Saturday, February 27, 2010

Back by Noon Natural History Outings

Click on image to enlarge and read.

Southwest Environmental Center in Las Cruces has just published their new Back by Noon Natural History Outings. I went on two of these last year and both were great.

You can also see and download the PDF here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Update on the NOS Ordinance

I just got this message from OSAB Chairman, Charlie Wakeem:

Hello Everybody,

I looked up the City Council agenda for next Tuesday. The Introduction to the Natural Open Space (NOS) Zoning Ordinance is not on the agenda as I expected. I checked with Planning and it was not ready and will be introduced March 9, then will go before Council for Discussion and Action March 30. Mark you calendar for that day if you want to attend. There will be two versions. One will be with the CPC recommendations and the other with the OSAB recommendations.


I had posted that Council would consider the ordinance on the 16th. I will keep you updated.

Overcoming Myths about Conservation Easements

Mike Gaglio, the President of the Frontera Land Alliance, sent out an email on Wednesday. At issue is a story on FOX News that misrepresented land trusts as eminent domain schemes to take land from private owners. In his letter he quotes from email news from the Land Trust Alliance. Here's is what he wrote:

Dear Frontera Supporters,

I want to alert you to an issue that may come as a surprise if you plan on speaking to property owners about conservation easements as a land preservation tool. Please be aware that there
IS recent bad press about land trusts out there, however it is false, misinformation. On Feb 15th, Fox news aired a short piece in which land trusts and their activities were misrepresented as participating in eminent domain, working with government agencies to take land away from private property owners. This is simply not true. The following is an excerpt from the national Land Trust Alliance newsletter (copied below) about the issue. We at Frontera can provide correct information to interested land owners.

"On Monday, a Fox Cable News interview accused land trusts of working “in cahoots” with the government to condemn private property. This reckless misinformation has caused its own blizzard of outrage from the land trust community, and the Land Trust Alliance is working quickly to set the facts straight. Just another example of why we are stronger when we work together.

"On February 15, Fox Cable News broadcast an interview with Becky Norton Dunlop, vice president of external relations at The Heritage Foundation. In it, she states that land trusts are “in cahoots” with the federal government to take private property from unsuspecting landowners. While many of the statements made are untrue, this allegation has the potential to hurt the reputation of land trusts and land conservation.

"Alliance President Rand Wentworth is asking for a private meeting with Ms. Dunlop to discuss how land trusts respect private property rights, only enter into voluntary agreements, provide property owners with additional choices for preventing development on their land, do not participate in eminent domain, and, in fact, offer the kind of private sector action that is widely supported by majorities of both Republicans and Democrats. Times like these emphasize the need for the land trust community to build strong relationships with their representatives in Congress, as well as deep and wide support in their communities to ensure that private land conservation is impervious to misguided attacks.

"To reiterate, here are some talking points if you are contacted about this piece:

· Land trusts save land that provides important public benefits, including fresh water, clean air, local food and places to explore (or insert your particular benefits)

· Land trusts respect private property rights

· Conservation easements are private, voluntary agreements

· Land trusts do not participate in eminent domain actions

· Land trusts offer the kind of private sector action that is widely supported by majorities of both Republicans and Democrats"

Please feel free to contact me to discuss further if you like.


The bad press from FOX makes it difficult for private owners to understand how land trusts can actually be advantageous to them.

In my recent Sunrise Hikers e-letter, I wrote this about an excursion to the A on the mountain:

“'A' Mountain is part of 588 acres of the privately owned land of the Coles. (Picture here.) The Coles have not been willing to discuss a sale of their land in order to preserve it as open space. They lease the ridge to communications companies purportedly for a substantial sum of money."

Gaglio responded:

"The beauty of a conservation easement is that the Cole's, would continue to own the land, they would continue to reap the benefits of the lease of their land to the tower/communications companies, AND they quite possibly would enjoy the federal income tax benefits of a charitable donation of a conservation easement on the surrounding incentive that would reduce their federal income taxes related to the purported "substantial sum of money" they receive on the same land."

