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Issue 76
November 3, 2003


Kevin Urbanczyk, an Associate Professor of Geology at Sul Ross State University, where he has taught since 1991, will be our featured speaker November 18th, at 7 p.m. in room 309, Lawrence Hall, Sul Ross State University, talking about the techniques used to analyze air quality, as part of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) funded PM2.5 network. The network measures both fine and coarse particulate matter.

As we await the BRAVO (Big Bend Regional Air Visibility Observational) study report on sources of air pollution in the Big Bend Region, discuss our fears about the proposed bentonite rock crushing plant near Alpine, and hear discussion on particulate matter standards and our health, we need to understand more about particles, the measuring network, and particle impact upon our environment.

Good Day. Photo credited to TCEQ

Bad Day. Photo credited to TCEQ

Since earning his PhD at Washington State University, Kevin has expanded his interests to include general environmental aspects of the Trans-Pecos region. He has conducted watershed studies in the Pine Canyon area of BBNP, groundwater studies near Alpine and Van Horn, and air particulate sampling in Alpine.

One of the six specific objectives of the TCEQ PM2.5 network seeks to determine the welfare-related impacts in more rural and remote areas, such as visibility impairment and effects on vegetation.

Kevin will include a summary of his study of the Pine Canyon area of Big Bend National Park, looking at the impact of air pollution upon the environment.

Join us for an informative evening.

Upcoming programs: December 16th: Edwin Hennessey, BBRSC member, will present a slide show of the Serengeti Plains in Africa.

By Jim Sage

In my last story on the agave, I mentioned that the century plant has one more very important use that I would highlight in the story this month. The important use is this: It is the favorite home of the ladder-backed woodpecker. Last May the century plant near the end of my house suddenly sent up a magnificent bloom. By June the stalk of the bloom had a circumference of seventeen inches and a height of nineteen and one-half feet. No sooner had this occurred than a woodpecker arrived. He drilled a perfectly round hole about nine feet above the ground, then immediately drilled another identical hole a foot lower and slightly to the side. He moved into the second hole and made himself at home.

I wondered why he had drilled two holes but later decided that this was the bird's idea of the mother-in-law plan. And not only did this home have a second bedroom but the bird drilled from the second hole downward so he would be out of sight and out of the direct blast of any wind. His home was a genuine split level.

Photo credit to Bill Broyles

My only concern for this magnificent home builder is the impermanence of the structure. The century plant puts so much energy into the bloom that the entire plant dies after its mighty effort at reproduction. I feel sure that by next spring the entire plant will have fallen to the ground.

Several days later I finally got a good look at the bird and it was not a "he" but a female ladder-backed. Both the male and female have the same black bars across the back, somewhat resembling the rungs of a ladder, but the male has a bright red cap and the female a black cap.

This lovely little bird, a true desert dweller, ranges across the southwestern United States from southern California to Texas. It prefers wooded canyons, cottonwood groves, pine and oak woodlands, desert scrub, and areas dominated by mesquite. In the Chihuahuan Desert, where trees are scarce, it drills holes in fence posts, dead tree limbs, blooms of agaves, and telephone poles. Once the ladder-backed abandons the hole it is used by other desert dwellers such as the tiny elf owl. Bonnie McKinney, formerly of Parks and Wildlife, says that the elf owl is dependent upon these holes for nest sites.

The ladder-backed starts breeding in January through March. The female lays four to six eggs, which hatch from April through May. The chicks are born naked and helpless but probably are able to fledge in fifteen to twenty days. The male and female do not share the same nest and little is known about parental care of the chicks.

The bird dines primarily on insects such as the larvae of the agave beetle, but it also eats the fruit of the cactus, ants, and other insects. I understand that it enjoys suet but I have yet to put any out.

Of all of the birds that I know, this is one bird that really uses its head-literally. Imagine pecking a hole in a telephone pole large enough to live in. The bird's skull has to be especially constructed to withstand the constant hammering without damage to the brain. Some birders refer to the woodpecker as a hammer head.

