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BIG BEND SIERRANIssue 79
March 1, 2004
BBNP SUPERINTENDENT FEATURED SPEAKERJohn H. King, Superintendent of Big Bend National Park, will bring us up to date on the park at the March 18, 2004 meeting of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club at 7 pm in room 300 Lawrence Hall, Sul Ross State University. The meeting is open to the public.
Superintendent King became chief at the park on June 1, 2003. It will be agood time for members and area citizens to hear him discuss the recreation, primary visitor activities and experiences available in the park. He will discuss some of the principal resource threats and challenges faced by the park. For example, air quality, water quality AND quantity, exotic species issues, the infrastructure and financial needs. The meeting will allow time for questions and comments.
Superintendent King came to the park from his stint as Superintendent at theVirgin Islands NP. Earlier he was Deputy Regional Director, National ParkService (NPS), Intermountain Region (in that position he had oversight responsibilities for the 35 NPS units in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona). In addition he had park assignments at Lake Mead Nat'l Recreation Area, Colonial Nat'l Historical Park, Isle Royale NP, and a 1979-1982 position at Big Bend NP. In addition he was also at Chickamauga/Chattanooga Nat'l Military Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Natchez Trace Parkway. He has a B. S. from Mississippi State University. King is married (wife-Martha) and has three grown sons.
UPCOMING PROGRAMS: April 15, 2004 Mary Kelly, senior attorney for Environmental Defense in Austin, will discuss border water issues. May 2, 2004 Dave Edmond will discuss the results of his field studies on the dung beetle in the Chihuahuan desert.
ONE OF LIFE'S BEAUTIFUL SONGSOne of the oldest memories of my childhood living on a farm in Montana is riding in a car with the windows rolled down and hearing the unmistakable song of the western meadowlark. The song has been described as complex, loud, clear, a warbling whistle, garbled, abrupt, flute-like, or a series of gurgling notes that descend in scale. And I would add that it is a beautiful and memorable song. It is little wonder that I was so pleased to discover when we moved to the South Double Diamond that the meadowlark also chose to live in the area.
by Jim Sage
Meriwether Lewis has been given the distinction of being the first person torecord the appearance of the western meadowlark. On June 22, 1805, he noted in his journal a new bird, about nine inches long with a yellow breast and a black spot on the throat. It was almost identical to the eastern meadowlark with which he was familiar but the song was far richer and quite different.
In fact, the song has endeared the meadowlark to so many people that it is the state bird in six states-Montana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon and Wyoming. In 1930 the school children of Montana were asked to vote on the bird which best represented Montana and the overwhelming choice was the meadowlark. The Legislature agreed and made it official in 1931.
In areas where the meadowlark migrates, the male will arrive in the spring a couple of weeks before the female and will perch on a fence post and sing to establish his territory. Here in the Chihuahuan desert the meadowlark is a year-round resident but in the spring a male will sit on top of the sacahuista in front of our living room and sing his heart out. His territory will be about six acres and he will mate with more than one female; so there may be a male and up to three females in one area.
The meadowlark is a grassland bird and builds its nest on the ground. The female scoops out a hollow in the ground and builds a nest in it. Then she constructs a canopy over the nest with a well-disguised entry way on the side. It is extremely well hidden to prevent skunks, cats, hawks, owls, coyotes, etc. from finding it. In all of my tramping around over the area I have never found a nest.
The female lays one egg per day for about five days and incubates for fourteen days, in which she seldom leaves the nest. The young leave the nest before they can fly but are full grown in six weeks. The female may produce two clutches per year.
The meadowlarks are ground feeders, eating mostly insects such as grasshoppers, caterpillars, and spiders. They also eat seeds, which become the bulk of their food supply in the winter. After the young are hatched, the adults feed them with regurgitated food until they can forage on their own.
The male will bring some of the food to the nest but other than that the female does everything. The male simply sees it as his duty to serenade her and to improve his wonderful song.
It is now early March and very soon we will hear the clarion call of the male meadowlark. We will look out and there will be that magnificent yellow breast with the black "V" sparkling in the morning sun.
Our blessings are many here in the Chihuahuan desert.
DON'S COLUMNSeveral people have asked me about news articles concerning elections to the National Sierra Club Board of Directors. In this column, I want to share a statement by the Lone Star Chapter ExCom on the elections, and then give my own thoughts.
