Friday, October 9, 2015

Make Room for the Mule Deer

Let's preserve land for these guys and, when we really have to develop and infill and remodeling have been done, let's make sure that their range, habitat and corridors are all conserved.

People are reporting seeing Mule Deer all around the Franklins. The animals in these pictures were taken near the Palisades.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Upper Crust

It's not just the destruction of plant life and animal habitat that occurs when we bulldoze. It's the death of the biocrust.
Our Zoo's Education Curator, Rick LoBello, sent a link to a Washington Post article by Chris Mooney about a study of the effect of climate change on dryland crust in Colorado. The same effects apply to our dryland here in the Chihuahuan Desert. Although the study is about climate change, the Post does report that "the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says the impact of a warming climate on these ecosystems could be much worse than expected — comparable to humans trampling the landscapes underfoot or driving off-road vehicles across them." [My emphasis]

Trampling or driving or, just bulldozing in preparation for development . . . 

The abstract of the study states: "In drylands worldwide, where plant cover is sparse, large amounts of the ground surface are covered by specialized organisms that form biological soil crusts (biocrusts). Biocrusts fix carbon and nitrogen, stabilize soils, and influence hydrology. Extensive physical disturbance from livestock/human trampling and off-road vehicles is known to destroy biocrusts and alter ecosystem function."

Mooney reports: ". . . the ground is covered by a complex group of organisms collectively called “biocrust” — a combination of mosses and lichens that are in effect glued together by photosynthetic microorganisms called cyanobacteria, which provide structure to the landscape through the carbohydrate molecules they secrete."

What does that mean for those of us just going about our business everyday? Lose the crust and get dust. And dust causes respiratory disease and respiratory disease costs a bundle not just to those who suffer but to our entire society. It impacts employment, taxes, health care, lost labor, energy and water costs, etc. 

We don't see the cyanobacteria or the mosses and lichens when we hike or go off-roading and especially when we flatten a large portion of our desert so that we can develop or pave a road or build a dam . . . We don't realize that an entire desert system of flora and fauna depends on the life of that crust and that includes ourselves.

So, when we do develop, we should develop smart and preserve as much of the crust as we can for the health of the entire ecosystem which includes us.

One last word: the worst damage that fracking does may not be below ground but above ground.  

Further reading: Biological Soil Crusts: Webs of Life in the Desert published by the United States Geological Survey.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Wandering Naturalist

Soraya with Black-tailed Rattlesnake.
Copyrighted image posted by permission from The Wandering Naturalist.

Once upon a time, elpasonaturally had a list of favorite sites and blogs. I took them down so that I could spend some time reviewing what I wanted to include. As in most cases, time past and I never gave links to great places that I recommend that you should go. Until today.

Once again you can see a list of links toward the bottom of the blue column on the right. I'm not going to post all at once - just one or two or three at a time.

The first link is to The Wandering Naturalist written by a field biologist with expertise in ecology, wildlife study, conservation and evolutionary biology. She is avid about protecting wildlife and their habitats. "Conservation and wildlife study have become my life-long agenda," she writes. "Whether I am hiking in the local mountains near my home or visiting another state, I maintain a watchful eye and with camera in hand I continue to track and record animals and plants I cross paths with. I also try my best to report on current ecological concerns I encounter or find relevant."

Not only does this blog give you great science, it provides solid reasons why we should conserve and preserve this beautiful land in which we live and our beautiful planet. The blog is both a field guide and an adventure story. Posts are well-organized into categories. 

Soraya, the author, is our Aldo Leopold, our Donald Culross Peattie. Just click on the pictures or the categories and go on a hike with the Wandering Naturalist.

Also be sure to follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

On the Right Track

The Preservation Committee met again last Thursday morning at the El Paso Water Utilities building. That committee was put together in response to the very popular "We the People" petition calling for more preservation of natural open space on both sides of the Franklin Mountains. The text of the petition reads: 

"WE THE PEOPLE want preserved, in its natural state and in perpetuity, all of the undeveloped land owned by the City of El Paso on the western side of the Franklin Mountains that is north of Transmountain Road, east of the EPNG Pipeline Road and south of the New Mexico/El Paso boundary and on the eastern side of the Franklin Mountains that is north of Transmountain, west of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and south of the New Mexico/El Paso boundary."

The petition was sponsored by Elpasonaturally, the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coaltion and the El Paso Chapter of the Sierra Club.

