Sunday, February 27, 2011

Just in Time for the Windy Season

Because City of El Paso General Services retrofitted trash bins on Scenic Drive . . .

. . . there will be less trash to clean-up on Scenic Drive. (Picture of Rep. Susie Byrd participating in a recent Scenic Drive clean-up.)

Thanks to the City of El Paso General Services trash along Scenic Drive is already decreasing.

There has already been plenty of evidence that El Paso is entering its windy Spring months. One of the terrible consequences of El Paso's high winds is the amount of trash blown out of the trash bins along Scenic Drive - until now.

Previously the bins had no lids; the plastic liners were not secured and plastic bags full of loose trash were at the mercy of winds that would push from below the bins. No longer. The General Services Director of El Paso went to work recently and had his crews retrofit the bins.

"We've secured the can lids on Scenic Drive," Director Stuart Ed reported. "There is an internal latch on the side of the cans and an external latch on the opposite side. We've also added internal plastic liners to prevent the wind from blowing the garbage up and then out."

Now that General Services manages "problems" such as this one in our City Parks, improvements - not excuses - are being made.

For making our environment much better: Thank you, Mr. Ed! (The "E" is long actually as in "he".)

Internal plastic liners and secure lids keep the trash in especially during high winds.

Contact Your State Representatives Now

It is hard to know just where to begin concerning all of the proposed budget cuts which will adversely affect our environmental programs. In an e-letter, I brought up the issue with the Wyler Aerial Tramway. But there is much more: cuts affecting many programs with Texas Parks and Wildlife and other programs vital to a sustainable environment. It even gets personal. There is a program to completely de-fund the State & Tribal Wildlife Grants Program which would mean that our beloved Lois Balin, our Wildlife Biologist, won't have her job come next August. (Here is a sample letter to use to help save the SWG.)

Please read through all of the messages below. Here is a full list of the people who represent you in the State of Texas and how to contact them.

In short, the Parks & Wildlife Department would see a $238.2 million cut in its budget, a full third of its funding, including a loss of about 505 full-time employees. Some additional savings would come from cutting back on programs and grants and deferring minor repair projects in state parks for six months. (For all of the items on the chopping block, go here.)

A message from the Texas Master Naturalist Coordinator, Michelle Haggerty, helps to explain some of the budget issues and where you can address your concerns:

Master Naturalist Chapter Leaders--

Please share the following informational/educational resources and information with your members who may have an interest in knowing about state and national budget impacts affecting programs they are a part of or have an interest in.

As a reminder, this information is being sent to you as a citizen who may be interested in knowing the proposed budget cuts and impacts at both the national and state levels that affect wildlife and natural resource conservation, education and research.

At the National Level:

The current House Appropriations Committee Continuing Resolution has proposed eliminating all funding for the State Wildlife Grants (SWG) program. Senate and House leaders are negotiating on a short-term continuing resolution at this time to avoid a government shutdown. The Senate and House versions of their resolutions each have different impacts ranging from Zero continued funding to maintenance of current funding for the remainder of the year. As a private citizen, NOW would be the time to voice your personal concern on this issue as negotiations continue this and next week. If you so choose, contact:

US Senator for Texas Kay Bailey Hutchison
284 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4304
202-224-0776 (FAX)

US Senator for Texas John Cornyn
517 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
Main: 202-224-2934
Fax: 202-228-2856

Attached are sample letters that we have been asked to share with you by the Texas Teaming with Wildlife Coalition. TPWD agency leaders have also sent letters of support for continued SWG funding outlining the benefits of the funding for the agency and the people and natural resources of Texas along with the impacts of funding cuts for the SWG program.

At the state level:

Other information being shared for your education includes information on the impacts of state budget cuts that could affect programs that interest you or that you are involved with as well.

State Finance and Appropriations Committee hearings are ongoing. Initial hearings regarding the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service were held earlier this month and both will likely be considered again. Current proposed budget cut impacts to both agencies would mean substantial cutbacks in services, staff and programs over the biennium. Citizen testimony may be allowed. More information on committee schedules can be found at

Attached is additional educational information that has been produced by TPWD outlining the impacts of budget cuts to the agency and the programs it offers. These have been distributed to other NGO's and constituents by the agency. We have not been forwarded any similar information from Texas AgriLife Extension at this time other than the message conveyed above.