SIERRA CLUB ELECTION TURMOIL
by Don Dowdey
The Lone Star ExCom statement reads: "In March, there will be a very important election for the National Board of Directors. There are some very divisive issues being brought up, and it is vital in this election, like no election before it, for Club members to vote. Your ExCom urges you to read the candidate statements, and consider the information within, including their position on issues and their experience within the Club. There are two ways to become a candidate for the national Board. The first is via a nominating committee of volunteers, which meets for several months, intervi ews candidates, and decides who they feel is best qualified in terms of leadership, experience with and knowledge of the Club. The second way is via petition. This requires a few hundred signatures of Sierra Club members
Don't think that your vote doesn't matter. Every vote counts. Watch for the ballot in March and please send it in."
My first awareness of the controversy came in an email I received from Lawrence Downing, Sierra Club President from1986-1988. In it, he said, "The Sierra Club is facing the greatest threat in its 112-year history - it has been targeted for takeover by outside organizations! Its name, its credibility, its reputation, its endowment, its budget, its staff, and its offices - all of the resources that we have worked so hard to build and preserve are at grave risk"
He provided a link to an organization he was involved with: http://www.groundswellsierra.org Thirteen former Club Presidents and dozens of former and current Directors, Trustees, and Club leaders, have offered their help and support. I encourage you to visit this site for more information than I can provide here.
But the crux of the controversy is that a group of people with no Sierra Club experience and a very narrow agenda focusing on anti-immigration and animal rights issues are seeking to take over the Sierra Club. They began this process last year, and elected a few members. If they can elect three more this year, they will control the Board.
I confess that I haven't always voted in Sierra Club Board of Directors elections. But that is because I have been impressed that it is a broad based organization focusing on many environmental issues. Indeed, the Club has an immigration policy that was voted on by the entire membership in 1998, and has long had committees devoted to over-population and animal rights. For me, the issue isn't that responsible people can't disagree, but that a small group is explicitly and covertly trying to reduce the Sierra Club's activities to these narrow issues.
When I receive my ballot, I intend to read it carefully, and I will be looking for candidates who have gone through the nominating procedure and who have lengthy experience with the Sierra Club. If you want more information about this election, feel free to contact me.
INTRODUCING MEMBERSEVE TROOK
by Fran Sage
Many of you know Eve Trook, Sierra Club member, hand weaver, proprietor of the Farmer's Market, lawyer, researcher, and all around caring friend. But how many of you know that Eve spent a year in prison? Well, not really "in" prison, but as advocate for inmates? Back in 1986, Eve lived in Huntsville. She and Seth White, her husband, had moved to Texas in 1984 from California and she was working on a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University, the only public university in Texas offering such a program. She was already a licensed lawyer.
Earlier, Federal Judge Wayne Justice had decided that the criminal justice administration in Texas was unconstitutional, which led to a number of reforms. Implementing that decision included creation of the office of staff counsel for inmates, and that is where Eve worked for a year. She knew the group was not well-received by the prison officials when the office turned out to be a metal shed built on the asphalt in a parking lot. Fortunately the computers needed air conditioning!
Another development was that a law library had to be made available to the inmates. There were the books, of course, but no education on using them. Out of that availability though, some inmates became jailhouse "lawyers," their going fee 400 packs of cigarettes. Eve says a few of them were really good, but many of them didn't know about the intricacies of the law and that led to a problem. Frivolous appeals became prevalent. In response, a rule was created that if an inmate filed a frivolous appeal, then he could not file another appeal. The inmates essentially needed legal help and that is where the jailhouse lawyers came in. Eve gives an example of convicted immigrants.
After prisoners arrived at the prison, they would have an immigration hearing. A decision was made as to whether and if so when, they would be deported. In many ways it would save the State the cost of prisoner housing and care for the years of the sentence if the prisoners could be deported immediately. If they were being returned to Mexico, for example, then they could be looked after in prison by their families, which would be good for them. But if they were being deported to Iran, for example, and had been convicted of a drug offense, they would be executed. They had to decide who to believe, the jailhouse lawyers or the lawyers like Eve. That was not easy as they knew the inmate "lawyers" and people like Eve were on the outside and employed by the state. Eve worked hard to explain to both inmates and jailhouse lawyers the differing fates that could await inmates if they were deported.
Eve tells fascinating stories about the prison, the legal system, and the life inside the prison. She dealt with cases of immigration, extradition, and helping people in the units across the state. She did not have money for travel but did have unlimited use of the phone and the mail. She spent about 20 hours of her full work week inside the prison talking to inmates. Getting inside required going from a guard station down a corridor to another guard station, both ends and sides of the corridor composed of iron bars marking off holding cages for inmates within the gymnasium-sized room. Halfway down the corridor was a sign that said, "Beyond this point, no hostages will be rescued." She said she always made herself feel strong before she went in as any feeling of weakness could undo the fragile balance of power within the prison walls. But the clang of the metal gate, as she became locked inside the prison, was always an ominous sound.
