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Issue 77
December 1, 2003


The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club will meet December 16, 2003 for its annual Christmas program. Unfortunately our planned program, Ed Hennessyıs presentation of a slide show on the Serengeti Plains, has been cancelled due to Edıs illness. We regret his misfortune and will try to reschedule him next year. BUT, we will still have our usual Christmas program. Please bring a potluck offering to Room 303 in Lawrence Hall on the Sul Ross State University Campus. We are trying to arrange a brief replacement program but it has not been confirmed as of press time. Please check first in our usual meeting place Room 309, Lawrence Hall, at 7 p.m. We will adjourn shortly to Room 303. Please feel free to invite guests. All are welcome.

There will be NO meeting or newsletter in January. See you all in February.

by Jim Sage

woodpecker Years ago, on one of my few trips to Big Bend National Park, I was hiking the Lost Mine Trail when I encountered a lovely little bird with a red crown, white eyes surrounded by black, a bit of yellow on the throat, and a shiny black and white head. In appearance, the head was quite clown-like. I had no idea what it was but soon discovered that it was an acorn woodpecker.

Years later, when I had left the nightmare of Austin traffic and settled on the South Double Diamond near Alpine, I rediscovered the enchantment of hiking in Big Bend park, where I always see or learn something new. On one of my favorite hikes, there is a huge old Ponderosa pine, which has lost its top and is riddled with thousands of small holes. It is startling and mystifying when first encountering this strange tree, but it is none other than an acorn woodpeckerıs granary. Some of these granaries will have 50,000 holes and it is a granary because each hole has an acorn stored in it.

granary Studies in California have determined that these granaries are essential to the survival of the acorn woodpecker. While it eats mostly insects, fruit, seeds, and sap throughout the summer, acorns are a must for winter survival. Summer foraging takes place mostly in the canopy of the forest and the woodpecker usually comes down to the ground only when it has a bad day, dropping everything it picks up, or when it sees a fallen acorn.

Showing a near genius for surviving, the acorn woodpecker will choose pine-oak woodland in which to nest and it will choose an area of mixed oaks so that if one oak has a poor crop there will be another. It selects an area with pine trees as they are softer and easier to drill and it will choose an older forest as the bark is thicker, more suitable for the granary. The thicker bark prevents the woodpecker from poking holes into the more vital tissues and that keeps the tree from dying.

Studies in California also show that the granary is one of the main reasons the woodpeckers live in large, communal families. These groups or families consist of up to sixteen individuals, who cooperate in stocking the granary and defending it against outside marauders. When stocking the granary, some birds will drill holes and others will collect and fill the holes. Only a large group can do all this adequately.

The mating system of the group is also interesting. There are usually at least two egg-laying females and six or seven males competing for them. Both the male and female work together to drill a nest cavity. The females then lay their eggs in the same cavity and both the male and female incubate the eggs. Once the eggs are hatched, the entire group takes over feeding the chicks. There appears to be only one flaw in the system. Until an egg-laying sequence is established, the females will destroy each otherıs eggs. (I guess itıs just one more dysfunctional family, but then, have you ever known a family that wasnıt somewhat dysfunctional?) Of course, if I were as smart as an acorn woodpecker, I would probably see a clear and intelligent reason for this behavior.

The acorn woodpecker family is a noisy, gregarious bunch and quite at home living around humans. It is found throughout the Southwest and the western edge of California and up through western Oregon. If you want to entice an acorn woodpecker to your back yard, be sure and put out water. And remember, when you get one, you get the whole damn family, kids, cousins, and all.

by Don Dowdey

Big Bend Regional Sierra Club Funding

I encourage people to support the ongoing activities of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club. For 2003, our budget for these activities was $2,050. The newsletter, at $1200, is our largest single expense each year. The next largest expense, $500, is for travel, registration, lobbying. This includes travel to Lone Star Sierra Club activities, including ExCom meetings, where planning is done for setting Chapter priorities, special conferences on such issues as water and radioactive waste, and Legislative Day activities, which provide an opportunity to talk directly with legislators and their staffs. Other lobbying expenses include $250 for long distance phone calls to legislators and to gather information, and travel to testify before the legislature. Finally, we budget $100 for supplies, including stamps, thank-you notes to donors, printing things other than the newsletter, etc.

