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Issue 84
Oct 3, 2004

Don Dowdey, Chair of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club, will lead what he hopes will be a wide ranging discussion on the "state of the BBRSC, and where we would like to go in the future." The idea is to give members and friends a chance to talk and plan together about what we have done, what we are doing, and what we might do. Please come to the October 21st meeting at 7 p.m. in Room 200, Lawrence Hall, Sul Ross State University in Alpine. All members and other persons interested in helping the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club plan its future are invited. NOTE THE ROOM CHANGE.

We are at a crossroads, needing new volunteers to maintain and even expand the work of our group. The hope is that everyone for whom the BBRSC is important will attend and be willing to discuss such questions together. Don says that with the completion of the BRAVO study and some founding members scaling back their activities, now is the time to have such a meeting, which will be a first since the founding meetings in 1996. The focus will be on brainstorming and gathering ideas, and hopefully coming up with a shared sense of purpose.

As a starting point, Don suggests thinking about these sorts of questions. These ideas are certainly not definitive or even "right", but are intended as further brainstorming points.

I belong to the Sierra Club because:
In a national survey, SC members listed these reasons. Do they describe you?
"to be part of an organization that stands for the right ideals ; to explore the outdoors; for the opportunity to further my job or career; to work on national environmental issues; to work on local environmental issues; to be with people I enjoy; to have more influence on the direction of the Sierra Club; to make the Sierra Club stronger; to fight against the weakening of environmental policy; to gain recognition from people I respect; to help others in need; to work with an effective environmental organization; to fulfill my duty as a member of my community; to be with people who share my ideals; to build skills that are valuable in other aspects of my life; to influence public policy; to protect my children's future; to protect the quality of the environment; to become a leader in my community; to access resources to make a difference; to change the values and beliefs of the public."

The BBRSC is important to me because:

I am glad the BBRSC has:
a newsletter, a summer social, a highway cleanup project; a presence in the local press, regular programs

The kinds of programs I enjoy most are:
presentations of what people have done in the outdoors, educational, issue oriented, by local people, by people from Austin or other parts of Texas, about the Big Bend region, about other areas

I wish the BBRSC did more/less of:

The most important environmental issues facing the Big Bend are:

The most important environmental issues facing the nation and world are:

Don says, "I'm looking forward to hearing what BBRSC friends and members have to say about our Club's strengths and weaknesses. I expect lively discussion and provocative ideas. I'm the facilitator; the audience is the key. I encourage you to come with your ideas, or to listen to what others have to say."

UPCOMING PROGRAMS: November 18th: Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director of Texas Public Citizen in Austin will present a program on Alternative Energy at 7 p.m. in Lawrence Hall 200, SRSU. December 16th: Join us for our annual Holiday Party. More details in the next newsletter. If anyone is interested in presenting a short slide show on nature or a related topic, please contact Fran Sage at (432) 364-2362 (a local call from Alpine) or sage@brooksdata.net.


Years ago, when I moved to the South Double Diamond, I focused closely, for the first time, on the turkey vulture. It is a true anomaly. It spends its days eating carrion, particularly road kill. If threatened, it will vomit its stomach contents at the potential attacker, using pretty much the same defensive mechanism as the skunk. It releases urine on its own legs as a cooling mechanism. It has a rather ugly, bald head, featherless in order to thrust its head into the guts of a dead animal without soiling the feathers. And if you ever watched grade B Westerns, you have heard that vile epithet hurled about, “you dirty, low-down, stinkin’ buzzard (slang for vulture).”

I call this ugly bird beautiful because there is no other bird that soars as beautifully as this one. The bird can soar for hours, rarely flapping its wings as it plays the thermals or updrafts so skillfully that a trained glider pilot would be envious.

In fact, in many parts of the country, there are festivals held upon the return of the ugly, beautiful bird, the turkey vulture. And this return is often as predictable as the swallows of Capistrano. In many parts of the country it will leave on the autumnal equinox and return exactly on the vernal equinox. On the South Double Diamond, I have seen it return two years in a row on March 8th and the third year on March 9th.

The turkey vulture has a huge range, found all the way from Canada to South America and it is common in all of the deserts of the Southwest. One source said that it mates in all deserts except the Mojave, but didn’t say why.