So far, I have found the little ladder-backed to be the perfect neighbor. I see her only at sunset when she returns from a hard day at making a living. She is never visible once she enters her hole. She does not party and she leaves no lights on at night.

by Don Dowdey, Chair

Sierra Club Members: Their Goals

The National Sierra Club is sponsoring a joint research project led by Marshall Ganz of the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; and Kenneth (Andy) Andrews of the University of North Carolina Sociology Department. This project is designed to learn more about Sierra Club groups and chapters-the diverse strengths and the challenges they face-in order to find ways to become more effective at the local, state and national levels.

One of the questionnaires used in the study lists reasons why people are active in the Sierra Club. Obviously, no one person can emphasize all of these reasons, but I found the idea that all of us together can be motivated by them to be thought provoking:

"to be part of an organization that stands for the right ideals ; to explore the outdoors; for the opportunity to further my job or career; to work on national environmental issues; to work on local environmental issues; to be with people I enjoy; to have more influence on the direction of the Sierra Club; to make the Sierra Club stronger; to fight against the weakening of environmental policy; to gain recognition from people I respect; to help others in need; to work with an effective environmental organization; to fulfill my duty as a member of my community; to be with people who share my ideals; to build skills that are valuable in other aspects of my life; to influence public policy; to protect my children's future; to protect the quality of the environment; to become a leader in my community; to access resources to make a difference; to change the values and beliefs of the public.

Holiday Shopping

As we move into the Holiday season, many people are thinking about gifts for friends and loved ones. Of course, the place to start is with a Sierra Club calendar from the BBRSC, which supports our major fund-raiser, as well as being an excellent gift. But for those special people for whom you want to give more, remember that if you go to the Sierra Club Bookstore by clicking on Sierra Club Books from our website:
(http://www.texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend/), you can support our local club when purchasing books, calendars, note cards, holiday cards, gift memberships, bags and packs, coffee and tea, energy saving devices, and new this year, men's and women's apparel made from organic, recycled, or renewable materials.

by Fran Sage

Proposed Bentonite Rock-Crushing Plant near Alpine: The Ad Hoc Committee fighting the permit application of U. S. Clay, which has worked constantly since May 2003, is formalizing its organization, adopting by-laws and electing officers. It has hired Rick Lowerre, an environmental lawyer out of Austin, to represent its interests. The group will continue to do research to assist the lawyer and will conduct fundraising efforts. About 360 letters have been received by the TCEQ, of which 300 oppose the permit request. An item of interest: The Austin American Statesman sent out a reporter and photographer to meet with and take pictures of the activists against the permit. The article should appear around the middle of November, if not sooner.

BRAVO Study Report: On October 31st Jim Yarbrough, EPA 6, said that the researchers are still struggling with the Executive Summary for the Study report. I asked if that would be available when completed. He said he would have to check and get back to me. They are on their sixth revision of the summary and he believes that it will be complete in a week or so. He said they still hoped to get the draft report in November but I said he didn't sound too sure. I also asked if the tracer result for Texas would be in the study. He said that the report will have interpretation of the full tracer results and that the appendices (which are voluminous) will have the specific raw data. My guess, and it is mine, and not his comment, is that getting consensus on the interpretation is the tough point now. He said the agencies are still planning to come out with the report early next year. Just one other item: October 31st marked the end of the field study four years back.

General Land Office Water Mining Activities Most of you have no doubt followed the newspaper accounts of the controversy pitting the Land Office Commissioner Jerry Patterson's negotiating a lease arrangement on almost 600, 000 acres of state land for a private company to mine and export water. That land is over a six county border area. Almost everyone (citizens, environmentalists, county and groundwater districts, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner, the Chair of the TCEQ, Senator Madla, Representative Gallego (and maybe others whom I don't know) seems either to oppose it or at least have serious concerns over it. The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, and National Wildlife Federation have sent a letter to the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Speaker of the Texas House asking them to urge Patterson to call a moratorium until the legislature can consider appropriate legislation that has a framework including the following minimum requirements: (1) advance notice of proposals for leases or sales to the public and to regional water planning groups; (2) major state water plans be consistent with approved regional and state water plans; (3) clear statutory language that pumping from state lands be subject to the rules of local groundwater districts, including any pumping limits imposed by the district; (4) if a local groundwater district does not have funds to determine the sustainable limit for its aquifer, that the GLO fund a study by an independent consultant, and that the district enact a district-wide cap based on the results of the study; (5) no major sales/leases be allowed in areas without groundwater districts; (6) the end customers receiving the water must have implemented the greatest practicable degree of conservation; and (7) the pumping not result in harm to the environment.