We have been fortunate to receive funds from some special sources ­ most notably, funds given in memory of Hal Flanders and from the sale of books donated to us by Barton Warnock. These funds, which we hope to be able to use for special projects in areas supporting the work of these two friends, have also been designated as a cushion in case we have an opportunity to advertise a special meeting, such as the final report on the BRAVO study, send more people to any of the activities listed above, support research into the effects of pollution on plants in the area, or contribute to a fast arising need, such as funds to support a radioactive waste lobbyist during a legislative session. Fortunately, we have not had to use them for these emergency purposes. We also have some funds in savings, which have proven useful in times when donations falter, such as summer. Because we are so dependant on donations, this seems to me to be a prudent necessity.

Besides donations and pledges, we raise funds through calendar sales ­ about $800 last year (a significant increase over previous years), and through special fundraisers ­ this year, a silent auction which raised about $500 ­ again, a significant increase over previous years). While very encouraging, we need see if these amounts are sustainable.

The most useful type of contribution is an ongoing pledge, which helps us to plan our expenditures more confidently. For example, if 20 people pledge $5 a month, our newsletter expenses for next year would be covered. It is easy to see opportunities for increased lobbying in the next year, even though the Legislature isnıt scheduled to meet. For example, Senator Madla is on special committees dealing with rock crushing regulations and with water issues. In addition, an Environmental Impact statement is being prepared on Mexican trucks in response to a lawsuit and the radioactive waste regulations are being written. The recent report on Big Bend National Park by the National Parks Conservation Association may lead to opportunities to seek support for the Park at the national level. Pledges and donations will make it easier to gather and prepare information on these issues.

I know that for many people, paying the dues to join the Sierra Club is all they feel that can contribute. That is important, and those dues support the valuable activities of the club at the national and state level. But for others, as we reflect on our Thanksgiving blessings and approach the gift-giving session, this is a good time to remember the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club.



Hal Flanders Fund Grows: The Hal Flanders Memorial Fund has grown to $470 and $450 of it has been sent to Dave Fredericks to help pay for legal expenses fighting sending radioactive waste to Texas. If it becomes appropriate, the BBRSC would like to send someone to Vermont to discuss some of the legal issues involved in the recent legislation on low-level radioactive waste. We have retained $20 to keep the fund alive and ask those of you who wish to contribute money for this ongoing opposition to implementing last sessionıs radioactive waste legislation to send donations to Ginny Campbell, Treasurer, P. O. Box 474, Marathon, TX 79842.

On November 18, 2003 the EPA (The Environmental Protections Agency) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) which outlines methods that EPA is considering to improve the safe management and disposal of waste containing small amounts of radioactive material, which EPA refers to as ³low-activity² radioactive waste. The public has until March 17, 2004 to submit comments.

The EPA with assistance of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy (DOE) developed the Advance Notice, which is designed to save money and speed-up the ³disposal² process. The effect would be to put some radioactive waste into toxic waste sites and other facilities that currently arenıt permitted to receive it. According to the EPA, ³The need to comply with two separate regulatory systems, each of which is targeted to a different component of the waste, creates a certain regulatory and economic burden on mixed waste generators.²

While the notice focuses upon commercial waste it also asks for comments on whether the Energy Department should also loosen its rules for the disposal of radioactive waste from weapons plants.

Although the whole issue of radioactive waste and its disposal is complex, it is important to consider whether changing the rules, while decreasing the regulatory rules, will lead to dangerous practices, saving money and time but endangering the public. The following organizations signed a letter to the new EPA head, Mike Leavitt: Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, Clean Water Action, Committee to Bridge the Gap, GrassRoots Recycling Network, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Nuclear Information & Resource Service, Nuclear Policy Research Institute, Peace Action, Public Citizen, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and U. S. Public Interest Research Group.

