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BIG BEND SIERRAN

Issue 70
March 1, 2003
Website: http://texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend


FROM YELLOWKNIFE TO IQALUIT

carabou Roger Siglin, retired superintendent from Gates of the Arctic National Park, will give a 45-minute slide show on a long distance snowmobile expedition in far north Canada at the March 18th program of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club. The meeting, at 7 p.m., will be in Room 309, Lawrence Hall on the Sul Ross State University campus in Alpine.

The show will take us on a 3400 mile trip from Yellowknife on the Great Slave Lake, across the barren lands, then north to Pond Inlet and 1000 miles down the east coast of Baffin Island ending in Iqaluit, the capital of the new Inuit territory of Nunavut. The trip involved camping out most nights, caribou, wolves, visits in Inuit villages, giant icebergs, and sheer cliffs falling into the frozen ocean.

Siglin and friends started in 1991 going on long distance snowmobile expeditions in arctic Alaska and Canada. All preferred travel on foot but distances involved made that impossible, and dogs required a whole different lifestyle. To date their trips have totaled 16,000 miles from the Bering Straits to Baffin Island.

Siglin spent 27 years as a National Park ranger starting in Big Bend in 1966. He has worked in Yosemite, Yellowstone and many other areas. He is also a climber and has reached 22,830 ft. on Aconcaugua, and climbed Mt. McKinley in 1994. He is currently working as a planner for Texas State Parks in the Chinati Mountains State Natural Area.

The meeting is open to the public.

Upcoming programs: April 15th: Bob Mallouf of the Center for Big Bend Studies will discuss archeology in the Davis Mountains.

May 20th: John Mac Carpenter, Ft. Stockton naturalist, will talk about native plants.

THE ARISTOCRAT
Jim Sage

Of all of the birds that frequent my home on the South Double Diamond, the scrub jay is the aristocrat. He is bold, loud, and arrogant, and when he swoops in to feed, all of the birds except the curved bill thrasher step aside. He is strikingly handsome and very intelligent.

For many months I had just one jay that came in to eat the sunflower seeds. Then one day a friend told me that jays like

scrub jay
Credit: Photo courtesy of WildTexas.com copyright 1997, Justin W. Moore. All rights reserved.
peanuts and gave me some in the shell to throw out to "my" jay.

To my dismay the jay did not know what they were and ignored them. After a couple of days I shelled a few and threw the nuts out. The jay promptly devoured them. This was all I needed. I broke off part of the top half of the shell, leaving the nuts in the remainder. The jay ate one nut and could see the other nut still in the shell. He needed nothing more. He grabbed a peanut and flew to the roof of the house where he broke it open on the steel roof. From then on he came every morning and evening for his peanuts.

One day he did not appear and for about three weeks he was gone. I imagined all types of catastrophes that could happen to a lone bird. But one day he reappeared, this time with a slightly smaller jay, which he quickly taught to eat peanuts. I wondered if I should stop calling him a he.

The two jays have been coming regularly for months now and they are immensely entertaining. Instead of taking a peanut and shelling it, they each grab a peanut and fly off in opposite directions to hide it, racing back to get another and flying to a different hiding site. They will bury the peanut in a sand pile or under a mat of grass and I have wondered how good their memory is. If one jay seems to be getting ahead of the other in peanut count, the other will choose a hiding place closer to the feeding area.

There are three different scrub jays in the United States: the Island Scrub Jay found only on the island of Santa Cruz off the coast of Southern California, the Florida Jay found only in Florida and now headed toward extinction, and the Western Scrub Jay whose range includes all of the large oak tracts of the West and extends from Arizona, New Mexico, and Western Texas north to Southern Wyoming and Idaho and west to Southern Washington and California. There are actually two sub species in Texas, one on the Edwards Plateau and the other in West Texas. In the early 1900s in Texas many scrub jays were shot, supposedly for crop protection.

The scrub jay will eat insects, seeds, carrion, fruit, and other bird eggs but he especially likes peanuts, dried corn kernels, and sunflower seeds. In our area the scrub jay inhabits scrub oaks and junipers and I would suppose that the seeds of these trees make up a large part of the diet.

The scrub jay is non-migratory; so one can enjoy him the year around. Although he is loud and brassy around the feeder, he is very shy and secretive around the nest. The nest is also well concealed. Another problem is that male and female jays can not be distinguished from each other; so the presence of two birds in an area does not mean they are a pair.

I have a great fondness for my two jays and I await their arrival each day. After all, how often can one claim that he taught a bird to eat peanuts?

CHAIR'S COLUMN
by Guest Columnist Marilyn Brady

"TO EXPLORE, ENJOY, AND PROTECT THE WILD PLACES OF THE EARTH . . . ."

