Friday, October 30, 2015

The Friday Video: Flight over Sunset Trails of FMSP

The video above was shot by Derek Spear. It is a flight over the Scenic Overlook and Sunset Trails at the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park. Check out and subscribe to Adventure Drone on YouTube. Look at his other terrific videos.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Cemex Continues to Eradicate Mountainside

Click on image to enlarge. A long, long time ago when the McKelligon Canyon Quarry was not. Sugar Loaf  Mountain is on the far right in the foreground.

Aerial of Cemex Quarry, 2014. Sugar Loaf is center right.
Photo by Scott Cutler

I was interviewed today by Daniela Pardo of KTSM El Paso. She and her crew met me at the Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park to talk about the Cemex quarry. KTSM is working on a story to air next week. The interview helped me to focus on quarrying and especially on the painful quarrying at Cemex's McKelligon Canyon operation. 

I understand the need to mind rock, sand, gravel and limestone. We need these materials for our homes, our roads, our sidewalks and, to some extent our landscaping. What I question is how much is adequate and how well we choose alternatives.

As we entered the State Park, I pointed out the use of red rock (rhyolite) to trim and landscape the entry. Much of that rock is used in our landscapes, our medians and our parkways. It comes principally from the Cemex McKelligon Canyon operation. I pointed out the caliche along the hills to the news crew. We dig up huge amounts of it all over town when we excavate for roads or buildings. Then we dump it. Why can't we use more of that in our landscaping and gouge out less of our mountains?

I know about landscapers in the Tucson area who, when digging up the caliche in the yard, then use the rock in the landscaping rather than buying rock quarried from our precious mountainsides.

With the glass recycling pilot program starting in January, El Pasoans will have yet another alternative for mulching. Rather than red rock of all sizes, we can use glass. Also, with all of the dead trees around town that many people can't afford to cut down, perhaps the City could start a mulching program. They could take down the dead trees for free, chip the wood, and use it as mulch instead of rock. 

Quarrying and especially the Cemex operation produces dust no matter how much water they spray to keep the dust down. (There's that issue of water scarcity again.) Many in the neighborhoods below Cemex have complained over the years about respiratory distress. Then there is the loss of ecosystem services and habitat. 

We just don't need this much mining and we need to find alternatives. The City of El Paso could take a giant leap toward rescuing our Franklin Mountains by refusing to buy anymore rock and setting restrictions on its use in landscaping.

Hopefully the KTSM story will be a good values clarification for El Pasoans. What are we doing to our beautiful mountain? How do my buying habits encourage the destruction of the mountains? How can my voting elect people who really care?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Secure Energy for a Sustainable Future

Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, Tonopah, AZ

The future of El Paso is the reason so many oppose the El Paso Electric rate hikes and their attempt to destroy the rooftop solar industry. EPEC's business model does not provide El Paso with a secure and sustainable future.

Consider that we get about 30% of our power from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Tonopah, Arizona, 485 miles away from us. Not only do we lose about 6% of that energy from there to here, but there is a lot of nothing between there and here. A lot of nothing makes us vulnerable.

Consider this fact from USA Today: "More often than once a week, the physical and computerized security mechanisms intended to protect Americans from widespread power outages are affected by attacks, with less severe cyberattacks happening even more often." Be sure to watch the video in the online article.

Attack on Yemen grid

Consider what happened last year in Yemen following a terrorist attack on the electric grid as reported by Peter Kelly-Detwiller in Forbes.

Watch the CNN video:

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Not only does our current network of power distribution from faraway generating stations means that we lose power in transition, but we also leave ourselves vulnerable to sabotage.

With rooftop solar the energy you use is the closest to where you need it: from your rooftop to your home or business. If you don't need it, those little electrons will just take the path of least resistance to your neighbor as she runs her washing machine or your abuelita as she tries to keep warm.

EPEC wants to raise everyone's rates in order to make-up for a model of distribution which is not efficient serving homes and businesses which are more energy efficient. And you should pay higher rates for lowering your energy needs?

Solar is about the future. EPEC is about the past.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Oil, Gas and Solar Industries

Do we need the oil and gas industries? The answer is an obvious "yes". In fact, I'll go further. I am grateful to these industries. After all, I drive a car powered by an internal combustion engine that burns gasoline. I drive on streets paved with asphalt. Polymers are ubiquitous in my lifestyle. 

However, I have four problems with the fossil fuel industries. First, they do contribute more to climate change than alternative sources such as solar for example. Next, they do extraordinary violence to the environment and to the earth. Fracking and oil sands (tar sands) productions are the most vile of Orcs. Third, they are more politically powerful than each of us who cast a vote. They wield that power to stifle the free market of competition. That is why the Koch Boys want to help utilities across the country destroy the rooftop solar industry. Finally, like so many things in our consumer economy, oil and gas is overused. This final objection is really not about the fossil fuel industries but about our choices as consumers. 

