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BIG BEND REGIONAL SIERRA CLUB Newsletter

Issue 66
October 1, 2002


MCDONALD OBSERVATORY AND AIR POLLUTION
MATTHEW SHETRONE, ASTRONOMER, FEATURED SPEAKER

The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club will feature Dr. Matthew Shetrone, Lead Resident Astronomer for the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains. The program will be held October 15th at 7:00 pm in Room 309 of Lawrence Hall on Sul Ross University Campus. The public is invited. Please come and join us to hear Dr. Matthew Shetrone give a fine talk.

Matthew says that while working at Lick Observatory (Mt. Hamilton, CA managed by the University of California Observatories and headquartered at UC Santa Cruz) he witnessed first hand the visual impact of pollution as it would rise up from San Jose. There the pollution was evident in the inversion layer as a clear break from brown sky to blue sky. Matthew goes on to say that the air pollution so often talked about in the Big Bend National Park is not often evident at McDonald Observatory; so its impact has never before been assessed. He continues by saying that any impact on astronomical observations are a concern both to the Observatory and to the National Science Foundation, which funds many projects at the Observatory.

Matthew has begun a systematic scientific program to assess any impact pollution may be having in the region around the observatory. Specifically, he will be discussing the various techniques he has used both to detect and to quantify any effects pollution has upon visibility at McDonald Observatory and how these results fit in the larger discussions of pollution in the Big Bend Region.

Last year, Matthew submitted written testimony to the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington D/.C. on air pollution and McDonald Observatory.

Matthew, the son of Californian parents, was born in Adelaide, Australia when his parents were working on a project there. They moved, however, to Dallas when he was still an infant and he grew up in Dallas. He received his B. A. degree in Astronomy with High Honors from the University of Texas at Austin in 1991. He did his graduate work at the University of California at Santa Cruz, receiving his doctoral degree in 1996. After degree work he received a fellowship with the European Southern Observatory in Chile. After working there for two years, he came to McDonald Observatory to work on the not at that time completed Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET). He is an active researcher in addition to his duties as head of night operations at the HET.

We are pleased to have him as our speaker and urge you all to come and get an understanding of another dimension of the air pollution in our area.

Upcoming programs: Representative Pete Gallego will discuss the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature at our November 19th meeting. A Christmas Party is being planned for our December 17th meeting.

THE HORSE LUBBER
By Jim Sage


The Horse Lubber Grasshpper
Photgraph by Earle Robinson
When I moved onto the South Double Diamond, south of Alpine, I rather expected a lot of wind, and I was not surprised when the hot desert sun ate all of the paint off of the old Plymouth. What I had not anticipated was the huge numbers and kinds of grasshoppers and their voraciousness. Two years ago they moved in by the thousands and ate the entire garden. They ate the sotol down to the ground.

They shredded the yuccas and the bear grass. They even ate the screens on the windows! But there was one jewel among all of these hoppers: a two and one-half inch giant who looked as if he had just arrived from Mardi Gras in his gold Cadillac. This was the Horse Lubber (Taeniopoda eques), common throughout the Southwest and extending as far south as Central America.

The Horse Lubber has gold and black antennae, gold on the nose and around the throat, a large gold band around the thorax, gold dots along each side of the abdomen. He is black in color with greenish forewings, which cover the more delicate, red hind wings. When he flies, it appears that he has only one set of wings with the underside colored red.

Unlike all other hoppers he appears to taste his food and then decide what to eat based on flavor. The female lays her eggs in the ground where they spend the winter and hatch out after the monsoon rains the following summer. The eggs are enclosed in a pod made of a frothy material that protects them from parasites and desiccation. I have read that in a serious drought the eggs do not hatch, but I would have to see this to believe it.

Many grasshoppers, to avoid being eaten, employ a mechanism called crypsis, matching the soil and other background in color or texture. The Horse Lubber does the opposite. He advertises his presence with his vivid coloring. Because he extracts toxins from the plants he eats, he is unpalatable to most predators and his coloration warns them of this. He also spits out distasteful foam when threatened.