On October 29th the Land Office released a set of principles, which it is using in its negotiations. I just received those and do not have time to study them before this newsletter must be completed.

The Land Board representatives will be making a presentation and answering questions to the Far West Texas Regional Water Planning Group November 20th in Van Horn at the Van Horn Convention & Visitor Center, 1801W. Broadway at 1 p.m. (432) 283-2682. Broadway is the main street running east west on the north side of Interstate 20. That meeting is open to the public.

La Entrada al Pacifico ( our segment of the NAFTA provision allowing Mexican trucks free flow through the United States): Tom "Smitty" Smith, head of Texas Public Citizen, sent us useful information, as did Laura MacCleery of the national Public Citizen based in Washington, D. C., about where the issue of Mexican trucks stands now. In January 2003 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Bush Administration violated federal government environmental law by allowing the Mexican trucks to enter the United States before an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is carried out. The Court said that the government should study the impact of increased air emissions on border-state communities.

Preliminary to the EIS itself is a scoping study. It determines what will be considered in the EIS. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a part of the United States Department of Transportation, recently held a series of public hearings all along the border and received written comment until November 7th. Roger Siglin, BBRSC member, brought a petition to the October BBRSC meeting and collected signatures. He raised a number of concerns including the impact upon Marfa and Alpine where the trucks will go right through the center of town. He also talked about emissions issues. He submitted the petition to FMSCA. Thanks to Roger for taking the initiative on this issue.

I understand from the Public Citizen folks that it will probably be another year and one-half to two years before any decision could be made. The EIS will have to be designed, worked out, completed, and public hearings will be conducted before any decisions will be made.

Radioactive Waste Most of the work now on the radioactive waste issues is behind the scenes. Rep. Lon Burnam and his aide Colin Leyden and Margot Clarke, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, along with the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, and other groups and individuals are working hard on the process doing research, planning strategies, attending meetings.

HB 1567, which is now law, requires the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to develop rules. The TCEQ website is http://www.tnrcc.state.tx.us/permitting/wasteperm/stakeholdergroup/llrw.html

This is not a particularly easy site to use and you will find some PDF files but there is some useful information there if you persist. There is a 145 page document (I have not read it all!) at
http://www.tnrcc.state.tx.us/oprd/rule_lib/proposals/03037336_pro.pdf .
It does have a history (at least from the point of view of the rule writers) of radioactive waste disposal laws. The draft rules will be considered by the TCEQ Commissioners December 3, 2003.

Our Big Bend Regional Sierra Club is also working at raising money for the Hal Flanders Memorial Fund to help in the fight.

A note of interest: The Houston Chronicle recently reported that a canister of radioactive waste fell off a truck in Houston on the expressway. Not to worry. Nothing dangerous happened according to the news report. I trust you are comforted.

Useful Reference Book: Rick Lowerre, an Austin Environmental lawyer, has sent us Citizen Guide Participating in Government Decisions on Pollution Sources with Special Focus on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. It was prepared by Richard Lowerre (Lowerre & Kelly) and Erin Rogers, [former] Grassroots Coordinator, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, and edited by Mary Kelly, Senior Attorney, Environmental Defense. He is also sending on two more copies for the Alpine Public Library and for Sul Ross State University Library. The Guide has five chapters: "Participating in Agency Decisions," "Complaints and Enforcement," "Changing Existing Laws and Agency Regulations," "Organizing, Politics and Public Education," and ""Available Resources." Thanks to Rick for putting this valuable tool in our hands.


On October 27, 2003 attorneys general for 12 states and four cities filed lawsuits against the Bush administration to stop changes to the Clean Air Act. New York, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin as well as legal officers of New York City, Washington, San Francisco, New Haven and many other Connecticut cities say the new regulations will weaken the environment and public health. Texas was not one of those suing.

On September 22nd the Dallas Morning News wrote an angry editorial rebuking the Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, for refusing to join the suits "because his 'client'-- the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality-doesn't want him too." The editorial writer makes the point that the citizens rather than the TCEQ are the Attorney General's clients. The writer goes on to say that changing the rules will make it harder for Dallas-Fort Worth and for Houston-Galveston to comply with federal clean-air standards. The editorial writer concludes, "Mr. Abbott - who as a candidate opposed efforts to weaken the clean-air laws - doesn't need the commission's permission to act. He has the legal authority. He should use it, for if Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston-Galveston fail to clean up adequately, more of their people will sicken and die prematurely and their economies may become unsustainable. No conscientious politician should want that to happen on his watch."