Thanks to Eve for the all the information and stories she told me. The above just skims the surface.
TOM BEARD'S REMARKS ON THE WATER ISSUESTom Beard discussed a number of water issues, emphasizing the rule of capture, groundwater districts, and the regional water plan. He started by saying that we can thank Rio Nuevo for forcing on the table a number of important issues, which might not have been discussed without the proposal to lease state land managed by the State Land Commissioner, Jerry Patterson, and his General Land Office (GLO). The ensuing outrage by west Texans led to the Senate Select Committee and its subcommittee on the lease of state water rights, of which our state Senator Frank Madla is chair.
at BBRSC Meeting 2-19-04
by Fran Sage using notes prepared by Barbara Novovitch
He then made the point that Rio Nuevo consists of water speculators who "want to tie up the market before they even have anyone to market to; they'll figure that out later." Beard said that the El Paso water utility is not interested in buying from anyone. For 15 years El Paso has sought a water supply that it would own and completely control. He said that Ed Archuleta, head of the El Paso water utility, thinks the Rio Nuevo proposal is stupid and El Paso is not interested.
When discussing the rule of capture, he gave a little history and went on to say that the rule of capture is not a major property right, but a rule of liability. (I can pump as much as I want; I have no liability to my neighbor.) Beard said a second restatement of torts would force people to recognize it's not a property right but you have rights to water relative to neighbors. Beard prepared and handed out his testimony before the Subcommittee on the lease of state water rights and his proposal for amending state law. [Persons wishing copies may contact Don Dowdey, 432/837-3210 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a hard copy or an e-mail copy.] Beard said he hopes the Legislature will consider modifying the rule of capture in 2005 or maybe in 2007. He said, "I don't care what it looks like as long as we can come to consensus."
Beard then went on to discuss groundwater districts. He pointed out that when the Legislature created the districts in 1997 as an attempt to fix the water law, "they didn't give us the tools to be able to manage the resource." Patterson of the GLO said he would insist that any lessee be required to comply with the current rules of groundwater conservation districts. Beard said he could recognize a wiggle word when he sees one. Given the continuing need for new data as the aquifers are studied districts may need to change their rules. To go by rules existing at the time of the lease would give the district no way to modify its rules governing pumping on the leased land.
Beard also said that groundwater conservation districts can't enforce much beyond pumping and spacing and even to do that they have to go to district court or through fines. "You want to build cooperation . . . by and large, people don't want a confrontational attitude." They also have very little funding. He pointed out that Brewster County's total budget is $11,300. He recommends that the state should make the attorney general fund groundwater districts, which might act as a deterrent to "goofy" ideas.
Six county water districts (Brewster, Culberson, Jeff Davis, Hudspeth, Presidio, and Pecos) recently got together and agreed to a common plan on such matters as forms for applications for drilling, drilling registration, etc. "to encourage people to give us data." The districts also agreed to hire a part-time lobbyist, something the single districts would not have been able to do on their own. He went on to say that although the six districts are members of the Texas Groundwater Districts Alliance, the Alliance represents all the areas of Texas with diverse water problems and supplies and some with multimillion dollar budgets. He said we need someone voicing the West Texas water problems. Right now the group has a friend who is attending all meetings of the School Land Board. Beard implied that such monitoring will at least make Patterson (GLO) aware that someone is watching
Tom Beard is chair of the Far West Texas Water Planning Group (Region E) for the last seven years as it has developed the Region's water plan. He says the Regional Planning Groups are limited to the power to plan but do not have the power to enforce or contract, the power to sue or be sued. He says, "If you want cooperation you have to have some authority-I'm not a command and control advocate, but . . . water planning groups have to have enough power and teeth to perform their duties." Although local groundwater districts do have some limited authority, they lack the money to provide adequate protection is a problem. Furthermore, 70% of the area sought for leases by Rio Nuevo do not have a groundwater district.
One possibility mentioned by Beard is that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) could declare certain areas (in Hudspeth and Culberson Counties, for example) a priority groundwater management area. If TCEQ determines there is a threat to the resource, there's no solution without a priority groundwater management area. He says it's the only way to slow this down. Then adjacent owners could petition to be included. He said, "If our whole purpose of having groundwater districts is to allow people to protect the resource . . . why do we want to exclude them." He said the right of petition is the second choice; the priority groundwater management area is first.
