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Issue 69
February 1, 2003


Supt. Frank Deckert plans to retire from the National Park Service June 3, 2003 and he and his wife Gloria will leave the Big Bend Area to make their home in Lexington, Virginia area in the Shenandoah Valley. The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club believes now is a good time to hear Deckert present a state of the park report with comments on the future of park issues, programs and areas of emphasis for the future (post Frank Deckert).

Meeting: February 18th at 7 p.m.
Location: Lawrence Hall, Room 309 on the Sul Ross Campus in Alpine

All members, guests, and the public are invited to hear the talk and attend a reception in his honor afterwards. Free.

In the report, Deckert will discuss air quality/visibility, Rio Grande water quality and quantity, development inside and outside the park, status of General Management Plans for the park and the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River, cooperation with US and Mexico protected areas, border crossings, ecotourism, prescribed fire, exotic species, etc. He may also include his perspective on how the area and issues have changed since he worked in BBNP in 1975-80 and now. He will be glad to answer questions during and after the talk.

Deckert has been in the National Park Service 36 years and earlier worked for the U. S. Forest Service. Before coming to BBNP, he was superintendent at Carlsbad Caverns NP in New Mexico and earlier in Petersburg National Battlefield in Virginia. For the previous 13 years he worked as Regional Chief of Interpretation in Alaska, BBNP, and as an Interpretive Specialist at Lake Mead Nat'l Recreation Area. The first six years of his NPS career he worked at Isle Royale NP in Michigan and Shenandoah NP in Virginia.

In addition he has received numerous awards and written the book Big Bend-Three Steps to the Sky.

UPCOMING PROGRAMS: March 18th: Roger Siglin, former Superintendent of Gates of the Arctic NP in Alaska, and currently a planner for Texas State Parks in the Chinati Mountains State Natural Area will present a slide show on a 3400 mile trip from Yellowknife ending in Iqaluit.

April 15th: Dr. Bob Mallouf will discuss archeology in the Davis Mountains.

Jim Sage

One evening last spring, sometime after the sun had gone down, I was sitting outside with my beautiful cat, Felina (named not because she is a feline, but after the dance hall girl in Marty Robbin's song El Paso) on my lap when I looked up and spotted a skunk about 100 feet away. Felina spotted him at the same time, sprang from my lap and dashed toward him. I almost panicked, imagining a trip to the vet for a deodorant wash, wondering how much tomato juice I had in the house, how long the horrible odor would linger on the cat, etc. Instead, when the cat reached the skunk, they sniffed noses like two old friends and the cat returned to my lap. The skunk meandered on his way, looking for something to eat.

This little incident encouraged me to get out the literature on skunks and I found that there are actually four different skunks in the Big Bend: common hog-nosed, striped, spotted, and hooded. This old friend of Felina's is the common hog-nosed skunk, also know as a rooter skunk because of its habit of rooting in the dirt for grubs and insects.

Probably the most common skunk in the area and the one you see most often pounded into the pavement on the highway is the striped skunk. It has two white stripes down its back and a narrow stripe down the snout. Our hog-nosed skunk is a real beauty with a single wide white stripe running from its head to the tip of its tail. And while it probably doesn't weigh over five pounds, it looks much larger with its long hair and rather majestic fifteen-inch tail.

While skunks tend to be nocturnal I have seen our skunk a couple of times during the day and I have located its den under the rocks on the side of a nearby hill. It had me fooled for a long time, as I believed all of the digging in the soft dirt along the road was the work of javelinas. One night, coming home late, I spotted our friend in the headlights, rooting along the side of the road. In addition to the grubs and insects it can dig up, it will eat almost anything-rodents, eggs and nestlings, fruit, berries, carrion. A desert mammal can't be too choosy.

Reading about skunks, I found out several more things I did not know. For self-defense skunks have two glands near the base of the tail through which they can not only spray about 15 feet but can somewhat aim the spray. The spray can cause temporary blindness and nausea and even the skunks can not stand the smell. When threatened the hog-nosed skunk will fire its spray in a straightforward manner but the striped skunk will turn both its head and tail in a U shape facing the enemy before firing. The spotted skunk stands on its front legs and fires over its head, while the other Big Bend area skunk, the hooded skunk, turns its rear toward the enemy and makes short backward scoots as it sprays.

But the most interesting thing I learned is that in reproduction the skunk is capable of delayed implantation. This means that after mating the fertilized egg can be held dormant for weeks before development takes place. While probably not the norm, the skunk could mate in October and not have kits until spring, even though the gestation period is about 60 days. Usually the hog-nosed skunk has no more than three kits at one time.

After watching the little exchange between Felina and the skunk, I decided that the reputation of the skunk has been exaggerated. I am quite pleased to have the little fellow as a neighbor.