There are three different vultures found in the United States, the California condor, the turkey vulture and the black vulture. Should you have trouble identifying the turkey vulture, the adult has a red head, yellowish bill and reddish legs. The immature has a grey head, gray bill and gray legs. If the vulture is flying at an altitude too high to see these features, you can note that the wings have a dihedral or “v” shape in flight and tilt or make quick little dipping motions. Also, the turkey vulture is quite large with a wing span of six feet. While I would occasionally see the black vulture back in Austin, I’m not sure I have seen one here even though it is not difficult to distinguish as it has a black head and white patches near its wing tips.

The turkey vulture has an amazing immune system. It can eat badly diseased rotting carrion. It thrives on botulism and more amazingly its excrement is sterilized and carries no disease. This was proven by the United States Department of Agriculture in tests performed during a hog cholera epidemic. In addition, the urine which the vulture excretes on its legs cleans the legs and feet of bacteria.

A friend of mine recently commented that there are so many vultures around, he didn’t see how there could be enough dead animals to feed them all. I reassured him however, that in spite of the large numbers of animals killed on our highways, those are a small part of the total deaths that occur each year. For example, there are about 10 million rabbits in the state of Nevada and several million will die each year. In the same state, there are 60,000 head of horses and more than 4000 of them die each year. The number of mice, rats, rodents, etc. that exist is unknown but the number would be astronomical. We are almost incapable of imagining the immensity of the amount of life and the numbers of deaths each day on this earth as we rarely see the deaths except on the highway. I believe the vulture will survive very well except in those places where there is a strict policy of burying or burning all dead animals. There, the vulture may starve.

As we are approaching winter in the Big Bend region, we will see the vultures circling over Alpine, gathering in bigger and bigger flocks and then one day they will be gone. We always hate to see them leave although the hawks and ravens will take over the task of cleaning the highway. About the first of March we vie to be the first to see the vulture returning, looking for a T.V. (turkey vulture’s) dinner on the highway.


As you may recall the state is going through the permitting process, evaluating the request by Waste Control Specialists.

Discussions are also being held about allowing waste from another compact to send its waste to Texas. Nebraska is spearheading that attempt. Because a legislative loophole was not closed last session, the Texas/Vermont Compact Commissioners could allow other compact waste to be disposed in Texas.

The existing compact law allows the Compact Commission to make decisions on whether to take waste from elsewhere. The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club opposes compact waste coming from elsewhere and urges Sierra Club members to contact the governor. Below is the call to action from the last Lone Star Sierran (Fall 2004, p.9)

Contact Governor Perry and tell him that you definitely do NOT want Texas to become everyone’s dump for radioactive waste. Every person he appoints to the Texas Compact Commission should commit to limiting the waste at the compact dumpsite to only what is generated in Texas and Vermont, the current Compact partner states. To serve the best interests of Texans, the governor and the Commission should not enter into ANY agreements to import more radioactive waste into our state. (After all, the law the Legislature passed last year already allows millions of cubic feet of nuclear weapons waste to be dumped here from all over the country.)

To contact the governor:
Call: in Austin – (512)463-1782 in Texas – (800) 252-9600 Fax: (512) 463-1849 Mail: Office of the Governor, P. O. Box 12428, Austin, TX 78711-2428.

Below is a third front we MUST BE concerned about. As Richard Simpson explains below, a Texas/New Mexico connection could involve our area directly. PLEASE READ RICHARD’S ASSESSMENT.

