Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Friday Video on Saturday: Our Generation Is Changing Energy

Wow! A month's hiatus. Well, I'm back and you can expect more on elpasonaturally. To begin here is a video on the importance of solar energy. If you get elpasonaturally by email, you may not be able to see it; so, go to Please also visit

Friday, January 20, 2017

What Now?

Photo by Shane C. Canada

In less than two hours Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States which means, of course, that the presidency of Barak Obama will be history. The chances of Castner Range becoming a national monument are now zero. So, what now? 

One of the leading activists behind preserving Castner, Judy Ackerman, told me that efforts will now be in the direction of making Castner part of the State Park. "There were too many complications," she said about Obama's decision not to make it a national monument mainly the unexploded ordnance. However, she assured me, no one is stopping in the drive to preserve Castner. Work has been going on since 1978, she said, and will continue. There is an "outpouring of support" from over 35,000 El Pasoans who signed letters. Judy also said that Beto O'Rourke has made it known that he will pursue other avenues.

So the cause to preserve Castner is not over. In some ways, it has really just begun.

Hope was one of President Obama's themes. It is now ours as the community pursues the preservation of the beautiful Castner Range.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Like Saving Money? Make Castner Range a National Monument!

Dr. Teschner is an annual volunteer as a server at the annual Southside Neighborhood Association’s free Thanksgiving Dinner, always held at the Centro de Trabajadores Agrícolas on Ninth Avenue.

[Below is an op-ed piece by my friend, Dr. Richard Teschner. It appeared in this morning's El Paso Times under the title "Status Change Is Best Solution". The Times also edited the piece. What appears below is the unedited original by Dr. Teschner. The title of this blog post is likewise his title. We are now T-12 days until the end of the Obama presidency. That is also T-12 days for Castner Range to be designated as a national monument.]

Castner Range has something in common with the 1970’s TV show “All in the Family.” As Archie Bunker might have said, “You can have your cake and Edith too.” Along those lines, Castner Range can become a national monument without undergoing the clearance changes that would alter the landscape and cost many millions. Everyone knows that Castner—even now a part of Fort Bliss—was an active Army artillery range from 1926-1966, and though the Range was closed in ‘66 it still contains a lot of the OE (‘ordnance and explosives’) shot there by soldiers training for active duty. Since closure, some OE has been removed in surface sweeps but it wasn’t until the 2000’s that the Department of the Army included Castner in a “Wide Area Assessment” (WAA) that applied a Military Munitions Response Program (MMRP) to the Range. (The MMRP’s main goal: To identify—by LIDAR and other techniques—which parts of the Range were most heavily seeded with OE and which were largely free of it.) Over the last ten years, dozens of WAA/MMRP meetings were held in El Paso, along with the annual RAB (‘Restoration Advisory Board’). We Castner conservationists attended them all and now largely know where OE ended up.

In years gone by, two assumptions were made. The first was that all OE could be removed from Castner Range and that this would be good. The second was that once the Range was totally cleared, it could be incorporated into the adjacent Franklin Mountains State Park to make the nation’s largest urban park—40 square miles—even bigger by adding Castner’s eleven. But then came Sam’s Club. In late 2012 as a member of the Castner Heights Neighborhood Association I learned that Wal-Mart Stores sought to build a “Club” on the southeast corner of Diana Drive and the US 54 Patriot Freeway. The land was zoned commercial and the store was wanted by most neighbors. The land was also part of the 1,248 acres of the original Castner Range that the City of El Paso acquired in 1971 and that now must meet stricter federal standards before development can occur. Once a week I drove by the Club site. First the land—off-limits to the public—was stripped of all vegetation. Next, ca. foot-deep holes were dug at foot-wide intervals throughout the entire property. When the job was completed, the surface of Mars looked lovely by comparison—but that didn’t matter, since a large store, a gas station, a parking lot and a loading dock would permanently cover it all within months.