To be sure, the production of photovoltaic panels is not as clean and green as we would want. However, changes occurring in that industry are moving in the direction of being cleaner. Recycling toxic compounds has become more of the standard than the exception. Better yet, less or non-toxic compounds are being substituted for nastier chemicals. There is a small amount of water used in the production of photovoltaics since other fluids are used. Finally it is becoming increasingly the case that photovoltaics are powering photovoltaic plants and not natural gas meaning that the industry is decreasing their carbon footprint. To be sure, there is much more to be done. 

Keep in mind that our consumption of fossil fuels is principally as an energy source. If you take a barrel of oil, only 7% of it is used for non-energy products: petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, rubber, etc. 

So, is the fossil fuel industry a bad guy? No except when they use their vast wealth to crush competition, buy state legislators to pass laws against local governments putting restrictions on fracking and wreak havoc on the environment. Still, in the final analysis, the finger must be pointed at you and me who make consumer choices that provide the market for any industry to run a profitable business. That is why I am all for an unstifled market place by powerful interests such as the oil and gas lobbies. That is also why I'm trying as a consumer to make better choices and live greener while realizing that there are and always will be trade-offs.

Friday, October 23, 2015

More Mule Deer Sightings

I love these animals. A reader who lives near Temple Mt. Sinai just north of Crazy Cat mountain took these pictures. These are probably the same mule deer that were recently spotted at the Palisades. 

Mule deer are browsers who like lower branches of trees, grasses and shrubbery. They need range which is why it is so critical that any development around the Franklins respects their and other animal's habitat. By the way, their mating season is about to begin.

Click image to enlarge.

At the very right hand bottom of the map is the Palisades. About 45° northwest of there is the Synagogue and just below that is Canterbury Dr. along an arroyo. The animals have also been seen at the Camelot Condominiums just to the north of Temple Mt. Sinai.

Our Franklin Mountains are the home of an abundance of animal (and plant) species. Tomorrow, the local Audubon Society is leading a birding trip from the Museum of Archaeology as part of Celebration of Our Mountains. Join them. You may see more than just birds.

Get outside!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Don't Get Shockleyed

El Paso Electric Company - not exactly the future
Someone recently sent me a link to Six ways oil and gas drilling is bad news for the environment by the Wilderness Society. It's an easy read with some graphic images. In fact, just scrolling through the images will sicken you enough. The point sticks that we (our community, nation, world) need to switch fast to cleaner energy sources.

The need to switch is just one more reason to oppose El Paso Electric Company's rate hike proposals and their attempt to destroy the rooftop solar industry. EPEC wants you to pay for their business model based on the past and not on the future. You pay for their "clean" natural gas power stations. (Just remember how devastatingly unclean producing that gas is. Scroll through those pictures again.) You pay for their mostly idle power stations. Demand has gone down. We really do have more energy efficient homes and appliances. You pay for their squashing the future of rooftop solar technology which, in time, will become affordable to all.

In fact, the day will come (soon I believe) when the ability of a single solar home to store power for use at night will be convenient and cheap. Solar panels and batteries will become fixtures in our homes just as vacuum cleaners and smart TVs are. 

El Pasoans should be able to invest their money in making their homes more energy efficient not in making EPEC CEO Tom Shockley richer. Just look at his salary and bonus history. Wow! And he wants to raise your rates!

Don't get Shockleyed by El Paso Electric. Oppose the rate hikes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Spend the Day at Keystone Heritage Park

Click on image to enlarge.
Definitely click on the image above to read all about this great event on Saturday at Keystone Heritage Park. It is a Celebration of Our Mountains event.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

El Paso Can Learn from Sammamish Washington

Click on image to enlarge. Picture taken at a 7-11 on Zaragoza just north of 375
El Paso could learn a few things about protecting trees from Sammamish, Washington. A friend sent me a link to the Sammamish Review's online story: City now has strongest tree ordinance in state, mayor says. It did my heart good. I lived in Sammamish for a number of years. My kids graduated from high school there. 

Simply put, the fine for removing a protected tree is now $1,500 per inch of diameter and I can tell you that there are some pretty big trees up there. The ordinance encourages conservation development. On top of that, Sammamish plans to set a goal to increase their canopy to 50%. Can El Paso increase their canopy? Maybe not to 50%, but we could sure do more truly to be a Tree City USA. 

Along with protecting trees, there is a need in El Paso to treat trees correctly. There is a proper way to prune in order to keeps trees healthy and beautiful and to ensure their longevity. 

As you can see from the picture at the top taken in east El Paso at a Seven-Eleven, there are really bad ways to treat trees. That is why it is so important to get people to attend this year's Sun Country Landscape Conference sponsored by the West Texas Urban Forestry Council.

