Thursday, June 30, 2011

Guadalupe Mountains NP Announces Closures Due to Fires, Dry Conditions

Guadalupe Mountains National Park News Release - Temporary Closure Of_ Back Country Overnight Camping

To stay current on fires in New Mexico State, visit NM Fire Information.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dog Dies on the Directissimo

I just got word from John Moses, the Superintendent of the Franklin Mountains State Park, that a dog died on a hike on the Directissimo just a little while ago. There were 3 youths and 3 dogs hiking and one dog perished. Why? The heat.

The air temperature may be 100° or 106° (as it is right now). However – and this is a critical fact to learn – the rock temperature may be anywhere from 150° to 165°. The limestone and the rhyolite pack a punch. The air temperature alone makes hiking beyond mid-morning dangerous. Add to it the rock temperature and you might as well sit on top of your barbeque and start the fire.

Just yesterday a hiker got into trouble in Tom Mays Park because he was dehydrated and had to call for rescue.

Please hike only in the cool hours of the morning. Even then, during this time of year, take a liter of water per hour of hiking at a minimum. Wear a hat and clothing that will protect you from the sun. Wear sunscreen. If you take your dog, take extra water for your pet. Stop often to hydrate. Take a cell phone. It is best not to hike alone. Let others know where you are going. Don’t deviate from your plan.

Remember: it is not just the ambient air temperature that is the danger. It is the temperature of the rocks that will bake you and your animal.

Finally, Sunrise Hiker Legacy Mark Johns informed me that just last Wednesday a bicyclist was bitten by several bees in the North Hills area of the Franklin Mountains State Park. It was reported in this morning’s El Paso Times that a couple was bitten in San Elizario. It’s hot and it’s dry! Be and stay alert.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Mountain Lion to Remember, El Paso, Texas

A Mountain Lion to Remember, El Paso, Texas Facebook Group
I was one of thousands of people living in El Paso who were saddened by the tragic death of a mountain lion in downtown El Paso on May 10, 2011.  This facebook group was established to remember that day and to help teach others about this magnificent creature in hopes that our city will someday learn how to share El Paso with native wildlife.

It was a beautiful morning in El Paso on May 10, 2011.  President Obama would soon make his second visit to deliver a speech on immigration at Chamizal National Memorial and the community anticipated his arrival.  Not far away in downtown El Paso a very rare wildlife drama was unfolding at the H & H Car Wash as people were both amazed and afraid at the sight of a full grown mountain lion that had wandered into the building. 

No one knows where this lion came from, but I suspect that during the wee hours of the morning or the previous night when few people were awake she wandered down from the Franklin Mountains.  She was first spotted along the railroad tracks before being seen walking around the car wash.  TV cameras were on hand as the Texas Health Department Veterinarian aimed his tranquilizer dart gun at the big cat as police and other law enforcement officials looked on.  Unfortunately for the lion and this amazing symbol of wilderness in the heart of the city, the tranquilizer was slow to take hold.  As the lion instinctively tried to escape what was obviously a fearful situation, her adrenaline kicked in as she moved away from the threatening danger.  In her last dying act she escaped the confines of the chain link gate that enclosed her inside the car wash when police had no choice but to consider her an immediate danger to any one nearby.  Seconds later she was shot to death.  As the news of the President’s speech spread across the city a second headline filled the air: “Mountain Lion, Shot, Killed at El Paso Car Wash.” 

It has now been five weeks since that day and people are still talking about their concern for wildlife in our city.  Debates continue about what parts of the desert and mountains to develop and what parts to protect for wildlife.  While we go about our everyday lives living in air-conditioned houses and riding in air conditioned cars, mountains lions and other wildlife species struggle to survive the harsh desert terrain where every day they must find food and water.  Many survive completely alone coming together with others of their own species only to breed.  As temperatures soar in the triple digits, few animals move around during the heat of the day.  Every individual that survives the harsh environment which sometimes includes having to cross busy highways like Loop 375 and other roadways offers a small measure of hope for the future of their kind.   

If they can survive what nature has set before them and what we as humanity has added to the mix, then there is hope for them and for us.  But if the world becomes unsafe for wildlife, it certainly will be less safe for people.  For their fate is our fate, their survival is our survival, their hope our hope.