Beard discussed a number of other issues, issues such as a need for conservation, the problem with the Farm Bureau's position on rule of capture, and historic rights. He outlined the value of doing away with the GLO office and shifting their duties. He also mentioned another change that could be useful. He pointed to Section 51.121A of the Water Code which allows the GLO to sign leases. He thinks it should be brought up during the upcoming special session on school financing. He said Senator Duncan had mentioned in this regard that "what the Legislature gives, the Legislature can take away."
In addition to her role as secretary, Barbara Novovitch is chair of the BBRSC Water Committee. She NEEDS members to serve on this committee. Please contact her by e-mail at email@example.com or phone her at 432/386-9011 (Marathon).
SUBCOMMITTEE ON THE LEASE OF STATE WATER RIGHTSPLEASE CONSIDER ATTENDING THE PUBLIC HEARING ON March 11, 2004 1:00 p.m. (CST) Marfa High School Auditorium 300 N. Gonzalez, Marfa, Texas 79843. There will be invited testimony and testimony by the public. All are welcome and invited to participate.
REPORT ON THE TRANS TEXAS CORRIDOR MEETINGJeanne Sinclair, Chair of the newly created BBRSC International Trade/Transportation Committee attended the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) meeting sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) in Marfa February 24, 2004. There were also hearings on the 25th and 26th respectively in Alpine and Ft. Davis. The Corridor is a proposed by Governor Rick Perry and TXDOT Commissioner Ric Williamson and authorized by the 78th legislative session last year with HB 3588. Jeanne says, "they hope to extend brand-new car, truck, rail, electricity, water, and data lines throughout the state, starting with major metropolitan areas." For an overview, log onto www.dmtimes.com for the abridged version published in the February 26, 2004 on-line issue of the Desert Mountain Times. When you receive this newletter, it will not be on the home page anymore but should be archived. Take a look and see. Fran has been seeing articles on the toll road aspect of the plan in the Houston Chronicle and the Austin American Statesman.
Relationship to La Entrada
by Jeanne Sinclair and Fran Sage
Following is part of Jeanne's report on the meeting: "They discussed the Regional Mobility Authorities (RMAs) as a way for a county or counties to be part of a revenue stream for transportation dollars, acting similar to toll authorities, and RMAs can issues bonds for transportation projects. Presidio County is working on establishing one now; I'm not sure about Brewster."
"There are a few interesting twists to their plan--like the fact that they are looking to fund it from money from local municipalities and private entities, and then there will be tolls levied throughout the state. They claim that there will always be a non-toll alternative route to get from Point A to Point B. A member of the crowd asked if the roads would then be owned by the state or by private entities, and Berry replied that it could go either way--that is, he didn't rule out the roads might be owned not publicly, but privately."
"That was one of the only questions answered during the meeting. TXDOT allowed comments (as long as you signed a comment card with your name and address before speaking) but wouldn't answer questions, saying, "there are not answers to any of your questions," as this was apparently just the first of many meetings as TxDOT tries to scope out citizenry's priorities for the TTC.
"So, since I couldn't ask questions, I spoke my comments about 1) local municipalities retaining authority to regulate the transportation of hazardous and radioactive waste through our communities, 2) the need to create bypasses sooner rather than later (they mentioned bypasses for larger communities, but didn't talk about small towns like ours), 3) the need to encourage the use of rail over trucks, and 4) the sort of economic development we are seeking to encourage in our region--that is, sustainable development, not just increased truck traffic."
After the meeting Jeanne made a number of useful contacts, but the main piece of information she learned after the meeting was from Mark Longenbaugh, the Planning Director for TxDOT, based in El Paso. He said that there have been no new steps for Entrada because they are looking for money. He told Jeanne that the Odessa TxDOT district is preparing a review on all the available information published to date about La Entrada. Jeanne will arrange to get a copy of the review when it is available.
Jeanne is off to an exciting and active start. Please consider working with her on the committee as she Needs help. Contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at (432) 729-4207.