Rather than a one day event as in the past, there will be three days each day devoted to a different community: tree and landscape workers (workshop in Spanish), green industry professionals and homeowners. Here's the press release:

Sun Country Landscaping Conference
November 19, 20, 21, 2015

“One Community, One Canopy: Learning Together, Growing Together” is the theme of this year’s Sun Country Landscaping Conference. The conference targets three groups: tree and landscape workers, green industry professionals and homeowners. The three day conference will devote one day to each group:

Thursday, November 19, 2015, 7:30 am to 12:00 pm – A Spanish language workshop with field demonstrations designed for tree and landscape workers will cover tree selection, installation and establishment, pruning, and diagnosis and plant disorder. Workshop will be held at the El Paso Garden Center, 3105 Grant Avenue at Memorial Park. The fee for the program is $30 or $50 after November 6. Space is limited so participants should register as soon as possible by calling 915-834-5610 or 915-771-2354.

Friday, November 20, 2015, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm – A one-day conference for the green industry professional will focus on landscape design and plant diversification. It will be held at the El Paso Natural Gas Conference Center on the UTEP campus. The Conference fee is $75 or $100 after November 6. Registration is required at 

Saturday, November 21, 2015, 8:30 am to 12:00 pm – Homeowners can learn the basic pruning needs for young trees and the tools that they should use in order to develop trees with a beautiful, appealing form. This half-day workshop will be held at the El Paso Garden Center, 3105 Grant Avenue at Memorial Park. The fee for the program is $15 or $20 after November 6. Registration is required as there is limited space. Go to or call 915-771-2354.

The Sun Country Landscaping Conference is sponsored by the West Texas Urban Forestry Council (Los Tree Amigos), a coalition of people who are interested in protecting and developing the urban community forest resources of West Texas and the El Paso Region. The Council strives to provide the most recent information and technological advances in tree care and maintenance.

Please help spread the word. Let's take care of our trees.

Monday, October 19, 2015


I just launched elpasopolitcally. I did so to distinguish strictly "green" issues from other El Paso political issues I want to comment about.

There are no bells and whistles with this blog (yet).

First post: Romero Recall Begins. Please read it.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Friday Video: Solar Power Works in Arizona -- So Why Do Utilities Want to Kill It?

The video above applies so well to El Paso right now. El Paso Electric Company wants to crush the solar industry and keep control of your supply of electricity. They falsely claim that solar users are not paying their fair share for the infrastructure. Yet, the rooftop solar industry means that there is less of a need for infrastructure which really means that there is no reason to raise anyone's rates. 

[By the way, if you receive elpasonaturally by email, the embedded video won't be displayed. Please go to to see it.]

El Paso Electric is part of a nationwide cabal of utilities (and big oil and gas) to destroy the rooftop solar industry. Read more HERE.

To save your choice for rooftop solar in El Paso, many groups are raising their voices against the rate hike proposals by EPEC. Eco-El Paso provides us, the ratepayers, with some action items against those hike proposals. Check it out.

Click on image to enlarge.

The Alliance for Solar Choice
The Alliance for Solar Choice Facebook
Citizens Against El Paso Electric's Attack on Solar

Thursday, October 15, 2015

El Paso get ready to recycle your glass

District 7 City Council Representative, Lily Limón, has convinced the City Manager to try a pilot glass recycling program in El Paso. A glass crusher is scheduled for delivery to El Paso on Nov. 20th and will be ready to operate in January. As this is a pilot, the glass crusher will be available at one of the citizen drop-off stations, probably on the eastside nearest to Environmental Services. That way the pilot program can be monitored more easily. People can separate and drop off their glass items. After crushing, people can come and scoop out as much crushed glass as they might want. Limón envisions a glass crusher at each of the citizen collection stations throughout El Paso. A glass crusher costs just $23,000 and the one for the pilot program will be less. 

Picture from the Las Cruces Sun-News. Note that the woman is handling the crushed glass with her bare hand.
There is a larger program now in operation in Las Cruces. The glass is finely crushed into a sand-like material which is not abrasive and poses no risk of injury. According to Patrick Peck, the Director of the South Central Solid Waste Authority in Las Cruces, people use it in landscaping for mulch, sand decorations or to replace gravel. A story in the Las Cruces Sun-News reports that the "glass cullet can be used in landscaping and as pipe bedding, as well as being melted down and reformed into art pieces and even tile for mosaics. Cullet can also be used as an additive in concrete, pavement, and other building materials like insulation." 

Peck told me that the plant at first couldn't keep up with demand and now there is still a waiting list. Both the City of Las Cruces and Doña Ana County also have uses for the processed glass.

City Representative Limón is a retired teacher and principal. She has volunteered with a variety of groups, including the Sin Fronteras Organizing Project, UTEP Alumni Association, El Paso Commission for Women, Hispanic Leadership Institute and the United Way.

