Friday, June 23, 2017

Water Smart Landscapes Workshop at TecH2O

Click on image to enlarge

Put this on your Saturday to-do list. Rodriguez is the best. You will learn much and get some great tips. Directions to the TecH2O Center.

Do visit El Paso Water's Conservation page. You will get indoor and outdoor tips and get a list of water smart plants.

Make plans to go to upcoming Water Smart Workshops at TecH2O.

You might want to look at EPA's Water Sense site. There are multiple topics to help you save water.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Certified Arborist Program

Too often trees in El Paso are pruned improperly, neglected and allowed to suffer from disease, pestilence, lack of water and fertilization. Too often landscapers and yard workers have the tools but not the knowledge. So, it is great to see that the West Texas Urban Forestry Council and the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension have put together a training program that will prepare people for becoming certified arborists. You don't have to go out-of-town to get this training; you can get it right here in El Paso. All of the information is below. Elpasonaturally will keep on advertising this program throughout the summer. BTW, I know each of the speakers personally and can tell you that they are the best of the best. If your business in landscaping or yardwork, get this training. If you are planning to become a landscaper, make this training part of your business plan.

BTW become a member of WTUFC. Become one of the Los Tree Amigos.

Click to enlarge image.
Click to enlarge image.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Stay Cool

Current Heat Index 5:30 PM 6/21/17
Click on image to enlarge.
It is predicted that it will be 109° in El Paso tomorrow and 110° on Friday. It is time to be indoors (with air conditioning) and avoid going outside except when necessary. 

The City of El Paso emailed this press release today:

Summer Heat Safety Tips
El Paso Firefighters and the Extreme Weather Taskforce remind the public to be safe as temperatures rise
El Paso, Texas – As the community prepares for the upcoming heat advisory, the El Paso Fire Department and the Extreme Weather Taskforce would like to remind the public to stay safe in the heat with the following tips:
• Know the signs of heat-related illnesses. These include in order of progression: heat rash, sunburn (sunburn reduces the body’s ability to cool off), heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency.
• Stay indoors and limit your exposure to the sun.
• If possible move outdoor work to morning or evening hours.
• Wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothing.
• Drink plenty of water and replace electrolytes. Avoid heavy meals, caffeine and alcohol.
• Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink water.
• At minimum, you should be drinking eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day.
• Protect face and head; wear a wide-brimmed hat.
• Sunscreens with and SPF of 30 or more applied 30 minutes prior to going outside should be applied to all surfaces that will be exposed the sun.
• Check on friends and family, especially the elderly.
• NEVER leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles.
• Ensure pets have plenty of water and access to shade throughout the day.
For a PSA with these summer heat safety tips, please visit:
A Spanish version of the PSA is available at:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Birds and Bats - Two Upcoming Events

Image by Ken Slade
"Birds are important because they keep systems in balance: they pollinate plants, disperse seeds, scavenge carcasses and recycle nutrients back into the earth. But they also feed our spirits, marking for us the passage of the seasons, moving us to create art and poetry, inspiring us to flight and reminding us that we are not only on, but of, this earth." —Melanie Driscoll, Director of bird conservation for the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi Flyway - from Why Do Birds Matter

Thus, I always like promoting our local birders: the El Paso/Trans-Pecos Audubon Society. They have an upcoming birdwatching this Saturday, June 24, in the upper valley. Nonmembers and beginners are always welcome. Just meet at 6:30 p.m. at Keystone Heritage Park, 4200Doniphan Drive. Carpool from Keystone and look for for Mississippi Kites, Monk Parakeets, Violet-crowned Parrots and others. Contact Mark Perkins at 915-637-3521 for more information. Be sure to take binoculars and perhaps a camera.

Brazilian free-tailed bat
The following Friday, June 30, at 7:15 p.m. Celebration of Our Mountains is hosting a bat watch. COM is offering this special June event because now is the best time to view bats. Urban Biologist, Lois Balin, will lead this event. For more information including location and contact, visit the Celebration of Our Mountains events page.

The most common species of bat in our region is the Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis). Lois has a new bat detector so you may be able to identify other bat species as well.