The various groups urged the EPA to ³retain regulatory control over radioactive waste,² saying it could significantly harm the environment and public health and could result in substantial public outrage . . . .² They go on to say, ³EPAıs ANPR (Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) is soliciting comments on eliminating the requirement for radioactive waste to go to facilities specifically licensed for radioactive materials, starting by allowing mixed radioactive and hazardous wastes to be considered hazardous only. EPA is proposing permitting radioactive wastes to be disposed of in landfills designed and permitted only for chemical wastes, or industrial wastes, or possibly even municipal garbage.² It would expressly allow having radioactive waste disposed of using ³less extensive measures,² i. e. disposed in facilities not licensed or designed to receive such wastes.

The letter concludes, ³we therefore ask you [Mike Leavitt‹new head of the EPA] to: (1) Immediately block the issuance of the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, (2) Commit to requiring radioactive regulatory control over human-generated nuclear wastes and , if necessary, increased regulatory control over classes of nuclear materials that are not adequately regulated . . . not a reduction in existing regulatory requirements, (3) personally meet with representatives of our groups prior to taking any action that could result in EPA being involved in relaxing public protections from radioactive waste.

While we will have more on this in our February newsletter, we urge our members to submit comments to EPA: 1) Mail to Air and Radiation Docket, Environmental Protection Agency, EPA West Room B108, Mailcode: 6102T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington D.C. 20460 2) go to the website for EPA Electronic Dockets: http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstrgstr/ and follow instructions or send via e-mail a-and-r-docket@epa.gov , Attention Docket OD No. OAR-2003-0095. Only drawback on the e-mail choice is that your e-mail address will show up in the public documents. 3) FAX (202) 566-1741, Attention Docket ID. No. OAR-2003-0095. ANYONE WHO ACTUALLY SENDS COMMENTS GIVEN THE PROCESS WILL BE HONORED IN THE NEXT NEWSLETTER. (Hey, did you think being a good citizen would be easy when working with EPA?)

Water Issue Note: While this monthıs newsletter will not include information on the extensive activities surrounding the intent of the General Land Office to make deals with private investors to lease state lands and mine the groundwater, we will note that our state Senator Frank Madla is on an interim legislative committee to study water issues. He will also be chairing the subcommittee concerned with Rio Nuevo and the General Land Office (GLO).


We hope to have occasional short articles introducing members. These will not be full profiles but rather brief introductions centered about some interesting incidents in their lives. This month we feature Bruce Colvin who moved to the Big Bend in 2002 from Kansas via 30 years in New York. Below he describes one aspect of his work years ago‹Ed.

Bruce Colvin

My first assignment after joining the Metropolitan Museum of Artıs Objects Conservation Dept. was to excavate packed dirt from the belly of a six inch high Etruscan bronze sculpture of a horse‹which (unbeknownst to the public) had become a political football in a battle for succession following the death of museum director James Roriner (1968). The ambitious Assistant Director had . . . unannounced . . . just declared, at an art historianŒs conference hosted by the Met, that the noted sculpture was a fake. Though his ³evidence² was found to be removable with a Q-tip, once a museum official made a declaration . . . the object became a ³fake² until proven otherwise.

One hundred forty hours spent excavating through a 1Ž4 inch hole with a miniature hoe fashioned from a coat hanger rod, intermittent illumination provided by a model railroad light bulb, yielded the requested 100 grams of core material for shipment to M. I. T. for carbon-14 dating. Their verdict: (1) not enough carbon in the sample dirt, and (2) several grams would have sufficed.

The poor horse remained in limbo (storage) until seven years later, when thermoluminescent testing produced the result that the museum had been praying for. A small, didactic exhibit reintroduced this classical sculpture under the high-sounding title . . . .²The Critical Process.² Meanwhile, Thomas Hoving was named director, and the former assistant director was sent to Siberia.

A Partial Report on Novemberıs BBRSC Program by Kevin Urbanczyk.
by Fran Sage

At the November BBRSC meeting Dr. Urbanczyk gave us an overview of air quality monitoring in the Big Bend Region. He explained that the primary particles monitored included soot and dust while secondary particles are formed in the atmosphere from gaseous emissions such as autos, power plants, etc. He also discussed the smaller particles (<2.5 microns) because they travel long distances and cause serious respiratory health problems. Such particles also contribute to increased acidity both in wet and dry deposition. Kevin also discussed the various monitoring agencies and the monitoring sites. Of particular interest are pH results. (pH is a measure of acidity and alkalinity of a solution.) It is a number on a scale on which a value of 7 represents neutrality and lower number indicate increasing acidity and high numbers increasing alkalinity. Each unit of change represents a tenfold change in acidity or alkalinity. Acid rain comes from increasing acidity in precipitation.