Another way he avoids predators is by his ability to jump twenty times his body length. (Imagine how far a human could jump at this ratio.) The large muscles of the hind legs provide much of the force for jumping, but there is another factor adding to these impressive leaps. In fact, most of the energy comes from a crescent shaped organ located in the knee of the large hind legs. It is made of elastic fibers that release in a burst of explosive energy propelling the hopper into the air.

The Horse Lubber is also cannibalistic and if you leave two in a cage you will be left with one. Often you will see crushed ones on the highway with those who were following eating them.

I sometimes imagine that I will come home and Fran will say, "Honey, a Horse Lubber ate the garage door." I will reply, "Yeah, but they are so pretty I just can't kill them."

DON'S COLUMN

EXPANDING PARTICIPATION, GROWING LEADERS

Two recurring themes on an email list for Sierra Club group leaders I am on concern ways to expand the participation of members in Club activities, and how to encourage folks to take a more active role in the leadership of the Club. As I read of groups with over 1000 members and attendance of only 3 or 4 at meetings, I realize how fortunate we are in some ways. But, as these topics frequently come up at our Ex Comm meetings and in conversations I have with folks, I'd like to suggest some ideas that other Groups have found useful.

The Ottawa, Canada group has a form they include in their newsletter and display on their web page. In it, they ask if members have skills, knowledge, or abilities that they could volunteer. Their list includes: Accounting/Bookkeeping, Computer Expertise, Cooking, Data Entry, Event Planning, Fundraising, Grant Writing, Graphic Design, Law, Medicine, Performing Arts, Photography, Political Organizing, Public Speaking, Research, Teaching, Visual Arts, Web Design/Maintenance, Word Processing, and Writing/Journalism.

They also ask what types of activities members might participate in. The list includes: Attend a Sierra Club Meeting, Attend a Community Meeting , Work at a Mailing Party, Testify at a Hearing, Phone Calling, Fundraising , Write Letters , Participate in Club Outings, Lead Club Outings, Perform Legal Services , Greet People at Meetings, Work at a Sierra Club Booth at Fairs and Events, and Serve on the Executive Committee/Other Leadership Positions.

These lists cover a range of possibilities and many of them build on things that people do in other contexts, like teaching, cooking, or talking to people at meetings. Often, people think that volunteering may mean doing lots of "new" things-what these ideas suggest is that successful volunteering can be based on existing skills and interests.

Another resource mentioned on the list is the Sierra Club's "Grassroots Organizing Training Manual." It offers suggestions for creating an effective grassroots movement around environmental issue, and includes a list of questions to help people decide how they can best contribute to an organization. Those questions include: What attracts you to volunteering for the Sierra Club? What would you like to get from the volunteering experience (new friends, new skills, feel part of a group?). What skills do you have to contribute? What do you like to do? What kinds of tasks do you want to avoid?

The Ex Comm is planning to contact our over 115 members seeking folks to help with various tasks-for example: bringing refreshments to meetings, helping with events such as highway cleanup or Earth Day booths, serving as a legislative liaison to an elected official, planning or participating in outings, contributing to the newsletter, or serving on committees. More information on this will be forthcoming, but in the meantime, I hope you find it interesting to think about how volunteers can contribute to the BBRSC. Together, we can build on our current structure and success to build an even stronger club.

ENERGY BILL UPDATE

As we go to the close of this month's newsletter, we still do not know whether the energy bill will be passed this session. The Conference Committee is working on reconciling the House and Senate versions. The extension of the Price Anderson bill has been agreed to. If the energy bill passes we can expect new nuclear power plants down the line. The power plants will have the same liability caps provided for existing plants under Price Anderson. In addition, a complex deal has been worked out that handles the ethanol use issue and credits. With this deal incorporated into the bill, we can expect an increase in our gasoline consumption of about 4 billion gallons and possibly 9 to 11 billion if the government doesn't increase mileage requirements for light trucks, i. e. SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans. Still unclear is what will happen on the proposal to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (included in the House version but not in the Senate version). If it is in, there will be a filibuster in the Senate. If it is not in, then President Bush may veto it. As we go into newsletter production the Senate Conferees are taking up voting on the drilling issues. (October 1st) The House Conferees have already approved a reduced version of the drilling provisions of its version of the energy bill. Some capitol scene observers believe it is possible no bill will be passed this session, given the contentious issues in the bill as well as other contentious major legislation. I'll keep checking and report again next month.

