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BIG BEND SIERRAN

Issue 82
July 21, 2004
July 21 Newsletter Explore, enjoy, and protect the planet

SUMMER SOCIAL AND SILENT AUCTION SCHEDULED

Don Dowdey, BBRSC chair, announces the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club summer social and silent auction will he held at
* Kokernot Lodge on
* Sunday, August 22, from
* Five p.m. till dark.

You all may recall the great time we had last year. In fact the Mules of Presidio will again provide rousing music as they have for the last two summers!

The food will be potluck, which makes for great eating. The BBRSC will provide the utensils, plates, and napkins as well as iced tea. If you want beer, please bring your own.

We hope to get a further reminder out with more information.

Jeanne Sinclair, ExCom member, will be helping make this another BBRSC enjoyable program.

A DEVOTED PARENT
BY JIM SAGE

A century or two ago, when we lived in Austin, we would spend the weekends driving back country roads, mostly just to see where they went. We had discovered that to save our sanity, this was superior to drinking.

One day about fifteen miles south of Austin we saw a bird we did not recognize. It was sitting on the fence line, bobbing its tail and periodically flying into the air and then returning to the fence. After the usual time-consuming search of bird books, we discovered that it was a Say’s Phoebe. We were so enchanted with this new bird that we probably made six more trips to this area hoping to glimpse the bird again.

Now living out here in the South Double Diamond, the Say’s Phoebe is one of the most common birds. This spring, a pair built a nest in the garage and last month four newly hatched babies fledged. Immediately the parents reconstructed the nest and mom laid four more little white eggs. On July 1, there were three ugly, almost naked chicks in the nest, all trying to support their heads on a scrawny neck, too weak to do so. Sixteen days later, right on schedule, four handsome chicks fledged. If you have never watched birds fledge, it is interesting as they have to learn how to fly. One little chick landed on the bed of the truck on its first flight and another landed on top of the step ladder. They would leave the garage, make a short circle and miss the garage door when returning. But they learned fast.

The Say’s Phoebe was named after an early naturalist, Thomas Say. In 1819-20, Say went on an expedition to Colorado, documenting all of the birds he found, including the phoebe. The Say’s Phoebe is the only bird whose genus and species are both named after a single person.

The Say’s Phoebe is a resident of the more arid western states, spending summers as far north as Alaska and wintering in the southwestern United Sates and southern Mexico. It prefers open terrain, grasslands, and residential areas as it has learned to tolerate the presence of humans.

It builds a cup-shaped nest out of grass, usually in a sheltered location such as a bridge, farm building, or a garage. It lays four or five eggs, which hatch in 12-14 days and the young are born naked and helpless. The parents work very hard to raise such a brood and to repeat this once or twice a summer seems to me to go beyond the call of duty, though not, perhaps, of nature.

Everyday I derive great pleasure watching this sleek, handsome bird with the long black tail and orange-brown underside leave its perch and fly out to snatch an insect in flight. It will also hover to do the same thing. It eats only insects but I have been told that if the winter is severe and insects are scarce, it will eat berries.

This summer we have been in a family way on the South Double Diamond. Watching the Say’s Phoebe raise two families makes me feel like a born again foster father.

DON’S COLUMN
BY DON DOWDEY, BBRSC CHAIR

As a result of the EPA’s court ordered requirement to issue meaningful rules on New Source Review and Regional Haze, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the Clean Air Task Force (CATF) have issued reports on air quality in the National Parks. In both, Big Bend is highlighted as a park which could benefit from enforcement of existing laws.

In the NPCA report “Code Red: America’s Five Most Polluted Parks”, about the only good news for Big Bend is that it is not one of the top five, which include Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee; Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky; Shenandoah National Park, Virginia; Acadia National Park, Maine; and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks, California.

However, Big Bend is included in most of their tables, which are based on air-quality data from the National Park Service for 13 parks with extensive monitoring programs for haze, ground-level ozone, and acid precipitation. These and other parks are monitored because of the special protection national parks receive under the Clean Air Act. The NPCA analysis evaluated Park Service data from all of the national parks that use the Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments (IMPROVE—visibility data), Park Service Gaseous Air Pollutant Monitoring Network (ozone data), and the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP—acid precipitation data) to monitor the three pollutants reviewed in this report. These Parks are monitored because they are considered to have the most pollution problems of all NPS areas.

The first table in the report ranks these thirteen Parks by visibility, ozone, and acid precipitation. Big Bend ranked 8th in visibility, 12th in ozone, and 10th in acid precipitation. In the Overall Index Based on Visibility, Acid Precipitation, and Ozone Rankings, 1999-2003, Big Bend also ranked 8th , behind Great Smoky Mountains, Mammoth Cave, Shenandoah, Acadia, Sequoia/Kings Canyon, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain. Parks ranked as cleaner than Big Bend include Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Great Basin, Yellowstone, and Glacier.

The full report is available from the NPCA website:
http://www.npca.org/across_the_nation/visitor_experience/clear_air/code_red/default.asp

The CAFT report, “Comments on EPA’s “Regional Haze Regulations and Guidelines for Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART) Determinations,” was prepared as an official response to the EPA’s request for comments on their proposed rules. It states “our nation’s parks, monuments, and wilderness areas are shrouded in haze. In much of the country, the impairment of visibility is largely due to emissions from old coal-fired power plants and other industrial stationary sources.” Almost 30 years ago, in the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments, Congress expressly declared and codified that the national goal is to stem and to remedy the impaired visibility from man-made air pollution.  Yet, nearly thirty years later, visual air quality has shown little improvement or is still deteriorating in many national parks and wilderness areas. Using data collected by the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA), CAFT reports that visibility at many parks and wilderness around the country deteriorated between 1988 and 1998. Big Bend’s visibility deteriorated more than any other Class I area in the country, except for the Jarbridge Wilderness in the Great Basin, with which it tied. The report also cites trends in increasing nitrate-related haze which have been documented in Badlands, Big Bend and Mesa Verde National Parks and Chiricahua National Monument.

My comments from the CAFT report are based on an advance draft. I would be happy to send a copy of the final report to anyone who requests it.

BLUE MOON

Mark your calendar for July 31, 2004. That night will mark the only blue moon until June 2007. Under the modern definition, a blue moon happens anytime you have two full moons in the same month. While there is an older meaning of “blue moon,” having a second full moon in the same month is the meaning most of us think defines the phenomenon. In earlier times the moon was used in the Christian ecclesiastical calendar. For more background information on the two definitions see the Sky and Telescope article, “What’s a Blue Moon?” At any rate, using the modern definition, we have a blue moon the last day of this month. Enjoy.

SHANKLE NEW TCEQ HEAD
BY FRAN SAGE

Glenn Shankle, nine-year employee of the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality, has been appointed unanimously by the three member commission as the new executive director, a position he has filled since Margaret Hoffman resigned effective April 30th. His position pays $135,000 per year. He retired the end of June and will begin August 1, 2004. He was deputy director under Hoffman. According to the Austin American Statesman, “Shankle’s June 30th retirement, allowing him to be rehired effective August 1, and collect a paycheck and an $80,000 annual pension rankled some agency staff.”

The state auditor, last December, found the TCEQ inadequate in inspection and enforcement of TCEQ regulations. The Austin American Statesman mentioned criticism of the agency by citizens and some lawmakers over agency “failures to adequately inspect or regulate industry sites, such as massive quarries, or to collect fines from polluters that are significant enough to deter and hold them accountable.”

Shankle started his public career in the state comptroller’s office in the mid-seventies. While he never finished a degree he rose to deputy controller. He came to the TCEQ after four years as head of personnel at the state Senate under the direction of Lt. Governor Bob Bullock. At TCEQ he was Director of Administrative Services (which includes personnel) and then became Deputy Executive Director.