Should you decide to voice your opinion to national or state legislators on these issues, please know that you have the right to do so as a private citizen but not in the name of the Texas Master Naturalist Program.

Lobbying for or against legislation as a Master Naturalist or a chapter is against the TMN Program's bylaws, code of ethics, and standards of conduct and could result in dismissal from the program. As a Texas Master Naturalist volunteer you are representing the state agencies that sponsor you. Therefore, as a Master Naturalist representative you can't lobby. As an informed or concerned citizen you are representing your own personal views and can lobby for or against whatever you choose.

Thank you for your interest in and passion for the wildlife and natural resources of Texas.

John M Davis
TPWD Wildlife Diversity Program Leader

Michelle Haggerty
Texas Master Naturalist Program Coordinator


Sonny Arnold
Texas Master Naturalist Program Asst. Coordinator

The Master Naturalist program in Texas (of which I am involved in our local El Paso Chapter) provides public education about the environment, ecosystems, flora, fauna, etc. of our region. Although Michelle's message is to Master Naturalists, it can help you direct your comments as well to preserve funding for SWG and the TPWD.

There are 3 documents to give you information and talking points: Key Action Points, Talking Points, and Revised Exceptional Item Request.

John M. Davis, the Acting Wildlife Diversity Program Director, emailed this information:

I have heard from many of you indicating that you have had constituents asking you when and where they can express their opinion to our legislature regarding the budget for TPWD. Well, I’ve asked around and there is a public hearing related to TPWD with the Senate Committee on Finance on Thursday, March 3rd. You can now pass that along to anyone who has expressed an interest. It is my understanding that public testimony will be allowed, but that could change due to limited time, etc. I’m just not sure. It looks like the hearing starts at 12:30pm in room E1.036 (finance room), but folks should confirm that by going online at:

The schedule and room assignments may change, so it’s up to constituents to check for the latest changes should they choose to come speak.

John M. Davis
Acting Wildlife Diversity Program Director
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
4200 Smith School Rd.
Austin, TX 78744

Note that he is speaking about a meeting coming up this Thursday, March 3. There is time for you to contact your Texas State Senator's office.

One final way you can help: Join Teaming with Wildlife, a coalition of more than 6,300 organizations supporting increased public funding for wildlife conservation and related education and recreation. Organization membership will help ensure that state wildlife agencies and their conservation partners have the funding they need to fully implement their wildlife action plans, conserving wildlife and natural areas for future generations.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Judy Ackerman Receives Audubon's Conservation Award

Judy paraphrases John Sproul's words as she accepts the award: "Every conservation victory is temporary."

Environmental and political activist, Judy Ackerman, received this year's Conservation Award from the El Paso/Trans-Pecos Audubon Society this past Saturday. The award was given during the Society's annual dinner which was held at Jaxon's on Airway. In announcing the award, the Audubon newsletter called Judy a "local human rights activist and conservationist" who was being presented the award "for her dedication and hard work to make El Paso a better place to live and more conservation-minded."

Often I hear understatements and appreciate them. However, Judy is nonpareil in her work to preserve natural open space and habitat in El Paso while, at the same time, speaking out for human justice.

Sunrise Hikers, Judy Ackerman and Tommy Young, enjoy the view from atop Ranger Peak after a climb up the Directissimo and Jackaloop Trails.

I cannot say when I first met Judy or her husband, Jamie. They were just always part of the "conservation/progressive milieu." She was there at Master Naturalists, the Native Plant Society, the Cactus and Rock Club, Celebration of Our Mountains meetings and events, and a regular among our Sunrise Hikers. I probably began using the term "usual suspects" to describe our conservation community because Judy's was the picture on that Most Wanted poster.

One of my earliest memories of Judy was her fight against the construction of the border wall being built along our precious river - especially where that wall cut off the Rio Bosque from the Rio Grande. It wasn't just a human rights issue that inspired Judy to sit down in front of God, bulldozers and the Texas Rangers, it was betrayal of an ecosystem, a fracture in the gene pool of species who belong as much to this land as we do. Her civil disobedience did not stop the billions of dollars wasted on a fence that people now just climb over. It did bring a whole bunch of us together and inspired us to care more deeply about the borderless Chihuahuan Desert in which we live and move and have our being. (Read more here and here.)

Judy's tireless work makes each annual Poppy Festival more successful than the last.