Note fom Don Dowdey, Chair: Given the time I've had to spend dealing with the state budget's crisis, Marilyn Brady, a long-time Sierra Club member, who also happens to be my wife, wrote this month's column. Thanks Marilyn. Following is her column.

The Sierra Club opens its mission statement with the words "To explore and enjoy and protect the wild places of the earth." Nationally and for over a century it has upheld these related goals: the enjoyment of nature and its preservation. Perhaps it is the combination of outings and struggles within the political and legal system that account for the organization's longevity and success.

We of the BBRSC have done an excellent job of working to protect our environment, particularly in affecting policies and legislation. As a group, however, we have seldom engaged in experiencing and participating in the wonders of the natural world that surrounds us. This neglect has left us being only part of what we can be. Outings are not simply a device to bring new members into the local group, although that may happen. The outings are a way of facilitating involvement of members and non-members in nature beyond our windows and patios. They can educate others and us about the world we inhabit. They are a shared experience of something that, despite everything, remains somewhat outside human control.

When we enjoy and explore the natural world, we know what it is we want and need to work to preserve. In nature, we can regain the passion to undergird that work. In today's climate, working for the environment means facing repeated defeats and losses. We need the rejuvenation of immersion in what it is we are trying to save.

An outing program need not be elaborate or demand attention away from other club activities. Small groups, not crowds, are best for experiencing nature. Monthly outings could create a pattern of getting out together. Some within the BBRSC may want strenuous hikes and backpacking trips. Others of us may lack the stamina for anything more than car-camping or short walks. Certainly we could do some of both, if leaders have the interest and enthusiasm to make them happen. Even if we have already been to popular spots around the area, a good trail or spring or mountain is worth revisiting. And many lesser known places await our discovery.

What would be needed to create an outings program would be a core of six or eight enthusiastic people willing to commit themselves to going on several outings a year, to leading one or two of them, and to encouraging others to attend. Outing leaders need to be members, and have basic knowledge of first aid, but non-members can share knowledge of new areas and take responsibility for organizing particular events. Everyone who attends an outing is required by the national Sierra Club to sign an Acknowledgment of Outing Member Responsibility, Express Assumption of Risk, and Release of Liability.

John Muir's message was "Go to the Mountains." It is time we follow his call.

SIERRA CLUB OUTING, MARCH 22, 2003 IN THE DAVIS MOUNTAINS

The Sierra Club has reserved the Davis Mountain Nature Preserve for an outing on March 22 and 23. We will meet at the Sunshine House, northeast corner of 4th St. and Sul Ross Avenue behind Baeza's, in Alpine at 1 p.m. on Saturday to carpool to the Preserve. People from Marfa or Ft. Davis should meet the group coming up from Alpine at 2 p.m. near the entrance sign going into McDonald Observatory. We plan a short hike on Saturday afternoon, supper (please bring your own food) and car camping (no facilities available) Saturday night, and a longer hike on Sunday. Newly created trails will allow us to explore new areas. We will camp near the bunkhouse on the Preserve and have access to the small kitchen and restrooms there. People should bring their own utensils and breakfast if they are staying overnight. If you want to leave after supper, that's fine. There is no charge for the outing, but donations to the Nature Conservancy will be accepted. Marilyn Brady, David and Linda Hedges, and Scott May will be leaders. All are knowledgeable about birds and other wildlife as well as plants. They also are familiar with the new trails. Call Marilyn Brady at 837-3210 for questions, details, carpooling, and reporting your desire to attend.

Future Outings: Plans are being made for a Native Plant Field Trip, Chisos Mountains Butterfly Count, and Nature Print Making.

BRAVO FACT SHEET

Following are the key facts of the Preliminary Fact sheet. If you wish you can go directly to the website of the NPS for a somewhat fuller discussion on the BRAVO Study: www2.nature.nps.gov/ard/bravo/.

This report was released January 31, 2003 by the National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and is all we have to date of the "facts." Don Dowdey visited with Representative Pete Gallego in Austin in February and asked if the report satisfied his rider requirement from the last legislative session. The TCEQ was supposed to conduct and conclude and be implementing the study results as of January 1, 2003. Both at that meeting and via his aide when I called the office February 21st, Gallego said, "When I offered the rider to do the study, I expected a lot more than the three pages. This is woefully inadequate." - Ed.