Not so Castner Range. Stripping then digging the Range would leave permanent scars plus a surface that would quickly erode in the summer monsoons and blow away in the spring dust storms. Vegetation would need years to take root and fully grow. All of a sudden, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s offer to annex the Range to the Franklin Mountains State Park “provided the land is cleared of all OE” looked very unattractive, quite apart from what that operation would cost—at least $75 million, as we learned at the MMRP. But then we heard about California’s Fort Ord National Monument, dedicated in 2012 and similar to Castner Range in all ways except luck. (The Fort Ord Army Post was closed in 1993 by the second BRAC.) The eastern half of the FONM is open to the public if it stays on marked trails, all of which are cleared of OE; the FONM’s western half—home to much OE—is off-limits. The Army maintains a presence on the FONM, and participates in decisions involving it.

“But why not sell those parts of Castner Range that are flat enough for development?” as some El Pasoans proposed in late 2005. “Think of the money the Army would make!” But think of the money the Army Corps of Engineers would spend on dams located up-arroyo from the flatter turf. Completed in 1973 on Castner was the Northgate Dam, which protects from flooding the TxDOT maintenance yard on Hondo Pass in the Range’s far southeastern corner (and—more recently—the adjacent Border Patrol station). If further development took place throughout flatter Castner, four more dams would have to be built and paid for. Since the Department of Defense is responsible in perpetuity for all OE-generated mishaps on Castner and any formerly-used artillery range, the dam-site lands and their access roads and equipment parks must be cleared of OE before construction could begin. That too would cost millions.

In sum, a Castner Range National Monument modeled on Fort Ord’s is the most cost-effective solution to the “problem” that is Castner Range. It is also the only way to preserve, in perpetuity, a tract of land that all El Paso loves—the Jewel of Far West Texas.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Take a stand for wolves in Texas

The El Paso Sierra Club Return the Wolf to Texas Education Initiative is seeking volunteers to help educate and involve school children in efforts to save critically endangered Mexican wolves. The historic range of the Mexican wolf included El Paso.  It was 46 years ago in December that the last two wild Mexican wolves were killed in the United States.  It happened not in Arizona or New Mexico where many government officials can’t agree on how to move forward in continuing a twenty year wolf recovery effort, but in Texas, just north of Big Bend National Park. With news of both New Mexico and Arizona wanting to take control of recovery efforts from the federal government, the possibility of new wolf recovery efforts in Texas and other states takes on new meaning.

Conservation leaders in Texas need to stop ignoring the scientific facts clearly indicating the importance of conserving apex predators like the wolf. Here in the largest international city surrounded by former wolf habitat, the El Paso Sierra Club Group is taking a stand for the wolf by launching a new campaign urging Texas Parks and Wildlife to develop and execute a scientifically reviewed plan to return the wolf to the wilds of Texas to benefit the ecosystem and ecotourism. For more information on how you can get involved contact Sierra Club Executive Committee member Rick LoBello at

The fate of this critically endangered species hangs in the balance and today the only wolves known to Texas survive in zoos.  In one short century what took nature eons to perfect, came to a crashing end when the last Mexican wolves were killed in Texas.  It took nearly twenty years for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to develop and execute a plan to put captive bred wolves back in the wild in 1998. Unfortunately the current effort continues to struggle because of bureaucratic meddling.   Today, a little over 100 critically endangered wolves survive in parts of northern Mexico and a small area of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico.

We are living at a time when Americans are showing that they are fed up with the establishment, not just in Washington, but also in State Capitals like Austin. Join the new movement to conserve our wildlife heritage, take a stand for wolves.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Countdown Begins

Poppies on Castner Range. Picture by Mark Clune

Will a Castner Range National Monument be set to launch in the next two weeks or is it down for the count? President Obama now only has 19 days left as President. Will he declare Castner Range a National Monument . . . or not?

Recently Mr. Obama made Bears Ears in Utah and Gold Butte in Neveda national monuments. 