"[T]he Brazilian free-tailed bat is a medium-sized bat that is native to the Americas, regarded as one of the most abundant mammals in North America. Its proclivity towards roosting in huge numbers at relatively few locations makes it vulnerable to habitat destruction in spite of its abundance. The bat is considered a species of special concern in California as a result of declining populations. It has been claimed to have the fastest horizontal speed (as opposed to e.g. stoop diving speed) of any animal, reaching top ground speeds of over 160 km/h [99.42 miles/hr.]; its actual air speed has not been measured." - Wickipedia

Monday, June 19, 2017

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Successes, issues and challenges

Protecting the Greater Big Bend Region and the Northern Chihuahuan Desert

by Rick LoBello

For nearly a 100 years conservationists living and working in the Greater Big Bend -Chihuahuan Desert region of Mexico and the United States have dedicated their lives to protecting large areas of habitat in West Texas, Southern New Mexico and Northern Mexico. To help ensure that large areas of habitat remain both protected and connected by wildlife corridors, it is important that stakeholders in the region come together to develop and implement strategic plans focused on protecting the desert’s biodiversity including fragile wetlands, lowland desert areas, arroyos and mountain sides. In this report I will address current issues, challenges and recent successes in protecting the Greater Big Bend Region.

All around the country and the world there are beautiful landscapes and eco-regions. During my lifetime I have been fortunate to have been able to visit and experience many of them, from the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East to the savannas of Kenya, the Virunga Volcanoes of Rwanda, parts of China and Southeast Asia and nearly all of North America.

Every place I have visited has its unique communities of animals and plants, geology and cultures. It is here in the Greater Big Bend Region of the Chihuahuan Desert that most of us call home, where we work and live our lives, that so many of us have come to know and love a very special place. With it’s amazingly display of biodiversity, so important to the global ecosystem and the future of humanity, we are inspired to do our part to help protect the earth for future generations.

Like many of you I love the Greater Big Bend Region of the Chihuahuan Desert and want to do all I can to help hold all the pieces together, which is one of the reasons why so many of us are involved with organizations that help bring together educators and researchers, all for the same cause, to preserve and protect nature.

The Chihuahuan Desert is a hotspot for conservation in the Southwest US and northern Mexico. Efforts to protect this eco-region go back to the early part of the last century when in 1912 President William Howard Taft signed an Presidential Executive Order creating the Jornada Range Reserve in southern New Mexico, later renamed the Jornada Experimental Range.

Thirteen years later in 1923 the U.S. National Park Service began what would be a 54 year effort to protect other large tracts of Chihuahuan Desert. Carlsbad Cave National Monument, later to be called Carlsbad Caverns National Park, was established by President Calvin Coolidge who signed a proclamation on October 25, 1923. White Sands National Monument was established ten years later in 1933 and on February 16, 1935 Texas Senator Morris Sheppard wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt suggesting a park of international scope in the Big Bend area. Although the park of international scope did not make it off the planning table, Big Bend National Park was established on June 12, 1944. Twenty-two years later Guadalupe Mountains National Park was established in 1966 and today, there is a new hope, a new window of opportunity to finally see the now 85 year old dream of a giant US Mexico international protected area finally see the light of day.

Other government agencies at both the State and Federal level have also played a role in protecting Chihuahuan Desert habitat including the Bureau of Land Management, the National Forest Service, the State of New Mexico and the State of Texas.

In Mexico where 68% of the Chihuahuan Desert is located conservation efforts have included designations in 1992 of the Maderas del Carmen Protected Area in northern Coahuila across from the southeastern side of Big Bend National Park, the Santa Elena Canyon Protected areas in northern Chihuahua across from the southwestern boundary of Big Bend National Park and the Ocampo Flora and Fauna Protected Area in the state of Coahuila created by a degree of President Felipe Calderon in 2009. Other notable conservation efforts have helped to protect Cuatro Cienagas Biosphere Reserve in Coahuila and Mapimi Biosphere Reserve in Durango.