According to the Statesman, “Industry officials and their lawyers say Shankle has been, as one lobbyist put it, ‘appropriately accessible’ during his interim stint and is open to considering their arguments on policy matters or enforcement cases only if their positions are reasonable.” There has also been concern by some citizens group and agency staff, who thought it might be wiser to have chosen someone outside the agency because of the doubts about the TCEQ overall performance in the past.

Commission Chair, Kathleen Hartnett White praised Shankle as a “clear, balanced, strong decision-maker of firm integrity.”

INTRODUCING MEMBERS
ROSELAND KLEIN
BY FRAN SAGE

Roseland Klein moved to the Fort Davis area from Houston about two years ago to be near her son Marc after her other son, Jerry and, several months later, her husband, Peter, passed away.

Roseland’s interests span the arts and science, including an interest in music, art, literature, language, and medical science. In her working career, Roseland spent time with a choir of 83 children in fourth to sixth grade—a wonderful experience. Most of the children had a good sense of pitch though one enthusiastic boy had no pitch but had a father who was a football coach who always would sit up front to hear his boy sing. She liked helping the children develop and enjoyed their performances. She also taught violin and played in a string ensemble.

Another experience with children was the time she spent working with teenagers who were expelled from school, trying to help them cope with life and controlling adults. She and the teenagers got along fine. One of them said to her, “Roseland,” they called each other by first names, “Don’t worry, I’ll never rob your house.” Shortly after that time, her house was burglarized, but she does not know if there was any connection.

For the fifteen years before she retired, she worked as an assistant professor for Baylor College of Medicine in Houston doing scientific editing of manuscripts, books, annual reports, etc., in the Department of Pediatrics in the Children’s Nutrition Research Center, helping make the materials ready for publishing. The authors she worked with ranged from people who just gave her the materials and told her to make them publishable to the other extreme, a man who would allow no changes. With his work, she finally just sent it in to the publisher who returned it to the author telling him to correct a stylistic punctuation error. He then complained to her because she didn’t fix it!

Roseland enjoyed the work; in fact what she liked about much of what she did during her working years was helping people succeed in their own performances.

After she and her husband retired, they lived in Germany where she studied German as a way to keep her mind active. She was pleased with her own accomplishments there.

Music, reading, and the natural world have been central in Roseland’s life. One source of happiness has been seeing Marc’s interest in birds (he and his wife, Maryann, have a hummingbird sanctuary at their home*), and knowing that she may have played a role by teaching him about birds when he was very young and giving him a birding book even before he could read.

Roseland is a true renaissance woman. Shortly before her son Jerry died, he said, “Mom, don’t ever loose your curiosity and your enthusiasm.” I believe those two words describe Roseland well regardless of what she is involved with.

*See the article in the Desert Candle, Summer 2004

EXPLETIVE DELETED
From The Planet, publication of the Sierra Club, July 2004 p. 8

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has thus far refused to refund any of the $9 billion reaped by energy companies during California’s 2000-01 energy crisis, but newly released documents and tapes of Enron energy traders "in action" may change that.

One videotape aired by CBS News in early June showed an Enron trader saying, "Burn, baby, burn. That’s a beautiful thing," as he watched coverage of a fire destroying a Southern California power plant. Another tape showed a trader praising a colleague for having "f——d California," and yet another showed two traders reveling in the "poor grandmothers" who had exorbitant power rates "jammed right up their a—."

Even more damning (if such thing is possible), in a taped phone call an Enron trader boasted about artificially creating congestion on California’s electricity transmission lines to drive up power prices. "If the line’s not congested then I just look if I can congest it. If you can congest it, that’s a money-maker no matter what." In another, a trader tells a colleague: "Tell you what—you heard this here first—when Bush wins, that [expletive] (former energy secretary) Bill Richardson is gone….Ken Lay’s going to be secretary of energy."

ENVIRONMENTAL UPDATE
BY FRAN SAGE

BRAVO STUDY: Again, the release of the study has been postponed several months. It is now six years since the field study began, and even longer since the planning began. While the former head of Region 6 of the EPA said this study would not remain on the shelf but would lead to action, one does not know what the current head’s position will be. First of course it would be good to get something on the shelf!