Upcoming article: Raymond Skiles, Wildlife Biologist at Big Bend National Park, will have an article for us for December.

By Lue Hirsch

Another new milestone, we now have 131 members! Welcome to all new members to Sierra Club and our local club and to all transfer in members. New or transfer members are: David and Margaret Mattison from Alpine; J. Erickson and Amy Mowat from BBNP; Ben Laws from Ft. Davis; Claudia Cooper from Ft. Stockton; Kate Hunt from Marfa and E. Yndo from Terlingua. Welcome and I hope to meet you all soon.

Matthew Shetrone has volunteered to be our Outings Program Coordinator! THANK YOU MATTHEW! Watch for an update in the next newsletter.

The highway clean up project continues to have poor member involvement. It truly puzzles me why a group of 124 members (last month totals) who are concerned for the environment cannot get 10% of its membership to help with this project three times a year. On Saturday, October 25th, Bennye Meredith, Audrey Painter, Jim Sage and I picked up our section of the highway; we filled 6 large bags and were back into Alpine by 11:45AM. It was a beautiful fall morning, and the company and conversation while picking up the trash was enjoyable. THANK YOU! The next scheduled pick up will be in late January or early February. If you have any questions or comments please contact me at lffhirsch@msn.com or call 364-2307.

The next SUPER Frip event (member recruitment) will be in Marathon at the Marathon Coffee Shop on November 15 at 6:30 PM. Please join us for dinner and interesting discussions of current issues and be sure to bring a non-member friend!

REMINDERS: Get your Sierra Club calendars at the next meeting. You can also order backpacks and t-shirts too! All sales help our local club.

Our treasurer, Ginny Campbell, is out of town. We will have a financial report next month.


The ballots for members is included in the hard copy issue. Candidates nominated are Bennye Meredith (Alpine) and Jeanne Sinclair (Marfa).

Below is the biographical statement as submitted by the candidates:

Bennye Meredith: Like most of us, I was an advocator of Sierra Club's issues and interests long before I knew that there was a Sierra Club: enjoying and protecting this beautiful, awesome environment which includes pure, fresh air; trees, plants, lakes, rivers, animals of all varieties; hills, mountains, valleys, deserts - anything and everything in nature.

My home is Southern Arkansas where I spent happy summers on my granddads' farms, running through fields of cotton and corn, eating watermelons and scuppernongs; or climbing pine and sweetgum trees as far up as I possibly could go. I received my B.A. from Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, in speech, drama, English, and music; an M.R.E. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; and an M. A. in English from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. Most of my adult life has been associated, either directly or indirectly, with education including being a mother of four children and teaching in Texas, Germany, China, and Japan.

Now that I am retired, my interests still lie with nature and with the hope of passing on that interest to five grandchildren. Clean pure air for them to breath, fresh water for them to drink, the magnificence of a Cathedral mountain to lift up their spirits - all a part of Sierra Club's reason-to-be, as I understand it. What greater legacy can we leave for all the grandchildren in the world?

Jeanne Sinclair: Driven by a desire to work in community service and drawn by the challenges that face the border, I first came to the Big Bend as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer two years ago. I chose to remain (in Marfa) in large part because I had fallen in love with its fragile natural beauty. I joined the Sierra Club in 2001 because I feel people concerned with preserving our environment need to organize and work together-now more than ever. My continued work on the border as Assistant Director of Marathon-based Rio Grande Institute has helped me to learn more about many of the issues facing our region, such as the threat of La Entrada, abuse of the Rio Grande watershed, diminishing air quality. If selected as a member of the Executive Committee, I would help our Sierra Club continue its work to address these and other issues that affect the environment and quality-of-life in our region.

50 Sunny Glen Alpine, TX 79830
Chair: Don Dowdey

Web address: http://texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend
Editor: Fran Sage PO Box 364 Alpine, TX 79830
Webmaster: Robert Patterson
Formatting: Lue Hirsch
Production: Mary Flanders, Jim and Fran Sage


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