Judy is the expert about the preservation of Castner Range (map) as natural open space with the goal of eventually incorporating it into the largest North American urban park: the Franklin Mountains State Park. She was a major force in the preservation of Arroyo 41A - the Mountain to River Trail and for bringing together people who held contrasting opinions at FMWC-sponsored Stakeholder meetings. (The City of El Paso Department of Parks and Recreation just never seemed to be able or to desire to put together such meetings to help save that precious arroyo. Judy did it as a one-woman show.) She has worked hard with the petition drives to save the Scenic Transmountain Corridor. She is endlessly teaching others about the flora on our hikes and she is the guardian angel of the poppies that pop all over Castner Range in the spring. Some of us bushwhack from time to time - but she is quick to remind us of the environmental hazards our adventures might cause. A retired Sergeant Major, she once lectured each and every member of an entire platoon of soldiers for their taking an off-trail shortcut up an arroyo in the State Park.

Judy is often there at Open Space Advisory Board meetings, City Council and League of Women Voters - just to mention a few. She is always a willing volunteer at the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Association booth at numerous venues including Ardovino's Desert Crossing Farmers Market. She keeps us all informed in her emails about announcements, events, timely articles and more. She indeed serves to make our City a better place - and I've never heard her despair or complain.

I suggest that the local Audubon Chapter would do well to rename their annual award "the Judy Ackerman Conservation Award". Future recipients will proudly proclaim: "I won the Judy Ackerman!"

Owl Mine Won't Be Filled In After All

Barn owlets nesting at the top of the shaft last July

Yesterday, I wrote the following in a message to our Sunrise Hikers:

As hikers, many of us know what some call “Owl Cave”. It is an old mine just south of Transmountain Road on the west slope of the ridge above Fusselman Canyon. We began calling it Owl Cave because it is the habitat of some barn owls. Here is a picture of owlets who were recently nesting inside of the steep vertical shaft that joins the horizontal shaft.

Sadly, it has been learned that the Texas Railroad Commission wants to fill in the mind. TRRC is responsible for abandoned mines in Texas and they either remediate (waste banks, etc.) or close (shafts, adits). As you each know they put in the iron grates at the tin mines to allow continued entry and protect anyone from falling. Why can’t they build a railing at Owl Cave? No one has ever fallen in to my knowledge.

Owl Mine is not only a bird habitat and an interesting feature in the State Park, it is an historic site in the history of mining in our region.

If you want to preserve it, email Dr. Cesar Mendez (the Franklin Mountains State Park Superintendent) who is dealing with TRRC about this matter. His email address is: Tell him you don’t want to see the mine filled in because it is an important wildlife habitat, an interesting feature in the Park and an historic site in the annals of mining in the El Paso area. A protective railing and some simple signage would ensure safety and allow barn owls to continue to use the shaft. No one has lost his life. Not one single person. Besides in this time of deep budget cuts, destroying this historic mine and owl habitat seems to be quite a waste of our taxpayer money.

Looking up the mine shaft

It turns out that the information I had been given was somewhat inaccurate. Dr. Cesar Mendez responded with this clarification:

Thanks for your letter expressing your concern about the closing of the mine shaft located on the western slope of Franklin Mountains State Park. I noticed that the information that is circulating is inaccurate. The mine shaft will not be filled. The top hole of the shaft will be protected with a cable net. The bottom access will continue to be open. At the park level, our main priority is the safety of the public. The closing of the mine is a preventive measure. Certainly there are no records of anyone that has fallen or died in this shaft, so we want to keep this record blank. There is an old saying in Spanish “Después de ahogado el niño, a tapar el pozo”, meaning “after the child has drowned, cover the well”. It would be late if the shaft is closed after somebody dies. Because no fatalities have occurred yet, does not mean that they could not occur if the shaft is left open. It is foreseen that more people including children and young adults explore and use the park in the upcoming years, particularly in this growing and expanding urban setting. A railing and signage may not be enough preventive measure to protect the public from a fatal fall. What would we tell the mother of the kid that accidentally slipped or intentionally sneaked under or above the railing and fell in the shaft? The closing of the shaft is obviously a decision that has taken into consideration many factors. The project does not call for destroying this historic mine, but to make it a safer place for the public. Park users that want to learn more about mining activities in the Franklin Mountains will have a safer visit to this site. The project was intentionally delayed to allow the Barn Owls complete their breeding period. Barn Owls are relatively common birds in this area and there are many other potential nesting sites within the state park and its vicinity. I am sympathetic with your concern about the wildlife; however this project will not have an impact on the population of Barn Owls in the area, other than the brief impact on that particular nesting pair. They will likely find another suitable nesting site nearby. Finally, I have passed this concern to the Rail Road Commission of Texas, ultimately they are in charge of making abandoned mines a safer place to the public.