Rick LoBello, June 16, 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Really Bad News For Mexican Wolves

New Mexico Governor Martinez’s decision to end New Mexico cooperation with the federal government on helping to save endangered wolves combined with the powerful fire currently destroying wolf habitat in Arizona is the worst news ever for the plight of critically endangered wolves. To allow this important part of the ecosystem to go extinct in the wild for the second time in thirty years would be a major setback for conservation efforts in North America and around the world. All parts of the ecosystem are important to the survival of humanity and we need wolves like we need deer, elk, bear, and hundreds of other species to help maintain the biological integrity of our forests in the Southwest. Join me in sending a message to Governor Martinez and our elected representatives that this action is not acceptable to the people of her State and to others across the country. Learn More on How You Can Help

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

All They Want Is a Parking Lot

Let me just quote from today's post at the Borderland Mountain Bike Association site and email message:

For over a year now, the club has been planning a parking lot and "official" trailhead for the Redd Rd. trail network. This parking lot is planned to be under the power lines across the street from the dental offices along the paved road that goes up to the water tanks. A trail map and information sign will be posted at the top of the hill next to the water tank.

We originally sat down with employees of the Public Service Board, our water utilities people and controllers of most of the city managed land, and discussed this plan with them. They seemed all excited and we had a company draw out plans and give us a quote that is less than $3000. This amount can easily be paid by us as we've raised plenty of money through donations, memberships, and the Puzzler race. We've yet to hear anything else on this issue and now the PSB is stalling and wants us to provide a handicapped space and pay for a drainage survey which they could easily do themselves in a matter of minutes using their fancy digital mapping software.

Wednesday we will be approaching the Board of the PSB to get them to act on this plan since it will cost them nothing, we have the money to pay for it, and the city really needs to begin providing parking areas to popular recreational areas such as the Redd Rd. trails. Some of you may say, "Why bother? I just park on Redd Rd. or the dentist's lot." In less than a couple of years, Redd will continue through as Helen of Troy and traffic will be a concern. Crossing the road and parking on it will be unsafe or may become impossible.

If you'd like to see a trailhead parking area, please let the PSB and City Council know. Contact your city council rep to let him/her know that you heard the BMBA is willing to build a trailhead parking lot, but we are facing stalling tactics and even opposition to the plan. If you can attend the PSB meeting this Wednesday at 9 am, contact Cynthia Montoya at 594-5596 or email at Let her know that you want speaking time during the call from the public. You don't have to speak, but reserving the time allows you to pass your time to someone else like me so I can ramble on and annoy the Board....just kidding. Reserving time to speak lets the board know that people are interested in this topic.

The PSB meets at the EPWU Building on Hawkins just north of I-10 on the east side of the road.....easy access. Meetings can last well into the lunch hour, but usually don't. Coming early allows you to see the Mayor make a fool of himself.

Dave Wilson
BMBA President

Wilson is referring to the fact that the issue will be brought up tomorrow at the PSB's meeting beginning at 9 a.m. on the 4th floor of the EPWU Building, 1154 Hawkins Boulevard. (Map) Unfortunately, in order to bring the matter up, PSB member, Dr. Rick Bonart, will have to do so during the Call to the Public portion of the meeting. He will simply be asking (as a member of the public without any courtesy granted to him as a Board member) to have the item added to the July agenda. The silliness of the hierarchy of the PSB/EPWU makes such a parliamentary procedure necessary.

In addition, the Redd Road trailhead before the PSB is not the only trailhead that they seem to be unable to address. This is a group of people under the tight-fisted leadership of Ed Archuleta, a man not elected by a single citizen of the City of El Paso and a man leading an organization that has assumed nearly co-equal power with El Paso City government, that will not budge on a single cubic centimeter of land because the entire issue is the maintaining of Archuleta's power and that of his cronies at EPWU and in commerce.

An effort has been underway to identify trailheads around the mountain that should be preserved and maintained as entrances to the State Park and as access by the people of El Paso to recreation in the Franklin Mountains. Ed, who once sang the praises of the Palisades as the gateway to El Paso's "central park" (presumably this means the people's park), now holds out the possibility that people may not be able to use the Palisades as an entrance to the mountains at all. Response to the effort to identify and preserve trailheads has not been forthcoming from Mr. Ed. Although Planning staff has shared trailhead maps with EPWU officials, those officials insist that they have received no maps. When a contingency of City and TPWD staff along with two OSAB citizen members toured the trailheads yesterday, invited PSB officials did not join in.

Simply put, it is more than just the Redd Road trailhead where PSB is stalling.

And, by the way, a chain had to be cut off of a gate leading to a City park at Ojo de Agua yesterday - a chain placed there by the nefarious PSB/EPWU power mongers.

And, one last but very significant "by the way": PSB by State Law (that's Texas State Law) cannot own land. It's City land which is unfortunately managed by the PSB. (BTW - okay one last btw - the management of City land by the PSB historically seems to coincide with the end of El Paso's being a leader in the Southwest and becoming instead a playground of developers. Was the PSB formed to manage water or to see that certain powerful business interests profited from unregulated sprawl? Just something to think about.)

15 Percent!

Beginning in 120 days 15 percent of property areas in new and redevelopments must be landscaped according to an ordinance passed today at City Council. Currently the percentage is just 7.5%.