It is important to note that habitat protection in Mexico mainly involves large areas of private land in contrast to the federally and state owned lands in the United States. According to the World Wildlife Fund within the border protected areas across from Big Bend National Park in areas like the Maderas del Carmen, 64% of the land is under the Ejido Property System, 34% is owned by CEMEX and only 2% along the Rio Grande is owned by the Mexican federal government. Jurgen Hoth of the World Wildlife Fund stated at a Big Bend National Park sponsored meeting this past September in Alpine, Texas that Ejidos “are a good example of land managers and Mexico’sComisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas CONANP working together” in protecting large areas of Chihuahuan Desert.

Current Issues

Here in the Greater Big Bend Region of El Paso there are two major efforts underway to further help protect this ecoregion. I would say they are two of the biggest issues that must soon be resolved in protecting large tracts of unprotected desert on public lands.

Franklin Mountains

In the heart of the City of El Paso rise the Franklin Mountains. Texas Parks and Wildlife protects the heart of the range as part of the country’s largest urban park, Franklin Mountains State Park. One of the greatest challenges in protecting the park and its biodiversity is the ongoing destruction of the desert by urban sprawl developments in the surrounding lowland desert. Over the past 100 years nearly the entire foothills area of the mountain range has been developed from the historic Rio Grande near the downtown area and the border with Mexico for nearly 10 miles north towards New Mexico on both the east and west side of the range.

From 2011 to 2015 the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition and Jim Tolbert of El Paso Naturally launched several grassroots efforts to protect Public Service Board public lands as natural open space along the west side of the range along Trans Mountain Road and the Fort Bliss Castner Range in northeast El Paso. On October 6, 2010 the El Paso City Council voted to direct city staff to rezone 900 acres near the boundary of Franklin Mountains State Park so that they cannot be developed.

In 2015 a petition called for further protections of public lands. Over 6000 people in El Paso signed a petition that read “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”.

As a result of the 2015 petition the Public Service Board formed a citizens Preservation and Conservation Planning Committee. The group identified the following important expectations for the plan:

1. A plan is needed that can be approved by all stakeholder agencies.
2. The plan should establish the value of preserving land compared to developing it.
3. The benefits of the plan should address economic and quality of life considerations.
4. The plan should guide future development, including conditions of sale and be used as a model for future land development for all undeveloped public lands in El Paso and El Paso County.

The plan will be available for public review later this year on the Frontera Land Alliance website.

Another major effort to protect lands in the Franklin Mountains was launched in 2015 when Congressman Beto O’Rourke, the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Alliance and Frontera Land Alliance spear headed an effort to create Castner Range National Monument. Over 35,000 people signed letters to President Obama asking that he designate a second National Monument in the Greater Big Bend Region just south of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico.

President Obama considered the proposal, but failed to take action before he left office this past January. More recently President Trump has ordered the review all designations of national monuments greater than 100,000 acres created since 1996 including Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. On April 28, 2017 NPR reported “But if, after the review, Trump also decides to bypass Congress and act by executive order to shrink or even nullify any of the monuments, a court challenge is all but guaranteed. “The Antiquities Act expressly authorizes the President to create a national monument, but it does not authorize a later President to revoke or modify a national monument,” says Prof. Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law.

If current efforts to protect the lower elevations of the Franklin Mountains fail, the City of El Paso will be hard pressed to live up to an important goal in its Sustainability Plan adopted on September 15, 2009 to “achieve international recognition for successful preservation of our Chihuahuan desert heritage for all time” and many species that depend on these lowland areas will be displaced or die when their habitat is destroyed.

Most biologists familiar with the Chihuahuan Desert understand the importance of protecting all elevations of the eco-region, not just the rugged mountain slopes and peaks. In El Paso many people believe that as long as you protect the mountain vistas and have a park like Franklin Mountains State Park protecting 37 square miles of the higher elevations, protection of lower elevations is not a high priority. This misconception if far from the truth since many desert species of animals and plants survive only in lower elevations while others with large home ranges need habitat at more than one elevation. For example, in the City of El Paso burrowing owls appear to be declining in numbers because of all the new housing developments being constructed across the city. These owls require low elevation areas where they can nest underground in abandoned burrows dug by mammals or if soil conditions allow in burrows they dig themselves. Golden Eagles also need lower elevation habitats where they can hunt for prey species like jackrabbits.