Cesar Mendez, Park Superintendent

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Franklin Mountains State Park

1331 McKelligon Canyon Road

El Paso, Texas, 79930

Ph: 915-566-6441 ext. 22 Fax: 915-566-1849

Monday, February 21, 2011

March 1 - Not Tomorrow - is Petition Day

Put March 1 at 9 a.m. on your calendar. That is the day when we will submit petitions to City Council. We are going to wait one more week – and it is the last week that we can wait.

I know that some of you marked tomorrow to come to City Council. Please mark March 1 only instead.

Here is a portion of the message that I sent earlier to those who have been active petition gatherers:

We are going to wait one more week. I know that I keep sounding like the boy who cried wolf – but next Tuesday, March 1, is our drop dead date. Why? City Council will hear TxDOT’s presentation on the Transmountain project and they will consider the Traffic Impact Analysis about building Paseo del Norte and Plexxar. We have to present petitions then.

There are 3 reasons for delaying until the last possible day:

1. It would be great if we can get another 100-200 signatures for both [petitions]. This last week gives us this opportunity.

2. Some of the key players for this petition can’t make it tomorrow but can for March 1.

3. Finally, I have a selfish reason. [A dear friend] lost her father and his Mass and Burial begin at 9 tomorrow at Ft. Bliss. I want to be there for her and her family.

So, one more week. Please keep pushing. All petitions should come to me by next Monday evening.

Jim H. Tolbert
Publisher, El Paso Naturally
Leading the way for sustainable living in the El Paso Southwest

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Petition Submission and Transmountain Public Hearing Scheduled

Circle these dates and plan to attend if you can:

Tuesday, February 22 @ 8:30 a.m. (approximately) – El Paso City Council. Petition Number 1 will be submitted!

Tuesday, March 1 @ 8:30 a.m. (approximately) – El Paso City Council. Council will hear the TxDOT Transmountain plan and will weigh in on alternatives. They need to hear from you!

Tuesday, March 22 @ 6:00/7:00 p.m. – Canutillo High School – TxDOT’s formal public hearing for the Transmountain Road Project I-10 east to the Franklin Mountain State Park entrance. (See below).

The Federal Highway Administration has given TxDOT approval to release the Environmental Assessment (EA) for public comment and review. TxDOT’s Environmental Assessment is available online. It’s a big file so be patient and prepared to use the magnifying tool. The formal public hearing is scheduled for March 22nd at Canutillo High School starting at 6 p.m. with an open house.

Here is the information as published at

Public Hearing - Loop 375 Transmountain Rd. Project I-10 to east of the Franklin Mountain State Park Entrance


Canutillo High School
6675 South Desert Blvd.
El Paso, TX


Tuesday, Mar. 22, 2011
6 p.m. - Open House
7:00 p.m. - Public Hearing


The purpose of the hearing is to provide information about the proposed improvements to Loop 375 from I-10 to east of the Franklin Mountains State Park entrance, a distance that includes approximately 3.6 miles of mainlanes and approximately 2.10 miles of frontage roads (from Northwestern Drive to Paseo Del Norte Drive).


The proposed improvements will consist of expanding the current two-lane undivided roadway to a four-lane divided roadway with two-lane frontage roads. The improvements also include grade separated intersections at Northwestern Drive, Resler Drive, Plexxar Drive and Paseo del Norte Drive as well as two direct connectors from Loop 375 west to I-10 east and from I-10 west to Loop 375 east. As part of this project shared hike-and-bike trail will be constructed separate from the roadways, near the Loop 375 right-of-way line, between the intersections of Northwestern Drive and Paseo del Norte Drive. Access to the LP 375 main lanes and frontage roads will be by means of entrance and exit ramps at various locations between intersections. The right-of-way (ROW) footprint and geometric design provides for expansion to six main lanes from Northwestern Drive to east of Paseo del Norte Drive.