Visibility Measurements:

  • There were four major visibility-reducing episodes during the July-October 1999 study period.
  • Sulfate particles dominate the visibility haze.
  • Though not a major contributor to Big Bend haze, there were some episodes of African dust.
  • While the majority of sulfur dioxide is from nearby sources, the majority of the sulfate particles at BBNP is from more distant sources. [Sulfates cause haze.]
  • The highest sulfate levels at BBNP are associated with sources along the US.-Mexico Border, in Mexico, and to the north and east of Big Bend, including those in Texas and the Eastern U.S.
Transport Assessments:

  • During the study period air was often transported to BBNP from the Southeast, with flow along the Texas-Mexico border.
  • The study period was selected to allow monitoring of conditions when the wind flow patterns were from the south as well as from the east and northeast. However, this was a period in which the frequency of wind flow from the east and northeast was increasing.
  • High sulfur particulate episodes at BBNP are frequently associated with air that has come from Texas and the Eastern United States via flowing through Mexico first before reaching the Park. (We do not know the relative contributions yet.) These air trajectories were relatively uncommon during the study period, but when they occurred, higher sulfur particulate levels were more likely at BBNP.
  • For the study period sources in the eastern part of Texas and northeastern Mexico may be responsible for a similar amount of contribution to the BBNP haze when the accuracies of the analysis techniques are considered. These are preliminary results awaiting modeling results.
Modeling scenarios and reconciliation tasks are now underway.

BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK STATUS REPORT
by Fran Sage and Linda Hedges

Speaking to the Sierra Club February 18, 2003, Supt. Frank Deckert discussed a number of issues: Resource Protection, Planning, Infrastructure/Construction, Fee Demonstration Program, International Relations, Trends and the Future, and Park Protection/Operations. BBNP
Credit: Big Bend National Park courtesy of the National park Service.
Resource Protection: Regarding (a) Air Quality, Deckert mentioned visibility has been measured as low as nine miles. He mentioned his regret at the delay of the BRAVO Study [See "Preliminary Fact Sheet Article"]with virtually no chance of legislative review this session. (b) Water, Park personnel are working on river access issues through the Lajitas resort property and following the waste water permit controversy [see "Lajitas Permit" article]. (c) Invasive species are another resource protection problem. Salt Cedar and Buffelgrass removal have high priority as well as dealing with Nutria, a South American rodent, which are denuding the area around Rio Grande Village. (d) Deckert also told the audience that the first prescription fire burn near Persimmon Gap covered 500 acres in an effort to resume natural nutrient flow and restore native grasses.

Planning: (a)The General Management Plans for the Park and river are in an internal draft review state currently and will be up for public review afterward. Thus far, the public sentiment is that the current level of park development represents a good balance. In regard to the river management plan, it emphasizes a stakeholder/partnership approach with private landowners sharing similar goals. (b) A Business Plan study done in partnership with the National Park Conservation Association and a group of graduate students looked at business practices versus park mandates and found that the Park needs more staff and an increased budget.

Infrastructure/Construction: Some of the Park's infrastructure is beginning to deteriorate, including buildings and utilities. Funding has been appropriated to replace trailer housing with permanent housing. The deteriorating Chisos Basin fresh water and wastewater systems will need to be addressed over the next few years. Also Deckert announced that funding has been provided for a dedicated fire management building.

Fee Demonstration Program: Fee collection, of which the Park retains 80%, will be used along with funds provided by the Big Bend Natural History Association and Friends of Big Bend National Park in a partnership arrangement for an addition to the Panther Junction visitor's center. In addition, entry station and amphitheater rehabilitation projects, boardwalk replacement at Rio Grande Village, and wayside exhibits have been or will be funded through this program.

International Relations: (a) Meeting in a series of workshops, managers of the six protected areas in the Big Bend region both in the United States and Mexico have crafted mission, vision, and core value statements. Salt Cedar removal and habitat restoration represent two common causes. (b) The Aid to Artisans program, which works with people in developing countries to foster handicraft trade with tourists is working on a pilot program at Santa Elena Village. (c) The closing of unofficial border crossings in the Big Bend has caused strained relations with border communities. Deckert said that in his opinion and his staff's opinion it would be better if the people across the river are friends and not enemies. The Park has been working with Customs on this problem and he hopes that something will be resolved by his June 3rd retirement date, such as limited reopening with Customs agents present. Discussion won't take place until after the new Office of Homeland Security is in place on March 1st.

Trends and the Future: Average visitation has been 300,000 annually, although it is difficult to predict the future due to high gas prices, threats of war, and the struggling economy.

Park Protection/Operations: (a) Deckert said he hopes for increased law enforcement and natural resource protection along borderlands through staff funding restored to former levels. (b) Partnerships, local, regional, and national are important, as are natural protection supporters and watchdog organizations like the Sierra Club. c) The Volunteers in Parks (VIP) program remains strong and plays a vital role in national park operations.

In closing Deckert paraphrased John F. Kennedy, imploring us to "Ask not what parks can do for you, ask what you can do for parks."