Achieving successful preservation of the Chihuahuan Desert within city limits and the surrounding region with the help of researchers and conservation educators will require the commitment of a wide range of stakeholders including City and County land management authorities, Texas and New Mexico state governments, private landowners and the surrounding community.

Otero Mesa

Not far from El Paso to the northeast the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and the Southwest Environmental Center are helping to promote the creation of Otero National Monument southeast New Mexico east of Las Cruces. Otero Mesa represents the largest and wildest Chihuahuan desert grassland remaining on public lands in the US. In a letter to President Barack Obama, past New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson called for national monument designation using the Antiquities Act of 1906 which gives the president has the authority to create national monuments. During his two terms as Governor Richards has worked to protect the 1.2 million-acre Chihuahuan Desert grassland from oil and gas exploration.

This area is home to a tremendous diversity of Chihuahuan Desert species including many species that no longer survive in El Paso like prairie dogs and pronghorns. If the prairie dog colonies that live on Otero can survive, this grassland habitat is a potential reintroduction site for endangered black-footed ferrets.

Both the City of El Paso and El Paso County elected representatives continue to show their support for protecting the Chihuahuan Desert not just locally but regionally. On October 20, 2009 the El Paso City Council voted to support a bill introduced in Congress in September introduced by Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall to designate 259,000 in Dona Ana County in southern New Mexico as wilderness and another 100,000 acres in the Organ, Potrillo and Robledo mountains as national conservation areas.

US Mexico International Park

A giant international park project first proposed in the 1930s and last endorsed by high level officials in Washington, D.C. in 1946, received a hopeful sign of new life on July 29, 2009 when Congressman Ciro Rodriquez of Texas introduced H.Res.695 – “supporting an international park between Big Bend National Park in the United States and the protected areas of the Coahuila and Chihuahua States across the border in Mexico.” The non-binding resolution resolves, ”that the House of Representatives supports an international park between Bend National Park in the United States and the protected areas of the Coahuila and Chihuahua States across the border in Mexico; and Requests that the President in conjunction with the Secretaries of Homeland Security, Interior, and State discuss with Mexico and study the probability of designating an international park.”

On a visit to the proposed park area in 1936 then Assistant Director of the National Park Service Conrad Wither said that the proposed Big Bend International Park would be one of the biggest developments ever undertaken by the National Park Service and would be “one of the greatest recreational and educational ventures ever undertaken by the National Park Service. The benefits to the people of Mexico and the United States will be almost unlimited.”

In a letter to General Manual Avila Camacho, President of the United Mexican States President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote that “I do not believe that this undertaking in the Big Bend (referring to the establishment of Big Bend National Park in 1944) will be complete until the entire park area in this region on both sides of the Rio Grande forms one great international park.” When in 1946 following the death of Roosevelt, President Truman tried to move the project forward in his own letter to President Camacho, support for the project in Washington soon faded when Camacho’s term ended later that same year.

On May 19, 2010 when they met in the White House, President Barack Obama and President Felipe Calderón reaffirmed the strategic partnership between the United States and Mexico and underscored their commitment to improve the lives of all citizens in both our countries, building upon our deep ties, and working with mutual respect and mutual responsibility across a broad arc of issues.

The Presidents discussed a wide range of bilateral, hemispheric, and global issues that affect our two countries and reaffirmed the shared values that guide our approaches to economic competitiveness, environmental conservation, clean energy, climate change, nuclear non proliferation, and the safety, social and economic well-being, and security of our citizens.

In noting the long history of bilateral cooperation in the conservation of natural and cultural resources they recognized that Big Bend National Park and Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River in the United States and the Protected Areas of Maderas del Carmen, Cañon de Santa Elena, Ocampo, and Río Bravo del Norte in Mexico together comprise one of the largest and most significant ecological complexes in North America. In doing so, they recognized that increased cooperation in these protected areas would restrict development and enhance security in the region and within this fragile desert ecosystem.

To preserve this region of extraordinary biological diversity, they expressed their support for the United States Department of Interior and the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources of the United Mexican States to work through appropriate national processes to recognize and designate Big Bend – Rio Bravo as a natural area of binational interest. The Presidents underscored their commitment to manage the region in a way that enhances security and protects these areas for wildlife preservation, ecosystem restoration, climate change adaptation, wildland fire management, and invasive species control.