Kevin discussed a decline in the pH number in Big Bend National Park, measured both at K-Bar and in Pine Canyon. That decline represents increased acidity. He said random samples show sulfur, ammonium, carbon, and sulfate. The seasonal peaks are in May through September. He then went on to discuss more fully the results from the Pine Canyon study. The most marked increase in acidity was from the middle elevation in the Sotol Grasslands. The soil pH has declined from 6.2 to 5.7 (that is the soil has increased acidity). ³There seems to be a change at the base level in the soil, differences in fungi and microbes. This will predictably result in an ultimate change in the composition of the sotol grassland.² The effect will be reflected in the plants. (John Carpenter, a naturalist and SC member from Fort Stockton, said it will tend to drive out native plants.)

Kevin said that the researchers are hoping for more funding for their air quality study in the Big Bend region. Such has been appropriated as a line item in the House, but not yet in the Senate.


Dave Mattison, longtime Sierra Club member who has returned to Alpine upon retiring (He was a geology professor at Sul Ross State University a number of years ago) said at the last BBRSC meeting that the August 2, 2003 Science News (www.sciencenews.org) reported on the unhealthy effects of small (<2.5 microns) particulate matter upon childrenıs health. The smaller the particle the more deeply into the lungs it penetrates. Those smaller particles absorb more of the metals and hydrocarbons and other materials, which then go down into the lungs further and lodge there. They then affect the cells energy and lead to asthma increases, fibrosis, and other unhealthy conditions. Go the website for that discussion which includes material on studies in Mexico City, British Columbia, London, and from the major medical research done at John Hopkins.


Study results reported in the fall issue for 2003 of the newsletter put out by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) explains that the pollution created by tens of thousands of idling vehicles waiting at busy border crossings is causing ³a significant association between days of elevated ozone readings in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, and corresponding spikes in the numbers of youngsters rushed to the border cityı s emergency rooms in respiratory distress.² The principal investigator, Dr. Isabelle Romieu of the Mexican National Institute of Public Health, says that youngsters under five years appear to be especially sensitive to ozone.

You may recall that ³Smitty² Smith, Texas director of Public Citizen, in a talk to the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club last year discussed the problem of diesel emissions and childrenıs health. He mentioned in particular that problems could arise when Mexican trucks, under the NAFTA agreement, stop and start in Marfa and Alpine, if the so-called Entrada al Pacifico truck route comes into being. It is currently being looked at as part of the Environmental Impact Statement being prepared now on implementing those provisions of the NAFTA agreement.

For more details of that study go to the home page of the CEC at www.cec.org and then go to the newsletter.

by Fran Sage

Bob Gee of the Austin American Statesman wrote a long, front page story with color pictures, which was published Sunday, November 30th. While he covered a wide range of issues, I will just write about some of them. (The pictures are not in the on-line version but the text can be read in the paperıs archives at www.statesman.com. If you can not find it, e-mail me at sage@brooksdata.net and I will e-mail the article to you.)

Gee mentions that the plant site would have ³a miscellany of mills, silos and smokestacks that would rise at least 30 feet, making it one of the tallest structures for 150 miles, from Big Bend to Odessa.² The plant would have two grinding mills, a hammer mill crusher, nine silos, a raw material feed hopper and a rail spur.

Gee discusses the potential pollution. ³The permit allows for the annual discharge of 12 tons of tiny crushed rock particles 10 microns in diameter or less, as well as two tons a year of carbon monoxide, a half-ton of sulphur dioxide and other contaminants.² The modeling done by U. S. Clay shows ³Most of the dust particles discharged from the plant would dissipate before reaching the nearest home . . . .² [No contrast is made between the small 2.5 micron particulates and larger ones. The smallest and most dangerous ones do travel long distances. See article about Dr. Urbanzcykıs studies above.]