Don Dowdey

Membership and Finances - Positive and Negative

At the last couple of meetings I've encouraged folks to join the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club, so that we could overcome the Red River Club and no longer be the smallest regional group in Texas. I'm happy to tell you that in November I received a report indicating that, as of March 2002, we had 112 members, while Red River fell to 107. This is the first statewide count that we haven't been at the bottom of the list! For a group only six and a half years old, and in a sparsely populated area, this is quite an accomplishment.

However, recent information indicates that several members, including some long term ones, have not renewed their membership. I hope the press of the holidays accounts for this, and that everyone plans to renew in the new year. In addition to responding to mailings from the National Office, don't forget that you can also renew online from our web site: http://texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend. Or you can get a membership form at a regular meeting. Especially given the changes in the national political situation, the Sierra Club, with over 700,000 members, is a vital force not only on issues like drilling in the Arctic Wilderness, but also on our local issues like clean air, radioactive waste, and alternative energy sources. And the Lone Star Chapter is a major presence in the Legislature on environmental issues. If your membership has recently expired, please renew soon. This is the time to make clear that environmental issues are important to the American people, and that we don't ever go away! And I'd hate to drop to the bottom of Texas groups again.

On the financial front, we also have a mixed picture. Through the years, we' ve been fortunate to get some large gifts, such as Barton Warnock's generous donation of books, memorials for Hal Flanders, a founding member of our club, and a grant from the Wray Trust Fund (encumbered to pay for an air quality brochure - hopefully one that will include final data from the BRAVO study). While these funds give us a savings cushion, we hope to use them for special projects, in order to honor their sources.

While group members do translate into a bit of money from the Chapter, most of your membership fee goes to support the national and state offices - and to bring Sierra magazine to you. Funding for our regional group comes mostly from pledges and donations, and from fund-raisers - including calendar sales. Our major expense is for the newsletter (about $130 an issue), and we try to support folks going to environmental workshops, Chapter functions, and legislative lobbying. In the past, we've been fortunate enough to cover these ongoing expenses with incoming funds. This year, however, pledges and donations have been down. Pledges are especially helpful in budgeting, as they represent steady income. A pledge of only $10 a month would support one newsletter - see the pledge form elsewhere in the newsletter if you can contribute in this way. And thank you for being a member of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club!


Perhaps by the time this newsletter reaches you, the fact sheet (previous name was Executive Summary) of the BRAVO Study will have been released but don't count on it. It is due for completion January 30th with the Draft Study due out mid-April and the final report the end of June. If that is true it will be four years from beginning to end and so far no announced deadline has held.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) wants to assure that all science is reconciled on different modeling analyses before release. That is difficult because the information fed into them was different in at least two of the models. It was not clear when I talked to Commissioner Marquez mid-January or in his response to the BBRSC letter I sent whether TCEQ really accepts those deadlines however reluctantly but I have been assured by Jim Yarbrough of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Region Six Office that the TCEQ does not have veto power over the documents. Yarbrough also told me that EPA will be coming out to Alpine later in the spring, perhaps to coincide with the release of the Draft Study. I'll keep you posted. --ed


While the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality responded to Mary Kelly, now Senior Attorney for Environmental Defense, in Austin in mid-January, the response has not yet been fully analyzed. She says that the agency has agreed with some of the public comment regarding why the treatment ponds should not be located in the flood plain of the Rio Grande. TCEQ is now proposing to require the Lajitas resort to conduct a new flood plain study and submit it for approval to the International Boundary and Water Commission. If the ponds are in the flood plain, they would have to be fully protected by a set of berms or dikes. She goes on to say that it appears that TCEQ rejected most other public comments. If no one requests reconsideration of the Executive Director's responses to comments or a contested case hearing by February 14th, the TCEQ could issue the permit. BBRSC expects to learn the results of the analysis and I will report what I learn in the next newsletter. --ed


This year more than ever before we must fight to protect our environment. The Texas Legislature is meeting now in Austin and we need to make our concerns known to our legislators.

Citizens of the Big Bend area are invited to join with the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club to go to Austin to meet with Texas Sierra Club members and other environmental folksfor LEGISLATIVE LOBBY DAY, to be held Sunday March 2 and Monday March 3. The Training and Lobby Day is sponsored by the Alliance For A Clean Texas (ACT). If you've never lobbied before, you'll find this an informative, exciting, and fun experience. GIVE IT A TRY! Call Don Dowdey in Alpine at (915) 837-3210.