On September 22, 2010 Big Bend National Park sponsored a public meeting at Sul Ross State University in Alpine to explore ideas for increased cooperation between the park and the nearby Mexican protected areas, including the Maderas del Carmen, Ocampo, Rio Bravo del Norte, and Canon de Santa Elena. The park is seeking public input, comments, and ideas and encourages the public to send comments and input by email addressed to the Park Superintendent.
To help continue efforts to create an international park in the Big Bend a new organization called the Greater Big Bend Coalition was formed in 2015. The Greater Big Bend Coalition (GBBC) is a conservation organization working to protect the desert lands, rivers, mountains and wildlife of the Greater Big Bend Ecosystem of New Mexico, Texas and related lands in northern Mexico. The region stretches across the US/Mexico border and includes nearly 8000 square miles of lands in parks and other protected areas. The vision of the group is as follows: Major stakeholders and the general public representing private and public lands are working together with the support of government agencies in the US and Mexico to preserve and protect the northern Chihuahuan Desert within the Greater Big Bend region.


The greatest challenge we have today in protecting the Greater Big Bend Region and Chihuahuan Desert is to find ways to encourage the people who live in the region to value the desert and mountains as an important part of their quality of life and as a natural resource important to their own survival. Since moving to El Paso seventeen years ago I have learned that the vast majority of the people who live here are largely disconnected from the natural resources of the desert. Most have an “out of sight out of mind” mentality when thinking about it.

On a brighter note In 2016 El Paso experienced what is hoped to be a new conservation movement largely as a result of efforts to create a Castner Range National Monument. In addition to the over 35,000 signatures on letters to President Obama, hundreds of people attended a public meeting organized by Congressman O’Rourke this past November in support of the monument proposal. To help this movement continue and grow we must find ways to bridge the gap with people of all ages focusing in on students who will be tomorrow’s leaders.

As part of our efforts we also must find more ways to work with private landowners to get them involved in protecting Chihuahuan Desert habitat. For example, north of Marathon, Texas there is a prairie dog town on private land that helps to protect an animal that has lost 98% of its former range in the United States that could someday help to save a critically endangered species like the black-footed ferret.

A good example of how private land owners are being engaged in helping to protect our desert is the work of the Nature Conservancy. A short two hour’s drive from El Paso in the Davis Mountains the Nature Conservancy is helping to protect the 32,000 acre Davis Mountains Preserve with conservation easements on 65,830 adjoining private properties including Mount Livermore, the third highest peak in Texas. We need to do more in working with private landowners including efforts in support of protecting and restoring habitats within large urban areas like El Paso and Las Cruces, New Mexico.
In El Paso the Frontera Land Alliance in helping to lead the way in working with private landowners.

Researchers and educators need to continue to work closely with each other and work together on strategic plans to protect the Chihuahuan Desert that will not only further protect our environment, but help others to come to the realization that they too need to be involved. Step one in any effort has to be building relationships of trust. If stakeholders and advocates do not trust each other it’s hard to move any effort forward. To that end I recommend the following actions:

1. Support Greater Big Bend Region / Chihuahuan Desert Conservation programs sponsored by grassroots organizations and NGOs like the Greater Big Bend Coalition, Sierra Club, Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition, Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition, Frontera Land Alliance, World Wildlife Fund, New Mexico Wilderness Society, and Southwest Environmental Center. If you are a current member or future member make sure that the organization you are a part of has clearly defined goals and a goal that focuses on building relationships of trust between members.

2. Get involved with federal government strategic planning efforts to help protect the Greater Big Bend Region. A program and network called Landscape Conservation Cooperatives is addressing threats to our environment that are amplified by rapidly changing climate. Each cooperative focuses on strategic conservation efforts at the landscape level. It is hoped that Landscape Conservation Cooperatives will help to further protect migrations routes and large areas of wildlife habitat including important wildlife corridors. You can learn more about at

We must learn to share the planet with the millions of different species that we are connected with in so many ways, most of them uncounted. Let us embrace diligent and hard work because we love the Chihuahuan Desert. If the world becomes an unsafe place for the animals and plants that live here, it certainly will not be a safe place for humanity.The words of Jim Collins, the author of “Good to Great”, summarize what we must do in perfect fashion. “With threats to our environment increasing dramatically every day, doing good work is no longer acceptable. We need to be doing great work. Greatness is not the result of circumstance, but of diligent work. We must embrace the discipline of greatness by adopting a culture of discipline, one that worries about the details.”