In the 78th Legislative Session (2003), conservative reasoning that had prevented Texas from becoming a national nuclear dump gave way to a radical change. The new policy emphasizes short-term profits for a private company to import long-term hazards into Andrews County, TX. The Legislature's radical new approach opens Texas not just to radioactive waste, but may also spur initiatives in nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons production. The result is that a nuclear "second coming" now is slouching toward Andrews to be born.
Waste Control Specialists, the Andrews company promoting this madness, has for years been hoping to attract industries to join with its hazardous and nuclear waste facility on the TX/NM border (near Eunice, NM). With help from powerful interests in Texas and New Mexico, WCS has succeeded in marrying its waste "empire" to a uranium enrichment enterprise that will produce fuel for nuclear power but could also make material for nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
The company proposing to enrich uranium adjacent to WCS (& the TX/VT Compact site) is Louisiana Energy Services (LES), whose advances were rejected by two previously chosen sites in Louisiana and Tennessee. LES is owned by a European consortium accused of security breaches that spread nuclear technology to "rogue" nations. Although the company claims it will enrich uranium only for power plants, not weapons, both LES and WCS have abandoned past assurances in deference to their "bottom line." Unfortunately, uranium enrichment has caused some of the worst radioactive pollution in the world, but of course, LES/WCS claims that such problems are history.
The Andrews/Eunice site is usually associated with the Permian Basin/Panhandle region of Texas and the Ogallala Aquifer beneath it. However, the site also sits above the northeast edge of the Capitan Reef, a buried horseshoe shaped structure with Alpine at its southernmost opening. The Capitan Reef is exposed on the Earth's surface at the Apache, Guadalupe, and Glass Mountains and is crossed by the Pecos River at Carlsbad, NM and Grandfalls, TX.
Areas near the Reef have produced the largest (Valentine, 1931), most recent (Alpine, 1995 & 1998), and most numerous seismic events in Texas. Eunice, NM has experienced recent (1992 & 2001) earthquakes, and many others have occurred along the eastern edge of the Capitan Reef. In addition, karst in the Reef's structure interacts with sulfuric acid from petroleum deposits to create channels that make hydrologic systems impossible to define.*
The Andrews/Eunice vicinity has many other characteristics that make it a poor choice for high-risk activity. These characteristics include numerous sinkholes, floods, high winds, & tornados; active oil and mining industry (thousands of wells drilled); environmental justice concerns; and "nature tourist" destinations such as the Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, and Monahans Sandhills.
The frenzy to spawn nuclear industries along the Capitan Reef should give pause to BBRSC members. Roughly the same distance from Alpine as Sierra Blanca, the Andrews/Eunice threat is madness on a scale not thought possible in saner times.

* Carol A. Hill, Geology of the Delaware Basin, Guadalupe, Apache, and Glass Mountains, New Mexico and West Texas, Permian Basin Section—SEPM Publication No. 96-39, 1996.

Richard Simpson is a former Executive Committee member of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club, a longtime activist fighting radioactive waste disposal in west Texas, New Mexico, and elsewhere, who spends his time in New Mexico, west Texas, and Austin (and on the highways!)


Jim and I drove recently to the Gila Cliff Dwellings (42 miles north of Silver City, New Mexico on NM highway 15) and climbed up to the dwellings. We recommend a visit there. The drive itself north of Silver City has spectacular views, little traffic, and the twistyist road we have ever traveled. The drive alone was worth the trip. But the best part of the trip was hiking a trail through a beautiful canyon, which becomes steep as one gets closer to the dwellings. One can stand in the rooms, looking out the cave door, and imagine oneself living there 700-800 years ago (minus of course, the well constructed trail, the little bridges over streams, and the stairs as one gets near the entrances). One imagines what it was like getting in without the help of the National Park Service or raising children on a ledge. I find spiritual refreshment in sharing the same space as our ancestors and wondering about their culture and why they left so abruptly. While we went on to Mesa Verde and the magnificent cliff and ground dwellings in southwest Colorado, I remember the intimacy and sense of the past in the less visited Gila Cliff Dwellings. Motels are available in Silver city and there is a campground in the Lake Roberts area. Trails into the wilderness are numerous. For more information on the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument write: HC 68, Box 100, Silver City NM 88061, phone: 505/536-9461, or check online at www.nps.gov/gicl. I recommend the trip.


On October 1, 2004, JMK Holdings, which represents Sierra La Rana Development, settled its issues with U. S. Clay and has withdrawn its lawsuit. The Big Bend Air Quality Group in a statement released by Mary Bell Lockhart, Legal Liaison, said the group “has not had time to fully review the settlement . . . and obtain our attorney’s recommendations.” Lockhart went on to say that “commitments from U. S. Clay that possibly could reduce some of the objections of the BBAQG.” She explained that the “BBAQG has its own lawsuit in court and its separate appeal at TCEQ, and has intervened in the lawsuit filed by JMK Holdings against U. S. Clay and has not agreed to drop any of its litigation.”

The settlement “did not include BBAQG and does not resolve all of the objections of BBAQG.”