Outlined and discussed in the story are the violations that TCEQ has cited and fined U. S. Clay for in 2001 and 2002. There is a discussion and quotes from a citizen on the violation at the companyıs Brownsville plant. ³ ŒIt was a real nuisance to this community. This neighborhood was always cloudy with this fine rock,ı said Rosie Rodriguez, an organizer for a church-based advocacy group Valley Interfaith. The plantıs neighbors considered it a health threat, blaming childrenıs asthma on the dust . . . It was also noisy, Rodriguez said. ³The noise was driving people insane. I mean literally insane. There was banging night and day.ı ²

Geeıs article goes on at length discussing lawyersı remarks on behalf of clients fighting the bentonite permit request.

The article also outlined supportersı positions. Betse Brooks, editor of the Alpine Avalanche, believes that it is a case of oldtimers versus newcomers, with the oldtimers seeing the plant as progressive and the newtimers wanting the area to stay the same as what they came to it. Gee also quotes her as saying in an editorial ³ ŒI ate some bentonite, and I feel fantastic.ı She later said, however, she would not volunteer to inhale a cloud of bentonite dust to further prove her point.² Former city councilman Frank Yakubanski is quoted as saying, ³I donıt see where itıs going to do any harm and of course Alpine needs something to bring it to life as far as industry. We need investment in Alpine.²

A number of people opposing the plant are also quoted.

Please read the whole article as it is extensive in its coverage.

by Lue Hirsch

Just a few quick notes and reminders this month. Calendars, backpacks and t-shirts continue to be available for purchase. Please contact Ginny Campbell (386-4526) about calendars and contact Lue Hirsch (364-2307) about backpacks or t-shirts. The backpacks and t-shirts available are: 100% Organic Cotton Sierra Club t-shirts $12.00: Featuring the Sierra Club logo on the front and the Hiker image on the back. T-shirts come in three sizes (x-large, large and medium) and in natural, black, blue and green. Convertible weekender bag $6.00: Versatile forest green bag with embroidered Sierra Club logo. Folds into its own pouch. Expedition Backpack $10.00: This black backpack has 3 zippered compartments, padded shoulder straps, a cushioned back and two large mesh pockets. Excursion Bag $7.50: Designed in gray with black trim, this waterproof bag is ideal for shopping or camping/beach trips. Urban Backpack $10.00: This two-color backpack will appeal to urban hikers and wilderness warriors alike.

The calendars available are the Sierra Club 2004 Wall Calendar for $11.95 and the Sierra Club 2004 Engagement Calendar for $12.95. You may view sample pages from the calendars at http://www.sierraclub.org/books/calendars/ by clicking on the cover images, but please do not order online since we want our local Sierra Club chapter to benefit from the proceeds.

New members this month are Kay Burnett, Kelly Kruyshoop and Roger Siglin all of Alpine. Welcome!

During the holiday season there will not be any SuperFrip gatherings or roadside clean up. The next roadside clean up will be on February 7, 2004. Our 2 mile portion of the highway is just east of the ³Y² of Hwy 90 and Hwy 67 approximately 10 miles east of Alpine. Letıs meet at the Lawrence Hall parking lot behind the building at SRSU (thatıs the same building we meet at every month) on Saturday the 7th at 9:00 AM and car pool to our work site. Weıll be back at the parking lot no later than 12:00 noon.

As an addition to what Don has already said, please consider pledging a small amount of money each month to our local club. As a local Sierra member so aptly said, ³Local donations equate to local action.²

Financial News: Many thanks to Thomas Reidy and Joe and Ginny Campbell for donations and pledges totaling $70. We received $20 at meetings bringing the income total for the year to $1750.59.

Many thanks to Matthew Shetrone, Marilyn Brady, and Don Dowdey for $150 for the Hal Flanders Memorial Fund. That brings the total to $470. (See separate story on dispersal of most of that money.)

50 Sunny Glen Alpine, TX 79831
Chair: Don Dowdey

Web address: http://texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend
Editor: Fran Sage PO Box 364 Alpine, TX 79831
Webmaster: Robert Patterson
Formatting: Lue Hirsch
Production: Mary Flanders, Jim and Fran Sage


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