Literature Cited:

1 Schladen, Marty. Franklins growth in zoning dispute. El Paso Times, pp. 1 and 9a, October 31, 2010.
2. Sterreich, Elva K. Richardson to Obama: Otero Mesa needs protection. Alamogordo Daily News, November 6, 2010.
3. James, P. C., and R. H. M. Espie. 1997. Current status of the Burrowing Owl in North America: an agency survey. Pages 3-5 in J. Lincer and K. Steenhof, editors. The Burrowing Owl, its biology and management including the Proceedings of the First International Burrowing Owl Symposium.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Some Facts and Thoughts about the EPEC Rate Case

Some facts and thoughts:

The El Paso rate case comes in around 8,000 pages. Guess EPEC started this as soon as they didn't get everything that they wanted a year ago.

El Paso electric rates are the most expensive in the state of Texas. (Thought you should know.)

Why do we have high rates since 50% of our electricity comes from the Palo Duro nuclear power plant? Nuclear power is the most inexpensive means to generate electricity - second only to hydroelectric.

The last rate case cost rate payers $3.5M. EPEC's attorney fees and the City of El Paso's attorney fees are paid for through your electric bill. This means that there is no disincentive for EPEC to file case after case. 

Although commendable, EPEC's new solar program is really an oversell. An electron is an electron is an electron. It doesn't matter where or how electricity is generated. Those electrons just flow down the same wires. If you signed up for their program, you are paying for their new solar power plant is all.

I do not begrudge anyone her/his salary. Ms. Kipp is compensated below what other CEOs make - sexism perhaps? Still she makes just less than $1M per year. EPEC Board members make about 9X what I do as a City Council rep. (I make $29,000/year) These people are smart, financially savvy people. The cream of the crop. But really?

Finally, all of this rate business is really evidence of the dying throes of the electric utility business. Once batteries are manufactured that are affordable and capable of holding the necessary charge, each unit (home, business, school, etc.) will put up the solar panels, attach the batteries and disconnect from the electric company's grid. 5 years to such battery technology?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"Facts Not Ads"

Public Facts Not Ads by on Scribd
Currently (pun intended) the El Paso Electric Company, which has the highest rates of any city in Texas, has filed a rate case for a rate hike. EPEC also intends to continue its efforts to undermine the solar rooftop industry in El Paso. The slide show above was created by Blanca Gadney-Moss, a professional counselor in El Paso, and a strong advocate for solar power. She is a member of Eco-El Paso and the Regional Renewable Energy Advisory Committee. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Spring Begins with the Poppy Fest

Click image to enlarge.

Dear Friends:
Poppies Fest this Saturday, April 1 – Make Plans to Attend! – Free Parking & Shuttle at Cohen Stadium
Poppy Fest 2017 Returns to El Paso - 11th annual event held at El Paso Museum of Archaeology
The El Paso Museum of Archaeology and the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition invite the public to the annual Poppy Fest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 1, at the El Paso Museum of Archaeology.
Spring in the Franklin Mountains means the desert landscape is blanketed by a field of golden yellow Mexican poppies and the free 11th annual event celebrates El Paso's annual bloom. Enjoy live music, art vendors, educational exhibits, children's activities, nature tours, food vendors, and more!
The Museum of Archaeology will host live archery demonstrations, and Houdini, the hawk from the El Paso Zoo, and a live wolf from the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary near Albuquerque will also be at the festival. The museum features 14,000 years of prehistory in El Paso, the greater Southwest, and northern Mexico.
"The Poppy Fest provides the community with opportunities to learn about conservation and our environment while taking advantage of the natural beauty of El Paso's Franklin Mountains," said Director of the El Paso Museum of Archaeology, Jeff Romney.
In addition, the Downtown Art and Farmers Market will move to the museum grounds for the Poppy Festival. The Anthony Street location will be closed so market vendors can participate in the Poppy Fest.
Free parking for the Poppy Fest will be at Cohen Stadium and shuttle buses will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Poppy Fest is presented by the El Paso Museum of Archaeology in partnership with the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition, National Border Patrol Museum, and Downtown Artist and Farmers Market.
For more information on the Poppy Fest, call the El Paso Museum of Archaeology at (915) 755-4332 or visit
Marilyn Guida