Some decisions may be made by the time this newsletter is received but as of press time no decision has been made by the group as to its future actions. Lockhart ended her press release by saying, “BBAQG is evaluating its options and will act on them once it has discussed its options with its members and with its attorneys.”


A garden is a place of hope. The cycle of life presses on through good years and bad. It is a place to put things in perspective and, when things in the big world are crazy and stressful, a garden is a little world where nothing goes wrong – no matter what.

When U.S. Clay, the BRAVO study, Rio Nuevo and La Entrada, threaten, it is often necessary to find perspective, and that can, for me, best be done in a garden. I invite you to join me in making a difference for some smaller folks who are likewise displaced and could use some help. I refer to the birds and the bees and all that goes with them in the garden. You can make a real and positive difference in your life – and in theirs – by creating a wildscape. A wildscape doesn’t have to be untamed wilderness to do its job. Wildscapes provide food, water, shelter and space for birds, small mammals, reptiles and insects even in spaces that people regularly enjoy. The best setting for this is among a garden of native plants. Native plants provide shelter and food for wildlife by providing diverse habitats and food sources.

While I still have patches of lawn around my house, I have gotten rid of a great deal of it and have made some intentional choices about planting natives that benefit wildlife and are also cheaper and easier to keep up. After they are established, our Trans-Pecos natives are hardy and drought-resistant, more tolerant of native insects and diseases.

You can also customize your wildscape to attract the kinds of creatures that bring you pleasure. Hummingbirds will flock to tubular shaped flowers like penstemon. Bees and butterflies are more comfortable with blossoms they can light on such as acacia. Plants with fleshy or hard fruit (sumacs and oaks) will attract cardinals and woodpeckers. There are also seed lovers like goldfinches that will enjoy any of the beautiful native grasses you can plant.

There is no right or wrong way as long as you provide a variety of food, some safe places to hide, and water in a shallow container.

Texas Parks and wildlife has a terrific web site:
http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/nature/wildscapes/ that will give you a great deal of information to get started. Their site includes interesting and important links including that of the National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Habitats program.

Locally, the Big Bend chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas has published the Big Bend Gardener’s Guide that includes a section on wildscapes with plant selections that target a variety of species as well as providing suggestions for year-round food sources. The guide is available at area book stores and garden centers.

I urge you to make a native wildscape garden both to provide for the creatures that will be physically sustained by it, but also for the emotional and spiritual lift you will find as you are surrounded by all the life it will bring to your doorstep.

Dallas Baxter is past president and a founding member of the Big Bend Chapter of The Native Plant Society of Texas


On September 17, 2004 the Big Bend Regional Aerosol Visibility Observational (BRAVO) Study was finally released, two years later than expected. The Executive Summary concludes that “The estimates of sources of haze during the BRAVO study appear to be credible based on a weight of observational and analytical evidence.” While the summary qualifies the results on non-sulfur dioxide sources of Particulate Matter (PM) because of the focus on sulfur oxides (the major source of visibility reduction), the study represents, in the words of Jim Yarbrough of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the most thorough study of air quality done in his experience. “I have never been involved in a study so thoroughly vetted . . . What you have is an excellent document and an accurate study.”

In Table 1. Dr. Ramon Alvarez, Scientist with Environmental Defense of Texas and member of the Technical Subcommittee of the BRAVO study, combined and presented a particularly useful presentation of the results. [Folks, I can not insert the table into this plain text version. Go to www.clearairbigbend.org and look in the text on the left side of the page. Click on the report and go to the table, which is about the fourth graphic. It is worth the effort as it makes very clear what the result show. In fact the entire site is worth looking at. The site was prepared by Environmental Defense.]

While Mexico is a major source of air pollution in the Big Bend its contribution is not as great as that of Texas and the United States. Cleaning up the Mexican pollution, which is fairly steady year round, would be especially useful in reducing air pollution on the average throughout the year. But cleaning up the Texas and U.S. sources would be crucial to reducing the worst days of haze in the park.

At the meeting held in Alpine on September 22nd, citizens were deeply disappointed that heads of agencies did not attend the meeting and respond to questions. But their major anger was directed at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for distancing itself from the results of the study. In fact, in a letter read by Randolph Wood, Kathleen White, chairman of the TCEQ, considered the study seriously flawed because Mexico did not participate. According to Fran Sage, the effort to reduce any responsibility to clean up the air by Texas and focus on Mexico was a stalling technique that makes clear that the Big Bend citizens can not expect much additional effort from the TCEQ. She points out that Mexican refusal to participate had been known from the beginning. In the question and answer period, Dr. Alvarez asked the park service scientist Bret Schichtel to speculate on the absence of Mexico in the study. Mr. Schichtel said that Mexican failure to participate did not likely make any significant difference.

State Representative Pete Gallego spoke at length and expressed his concern and dismay at the response of the TCEQ. Sage thanked him for his frank words and seconded them. Don Dowdey, chair of the BBRSC, urged actions to address the air pollution issue at all three levels, state, federal, and international. Dowdey also said, “The air in the park has not gotten better in the last five years. The study confirms what your eyes can tell you.” In a particularly strong introductory statement, John King, Superintendent of Big Bend National Park, said, “We know that elected officials are responsive to public pressure and we hope that citizens will say, ‘I’m mad, and I’m not going to take it any more. Sage and Dowdey are appreciative of the work of the NPS and hope to be helpful in efforts to make known what needs to be done.

Sage said that Environmental Defense is creating a coalition to press for action. Plans are being made to press forward in spite of the TCEQ position. EPA also offered some plans that will be going forward.


While Jim and I had many special experiences while in New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, we also saw recycling being done in New Mexico by bicyclists on a Sunday, out of Silver City. The riders came from some distances and many stayed at the same motel in Silver City where we stayed (carrying their bikes up to their rooms). When we caught up with them, they were far out of town, picking up trash along a selected stretch of the highway, kept safe by the New Mexico State policemen in their patrol cars. Apparently the cyclists give up some of their weekends to work on cleaning the highways and seem to be having a grand time in the process.


Jim Sage, chair of the nominating committee, reports that the three persons whose terms end this year have agreed to run again for the Executive Committee. The nominees are Don Dowdey (Alpine), Scott May (Marfa), and Barbara Novovitch (Marathon). If elected they would join Bennye Meredith (Alpine) and Jeanne Sinclair (Marfa). The name of ANY BBRSC member (with permission of member) proposed in writing by at least 15 members prior to the deadline for the ballots, this year October 25th, will also appear on the ballots. All candidates, both from nominating committee and from petition, should prepare a brief statement on their experience and why they wish to serve. The ballots will go out with the November newsletter, and will be due back to the Election Committee by December 13th.

Lue Hirsch, Membership Chair

New Members: The most recent new or transfer in or renewed members are: Bill Broyles, M. J. Moore, Elizabeth McBride, and Mark Myers, of Alpine; Martha Hughes and Patt Sims of Marfa and Rick Norman of San Angelo, who designated our club regardles of location of residence. Welcome to each of you and hopefully we will meet you at the next meeting!

Highway Clean-up: On September 18th, Audrey Painter, Benneye Merridith, Joe and Ginny Campbell, Roger and Jackie Siglin and myself cleaned up the highway! It was a sunny morning with a breeze – perfect for a highway clean-up. A HUGE thank you to all the volunteers. It was very much appreciated. If you missed out on helping this time, your next opportunity will be, most likely, on December 4th. More details next month..

Calendars: LaLae Battista has volunteered to help Ginny Campbell with calendar sales. A GOLIATH size thank you goes to LaLae! I know this is liberation for Ginny and a tremendous help to the local fund raising efforts! The calendars have arrived and they will be available at the next meeting. Please come prepared to take a couple along with you to sell to friends (or buy a couple yourself for holiday gift giving).

Financial News: Ginny Campbell, Treasurer, reports $70 in pledges or donations since August 19th. Thanks go to Thomas Reidy and Don Dowdey for those monies. That brings our year to date donation/pledge total to $759.50. The gross receipts from the Silent Auction so far are $1179.50. After expenses for event notices; plates, cups and eating utensils; and thank you notes to donors, we cleared $1102.70. The combined total of monies received minus expenses is $1862.20.

Membership Renewal: If you wish to renew a membership or become a member you can do so online. The address for renewal is https://ww2.sierraclub.org/membership/renewal/. The new membership address is https://ww2.sierraclub.org/membership/specialoffer/member1.asp.