Water Issue Note on Lajitas: I am researching the drinking water and wastewater history of the Lajitas Resort. It is complex, but I hope to have some article next month. I'll decide when I see how complete my research can be.

LEGISLATIVE WORKSHOP SCHEDULED IN AUSTIN
November 16, 2001

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club will be holding the 13th biennial State Legislative Workshop on November 16, 2001 in Austin at St. Edward's University. The purpose of the meeting is preparing Sierra Club members for the upcoming Texas Legislative session starting next January. The meeting will feature a general session in the morning on State Finances: Challenges & Opportunities. The state is expecting a significant shortfall of several billion dollars. After the general session, there will be concurrent morning sessions on the Inside Story of the Legislative process/Nuts & Bolts of Lobbying, and Getting the Scoop: the News Media & the Texas Legislature. In the afternoon there will be several concurrent sessions, Outlook for 2003: with early afternoon sessions on Water Resources Legislation and Air Quality Legislation followed mid afternoon with sessions on Land Conservation and on Renewable Energy and Radioactive Waste.

While a number of speakers, keynote and panelists have been selected the final roster is not yet complete.

Please consider attending this workshop. Don Dowdey and I attended in November 2000 and found it both illuminating and a fine opportunity to meet Sierrans from around the state. Put it on your calendar and please let Don Dowdey (837-3210) out here know if you can attend. There may be financial help available. Also for more information look at www.texas.sierraclub.org or call 512/ 477-1729. You might also want to attend the Anti-Nuclear Conference, also in Austin, the following day. (See below.)

ANTI-NUCLEAR CONFERENCE TO BE HELD IN NOVEMBER

Erin Rogers in the state office announces that the second Beyond Nuclear Power Conference will be held in Austin November 17th, a Sunday and the day after the Lone Star Chapter's Biennial Legislative Workshop. (See above.) While not all plans are firm, the Conference would be held from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. somewhere near the Capitol. All group representatives and individuals that want to be part of the Beyond Nuclear Power network are welcome and invited to attend. The morning session would include a) informational presentations on the newly elected Texas legislature, b) probable nuclear waste and renewable energy legislation, c) updates on Waste Control Specialists, and d) other related topics. The lunch break would be at the Capitol and include a tour of the House and a few offices to get familiar with the Capitol. The afternoon would include a strategy session and campaign planning, discussing basic ideas for how a simple Beyond Nuclear Power network can function, and how we can be most effective in stopping national nuclear waste dumping bills and how we can promote good legislation on increasing renewable energy. In addition, we would plan for a) a Lobby Day, b) trainings, c) media work, and d) distribution of the Sierra Club report on nuclear waste storage, as well as other possible planning.

Some travel stipends will be available to help those from outside Austin pay for transportation and housing in Austin. Funding for the travel stipends and the conference itself has been generously provided by Bonnie Raitt, who donated 100 seats to her September 4 concert in Austin and hosted a private, after-show reception to benefit the Lone Star Sierra Club's anti-nuclear work.

The following draft principles will be formally agreed-upon at the November 17 gathering as shared principles of all groups and individuals participating in the Beyond Nuclear Power network. For the full text of the draft principles, please e-mail Erin Rogers at the Lone Star Chapter at Erin.Rogers@sierraclub.org

Draft Radioactive Waste Management Principles:

NO PRIVATE COMPANY LICENSED FOR LONG-TERM MANAGEMENT
Radioactive waste should be managed by a publicly accountable state agency, not by a private company

CREATE A PUBLIC LOW LEVEL RADIOACTIVE WASTE REDUCTION AND MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY
A new agency should be created to encourage the reduction of radioactive waste generation, hold any licenses related to long-term management of LLRW, and regulate and manage LLRW and assure that LLRW is isolated from the environment.

