
  • Sunset or reform the Texas Railroad Commission which has never denied a permit to an energy company.
  • Do environmental studies. (None were done for the San Elizario or Big Bend projects.
  • Make new rules about negotiations with landowners. They will be paid a one-time pittance for right-of-way (ceased by eminent domain). Instead they should be compensated for the lifetime of the pipeline.
  • Stop desecrating sacred grounds.

Let's hope that there is a new Salt War - one that turns out better for the people and not the rich and privileged corporations.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Great Weekend for Celebration of Our Mountain Events

What a line up of Celebration of Our Mountains events this weekend. There is literally something for everyone.

Mexican Free Tail Bats

Tonight watch a flight of bats and learn more about these wonderful creatures from our Urban Biologist, Lois Balin. 

White-faced Ibis. Picture by Barry Zimmer at Fort Hancock, Texas 2012

Tomorrow morning go with the El Paso Trans Pecos Audubon Society to see migrant birds at the reservoirs of McNary, Ft. Hancock and Tornillo. 

Also tomorrow take a hike in beautiful Hitt Canyon in the Franklin Mountains led by the Dean of Hiking, Carol Brown.

Discover the natural wonders of our desert, listen to live entertainment and visit informative booths at the family-friendly 12th Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta sponsored by the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition, City of El Paso Parks and Recreation, the El Paso Zoo, El Paso Water and Texas Parks and Wildlife.  

Visit the Last Desert Grasslands, the Otero Mesa 9/17. Join the Southwest Environmental Center on this Back by Noon outing to explore the grasslands, wildlife and petroglyphs of New Mexico’s Otero Mesa. The destination is Alamo Mountain, one of the isolated peaks of the Cornudas Mountains that rise dramatically from the surrounding grasslands. Learn about the threats to this extraordinary landscape and efforts by conservationists to protect it. Reservation required. Call 575-522-5552 for more information. Trip leaves from Las Cruces at 8 AM.

There's another Beginners Hike on Monday.

Finally, plan now to attend the 16th Annual Artistic Celebration of Our Mountains at Ardovinos Desert Crossing. This event has been a mainstay of COM. You know that it is Celebration of Our Mountains time when Robert Ardovino has the Artistic Celebration.

You can't do it all. But, as I said, there is something for everyone this weekend. So, hike our mountains, explore our desert, discover our wetlands and see our stars.

Monday, September 12, 2016

12th Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta this Saturday

Click on each image to enlarge.

For more information, go to and

Take a Look at This!

Click on image to enlarge.

Read the following press release for some very interesting data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Virginia Commonwealth University:

September 8, 2016
Sarah Simon,, 804-628-4786
Sara Knoll,, 301-280-5709


Babies Born Just Miles Apart in El Paso Face Up to 13-Year Difference in Life Expectancy
New Map Aims to Raise Awareness of Factors that Shape Health and Spur Action

A life expectancy map released today by researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Center on Society and Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) illustrates that opportunities to lead a long and healthy life can vary dramatically by neighborhood. Babies born in the Fort Bliss area (ZIP code 79906) can expect to live 10 years shorter than babies born in the ZIP code right next door, 79925, while the difference between Fort Bliss and Anthony (ZIP code 79821) is 13 years.

(Note:  Although ZIP code 79906 is considered Fort Bliss, about 43% of the total population age 16 and over is are employed by the military, according to Census data. Access additional life expectancy data in the El Paso area here.)
Health differences between neighborhoods are rarely due to a single cause. A growing body of research shows that a complex web of factors influences health—opportunities for education and jobs, safe and affordable housing, availability of nutritious food and places for physical activity, clean air, and access to health care, child care, and social services.   
“The health differences shown in these maps aren’t unique to one area. We see them in big cities, small towns, and rural areas across America,” said Derek Chapman, Ph.D., associate director for research, VCU Center on Society and Health.