SUPERINTENDENT FRANK DECKERT RECOGNIZED FOR HIS WORK

The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club thanks Frank Deckert, Superintendent of Big Bend National Park, for his years of service to the National Park Service and through it to the public. Those of us in the Big Bend are grateful for his active dedication, for his openness and candor, for his devotion to the environmental protection of the park. We will miss him. We wish him happiness in his retirement with his family and hope that he will return often to visit the park and the Big Bend Area.

The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club recognized Supt. Frank Deckert of Big Bend National Park with the following Certificate of Merit:

deckert
Credit: Picture of Frank Deckert courtesy of Big Bend National Park.

The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club thanks Frank Deckert, Superintendent of Big Bend National Park, for his years of service to the National Park Service and through it to the public. Those of us in the Big Bend are grateful for his active dedication, for his openness and candor, for his devotion to the environmental protection of the park. We will miss him. We wish him happiness in his retirement with his family and hope that he will return often to visit the park and the Big Bend Area.

The Certificate was signed by the BBRSC Executive Committee, Don Dowdey, Chair, Luanne Hirsch, Liz Hightower, Linda Hedges, Scott May, Ginny Campbell, as well as Fran Sage, Conservation Chair. In addition, Don Dowdey gave Deckert a Blue Skies Over Big Bend tee shirt designed by Tom Curry.

LAJITAS PERMIT

The concerns over permitting of the Lajitas wastewater facility have come down to the issue of whether or not it would be in the 100-year flood plain for the area. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has ruled that it would not be in the flood plain. It has, however, been turned over to the International Boundary and Water Commission for concurrence. If the Commission says it is in the flood plain, Lajitas will need to build levees around it.

HIGHWAY CLEANUP

Liz Hightower announces the next highway cleanup will be Saturday, April 5, 2003, at 9 a.m. Our section is a little east of the Y on U. S. 90 heading toward Marathon. If you get to the Y a little late just keep coming until you see the work crew.

Liz asks that members volunteer if at all possible. WE NEED YOUR HELP!

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE HIRES AIR QUALITY EXPERT

Below is some information about the long-awaited National Park Service Air Quality Specialist position that will be filled soon in Austin. John H. Reber, Physical Scientist, and Air / Water Resources Coordinator of the Intermountain support Office of the National Park Service in Denver, announced that Michael Gorden will be working primarily on air quality issues in Texas, and especially on issues related to US/Mexico border parks, starting March 10, 2003.

The position will be through a cooperative agreement with the University of Texas, and the generous Natural Resources Challenge funding. Mr.Gorden has been an Environmental Program Manager with the AZ Department of Environmental Quality (AIR), and has very strong technical and interagency interaction experience, and also is "mostly" a Texas native.

He will work out of Austin Texas. Mr. Reber says, "Austin? Yes, Austin! Home of the state legislature, state air quality folks, and an excellent partnering arrangement with the Center for Energy and Environmental Resources (CEER). CEER staff at the UT J.J. Pickle Research Facility are working actively on urban air issues in Texas and see the exchange of ideas, research and educational opportunities between NPs and UT."

Our thanks to Superintendent Frank Deckert for the above information. -Ed.

SIERRA CLUB NEWS

New Members: Welcome to Bill Broyles, Gil and Mary Kay Gordon, Edwin Hennessy, David Lanman, Matthew York, and Brenda Young Alpine; Jan Rueb and Matthew Shetrone, Ft. Davis; Kate Thayer, Marathon; and Paul Schaefer, Terlingua.

Contributions: Information not available this month. I'll try to have a proper update next month.

Year-End Report: We finished the year $200 ahead of 2001, even though pledges and donations were down. Total income was $1929.35.

Executive Committee Report: At its February 7th meeting, the ExCom elected the following officers: Chair, Don Dowdey, Vice-Chair, Scott May, Secretary, Linda Hedges, and Treasurer, Virginia Campbell. Liz Hightower also serves on the ExCom and heads the Water Quality/Habitats Committee. Lue Hirsch also heads the Membership Committee. The ExCom sets its calendar for April 17, July 17, October 16, all at 1:30 p.m., in the West Texas National Bank boardroom in Alpine. All members are welcome. In addition, the ExCom approved a new super FRIP membership program and has submitted it to the national Sierra Club. If approved the national will rebate additional funds. The Board also approved a 2003 budget of $3100 from calendar sales, fundraising, and donations and pledges. It projected estimated expenses of $3,050 for newsletter, office supplies, travel registration, lobbying, and phone. Various issues of club activity were also discussed.

Spring or Summer Fundraiser: Plans will be made for a fundraiser, primarily to support legislative activity this session.


Big Bend Regional Sierra Club 50 Sunny Glen, Alpine, Texas 79830

Don Dowdey, Chair, 50 Sunny Glen, Alpine, TX 79830 ddowdey@wildblue.net

Fran Sage, Newsletter Editor, P. O. Box 564, Alpine, TX. 79831
sage@brooksdata.net


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