Following is the schedule:

SUNDAY MARCH 2-TRAINING: Learn about Priority Issues and How to Lobby. The Session will be at 1:30 at the University Presbyterian Church, 2203 San Antonio, Austin, TX 78713 and will be hosted by Texas Impact. It includes registration, tips on lobbying and the plan for the Monday lobbying. Then there will be sessions on air, parks, and radioactive waste followed by sessions on TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) enforcement, water, renewable energy. Then will come Non-ACT issues: electronic waste, religion and environment, and water privatization . Dinner will be at Threadgills (301 W. Riverside).

MONDAY, MARCH 3-LOBBYING: Participants will meet at 8:30 in the Capitol Cafeteria (in the capitol extension) for breakfast and pre-lobbying meeting followed by 9:00 lobbying visits with your Senator and Representative and pre-set meetings with members of the House and Senate environmental committees. It will end with an 11:00 rally on the south steps of the Capitol. Bring a zip-lock bag of water from your local river or stream to add to the "Save Water, Save Rivers, Save Money" water barrel.

FINANCIAL AID: Big Bend Regional Sierra Club can provide assistance to members. Call Don for more details.

ALLIANCE MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS: American Lung Association of Texas; Christian Life Commission; Consumers Union, SW Regional Office; Environmental Defense; Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention; League of Woman Voters of Texas; NAACP Environmental Justice Committee; National Wildlife Federation; Public Citizen; Republicans for Environmental Protection; Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter; Surfrider Foundation, Central Texas Chapter; Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition; Texas Campaign for the Environment; Texas Center for Policy Studies; Texas Committee on Natural Resources; Texas Clean Water Action/Texas Community Project; Texas Environmental Democrats; Texas Impact; Texas League of Conservation Voters; Texas Public Interest Research Group.



Overview of Alliance For A Clean Texas Recommendations for 78th State Legislative Session




Air Quality

  1. Fully Fund the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan at $188 million per year.
  2. Implement routine fish testing for mercury contamination, post notices of mercury contamination in Texas waterways, and pursue studies on mercury emissions reductions.


  1. Build adequate transmission lines to wind farms; create a long-term plan for transmission projects.
  2. Implement green building initiatives, like the successful GLO initiative, and include incentives for conservation efforts.

Water Resources

  1. Establish criteria for municipal water conservation plans that include quantifiable goals and annual reviews and require implementation of such plans as a condition of water rights permits and of qualification for state funding.
  2. Establish explicit mechanisms for ensuring that instream flows and bay and estuary inflow needs are met.

Radioactive Waste Management

  1. Prohibit importation of nuclear weapons waste or out-of-state nuclear power plant waste for disposal in Texas.
  2. Minimize transportation of radioactive waste and utilize power plants as waste management sites for nuclear power waste.

Parks and Land Conservation

  1. Raise the cap on the revenue generated by the sales tax on sporting goods that is dedicated to state and local parks so that more funding is available for the operation of state and local parks.
  2. Request that Texas voters approve a new series of General Obligation Bonds for acquisition and development of parks, conservation lands, and purchase of development rights from willing sellers on environmentally sensitive private lands.

Environmental Enforcement

  1. Require penalties assessed by the TCEQ to at least recover the economic benefit that the violator gained through its noncompliance and deter future violations.
  2. Require that every permit issued by the TCEQ include pollution monitoring adequate to assure compliance with state pollution laws and rules.

Office of Public Interest Counsel

Adopt the recommendations of the Joint Interim Committee on Natural Resource Public Interest Counsel.


Executive Committee Meeting: The new ExCom had to delay its first meeting until February 7th and hence I can not tell you the new officers names until the new ExCom meets and elects them. The ExCom is Don Dowdey, Luanne Hirsch, Linda Hedges, Liz Hightower, and Scott May.

Contributions: While I do not yet have a 2002 year end report, Virginia Campbell, our treasurer, reports $100 in pledges from the 28th of November, 2002 through January 26, 2003.

Donations totaled $71. Thanks to Mary Baxter, Valerie Naylor, Fran Sage, and donations given at the December Christmas party. In addition to the year end report, Campbell will have the calendar sales total.

New Members: Welcome to the following members new to the BBRSC: Ruth Albright, David Busey, Bruce Colvin, Jennifer Fallon of Alpine; Bonnie Wunderlich of Terlingua; Clyde T. Curry, Kate Thayer of Marathon; and Maiya Keck of Marfa.

Welcome to Jeanne Sinclair: Jeanne Sinclair of Marfa has taken over the newsletter formatting from Lue Hirsch. THANKS, Jeanne. And thanks to Lue for all her work with formatting in the past and her ongoing membership work, especially with the national MUIR membership list.


To explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the Earth, to practice and promote responsible use of the Earth's ecosystems and resources, to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment, and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.

Don Dowdey, Chair, 50 Sunny Glen, Alpine, TX 79830

Fran Sage, Newsletter Editor, P. O. Box 564, Alpine, TX. 79831


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