AIR POLLUTION UPDATEResults of the BRAVO (Big Bend Regional Air Visibility Observational) Study are still not available. Although some watered down information appeared on the NPS website ( www2.nature.nps.gov/air/studies/bravo/index.htm ), in January 2003, nothing has appeared since then. The problem is getting consensus on the interpretation of the data from the 30 member BRAVO Technical Advisory Subcommittee. If the latest timetable holds (though you may recall the timetable has always been extended since the original projection for an August 2001 completion) we should have the final draft the end of June or the first of July 2004. We will see. Below is the latest projection as given to me by Jim Yarbrough of EPA Region 6 in Dallas on February 12th:
by Fran Sage
- " Chapter 1-10 and 12 of the expected 12-chapter document are drafted and comments from the Technical subcommittee are in. Chapter 11 will be drafted within the next 10 days to two weeks and comments from the Technical subcommittee are expected by early March.
- " The entire draft document will be reviewed once more by the subcommittee with about a week to 10 days to work out any other differences (i.e. about mid March).
- " The document will then be sent to the five external peer reviewers who will have six to eight weeks for their comments to then be sent to the BRAVO Technical Director.
- " The peer reviewers' comments will be used to transform the draft report into the final report, which is expected to require approximately one month. The final report may then be ready for release by late June or early July, 2004
Right now there are some differences over interpretations of the scientific data. The agencies hope to achieve consensus, which would be reflected in the finished documents. Yarbrough says EPA is still interested in holding a public meeting in the Big Bend area when the final report is complete.
REPRESENTATIVE PETE GALLEGO REQUESTS STUDY RESULTSMany thanks to our State Representative, Pete Gallego, who responded to our concerns about the interminable delays in completing the BRAVO STUDY. In a February 19, 2004 letter to Kathleen Hartnett White, Chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), (with copies to Richard Green, Region 6 Administrator of the EPA and Stephen Martin, National Park Service, Inter-mountain Region), Gallego reminds Harnett White of his Rider 24 on the TNRCC, Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission's (former name of the TCEQ) budget approved in the 77th session (2001). It required a study to be done to include "causes of pollution/haze, the effects of such pollution/haze, as well as any potential short-term and long-term remedies. The study was to have been concluded and implementation of the study begun prior to January 1, 2003." Readers may recall that there have been continuous postponements of the final BRAVO study report and no response to Gallego's rider. Gallego goes on to say, "The history of postponements does not make one feel confident. I believe five years and several million dollars should be sufficient time and money to produce the final study." He then requests the executive summary now be sent to him rather than when the final report is released. As of February 27 there has been no response (nor would one be expected quite so quickly). But I will keep you informed of the response when it is provided.
by Fran Sage
BENTONITE PERMIT UPDATEAs we move closer to a decision meeting of the TCEQ's Commission, we are still waiting for the formal "Response to Comments" legal review to be completed. One wonders if legal issues have risen. Mid November 2003 I was told that the Response would go out in January but nothing has come yet. Once the Response has been sent, people have 30 days in which to point out any inadequacies in the Response. At that point we will all need to move fast. The Big Bend Air Quality Group is still trying to unearth information on the content of the bentonite because of the damage to health from fine particle bentonite dust. Note: The BBRSC Executive Committee voted to donate $200 to the Big Bend Air Quality Group and the check has been sent.
by Fran Sage
MEMBER NEWS BY LUE HIRSCH, MEMBERSHIP CHAIRNew members this month are Monica Foster, BBNP; Leroy Gutierrez, Marfa; and J. Thompson, Ft. Davis. Welcome to all of you! Our current membership stands at 125! If you like, you can renew online at ww2.sierraclub.org/membership/renewal/ or become a new member through this address ww2.sierraclub.org/membership/specialoffer/member1.asp
Our last highway cleanup was on February 7, 2004 and we had a GREAT turnout! Many thanks to a great crew consisting of Jim Sage, Audrey Painter, Bennye Meredith, Lalae Batista, Susan Penney, Matthew Shetrone, Joe and Ginny Campbell, and myself. THE NEXT opportunity to help with the highway cleanup will be The 17th annual Don't Mess with Texas Trash-Off on April 3rd. Our 2 mile portion of the highway is just east of the "Y" of Hwy 90 and Hwy 67 approximately 10 miles east of Alpine. Let's meet at the Lawrence Hall parking lot behind the building at SRSU (that's the same building we meet at every month) on Saturday the 3rd at 9:00 AM and car pool to our work site. We'll be back at the parking lot no later than 12:00 noon.
Financial News: Thanks to Don Dowdey and Marilyn Brady, Glen Chappell and refreshments donations for a total of $50 for February. The years total to date is $160.
Big Bend Regional Sierra Club Chair
Don Dowdey, 50 Sunny Glen, Alpine, TX 79830
Newsletter, Program, Conservation Chair
Fran Sage, P. O. Box 564, Alpine, TX 79831
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