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Big Bend Regional Sierra Club
Regular Public Meeting
18 February 2003

Don Dowdey opened the meeting at 7:05 p.m. in 309 Lawrence Hall with ~41 in attendance.

Upcoming Programs: On March 18, Roger Siglin, former Superintendent of Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska and currently a planner for Texas Parks and Wildlife at Chinati Mountains SNA will present a slide show on a 3400 mile trip from Yellowknife to Iqaluit.

On April 15, Bob Mallouf, Center for Big Bend Studies, will discuss archeology in the Davis Mountains.

Announcements: EPA/TCEQ has released a "preliminary fact sheet" on the BRAVO study. This brief report basically says nothing that was not already known. Rep. Pete Gallego has said that the preliminary "report" is not very satisfactory in terms of the requirements on the rider he introduced last session pertaining to BRAVO. The full draft study is due out in mid-April and the final report at the end of June. †

TCEQ has ruled that the Lajitas wastewater plant is not in the100 year floodplain of the Rio Grande; the International Boundary and Water Commission is being asked for concurrence.

An outing on Davis Mountains Preserve is set for Saturday and Sunday March 22 and 23; details are still being finalized, but tentative plans are to meet in Alpine/Marfa about noon on Saturday and then to carpool to the Preserve for short hikes, bird watching, a potluck, and car-camping Saturday night, followed by perhaps a longer hike on Sunday with departure by noon.

Program: Our speaker, Big Bend National Park Superintendent Frank Deckert, will retire on June 3, 2003 following a 36-year career with NPS. As a token of our appreciation, Conservation Chair Fran Sage presented Deckert with a framed proclamation thanking him for his many years of public service, particularly in the Big Bend region. He acknowledged a good partnership over the years with Sierra Club, and continued with a State of the Park Report covering Big Bend National Park and Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River.

Resource Protection: Several complex management challenges exist at the park. Air Quality has been measured for some time now, with visibility recorded as low as 9 miles. Since only a preliminary fact sheet versus final results have been produced on the BRAVO Study, there is virtually no chance for legislative review and action this session. A National Park Service Air Quality Specialist will be coming on board in Austin soon. Through partnerships with NGOs, purchase of water rights from agricultural concerns are being pursued. If successful, the additional water could enhance river flow rates. The park continues to work with the owners of Lajitas on park access issues through the Lajitas property and is following the situation on the Lajitas wastewater permit controversy. †Invasive species remain a problem. Salt Cedar and Buffelgrass removal projects are underway. Nutria, a South American rodent, has denuded the area around the boardwalk trail at Rio Grande Village. The first prescription fire at the park in several years took place recently near Persimmon Gap, where 500 acres were burned in an effort to resume natural nutrient flow and restore native grasses.

Planning: General Management Plans for the park and river are in internal draft review stage currently and will be up for public review afterward. Thus far, public sentiment is that the current level of park development represents a good balance. The GMP for the river emphasizes a stakeholder/partnership approach with private landowners sharing similar goals, who through landowner agreements will help protect park resources. †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, not surprisingly, that the park needs more staff and an increased budget. The National Park Conservation Association has placed Big Bend National Park on its "10 Most Endangered Parks" List due in part to air and water quality issues. Deckert would like to see furtherance of Gateway Community Planning in the Big Bend region in the future.

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. Funding has been provided for a dedicated fire management building.

Fee Demonstration Program: Formerly, collected fees went into the general fund, however 80% now come back to the park for projects. These funds will be used along with those provided by Big Bend National History Association and Friends of Big Bend National Park in a partnership arrangement for an addition to the Panther Junction visitorís center. 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: Managers of the six protected areas in the Big Bend region in both the US and Mexico have meet in a series of workshops to craft mission, vision, and core value statements. Salt Cedar removal and habitat restoration represent two common causes that have been identified within this group. 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. The closing of unofficial border crossings in the Big Bend has caused strained relations with border communities Ė they need to be friends and not enemies. The park has been working with Customs on this problem and hopefully something will be resolved by Deckertís June 3 retirement date, such as limited reopening with Customs agents present. There are 245 miles of Rio Grande frontage within the park; closing bridges does not secure our border.

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: We can expect increased protection along borderlands; funding has been allocated and staffing is on its way up at the park. Partnerships (local, regional, and national) are important, as are protection supporters and watchdog organizations like Sierra Club. The Volunteers in Parks (VIP) program remains strong and plays a vital role in national park operations.

In closing, as JFK might have said, Deckert implored us to "Ask not what parks can do for you, ask what you can do for parks."

Following a question and answer session with the audience, President Don Dowdey thanked Deckert by presenting him with a Blue Skies Over Big Bend t-shirt.

Business meeting: Don urged citizens of the Big Bend area to join with BBRSC and others in attending Legislative Lobby Day in Austin Sunday March 2 and Monday March 3, 2003, sponsored by Alliance for a Clean Texas (ACT). The Texas Legislature is meeting now and we need to make our concerns about the environment known, now more than ever.

Minutes of the November 19 regular meeting were approved. The December meeting was a winter party and no minutes were taken.

There was no treasurer's report in the treasurer's absence.

Leftover 2003 engagement and wall calendars are being sold at the discounted price of $8.00. Blue Skies Over Big Bend t-shirts are being sold for $10.

Luanne Hirsch explained the benefits of joining Sierra Club under the Super/FRIPP program and encouraged anyone who is interested to do so. T-shirts are currently being offered as new member incentives.

Meeting adjourned with a reception for Superintendent Deckert.

Submitted by Linda Hedges, Secretary


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