Please support the work of elpasonaturally.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Super-Sized Celebration of Our Mountains

Photo taken on 9/19/15 by Shu-Yuan Mayr

Photo taken on 9/29/15 by Shu-Yuan Mayr
I've been reviewing how Celebration of Our Mountains is going so far this year. Here are some facts and observations:

2015 there were about 10,000 visits total to
2016 just to date is 9,744.

12% of web page visitors knew the URL already.
88% found it through search queries.

61% of visitors do so from a desktop; 39% from mobile.

Just in the past week there have been 645 visitors to the Facebook page.

Average event attendance in 2015 was 10/event.
Average event attendance so far in 2015 is 12-15/event.

Interest in Celebration of Our Mountains is growing.

More people from Ft. Bliss (including German AF) and Las Cruces.


Begun in 1994 the purpose of Celebration of Our Mountains is to get people outdoors and to explore the natural wonders in our part of the Chihuahuan Desert. As people learn more about their mountains, desert and wetlands, they come to appreciate the importance of conservation, preservation and good environmental stewardship. I have been the coordinator/organizer since 2009.

By the way, purchase the 24 oz. classic, aluminum water bottle with the Celebration logo and carabiner. Everyone needs to carry some extra water on outdoor events, neighborhood walks, trips to the gym, etc. Just go HERE to order or contact me at

Monday, October 12, 2015

Living Green in the Southwest: Learning from Indigenous People on Indigenous Peoples Day

More cities are beginning to recognize this day as Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day. This year Albuquerque joins Minneapolis and Seattle in celebrating and honoring Native Americans.

As we do remember indigenous peoples today, perhaps it would be good to begin to learn something about how they managed the land. Here's an introductory video:

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Check out the Woodbine web site, especially their page on indigenous values, values that can help all of us live more sustainably and ecologically wherever we are. 

It's not just managing the land, it is also how we use native plants. American Indian Cooking by Carolyn Neithammer is a good place to begin.

If you aren't into some kind of Spartan live-off-the-land diet, take heart. My friend, Jim Hastings, the Gringo Gourmet has some delicious recipes for you. Jim subtitles his blog "Bordertown Cooking with Jim Hastings". Prickly Pear Upsidedown Cake, Tomatillos and Seafood Posole and Mesquite Waffles are just three of his many delicious, indigenous recipes. I've now added the Gringo Gourmet to my recommended sites.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Friday Videos and Another Look at Recycling - Especially Plastics

This past Monday I posted about a John Tierney piece that made the front page of the New York Times Review section on Sunday. Tierney was arguing that some things just aren't worth recycling because, doing so, doesn't significantly reduce the carbon footprint of that item. Besides, he argues, we have plenty of open space. Can you imagine that, rather than preserving the land around our Franklins, we just bury more trash and garbage? Natural open space isn't there to become a garbage dump even if we fail to enforce anti-dumping laws in our desert.

I digress. Tierney's piece does indeed raise questions. It also has gotten some rebuttals. 

Grist responded today with a list of objections to Tierney's points. Do read Is recycling as awful as the New York Times claims? Not remotely. Grist's rebuttal is short, sweet and organized.

A longer and more informative response was published by the Natural Resources Defense Council: Too Good To Throw Away Recycling's Proven Record.

I seriously question Tierney's argument that "[r]ecycling one ton of plastic saves only slightly more than one ton of carbon dioxide." Plastic is derived from petroleum and gas. Now there is a carbon footprint. Recycle - sure. Reuse - you bet. Still that doesn't quite cut it. Reducing or eliminating the use of plastic is the best bet. There are a variety of products that are banned because they are deliterious to the health, welfare and safety of all of us. Without a doubt, plastic bags and plastic bottles, and bottled water damage our environment, kill wildlife and aren't good for us. 

The video above extols recycling plastic bottles which, of course, is far better than burying them in a landfill or simply disposing of them into the open environment. Certainly reusing/repurposing the plastic is the way to go. Realistically, the items created from used plastic will someday be part of that landfill and contribute to the leachate. Again, better not to have plastic sacks and bottles.

Plastics, as Ben Braddock is advised in the 1967 film, The Graduate, is the way of the future. One of my uncles was the Vice-President of Douglas Aircraft. I can remember his giving my parents a set of round, plastic coasters - a promotional product showing off the light weight material soon to be used on their airplanes.

Today we are swamped by plastics. Just about everything that we can buy is plastic or comes in plastic or in layers of plastic or even has micro-plastics in the ingredients. I don't know about you, but I have been deliberately buying less things in plastic which makes me search online for some good diy recipes for personal products. (There are many, many of them with all natural ingredients.)

Recycling and reusing plastics is a good thing. But greatly reducing the amount of plastics in our culture is ultimately the only way to go.

One last video:

What habits can you change to make your life less plastic?

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