Planning and Development has worked hard for several months now to put together this new landscape ordinance which puts El Paso on the same par as other comparable southwestern cities such as Tucson and Albuquerque. The plan had been vetted through a number of meetings with all stakeholders. As a member of both the Open Space Advisory Board and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board as well as the Chairman of the Tree Sub-Committee of PRAB, I had been part of two teams of people who recommended that the landscapable area be set at 15% with trees on the parkway at spaces of 30 feet and more trees in a parking lot.

Of course, the El Paso CCC (Chamber of Commerce Cheapskates) opposed the increase in landscapabe area. City of El Paso staff struck a compromise of 9% with them. However, in their presentation to City Council given by Matthew McElroy, staff showed a matrix that revealed the current 7.5%, the compromise of 9% and the OSAB and PRAC (including Tree Sub-Committee) recommendations of 15%. McElroy made it clear that the 15% would simply put us on par with other southwest cities.

CCC (Chamber of Commerce Cheapskates) moaned that businesses would suffer burdensome costs and developers would pass the expenses onto businesses, etc., etc. One CCCer argued that the ordinance would discourage infill and promote sprawl as if CCCers ever opposed sprawl. (Their championship of development in NW El Paso along the TxDOT super highway "Transmountain" and the future new Mesa Avenue to be known as Paseo del Norte has sprawl written all over it.)

Here's what the CCCers don't get: investments in the quality of life of the community attracts new people and better jobs to the City. In turn, these new people and better jobs means bigger markets for their goods and services which, in the long run, means more profit for themselves and greater wealth for the community and its citizens. Invest a little now for more later. Instead, they can only see today's bottom line profit and a need to compete for the paltry few dollars in a community where wealth is not expanding in and to every household.

Fortunately today the City Council by a vote of 6 to 2 saw it differently. It was retiring Council representative, Beto O'Rourke, who made the motion to accept the 15% as recommended by OSAB and PRAB - a percentage made abundantly clear by Mr. McElroy's presentation. "We can aspire to be mediocre or to take steps to be a great City," O'Rourke said as he made his motion. Only Eddie Holguin and Carl Clueless Robinson voted against it.

McElroy's leadership in this whole matter is shared with City Attorney Lupe Cuellar, City Planner Fred Lopez, Planner Shamori Whitt and many others including citizen volunteers who tirelessly serve on boards and committees. Today El Paso won. Perhaps many who currently pay for memberships in the CCC will spend their money more wisely or vote to have Chamber leaders who have the vision of an O'Rourke, an Ortega, a Fred Lopez, Matt McElroy or Charlie Wakeem. For the sake of the commonwealth of the City and the greater profitability of its businesses, let us hope so.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Good News on the Mountain Lion Front

Picture of mountain lion in Ruidoso taken on 5-14-11. The house where it was taken is just around the corner from an elementary school. The mound of dirt in the picture is a deer that the lion covered up in the front yard.

Shortly after my last blog post about the shooting of a mountain lion on May 10th in downtown El Paso, I went on vacation principally to attend my son's graduation from law school in Connecticut. (I'm a very proud father.) During that time, I didn't attend to email (much) nor blog or send out any e-letters. I wanted time away and time away I took.

Prior to leaving I made two open records requests: one to the El Paso Police Department and one to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. An agent of the TABC also fatally wounded the mountain lion at H&H Car Wash. Both requests asked for the same information: copies of the incident reports made by the officer or agent, documentation of the protocols for dealing with wild animals (especially large predators) and documentation of the training programs officers and agents receive about dealing with large predators. I expected that there would be nothing on either a protocol or training and I was right. The videos of the incident, eyewitness reports and the incident reports themselves revealed that what occurred could have been titled "The Keystone Cops Meet King Kong".

When I did return from my time away I became worried that the whole matter would be swept under the carpet. Separate emails from officials of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department justified the shootings and there was nothing about addressing what should be done in the future. One of those emails was frankly very upsetting. I felt that this officer was clearly protecting the officer and agent involved in the killing of the cat.

However, I have good news to report. On the initiative of El Paso Animal Services (and almost simultaneously Urban Wildlife Biologist, Lois Balin), a meeting of concerned parties was put together and held yesterday. Attending the meeting was Ms. Balin, veterinarians from Animal Services and the El Paso Zoo, Dr. Ken Waldrup and one of his associates, the Game Warden who was also involved on the 10th, a 911 dispatcher and Chief of Police, Greg Allen. Several of the attendees described Allen to me as an "animal lover" who was "upset" by the incident.