RADIOACTIVE WASTE: Working quietly for the past year, the TCEQ has been implementing the low-level radioactive waste legislation passed last year. August 6, 2004 is the deadline for companies to apply to build and manage two waste dumps: one for compact waste and one for Department of Energy waste. The applicant to date (and only likely one) is Waste Control Specialists, which currently manages and packages radioactive waste at its facility in Andrews County near the border with New Mexico. It is only allowed to store the waste for two years and then must ship it elsewhere. The permit would allow for permanent disposal.

Recently in the news have been stories that the Governor of Nebraska is discussing possibilities for the five state Central States Compact using the not yet built Texas/Vermont Compact waste dump. In addition, our Governor Perry will soon appoint new commissioners to the Commission regulating our Compact. Accepting other states’s waste would be decided ultimately by that body. Perry has also filled an industry slot on The Texas Radiation Advisory Board, which advises agencies concerned with radiation. He appointed Rick Jacobi, former head of the now defunct state agency which had been going to build a waste disposal facility at Sierra Blanca and he was late head of Texas Envirocare which at one time planned a waste dump in West Texas. He has also been doing consulting work for Waste Control Specialists which critics say creates a conflict of interest.

To add to the complexity, Louisiana Energy Services (a French owned company) is proposing a uranium enrichment company to be built in Lea County New Mexico. It would generate waste and require special facilities to process that waste. New Mexico will not allow the waste to remain in New Mexico and the company has explored possibilities with Waste Control Specialists though not much has been made public.

BENTONITE GRINDING PLANT NEAR ALPINE: I will not rehash the history on that but just say that the company applied and received three permits by rule on July 13th, which allows the company to begin building (that started on July 19). It also withdrew its original permit request on July 16th. While the earlier request required public opinion and opposition to be heard and considered, the permits by rule did not. The Big Bend Air Quality Group is considering options (as is the lawyer for Sierra La Rana) to file for reconsideration or to sue and request a temporary restraining order. The Group is awaiting an analysis by its attorney, Rick Lowerre, a prominent Austin environmental lawyer. I expect the decision on how to proceed will be made by the time this newsletter is received. Keep checking the Alpine Avalanche, the Big Bend Sentinel, the Desert Mountain Times, and the Odessa American for updates.

TWO BOOKS
BY LONN TAYLOR
I have always supposed that most people who love nature grew up in the outdoors, but I grew up in the tropics, where the outdoors was a jungle full of leeches and snakes and was someplace to be avoided. When I moved back to Texas as a teen-ager we moved to Fort Worth, where nature was not much in evidence except in Forest Park, and so I first learned about the outdoors through books.
Two in particular that I read then and still treasure are Roy Bedichek’s Adventures with a Texas Naturalist and John Graves’s Goodbye to a River. Neither was written by a scientist. Bedichek spent most of his professional life as a university administrator; Graves is a writer, ex-Marine and sometime college teacher. Both, however, intensely observed the world around them and wrote about it in polished prose distilled from decades of good reading. Adventures with a Texas Naturalist, published in 1947, is a series of essays about animal behavior, based on Bedichek’s observations during 40 years of camping trips. He writes about mockingbirds, herons, eagles, squirrels, swallows, and even chickens. But he also writes about humans and one of the things that I learned from reading his book, and that has been reinforced over the years by my own experiences as a historian, is that humans are part of nature and have always interacted with and altered the environment. Bedichek’s chapter on the connection between the government’s program to build earthen tanks on ranches across the Edwards Plateau and the spread of bird species across the same area is an example that sticks in the mind, as is his chapter on the diversity of wildflower species found along fenced highway right-of-ways, as opposed to within grazed pastures.
Graves’s book, published in 1960, is very different. It is a narrative of a canoe trip down the stretch of the Brazos that flows between Possum Kingdom and Lake Whitney through the Cross Timbers west of Fort Worth. But Graves weaves stories into that narrative, stories of pioneers and Indians taken from local history books and pamphlets, stories from his own boyhood, stories people along the way tell him. The result is a seamless fabric of place and past that unfolds as his boat floats down the river. Like Bedicheck’s book, Graves’s is laced with ruminations on birds, animals, and human behavior, ruminations that could only take place outdoors, sitting on a log or a rock and watching. And like Bedichek, Graves is aware that humans, whether they be Comanches or later comers, are an inseparable part of the landscape, for better or worse, and that the landscape only has meaning when they are taken into account.
Both books showed me that the natural world was a laboratory open to anyone who took the time to look at it. Bedichek quotes a couplet by Emerson that goes, “Hast thou named all the birds without a gun? / loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk?" This applied to Graves, as he paddled down the Brazos, and I have always hoped that it applied to me, a young person just learning about the Texas outdoors, with Bedichek and Graves as my guides.
Lonn Taylor lives in Ft. Davis and formerly served as a historian at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
WANTED: NEWSLETTER EDITOR