Sensational news stories such as the one that aired on FOX do not help.

Negotiations with land owners are often difficult because of the poor understanding about conservation easements. "In our experience so far, it is a very delicate and touchy process," Mike Gaglio tells me. "The word 'conservation' rings in the ears of some with skepticism and sometimes disgust, inciting visions of eminent domain and other myths."

Mike is a co-owner of High Desert: Environmental Consulting and Native Plants.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Charlie Wakeem Receives Audubon Conservation Award

John Sproul presents the Conservation Award to Charlie Wakeem while Audubon Chapter President, Lucretia Chew, looks on (Photo courtesy of Bob Johnson)

This past Saturday evening (February 20, 2010) Charlie Wakeem received the Conservation Award from the El Paso/Trans-Pecos Audubon Society at their Annual Awards Banquet held at Jaxon's on Airway.

The local chapter of the Audubon Society presents the Conservation Award each year to someone who actively promotes conservation in the El Paso, Texas area. That person is someone who stands out as a "voice of conservation".

Wakeem has been a leading crusader for land conservation and open space in the City of El Paso. He is currently the Chairman of the City of El Paso Open Space Advisory Board - a board that directly advises the Mayor and City Council. Charlie is also on the board of the Frontera Land Alliance. The preserve in Resler Canyon bears his name: the Wakeem-Teschner Nature Preserve at Resler Canyon.

Past recipients have included UTEP professors Wynn Anderson, Richard Teschner and John Sproul. Peter Beste of the El Paso Cactus and Rock Club has also been a recipient.

During Saturday's dinner and ceremony, Audubon member, Janet Perkins, received the Meritorious Service Award in recognition of her service benefiting the Society and nature.

Frontera Land Alliance President Mike Gaglio will speak at the next meeting of the El Paso/Trans Pecos Audubon Society which will be held on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 7 p.m. at the EPCC Rio Grande Campus, 100 West Rio Grande, Building 4010, Room 119. Mike will describe various ways land is conserved and introduce the audience to Frontera - the El Paso area's only 501(c)3 land trust whose mission is to preserve land in West Texas and southern New Mexico.

Clockwise from far left: Charlie Wakeem, Diane Wakeem, Helen Cooke, Jim Tolbert, Jamie Ackerman, Judy Ackerman (Photo courtesy of Bob Johnson)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

El Paso City Council Will Consider Natural Open Space Zoning Ordinance

If it is important to you to protect wildlife in El Paso's three major wildlife preserves (Keystone Heritage Park, Feather Lake Wildlife Refuge, and the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park), make plans now to attend the March 16th City Council meeting. Open Space Advisory Board's proposed Natural Open Space (NOS) zoning ordinance will probably be on that agenda for discussion and action. (Council agendas are posted here. The agenda for an upcoming Tuesday meeting is usually posted by the Friday before.)

As usual, some key members of City staff oppose portions of the ordinance. To read the proposed ordinance, just go here. The paragraphs staff is contesting are highlighted. What is at issue is who pays for the landscape buffer should an industry move next door to the protected habitat.

Staff did agree with the Open Space Advisory Board (OSAB) that the landscape buffer, setbacks, and rock wall are necessary to protect the wildlife. However, they are recommending that the wildlife preserves pay for the improvements rather than the high impact industrial or commercial property owners on the adjacent property. These stricter regulations do not apply to most zoning districts, such as residential, offices or low impact commercial.

The City Plan Commission (CPC) voted 4 to 2 agreeing with staff. Most of the CPC is composed of members of the development community.