Although no follow-up meeting has yet to be scheduled and no formal protocol has been established yet for future engagements with wild animals, there was a meeting of the mind on several key issues:

First, crowd control was missing. Again the videos and eyewitness reports describe a circus environment of people chasing the cat, gawking, throwing rocks and bottles at it when trapped at the car wash. The media was not kept at bay. Bottom line: the very condition that caused officers to shoot was caused by their lack of controlling the crowd so that the animal could be still and the tranquilizer could work. The animal had been chased from the State Building garage by a crowd of people who then chased it through St. Clement's School.

In the incident report of TABC Wes Rappe, Rappe notes that he asked Captain Newman, the game warden, whether "cougars" were "predisposed to run from humans" and Newman said "yes". Nevertheless, throughout his report, Rappe reveals his palpable fear that the cat would attack and maul someone. Let's see, it avoided people from the train tracks to the State Building parking garage. It leaped from the second floor of that garage to get away from people, it ran past children at St. Clement's, it knocked over a transient and kept on running until it was trapped at H&H. When exactly was it supposed to attack and maul someone? Rappe's report is the longest of the incident reports by several pages and it seems to be a long-winded justification for the killing of the cat who appeared to pose no danger but who was scared by a mob uncontrolled by law enforcement officers from the very beginning.

It is good news to hear that those meeting yesterday (including Chief Allen) agree that crowd control was a major issue and probably created the very situation that made the animal seemingly dangerous to officers attempting to protect the public and who had no training dealing with a mountain lion.

Next, communication was lacking between the different officers, agents, veterinarians and animal control personnel. The right hand did not know what the left hand was doing. There was nobody in charge - nobody calling the shots. (Pun not intended.) Members of yesterday's meeting agreed that the public should be held back at least 100 yards. They also agreed that the dispatcher will play a key role assembling the team to respond to future similar events. Essential to chemical immobilization will be Dr. Waldrup (who has been described as the expert in the country on immobilizing wildlife and who has vast experience including time in Africa and New Zealand). Along with Dr. Waldrup are Animal Control vets and the Zoo vet.

Finally, police and other enforcement officials (with guns) must receive training about wildlife. The incident reports, eyewitnesses and even members from the meeting describe the perception of the animal as something like a King Kong or a Godzilla. To be sure mountain lions are dangerous and to be sure they must be put down if there is a real and present danger - and not just one caused by the glee and hysteria of people uncontrolled by officials. For all of this to end well, a training component must be inserted into the development of police officers. Although the City of El Paso Police Procedures Manual does have a short section on "Animal Incidents" (3-408), the incidents described are more like encounters with rabid dogs than mountain lions.

El Paso is fortunate in that it has an Urban Biologist and one with great expertise and credibility: Lois Balin. One of her great talents is putting together educational presentations. She has a meeting with City Manager Joyce Wilson this coming Monday. Hopefully, training for wildlife encounters will be a part of their discussion.

How will we know that real good has come out of the event of the 10th. First, there will be a written protocol, a matrix, for responding and for chain of command. Second, there will be a written training module for officers regarding encounters with large wildlife.

Squirrel enjoying a pumpkin at home against the Franklin Mountains

Although it finally "rained" after a record 119 days without rain, the mountains throughout our region are still bone dry and animals of all kinds are finding their way into our neighborhoods searching for food and water. (By the way, Ms. Balin told me that we should not feed even the smaller animals. By doing so, we enlarge the habitat of the animals which feed on them - mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes. It is one thing to have a rock squirrel burrowing in one's backyard (as I do), it is another thing to have a bobcat hunting that squirrel in the backyard and taking an interest in the neighbor's Chihuahua. (Well, let me think about this a bit.)

Coyote at home in Picacho Hills, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Finally, a footnote. The lion's origin is not known. However, because of its size and healthy condition including lack of scars or signs of "tread" on its paws or claws, it may have been a "pet". It is said that drug lords (any of those around these parts?) keep wild animals. I did not ask for a copy of the necropsy although it might be interesting to learn what the animal's final meal was. Whatever the origin, had there been proper training, appropriate and timely crowd control, the event may have turned out much differently. Let us hope that the City of El Paso will adopt a written protocol for such events and that officers and other agents receive proper training from now on.
Click on image to enlarge.

Celebrate National Trails Day this Saturday at 9:45 a.m. at Keystone Heritage Park, 4200 Doniphan Drive. (Map) The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its trail partners will host naturalist-guided tours at the park as part of the completion of the 15-year-old Great Texas Wildlife Trails. This nature event is historic for several reasons:

  • This is the 15th anniversary of the first Texas Wildlife Trail . . . and Texas was the first state to establish wildlife trails to help visitors get their most out of the outdoors!
  • Our Far West Texas Wildlife Trail completes the state's suite of trails
  • We're also celebrating National Trails Day and El Paso's considerable outdoor/adventure assets
  • Free admission to Keystone Heritage Park (4200 Doniphan) for the event; lots of fun, free giveaways for attendees, including copies of the map itself!