Fran Sage will be retiring as newsletter editor at the end of December 2004. (By then she will have produced 86 issues.) She will continue to write articles for the newsletter if the new editor wishes. What is needed is an editor, someone to see that articles get submitted in a timely manner and, if that person so desires, write some articles. It would be good if the volunteer can work in Microsoft Publisher but IT IS NOT NECESSARY. The newsletter can be produced in WORD and then transmitted elsewhere for formatting.
PLEASE CONTACT FRAN SAGE AT (432) 364-2362 (a local call from Alpine) or sage@brooksdata.net. If you are interested in learning more Fran would be happy to visit with you about the work involved. You could also call Don Dowdey at (432) 837-3210 or e-mail him at ddowdey@wildblue.net.

PLEASE CONSIDER WORKING ON THIS TASK IN ORDER TO KEEP THE CONTINUITY. We have been putting out a newsletter in February, March, April, May, July, September, October, November, and December.

CALENDAR SALES: Virginia “Ginny” Campbell, BBRSC Treasurer, appeals to our members for someone to take over the calendar sales, which represent a significant source for ouR operating funds. Ginny has led the charge for several years as did Brenda Bell earlier. We now NEED a volunteer to take over the sales process (many people have helped with the sales themselves).

Call Ginny at (432) 386-4526 or e-mail her at jokeambl@speedexpress.net.


MEMBER NEWS
LUE HIRSCH, MEMBERSHIP CHAIR

New Members: The most recent new or transfer in or renewed members are: Robert Arbogast of Terlingua; Steve Belardo, Carol Edwards & John Gee, C. Harrelle, Jim Norton and Gregory Schwab of Alpine; Virginia Bunton of Ft. Davis; Joshua Burnett and Brian Shugart of BBNP.

Highway Clean-up: The cooler weather is fast approaching and with it will be the opportunity to help pick up our designated 2-mile stretch of highway! Please put Saturday, September 18th on your calendar and plan on joining me in the highway clean up! We’ll meet at Lawrence Hall parking lot on the east side at 9:00AM and car pool to the clean up area which is located east of the junction of Hwy 90 and Hwy 67 and just beyond the entrance to the land fill. We’ll be back in Alpine before Noon. See you on September 18th!

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.

Financial News: NOT AVAILABLE THIS MONTH

Chair: Don Dowdey,
50 Sunny Glen, Alpine, TX 79830
(432) 837-3210 ddowdey@wildblue.net

Newsletter: Fran Sage
sage@brooksdata.net

ExCom: Don Dowdey, (See above)
Scott May (432) 729-8105 randall359@yahoo.com
Barbara Novovitch (432) 386-4102 bnovo@overland.net
Bennye Meredith (432) 364-2266 bmeredith@llnet.net
Jeanne Sinclair (432) 729-4207 sinclair@llnet.net
Treasurer: Virginia Campbell (non-voting member of ExCom (432) 386-4526 jokeambl@overland.net

Another good contact: Luanne Hirsch, Membership Chair, (432) 364-2307 llfhirsch@msn.com


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