According to the Portland Press Herald: "Administration officials are eyeing an expansion of the California Coastal National Monument and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument as well as the establishment of one monument in South Carolina and two in Alabama to commemorate the Reconstruction and civil rights eras, respectively."

No mention has been made about Castner Range.

However, Congressman Beto O'Rourke told this anecdote in public:

"Amy and I were waiting in line to greet the President at the White House’s annual Christmas reception. I said to Amy: 'I just can’t bring up Castner Range to the President on an occasion like this. I’ll just shake his hand and wish him a Merry Christmas.' But Amy said: 'You have GOT to bring up Castner Range! This may be your last face-to-face with President Obama!!' So when I shook the President’s hand I said: 'I really want you to declare Castner Range a National Monument.' To which he responded with one word: 'Okay.'"

Nineteen days to find out. Nineteen days.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Yes We Have No Bananas

Dr. Ben Brown (right) with Jim Tolbert (left) and Dave Webster (center)

["Conkey's Tavern" was my first blog. It dealt with local and organic food issues and the environmental destructiveness of industrial farming and monocultures. This past September my friend, Ben Brown, sent me "Yes We Have No Bananas". It is a privilege and honor to publish it. It's food for thought (yes, the pun is intended) that our eating habits contribute to monoculturism and, thus, to more environmental destruction. For more information, there are links to some articles below.]

Yes We Have No Bananas


Although the impact of the mid-XIX century potato famine is still a hot topic of discussion, few ask if it could happen again.  The answer is a dramatic yes!   Bananas, a major source of protein for a large segment of the world’s population, are under siege from the Panama fungus [Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense]  which attacks the root system.   For over 50 years, horticulturalists have been designing strategies to combat this plague.  But just as the strategies evolved, so has the fungus and today it has done an end run. Not only does it destroy the plant, but it impregnates the soil with chlamydospores or spores which can remain dormant for many years. Consequently, the chlamydospores destroy any potential to replant.  So, you may ask, how did we come to this? 

In the beginning, there were bananas:

In spite of popular wisdom, not all plants were domesticated in the Fertile Crescent or Central Mexico.  The archaeological evidence suggests that bananas were first grown in special terraces in or around the Kuk Valley of central New Guinea some ten thousand years ago and spread throughout the island archipelagos that lie between Asia and New Guinea.   From these humble beginnings a wide range of varieties developed, each with its particular ecological requirements and each with its own taste and texture.  By 5,500 BP, bananas were firmly established as a major food source. 

In conjunction with pre-Islamic and pre-European colonialism and trade, the more hardy varieties spread around the world and settled in most tropical climates producing a dependable abundance of fruit.  Containing any where from 90 to 110 calories per banana, bananas became an important food source. On average they contain more than 10% of the daily value of a number of beneficial elements and vitamins such as potassium and manganese, and vitamins B6 and C.  Although they contain very little fat, what fat they do contain in high in Omega 3 and Omega 6. High in fiber with a low Glycemic Index, who’s gon’a complain?

But there was a catch.  Or maybe two.   They no longer produced pollen and so required the help of the human hand to produce fruit. In other words bananas were, and still are, clones.  Their inability to cross pollinate meant that most plants were clones with a reduced resistance to the external threats found in their new environments.  Slowly but surely these threats reduced their vigor. The natural impact of these weaknesses was multiplied by the introduction of mono-cropping: extensive plantations of just bananas.  Diseases could gallop across a property, and all too often, jump from one plantation to another, even before the disease could be identified and the appropriate action taken.  

In the case of Fusarium oxsporum the plant dies from dehydration.  The fungus enters the plants’ roots from whence it is transported into the xylem vessels and disrupts the vascular system by cutting off the circulation of foods and liquids. 