· Notice of Public Hearing

· Notice of Public Hearing (Español)

· Project Location

· Environmental Assessment


TxDOT El Paso District
Public Information Office
Phone: (915) 790-4200

There’s more – much more. Enough for now.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Family Camping in Franklin Mountains State Park

Click image to enlarge.


Media Contacts:

Cesar Mendez at 915.566.6441 ext 22 or

Erika Rubio at 915.566.6441 ext 21 or

Lindsey Davis at 512.581.8173 or



EL PASO, Texas – Have you always wanted to take your family camping, but really weren’t sure how to go about it? If so, Texas Parks and Wildlife has designed the Texas Outdoor Family program for folks just like you. Due to the enormous interest generated by the program, Texas Outdoor Family is headed out west, to the largest urban wilderness park in the nation, on March 5-6th at Franklin Mountains State Park. El Paso families who have always wanted to go camping together, but weren’t sure how to go about it, are encouraged to attend this weekend campout.

During the overnight Texas Outdoor Family program, families will spend much of the weekend learning not only how to pitch a tent, cook outdoors and learn about nature, but also how to use a global positioning system (GPS) to navigate trails and locate hidden caches. The program also teaches participants about conservation ethics and introduces them to park rangers and what they do.

At almost 26,000 acres, Franklin Mountains State Park protects prime Chihuahuan Desert habitats within an urban setting. The park is home to numerous species of plants and animals. At the Tom Mays Unit, park visitors can enjoy the Wildlife Viewing Area and spend time watching Quails and Doves as well as other species of birds coming back and forth for water and food. More than a dozen species of lizards and snakes are commonly found throughout the park. Ground squirrels, cottontails, and jackrabbits are seen during the day. At dawn and dusk, visitors may encounter mule deer, gray fox, coyote, and ringtail cat. The park has over 50 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails with spectacular views. Rock climbing, primitive camping (no water or electricity available in the entire park), picnicking, and nature viewing are other activities that can be performed at the park. The Tom Mays Unit entrance is located 3.5 from I-10 on Trans Mountain Road.

The workshop costs $65 per family (up to six people), and includes individual camping sites for each family, dry restrooms, professional park ranger-led programs and instruction (bilingual), overnight state park police officer public safety and security, a curriculum developed specifically for use and enjoyment of a state park, and state park Junior Ranger certification programs. The entire approach adopts a ’Leave No Trace’ philosophy so it’s environmentally friendly.

"There’s no experience, equipment or supplies (other than sleeping bags and food) necessary for these workshops," said Chris Holmes, the State Park Outdoor Programs Coordinator who is organizing the new workshop series. "We recognize that many people in today’s increasingly urban culture don’t have the same skills or backgrounds as earlier generations of Texans. These weekend workshops offer a supportive environment where families can get started in safe and comfortable settings." He continues, “Everybody is welcome at these workshops and the definition of a family comes in many forms, it may be you and your partner, grandchildren, single parents, friends from church, school or neighborhood.”

For workshops in state parks, families are expected to bring their own food for the two-day workshops, and a suggested shopping and packing lists for meals and personal items will be provided.

Visit the Texas Outdoor Family Web page for more information, including the complete schedule of weekend workshops.

Families can register by calling (512) 389-8903 and speaking to a Texas Outdoor Family representative Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-to-6 p.m., or send e-mail to anytime. After registration, a confirmation packet with directions and details will be sent.

On the Web:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Fix Is In: Traffic Impact Analysis for Transmountain

The Transmountain Traffic Impact Analysis is now available. Here's the conclusion:

"Collectively, the Department of Engineering and Construction Management and the El Paso Department of Transportation share the opinion that both the full interchange at Transmountain and Paseo del Norte and the overpass at Plexxar are valuable and important components of the project and should be constructed with the project."

In other words, start the bulldozers and tear up the Scenic Transmountain Corridor. They don't listen. Read it and weep:

You can see the other documents here, here and here. You may have to open a scribd account and follow me to see the docs.

"I'm Not a Plumber"

Last week as El Pasoans endured rolling blackout after rolling blackout, lack of natural gas and broken pipes and near empty water reservoirs, it became blatantly apparent that one person was missing: the supposed "people's" Mayor, "Guitar" Johnny Cook. So where was he? Watch this video from Hector H. Lopez of Talk Radio KHRO to find out: