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Issue 85
November 3, 2004


Please join us for a lively program on bats by Jim Mueller on November 18th at 7 p.m. in Room 200, Lawrence Hall, Sul Ross State University in Alpine. The meeting is open to the public. Mueller's talk, "Investigating the Bats of West Texas through Their Ultrasonic Voices," explores how bats use ultrasonic echolocation to navigate and find prey. Using portable bat detectors and storage devices, many species can be identified by the characteristics of their call. Dr. Mueller began using bat detectors during a recent survey of mammals at Amistad National Recreation Area. He was stunned at the number of bats that could be detected through this technique as compared to traditional capture techniques. In his presentation, Dr. Mueller will take the audience along on his exploration of west Texas mountains, rivers, railroad tunnels, and highway bridges in his studies of bats.

Jim Mueller has studied the demography of threatened species, the nesting ecology of tortoises, and the effects of introduced species on ground-nesting birds. His current research is on the conservation of horned lizards and the natural history of bats. He began teaching at Sul Ross State University in 1999. He teaches undergraduate courses in General Zoology, Ichthyology, Mammalogy, Ornithology, Herpetology, Ecology, and Desert Ecology, and graduate classes in Field Zoology, Readings in Ecology, and Advanced Mammalogy. He currently supervises five graduate students conducting research on vertebrates and serves as Curator of the Scudday Vertebrate Collection.

Note: While we had hoped to arrange a program featuring Dr. Mueller for the spring, we needed a replacement for our scheduled November program and he graciously agreed to give the program this month. Tom "Smitty" Smith had planned to speak on alternative energy but had to cancel as the Texas Energy Planning Council will be meeting.

Texas Energy Planning Council
The Council was created by Governor Rick Perry on November 10, 2003 with its mission to advise the Governor on a balanced plan to provide the energy needed to fuel Texas' future economic growth and prosperity. The plan should identify gaps between the state's energy supply and energy demand and recommend plans to close or minimize these gaps. The plan should recognize the important contribution of Texas' petroleum and natural gas exploration and production industry and identify ways to keep this industry strong and vibrant as the state begins to transition to the next generation of energy technologies. The Council should explore ways to diversify future energy supplies via liquefied natural gas, nuclear, and clean coal technology as well as through renewable energy sources such as wind power, biomass, and fuel cells. The Council should also explore common sense ways to reduce energy consumption through practical energy conservation measures. The Council is headed by the Chairman of the Railroad Commission. As you might guess, having an environmentalist on the Council is important. The Council will submit its full report December 31, 2004 to the Governor, Lt. Governor, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Upcoming programs: Our Holiday party will be held on December 16th at 7 p.m. PLEASE NOTE THE SPECIAL LOCATION: THE HOSPITALITY ROOM OF THE WEST TEXAS NATIONAL BANK IN ALPINE. GO AROUND TO THE PARKING LOT OFF OF 5TH STREET. As usual the party will be potluck offerings. Come enjoy a relaxed time with fellow members and any others you know of that may wish to join us.


There are two classic sounds in the Chihuahua Desert which stir my imagination: the howl of the coyote and the deep sonorous hoot of the Great Horned Owl. Today my focus is the Great Horned Owl.

I am hearing the hoot of the Horned Owl almost every morning now and it's little wonder that people through the ages have been fascinated and struck with awe by this low, soft hoot which can be heard for several miles.

Perhaps few other creatures have had so many different and conflicting beliefs held about them. They have been hated and admired, associated with death and witchcraft and admired for great wisdom. Stories of owls have become folklore passed along over the centuries.

In Indian mythology, owls represent wisdom and prophecy. This is also repeated in Aesop's fables and Greek myths. During the middle ages the owl became associated with witchcraft and if the owl called your name, death was imminent. Today in modern societies, where superstition has lost some of its hold, the owl has regained its status as a symbol of wisdom.

The Great Horned Owl is found from Canada to the Straits of Magellan. It is the most widespread of all of the owls. In the far north it may move south in the winter to a warmer climate but otherwise it does not migrate.

This wise old bird has several distinguishing features. Its yellow eyes do not move, neither up nor down or sideways. The bird will rotate its head 270 degrees in order to see. The eyes are quite large and if the owl were as large as a human, its eyes would be the size of an orange. If you see the owl bobbing its head up and down it is not a nervous twitch, but rather it is getting a three dimensional concept of what it is seeing.

This owl is quite large, weighing three to four pounds, measuring 20 inches in length with a wingspan of close to five feet. The female is a little larger than the male.

A primary identifying marker is the large widely spread ears on top of the head. These are not really ears but tufts of feathers, which act somewhat like a dog's ears. During danger or when irritated the tufts lie flat and when everything is okay they stand upright.

The owl's ears are located on the side of the head, much as a human's but they are offset and not exactly like a human's. The openings of the ears are angled in different directions and soft feathers surround the ears, which the owl can spread to channel the sound. In addition, the facial disk is shaped like a shallow bowl to help funnel the sound into the ears. Its hearing is so acute that by moving the head about until the sound is equal in each ear, it can pinpoint the direction and distance of the sound in total darkness.

The Great Horned Owl is a ferocious predator. While its favorite food is rabbit, it will attack and kill Canada geese, hawks, skunks, porcupines, cats, dogs, turkeys, raccoon, and other owls. I give it a gold star for eating scorpions and centipedes.

With the demise of coyotes in the area, I have not heard their primeval howling for several years; so the eerie hooting of the Great Horned Owl shortly after dark or before sunup is a satisfying substitute.

Just one bit of owl trivia. A group of owls is called a parliament.


Protecting the Environment and Creating Jobs

Later this month, I plan to attend the Sierra Club's Legislative Workshop and the Lone Star Chapter's Executive Committee as we plan an agenda for the upcoming legislative session. One of the items that seems most likely to draw bipartisan support is the creation of more alternative energy sources for Texas. Along these lines, a new report, issued in October by a coalition of labor and environmental advocates, demonstrates how smarter environmental policies can lead to significant job creation. The report "Smarter, Cleaner, Stronger: Secure Jobs, Clean Environment, and Less Foreign Oil" is available online at:

It uses classic economic modeling to show, on a national and a state-by-state basis, the economic benefits from energy policies that stimulate the development of clean energy technologies. The report was endorsed by such influential groups as the United Steelworkers, the Sierra Club, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council, UNITE HERE and the New Jersey Work Environmental Council.

Emphasizing harnessing the innovative spirit of the American economy, the report provides a comprehensive new policy package which combines both market based incentives and technology policies to stimulate the creation of new jobs - approximately 32,000 in Texas alone by 2015 - while lowering Texan's energy bills an average of $1400 a year per household. On a national level, there would be a reduction of 1.7 billion barrels per year. Annual GDP would increase by $123 billion in 2025. And, if the policies outlined in the report were adopted, the U.S. would cut in half the amount of greenhouse gases that would be emitted into the atmosphere under a "business as usual" approach.

"Producing 20 percent of our electricity with renewable energy by 2020 will create good jobs and save consumers money," said Alden Meyer, Director of Strategy and Policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. According to the report, the benefits in Texas would be spread across the economy. Jobs would be added in the manufacturing sector, agriculture would benefit from increased demand for biomass energy sources, and the money made available to Texas consumers would be put back into the economy.

Nationally, clean energy policies would reduce carbon dioxide, a major global warming gas, by up to 50% by 2025. And reducing coal generated electricity would significantly reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide, the primary cause of pollution in the Big Bend.

The Smarter, Cleaner and Stronger report is addressed to policy makers who believe America's energy future and its future job base are dependent on cheap fossil fuels. "Our report suggests that there is a smart way and a not-so-smart way to approach energy policies," said co-author Andrew Hoerner. "With the right approach, the interests of working families and the environment come together. And with the right approach we can create more job security, more energy security and more national security. Smarter policies lead to a cleaner and stronger America."

The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club Executive Committee is pleased to announce that Kathy Bork and Donna Ehrke will take over producing the Big Bend Sierran starting after the first of next year as Fran Sage retires from the job she began in 1996.

Bork will be Editor and Ehrke will be Associate Editor. Bork will put together the newsletter and do some writing while Ehrke will arrange for articles from expert authors in topics of interest to Sierra Club members. Jackie Siglin will be writing the "Introducing Members" column each issue and Fran Sage will continue to write on environmental issues. Lue Hirsch will also continue her member news and Ginny Campbell, treasurer, will provide the monthly financial news. Jim Sage will write occasional articles on topics of interest to him.

Sage said she was delighted that such capable people are willing to become significantly involved with the newsletter. Bork says all articles will meet a deadline of the 25th of the month.

Kathy sent the following introduction: "Kathy Bork is relatively new to Sierra Club, but is an old hand at publishing. Since 1978 she has been a professional copy editor. Her last "real" job was as a technical writer and editor for the Legislative Budget Board in Austin. She retired from state employment in 2002 and moved to Alpine to join her husband, Albert, the federal court interpreter. She has served as secretary and is currently president of the Friends of the Alpine Public Library and is a member of the library board. She and Albert are also members of the Native Plant Society of Texas and think bermuda grass is an abomination in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Donna sends the follow introduction: I have been a member of the Sierra Club in Honolulu, Hawaii; Austin, Texas; and now the Big Bend area. I always enjoy the fun stuff such as hiking, fundraisers and potlucks, but have also gotten down and dirty to do some bird habitat restoration and muddy trail maintenance. I have a journalism background extending from high school and college newspapers to county weekly and daily city newspapers to the office newsletter. I've done a little bit of everything: reporting, news editing, page layout and headline writing. My husband, John, is the best recycler I know, so I can thank him for influencing me enough to recycle my somewhat rusty albeit creative journalism skills and get on board with this newsletter."

Jackie lives in the North Double Diamond with her husband, Roger. Earlier this year they completed their move from Fairbanks, Alaska where Jackie taught in the public schools in the Fairbanks area. She has a range of interests including reading, singing, yoga, hiking, and writing.

We all appreciate the work of these women and look forward to the "new" newsletter and are also glad for the ongoing contributions of current contributors.

Editorial on Big Bend Regional Sierra Club
by Fran Sage
At our October 21st meeting we discussed the future of the BBRSC. I will have a fuller report in the December newsletter, including possible programs, what members wanted most from BBRSC, outings, and what some of our pressing organizational needs are. Now, I will raise some of my concerns for the future. We are fortunate and appreciate having had volunteers step forward for some of our central organizational needs but we still have few people working on the environmental issues on an ongoing basis. For many years Don and I have put enormous energy into the air pollution and radioactive waste fights. Over those years we have gained membership up to the current 131 but we have had only occasional help on those two primary issues. I understand the problem of work and other commitments. But we must expand our help with those issues (and water too) if we are to continue working on them.

They are both complex and appear formidable but I think we could come up with a way to make them easier to do. For example in the radioactive waste/nuclear issues we could break it into pieces: permitting, Compact issues, New Mexico/Texas issues, and now the new effort of Waste Control Specialists to get a permit from the Texas Department of Health to store (and we suspect later dispose in Texas) really hot uranium waste to be shipped in from Ohio. Maybe we in West Texas could focus on the latter two. We could have people who would not have to plunge into everything. Over time one learns much as it is all connected but one would not have to learn everything at once. Radioactive waste is a difficult issue because the dangerous pollution develops over time and it does not have the public attention that air pollution has. But once it is polluting our water and our lives it will be too late to clean it up.

I think we could do the same on air pollution: The Bravo Study and how to get it used; our proposed pamphlet on the ABC's of Air Pollution, the local dangers of unhealthy emissions, etc.

I hope some of you will consider volunteering for the issues committees. We have enough membership that there must be some in the BBRSC region who could help work on these issues. Contact me: Fran Sage (432) 364-2362 (a local call from Alpine) or sage@brooksdata.net or Don (432) 837-3210 or ddowdey@wildblue.net and we can talk about possibilities.