Minor problem you might say:  Banana splits haven’t been popular for years! But that is just first world view.  While Americans yearly import and consume just short of 12 kilograms per capita, Ugandans are at the other extreme.  They eat more than 20 times as much.
Although Uganda is the world’s second largest producer of bananas, relatively few are exported.  Most bananas are needed for the home market.  At 0.7 kg. per day, it has the highest per capita consumption. Burundi and Rwanda follow suit also consuming anywhere three to eleven bananas a day per capita.  This comes out to about 250 to 400 kg per annum.  Bananas are so important to the diet that in some places the words for food and bananas are synonymous.  The hyper dependence on bananas could lead to a crisis similar to mid-nineteenth century Ireland. 

While this crisis will be most poignant in central Africa, there are many other countries, such as Ecuador, Guatemala and Honduras, where bananas are the food of the poor and any short fall will be catastrophic. 

Can anything be done?

Science in it’s full glory is striving to find the appropriate solution but money and means are far away.  At the moment the biologically the best solution would seem to be bananas with seeds, but it is not clear if seeded bananas would win Mark Twain’s approval.  But in the meanwhile biologists are continuing their research and attempting to create new hybrids and GM varieties that are marketable and resistant to both the known and unknown challenges. So far, material borrowed from onions and dahlias have increased resistance but have not produced plantains or bananas acceptable to the market – sweet, seedless and bright yellow when ripe.

So, is there a moral to this story?

Beware of introduced crops.  Beware of mono-cropping and in the meanwhile, don’t be bashful, eat all the bananas you can.  They’re gon’a change or disappear!

R. B. Brown
MUREF / Centro INAH Chihuahua
Av. 16 de Septiembre y Av. Juárez
Centro Histórico, Ciudad Juárez
32000 Chihuahua, México


Since graduating from the University of Arizona, Dr. Brown has worked largely in northern Mexico. His projects have included archaeological investigation and conservation as well as paleontology.  For the last few years he's been focusing on the history of northern Mexico and is presently working on a biography of Cástulo Herrera, a little know revolutionary who died in Ciudad Juarez in 1957. He is, or has been, a  member of a wide range of international, national and local professional organizations such as INQUA, ARARA, the Society of American Archeology and the El Paso County Historical Society as well as a founding member and founding board member of CARTA, the Camino Real Trail Association.  He has organized a number of international symposia in the US, Mexico, Spain, Russia, and the UK. Dr. Brown maintains an active interest in paleoecology.  His thesis was entitled: The Paleoecology of the Northern Frontier of Mesoamerica.  One of his first historical studies focused on using changes in the wholesale prices of maize in Chihuahua as proxy data for the identification of droughts and drought cycles.  At the same time he maintained an interest in the archaeology of Australasia, the development of terrace agriculture in Australasia and the early domestication of bananas.  Needless to say, bananas are his favorite fruit!

He is presently based at the Museo de la Revolucion en la Frontera in Ciudad Juárez.

For further reading:

Banana market faces great change as monoculture threatens extinction of West’s most popular variety

We have no bananas today

Industrial Agriculture: The outdated, unsustainable system that dominates U.S. food production

Monoculture Farming


How the Growth of Monoculture Crops Is Destroying our Planet and Still Leaving us Hungry

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Solar Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels or Wind . . .

. . . in developing countries such as China, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, South Africa, and India. Here are links for more information:

From Bloomberg Technology: World Energy Hits a Turning Point: Solar That's Cheaper Than Wind

From EcoWatch: It's Official: Solar Energy Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels

It is not the case here in the United States - yet. Nor will it be for a long time. We are still heavily invested in coal and natural gas to generate energy. But there is good news: U.S. Solar Surges in Record-Breaking Quarter.

Here in El Paso we know that El Paso Electric will ask for a rate hike very soon in January. They will probably go after rooftop solar again perhaps next summer. I'm still in favor of some kind of subsidy for those who install solar - a break on their property tax or a refund. Maybe it is time to deregulate the energy industry in El Paso. Let EPEC go head to head with the solar industry.