I had approached Lupe Cuellar, the Attorney for the PSB/EPWU, about a solution that would help implement the intent of the petition. Remember that it is the PSB that manages undeveloped city owned land that they have not declared inexpedient for their needs. We agreed that land that can be preserved should be preserved and land that can be developed should be developed. Ms.Cuellar suggested a "preservation plan" and I suggested forming a committee. Six of the thirteen people invited to join that committee were named by me: Rick LoBello, Lois Balin, Joseph Nester, Laura Foster, Janae' Reneaud Field and Robert Ardovino. In addition to Lupe Cuellar and myself, we have Mr. Tracy Novak, the Director of Parks and Recreation, Cynthia Osborn, the land attorney for the PSB/EPWU, Carlos Gallinar from Planning and Nicole Ferrini and Lauren Baldwin from the City's Office of Resilency although both were absent for this last meeting.

Mr. Novak guided us through the creation of a purpose statement. There was full participation and ownership and the group is quite grateful to Tracy Novak for his guidance. As a result of this process all agreed that the group should be called the Preservation and Conservation Plan Group. Here is the purpose statement: 

"The purpose of the Preservation and Conservation Plan Group is to develop the criteria to identify which specific City owned lands mentioned in the petition should be preserved, which lands can be developed, and establish conservation standards for the development, to ensure a high quality of life for present and future generations.

  • A plan that can be approved by all stakeholder agencies (PSB, City…
  • Establish the value of preserving land compared to developing (formula)
  • Benefits of having a plan, including economic, quality of life
  • Goal is to have the plan guide future development, including conditions of sale
  • Can be used as a model for future land development for all undeveloped land"

A discussion about the value of keeping land natural because of ecosystem services opened the minds of all at the table.

We are on the right track.

You can still sign the online petition and show your support for preservation. Go HERE to preserve our Franklin Mountains from further development.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Is Recycling Working?

Elpasonaturally has posted before about the economics of recycling. The price of recycled commodities is going down while the cost to recycle is going up. Now comes John Tierney's The Reign of Recycling published yesterday in the New York Times Review.

Tierney's analysis is based on how much different commodities reduce the carbon footprint. It was surprising to read the following:

"According to the E.P.A.’s estimates, virtually all the greenhouse benefits — more than 90 percent — come from just a few materials: paper, cardboard and metals like the aluminum in soda cans. That’s because recycling one ton of metal or paper saves about three tons of carbon dioxide, a much bigger payoff than the other materials analyzed by the E.P.A. Recycling one ton of plastic saves only slightly more than one ton of carbon dioxide. A ton of food saves a little less than a ton. For glass, you have to recycle three tons in order to get about one ton of greenhouse benefits. Worst of all is yard waste: it takes 20 tons of it to save a single ton of carbon dioxide."

He continues:

"Once you exclude paper products and metals, the total annual savings in the United States from recycling everything else in municipal trash — plastics, glass, food, yard trimmings, textiles, rubber, leather — is only two-tenths of 1 percent of America’s carbon footprint.

"As a business, recycling is on the wrong side of two long-term global economic trends. For centuries, the real cost of labor has been increasing while the real cost of raw materials has been declining. That’s why we can afford to buy so much more stuff than our ancestors could. As a labor-intensive activity, recycling is an increasingly expensive way to produce materials that are less and less valuable."

In addition, Tierney points out that making recycling mandatory and hiring an army of garbage police will be even a greater burdern for fee and taxpayers. Do any of us want to pay higher garbage fees or property taxes to allow the city to have enough people to pry through our garbage bins and issue citations? Even if employing such an army were possible, the very idea is ridiculous and an offense to our rights of privacy. 

Tierney concludes: 

". . . cities have been burying garbage for thousands of years, and it’s still the easiest and cheapest solution for trash. The recycling movement is floundering, and its survival depends on continual subsidies, sermons and policing. How can you build a sustainable city with a strategy that can’t even sustain itself?"

That landfill is sounding better all of the time especially when you realize that, when we pay our garbage fees, we are subsidizing the recylcing industry here in El Paso. (Read Friedman Brothers.) We each pay $17 and the City pays for all of the collection: trucks, drivers, fuel, etc. With commodity prices decreasing and with many El Pasoans dumping non-recyclables into the blue bin, the Friedmans use both as an excuse not to pay the City (us) a dime. That's not sustainable.

There are, of course, other costs we accrue for not recycling. 

Plastics and other debris are having a horrendous impact on the environment and on our pocketbooks. The destruction of marine life and our oceans (and all other ecosystems) is intolerable from a moral viewpoint: we are harming, inflicting pain and killing animal life. That's just wrong. Also our own survival depends on all ecosystems which provide many benefits to us. When we destroy an ecosystem, we damage our own health, safety and welfare. So doing, we pay in other ways through huge health and social costs. Most of all, when we polllute our little piece of the planet or contribute to the destruction of all of the earth, we damage ourselves spiritually. There is no price that you can put on a human heart and soul.

So what are some answers?

It would be good to have a thorough discussion about recycling here in El Paso which would include a reminder of what we can and cannot recycle and what landfills that we should use. 

We may need to look into other ways of collection and at other brokers. I still think that the way we did it in the town that I lived in in Washington State makes sense. You separate materials in bins - aluminum and other metals, paper and glass. (Maybe skip the glass for now. The economics just aren't there. The third bin is for plastics.) The trucks have separate compartments for each. We sell our paper where we can get the best price or use it where we can cut costs elsewhere. (Shredded paper at the zoo for example.) We do the same thing with aluminum.

We should have and still ought to ban plastic bags in our stores. You can't tell me that someone can't afford a one dollar reusable bag for groceries or other items. We can even have reusable bag giveaways if that's what is needed.

We need to reduce plastics, recycle them responsibly and buy items that don't come in layers of plastic wrap. It's got to become a personal and a community value. I'm amazed when I go to a meeting of an environmental or outdoors group and see styrofoam cups for coffee and plastic water bottles. This behavior must change everywhere. 

Finally, as I posted before, the Swedish technology of turning trash into energy makes a great deal of sense. Of course, if we were to do that here, El Paso Electric will charge anyone with a trash bin an extra fee for not contributing to their mostly idle grid. Just a parting shot.

Fight El Paso Electric's proposed rate increases and their attack on the solar industry. Visit Eco El Paso to see how you can take action.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Celebration of Our Mountains

Last Sunday Hike at Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park
Celebration of Our Mountains is off to the best start in years - perhaps ever. People have come out to the events and weather has been good. The Fall 2015 program of events is just underway. You can see a list of all of the events at the COM website. Since the Official Event Guide was published, there have been a few added events and a few changes. Be sure to visit the Updates page.

Celebration of Our Mountains includes events from Franklin Mountains State Park, Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Southwest Environmental Center's "Back By Noon" program. It's all online and weekends are full of options.

Our Panorama Hike included a Super Moon and a Total Lunar Eclipse.
It's not all hiking. It's seminars on wolves, birding, mountain biking, bats, archaeology, geology, astronomy and more. GUMO (Guadalupe Mountains National Park) has two events in October at night: one to learn about nocturnal animals; the other to see a real dark sky.)

COM is an opportunity to get outside. Just this morning I went birding with a group led by our Urban Wildlife Biologist, Lois Balin, at Keystone Heritage Park. We saw plovers, stilts, mallards and shovelers, verduns and warblers, a whole flight of white wing dove fleeing a Cooper's Hawk. There was pickle weed, aster, four wing salt bush, and tall cottonwoods that Kevin Von Finger planted years ago. 

I have been the coordinator/organizer since 2009. I have never been as excited as I am this year.

Do get outside.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Rep. Peter Svarzbein is the first City Council Representative to meet with the Borderland Mountain Bike Association.
The Borderland Mountain Bike Association (BMBA) met last night at the Angry Owl to discuss the creation of more facilites at trailheads. It was the first time that a member of City Council met with the group. Rep. Peter Svarzbein described BMBA as "efficient and responsible", a group that "gets things done." 

A full parking lot at the Lost Dog Trail. Trees in foreground were donated by the West Texas Urban Forestry Council.
BMBA was behind the creation of the very popular and beautiful amenities at the Lost Dog Trail. Now they want to repeat what they did there in parnership with the PSB and the City at other locales where hikers and mountain bikers begin their treks into the Franklin Mountains. By the way, BMBA has created and maintained many of the mountain trails.

Thirty people attended last evening's event including MPO Director, Michael Medina. Svarzbein gave a short talk in which he praised BMBA's efforts.

Dr. Rick Bonart, one of the chief architects of the Lost Dog Trail, described a public-private partnership with the City for trailheads as a "win win with the City of El Paso to get things done faster and cheaper." Bonart sees the community as the beneficiary. "Trailhead facilities will help with health and ecotourism goals," he explained. Recently Bonart had a good meeting with City Manager, Tommy Gonzalez, to discuss trailheads.

BMBA has identified several trailheads where they would like to create amenities with the Palisades and the old Bowen Round House on the east side as signature projects.

By far the greatest excitement at the meeting and the greatest encouragement for BMBA was Svarzbein's presence and leadership.

COMING SOON: Elpasopolitically