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Celebration of Our Mountains Earth Month Events

Click on image to enlarge.

In conjunction with the City of El Paso's Earth Month events, Celebration of Our Mountains is hosting six events in April. Visit for more information including directions to each event.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Defense and Interior Departments Commit to Castner

The following was published as an op-ed piece by Dr. Richard Teschner in the El Paso Times. Richard Teschner, a retired UTEP linguistics professor, has been working since 2003 to conserve El Paso land, including Castner Range.

Thanks to the Department of Defense and the Department of Interior for signing a letter of joint commitment to the community of El Paso. This letter goes a long way toward advancing the process to conserve El Paso’s Castner Range in perpetuity.

Since November of 2015, we’ve been putting forth a very full-court press, working to show the nation—especially the departments of Defense and Interior as well as former President Obama—the value of the Castner Range and why it should be conserved.

Those of us who have lived in El Paso for 50 years or more are fully aware that the Franklin Mountains (of which Castner is a part) have long been the objects of development; as the landscape changes value, mountain land is being lost.

The fact that Castner Range is close to and owned by Fort Bliss, and that the land is in an urban setting, has always brought demands for development as opposed to open-space preservation.

This is why this joint commitment by the Department of Defense and the Department of Interior to the El Paso community is so important in our decades-long campaign to conserve the range in perpetuity.

We hear from other major urban areas that they wish they had never developed their scenic lands, keeping them open for hiking, recreational opportunities and unbroken views.

Thanks to our campaign to conserve Castneer Range (a campaign that became especially intense these last 16 months, with over 35,000 El Pasoans signing letters of support), El Paso is now fully aware that the range’s historic and cultural treasures are irreplaceable.

The uniqueness of the ecosystem, the connectivity to the state park and the alluvial fans all make this a very special and unique part of our Chihuahuan desert and its mountains.

We are especially thankful that the joint Defense/Interior commitment, prepared by Congressman Beto O’Rourke, has made it clear that the Army will now investigate the feasibility of designating portions of Castner Range for varying levels of public access.

Allowing access to certain areas—especially at the range’s higher elevations—will promote eco-tourism and enhance El Paso’s economy. The phasing-in of public-access parcels will begin once the Army has completed its required process.

In sum, the joint letter makes it clear that it will be many years before we are absolutely certain that the range will be left open and natural, ideally as a national monument. But at least this commitment now exists, and it points out the path that lies ahead.

We, the El Paso Community, will continue to actively monitor the process. One of many ways we can do so is to attend all Army meetings to ensure that the partnership continues.

The next one, the Restoration Advisory Board, is Tuesday, March 28, at 6:30 p.m. in Room 1005 of the El Paso Community College Transmountain campus, just across U.S. 54 from Castner Range.

All El Pasoans will want to thank these two federal departments for committing, for the first time, to play an active role in the future of Castner Range.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Repurpose and Upscale: I'm on Overwhelm


The first rule in "recycling" is not to buy the product in the first place. You reduce what you want or think you need. The next thing is to reuse before you recylce. Reusing can mean repurposing or upcycling. Repurposing means adapting anything for a different use - an old ladder into a book shelf, pottery shards as garden plant identifiers. Upcycling is reusing a product in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original - an old television or radio console into a wet bar, turning the old Pearl brewery into San Antonio to the upscale Emma Hotel . . . or turning some old historical buildings in El Paso to apartments and commercial properties.

OK. You aren't going to go into the business of development and some of the repurposing or upcycling ideas are just not what you have in mind for your Charlotte's decor. You might just not be into arts and crafts. However, I bet there are so many things that you can upcycle or repurpose. You don't even have to be the creative type. Just Google "upcycle" or "upcycling" and "repurpose" or "repurposing". Visit sites. Click on the Images tab. You'll get a number of ideas.

Be sure to visit Instructables. Check out Upcycle That on Facebook. Of course there is also Pinterest with tens of thousands of ideas.

Repurposing or upcycling are ways we can make some lifestyle changes that are enviornmentally-friendly.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Repair Cafés and the Friday Video

My friend, David Ochoa, emailed me a link to a New York Times story about repair cafés. Please do read it HERE. He suggested that the old Boy Scout Lodge on Trowbridge might just be the perfect place and stated that a repair café "may be a perfect idea for utilizing this building and enhancing quality of life activities as well as teaching people how to recycle/re-purpose household items." It certainly would be preferable to our consumer lifestyle of buy, throwaway, buy more. (I just remembered that as a child I would tell my parents to "go to the store and buy more." The consumer culture was already being imprinted on my mind.)

In an earlier blog post I wrote that we could either be "spectator" environmentalists and moan about the policies of the current administration, or we could make some real changes in our lives. I said: "The next four years gives each of us the opportunity to examine our own lifestyles and see what changes that we can make personally that are more environmentally friendly and ecologically and socially just." 

One of the things that we can do is to take David Ochoa's advice and look at having a repair café in El Paso. There is a rich resource in an online site - the Repair Café. Please visit it.

I have been told that the El Paso Library system is looking into sponsoring such a place. That doesn't surprise me because Dionne Mack, the woman who oversees our library department among other things, is quite the visionary and the facilitator of visions. Check out the Seed Libraries program. I have cabbage and greens and carrots growing now in my garden from seeds I obtained from the library.

Gardening, repairing - great ways to make our lifestyles less wasteful and far more enjoyable.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Go Birding!

Northern Shoveler

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Yellow-rumped Warbler

The El Paso/Trans-Pecos Audubon Society recently did some birding at the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. Here is what they saw:

Eared Grebe
Great Egret
Northern Pintail
American Wigeon
Northern Shoveler
Cinnamon Teal
Blue-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Ruddy Duck
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Copper's Hawk
Red-tail Hawk
Merlin ( Prairie Female )
American Kestrel
American Coot
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Rock Pigeon
Eastern Phoebe
Black Phoebe
Chihuahuan Raven
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Curve-billed Thrasher
Yellow-rumped Warbler
White-crowned Sparrow
Lincoln Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird
House Finch

That's a pretty impressive list of birds. I want to make two points: first, birding is fun. There is something about being able to identify a species that is, in and of itself, rewarding. Next, well, birders "bird" together. It's social. 

My second point is this: at first glance most of us just see dry desert and mountains. Unless we go outside and spend some time, we don't see just how much life that there is. And, there is something about discovering life that makes our place special, valuable, irreplaceable - a treasure to love and protect. Identifying different bird species helps us to see the bounty of our desert and mountains. 

I remember the first time that I ever went birding. I was a Junior in High School. My friend, who came from a family of birders, took me to the levee in the Mission Valley - an ecosystem much like the Bosque. It isn't there any longer. We channelized the river and built an ugly wall. The first bird that I ever identified was an American Avocet.

Contact the El Paso/Trans Pecos Audubon Society or just email Get on their emailing list and learn about upcoming birding adventures. Attend their meetings - there's the social thing again. Also educational. Along with local outings, they go into New Mexico and Arizona and see some very pretty places and meet some pretty interesting birds. (Did I mention that another thing that makes birding fun is the travel - together?)

Part of learning about and loving our desert home is to meet life in all of its splendid forms and certainly birds are some of the most splendid species around.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Friday Video on Saturday: Our Generation Is Changing Energy

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

Friday, January 20, 2017

What Now?

Photo by Shane C. Canada

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Like Saving Money? Make Castner Range a National Monument!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Take a stand for wolves in Texas

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Countdown Begins

Poppies on Castner Range. Picture by Mark Clune

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

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

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

No mention has been made about Castner Range.

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

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

Nineteen days to find out. Nineteen days.