The real issue is how serious the City of El Paso is about protecting wildlife in its three major wildlife preserves: Keystone, Feather Lake, and Rio Bosque. Is it the fault of these preserves a high impact land use would move next door to them? Who should be responsible for the buffers, walls and setbacks? Open Space Advisory Board Chairman, Charlie Wakeem, says that there may be some room for compromise such as reducing the height of the rock wall from 10' to 8' and perhaps allowing for a less expensive material than rock. The 10' landscape buffer and setbacks are very important in order to protect the wildlife, particularly migratory birds and their breeding.

If the wildlife preserves are to be responsible for the strict protection restrictions as recommended by staff and the CPC and there are now only three wildlife preserves in El Paso and all three are owned by the City of El Paso, then shouldn't the City of El Paso pony up for those wildlife protections? It will be interesting to see how City Council members feel about doling out your tax money when industrial businesses encroach on your wildlife preserves.

Members of the original Open Space Committee tried to get the NOS zoning ordinance passed since the Open Space Plan was approved in March 2007. It was stalled and pigeonholed until OSAB became a board over 6 months ago. The Open Space Master Plan recommended implementation of this zoning ordinance within 6 to 12 months of the plan's approval (March 17, 2007). Here it is - three years later.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Parks & Recreation Gets a Progress Report

There is a Parks and Recreation Master Plan (adopted September 16, 2006) and an Open Space Master Plan (March 17, 2007). Today El Paso's Parks & Recreation Department got a progress report from Jim Carrillo of Halff Associates, Inc, the consulting firm that guided citizens through the master plan processes.

The El Paso Parks 2006-2009 Progress Report is well worth taking the time to read. Carrillo gives a detailed analysis of how well the City has done in the past three years with its Parks and Open Space master plans. Three major "progress indicators" were used to "grade" the City's efforts: Significant Progress, Ongoing Progress and No Major Progress.

Significant Progress was made in these areas:

  • Parkland dedication as a tool to provide much needed parks
  • Acquisition of smaller parks (excepting in parts of the City with slower growth
  • Trail development in parks
  • Use of stormwater fee to fund open space
  • Core staff improvements, automation, fiscal accounting

Areas with Ongoing Progress:

  • Parkland improvements
  • Parkland acquisition in areas of City with slower growth
  • Acquisition of non-stormwater related open space
  • Open Space oversight structure
  • Longer trail corridors
  • Long term governance structure

And the areas with no Major Progress:

  • Parkland acquisition to address community and regional park needs
  • Regional park development
  • Annual capital expenditure funding source for immediate park system needs
  • Opportunity funding for open space and trails

Interestingly, no members of either the Open Space Advisory Board or the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board were alerted by Parks and Recreation staff that the report would be given to Council. You would think that many members (or, at least, the Chairman of these boards) would want to take the time to go to the Council meeting.

You have probably seen this popular advertisement on television:

When citizens work hard to help write master plans, their expectations are that the plans will be carried out. Little do they know that there are staff persons and others ready to limit their expectations to a very small space. "Well . . . you can't ride very far," the villain in the ad explains. Sound familiar?

Monday, February 15, 2010

El Paso Streets Department Requests More Crushed Rock

We all know the Joni Mitchell classic: "They paved paradise to put up a parking lot." Well, in the City of El Paso, Texas, they level a mountain to pave paradise and put up roads and crushed rock landscaping.

Item 6B on tomorrow's City Council agenda is discussion and action to award Cemex Materials South, LLC and Jobe Materials, LP a total of $3,399,885.00 over a three year period for roadway construction materials: asphalt, crushed rock for the roadway base and more for landscaping.

In the El Paso Times' Saturday story about the proposed contract, Streets Department Director, Daryl Cole, is quoted to say: "This is our bread and butter. Without these materials we don't work." The Department summary form is here.

Perhaps being more deliberate and patient with alternative landscaping on our city streets will do as much to keep people working as well as minimize the destruction of our Franklin and Hueco Mountains to excessive quarrying.