MEMBER NEWS Lue Hirsch, Membership Chair New Members: The most recent new or transfer in or renewed members are: Robert and Lynda Fanning of BBNP; John Gerbert, Mary Bell Lockhart of Alpine; Martha Hansen, Ft. Davis; and John Murray of Marfa. Welcome, and we hope to see you at the next meeting.

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, December 4th on your calendar and plan on joining me in the highway clean up! We'll meet at the EAST parking lot of Lawrence Hall on the SRSU campus 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 December 4th!!

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: Thanks to Joe and Ginny Campbell, Judy Eron & Roger Boren, Fran and Jim Sage, and Alan Tennant for donations and pledges totaling $125 for October. That brings the year's total to $884.50, plus $75 from the 2003 Silent Auction that was in addition to the figures reported from last year and the $1102.70 from this year's silent auction, for total receipts for the year of $2062.20.

Calendars: Ginny Campbell and LaLae Battista are now taking orders for calendars. If you want to place an order contact Ginny at (432) 386-4526 (e-mail: jokeambl@speedexpress.net ) in Marathon or LaLae at (432) 837-0146 (e-mail: battista@overland.net) in Alpine. Calendars will also be available at the November and December meetings. They would urge members to take several to sell for others. The calendar sales are a major source of income for the BBRSC. Wall calendars are $11.95 and engagement calendars are $12.95.

While I hope to have more substance to discuss next month, here is a brief rundown on several issues:

BRAVO: Sage talked on October 22nd to Supt. King of BBNP and discussed ongoing work being done by the National Park Service and the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club and other organizations. We hope to find cooperative ways to work. BBRSC will also try to enter into cooperative work with Environmental Defense in Texas.

Water Committees: Jason Anderson, Sen. Madla's aide, reports that the Senate subcommittee on Leasing State Lands will present its final report to the Select Committee on Water Policy on November 3rd in Austin. The Subcommittee had circulated its proposed recommendations to interested parties and BBRSC was one of a number which sent in its responses. We thought it a very good set of recommendations, most of which were tied to the leasing issues, though some were other water issues that had surfaced from the West Texas testimony. Jason said the set of recommendations have been altered to some degree to better reflect the issue at hand (the leasing issue). He says, "Because some of the initial recommendations went outside the boundaries of the actual charge, the report will recommend the Select Committee take up and make recommendations regarding some of the issues that were discussed in the subcommittee hearings, but not necessarily relevant to the leasing of state water rights."

Rock crusher and quarries: Jason Anderson also said that the Interim Advisory Committee on Rock Crushers and Quarries (of which Sen. Madla is a member) is currently drafting proposed recommendations that they will distribute to the members of the committee for review and comment in the very new future. I should have the necessary information to report on those recommendations in the next newsletter.

The Big Bend Air Quality Group vs. U. S. Clay: As most of you know JMK Holdings which represents Sierra La Rana rural subdivision (and therefore Al Micallef who owns the CF Ranches) has reached a settlement with U. S. Clay. That settlement did not, of course, represent the Big Bend Air Quality Group, which is now working closely with its lawyer, Rick Lowerre of Austin, to chart what it will do next. That consultation is still going on. Therefore, there is no information available at the time this newsletter is being prepared. I expect by the time of next month's issue, the BBAQG's plan will be determined and action underway.

Legislative Workshop Agenda: BBRSC members received the announcement and registration form for the November 13th Legislative Workshop sponsored by the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center near Austin. Although you receive this newsletter too late to register by November fourth, you can register at the door for $25 which includes lunch. The topics and speakers make for a useful workshop. Included are water issues, radioactive waste, TCEQ enforcement and permitting, and land conservation. If you are interested get in touch with Don Dowdey, (432) 837-3210 or ddowdey@wildblue.net. Don says, "The BBRSC has some funds available to defray registration, transportation and lodging costs."

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

Newsletter: Fran Sage

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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