The City of El Paso can set an example by not using crushed rock landscapes and making it harder for private businesses and homeowners to do the same thing.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Win Some/Lose Some

The best news from the City Council this past Tuesday was their decision to find a solution for preserving the 26 acres near Scenic and the 623 acres near Hondo Pass. Apparently a short term lease will be worked out at this point while the City finds a buyer who will preserve these portions of the Franklin Mountains as open space. The ideal will be to see that it all becomes part of the Franklin Mountains State Park.

Dave Wilson of the Borderland Mountain Bike Association already see possibilities for developing good hike and bike trails in the area near Hondo Pass. In an email to Association members, Wilson wrote:

"This area is at the top of Hondo Pass and already has some gnarly jeep roads. Jen and I have been eyeballing some routes through the area but have been hesitant to put in the effort since it is private land. This area would allow access into another stash of future trails which would be very close to town."

City Council did fail to downzone PSB land to Rural-Farm designation from R-3. In effect, the decision was tabled for a joint decision by the PSB and City Council.

Council also unanimously agreed to send a letter to Representative Joe Moody for his meeting with the General Land Office. Moody contacted City lobbyist, Sylvia Firth. She recommended that a letter coming from City Council similar to the letter drafted by Open Space Board members would make a better impression with the GLO. We shall see how close their letter will be to the original drafted by Charlie Wakeem and others on the OSAB.

High and Dry at Centennial Museum

Click on image to enlarge

Over the past decade, the International Center for Arid and Semiarid Land Studies (ICASALS) at Texas Tech University has created an annual exhibit of photographic images of desert lands. The UTEP Centennial Museum is honored to present a stunning collection of sixty images from the current and past shows, featuring landscapes, people, flora and fauna of North American dry lands.

Marshall Carter-Tripp of the Centennial Museum says: "Please join us for the opening reception from 5 to 7 on Thursday, February 11.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More Franklin Mountains Land to Go to Open Space?

Click to enlarge

It seems that owners of 26 acres of land west of Scenic Drive on the east side of the mountain and another 623 acres further north near Hondo Pass are for sale and the owners have indicated that they would prefer to see the land be preserved as open space rather than be developed. However, they have indicated that they need to make a decision soon.

District 2 Representative Susie Byrd is posting this item to the executive session agenda of City Council on February 9, 2010:

Discussion and action on directing staff to negotiate for parcels on the east side of the mountain owned by Daniel T. Knapp, R.E. Knapp, Palo Verde Properties, R.E. and R.A. Knapp for the purpose of open space preservation.

City Council meets in executive session from 8:30 until 9:00 and then goes into public session at 9:30. At that time public comment is invited. Representative Byrd is asking for people to speak in support of preserving this land. If you can't be present at City Council, then she asks that you email her with your statements of support.

People who wish to speak must sign-up to do so. You can sign-up online.

In an email earlier today to Lynn Coyle, President of the Newman Park Neighborhood Association, Julie Rutledge, President of the Manhattan Heights Neighborhood Association, and myself, Rep. Byrd wrote:

I wanted to let you know about an item that I posted with Rep. Robinson on Tuesday's council agenda during Executive Session. There are 26 acres of land available for sale west of Scenic Drive between Wheeling and Savannah [see map posted above]. You have probably seen the For Sale sign. Ideally, I would like to see that land preserved as part of the Franklin State Park. My sense is that most people would agree and would not like to see it developed. The owners would like to see it go to that purpose also but they are paying taxes on the land and need to make some decisions about it soon. I think we might have an option where we could do some sort of short term arrangement with them (a lease or an option) that would allow us a little bit of time to go make a case to the State to buy it. I'm going to ask council to authorize staff to begin negotiating with the property owners to do this.

It would be great to get letters of support to preserve the land for open space . . . “ I would need all of this by Monday though. If you can't have a formal vote on this, can you request that individuals who are supportive email me a note of support?

Thanks. Let me know if you have any questions and if this is something that you might be able to do.


City Council Representative, District 2