PROHIBIT IMPORTATION OF OUT-OF-STATE WASTE FOR STORAGE, PROCESSING OR DISPOSAL/ASSURED ISOLATION
Existing low level radioactive waste compact legislation should be amended to require that all party states adopt these principles and to compel each state to permanently house waste produced within its borders. The compact "loophole," allowing Governor-appointed Compact Commissioners to contract with any state, group of states, or company to import unlimited amounts of radioactive waste to be disposed of in Texas must be closed.

NO BURIAL/BELOW GROUND DISPOSAL
All six existing commercial radioactive waste landfills have leaked. Above-ground storage has the potential to avoid the health hazards of burial grounds prone to releasing radioactivity and avoid the high cost associated with remedial action that, inevitably, will be required.

West Texas should not be viewed as a radioactive waste sacrifice area. Neither above nor below-ground facilities should be built in West Texas--far from where the waste was generated.

MINIMIZE WASTE TRANSPORT--KEEP WASTE NEAR OR AT SITE OF GENERATION
Whenever radioactive materials are handled or transported, the risk of accident or injury to workers and the public rises. [See Mountain or Molehill, prepared by the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, with the true number of waste sites and the exaggeration of number in past legislative discussions.]

INCREASE ROLE OF PUBLIC IN DECISIONS
All decisions on the management, siting, storage, and transportation of radioactive waste should be made with full and effective public participation, including funding to conduct such participation, so that decision-makers and the public have a full range of information on which to base decisions.

THANKS TO SHARON YARBOROUGH FOR FERN PROGRAM

Those of you who attended Sharon Yarborough's program on ferns in September know what a fine and informative program we had. Petei Zelazny's slides were wonderful. We have now learned from Sharon of other "fern activities."

NOTE: Mary Kelly, executive director of the Texas Center on Policy Studies (TCPS), announces that she and several other staff people from the TCPS are moving to Environmental Defense starting October 1, 2002. Mary will be a Senior Attorney and Project Manager of US-Mexico Border Initiatives for Environmental Defense. Cyrus Reed will become acting director of the TCPS. The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club has long enjoyed and gained by its relationship with Mary and the TCPS. We have also worked with Environmental Defense (ED) through the help of Ramon Alvarez, an Environmental Defense staff scientist and expert on air pollution in the Big Bend. TCPS has offices just down the hall from ED and the two organizations have worked together on a number of projects. We look forward to a continuing good relationship. Mary's new e-mail address will be mkelly@environmentaldefense.org and she may also be reached at
Environmental Defense,
44 East Ave., Suite 304,
Austin, Texas 78701,
512.478.5161,
fax 512.478.8140
TNRCC Note: Remember the name of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) was changed to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) effective September 1, 2002.

BIG BEND REGIONAL SIERRA CLUB NEWS

A personal note: Again my knee-replacement surgery has been postponed while I deal with a few other health problems. So this newsletter has been written as usual and I will plan on getting future newsletters out as usual, with any alterations needed determined by whenever I reschedule my surgery.

APPEAL: I am repeating this request, just hoping. Is there someone out there who could help with the newsletter, specifically the formatting of it? I have Microsoft Publisher and that can be transferred to another machine. It is registered in the name of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club. Lue Hirsch has spent many hours trying to teach me to use the program and I have partially learned. In fact, I enjoyed using it at first. But my ignorance in some areas, and the increasing pressure of illness makes me want to pause a while in this project. It is stressful for me under deadline work. So if there is an experienced newsletter Microsoft Publisher user that would help out, at least for awhile, I would love to hear from you. Call me at (915) 364-2362 (a local call from Alpine) or write me via e-mail at sage@brooksdata.net .

Nominating Committee

The Nominating Committee, chaired by Luanne Hirsch (915) 364-2307, a local number from Alpine) and her committee members: Jim Sage (915) 364-2362 and Eve Trook (915) 837-3780 will be presenting a slate to the Executive Committee by October 15th of its nominations for the Executive Committee election this fall. There are three openings. Virginia Campbell, Don Dowdey, and Liz Hightower's terms all expire at the end of the year. Continuing members are Linda Hedges and Luanne Hirsch. In addition, petitions may be submitted for member candidates to be included on the ballot. The petition needs 15 members' signatures and consent of the proposed nominee. Any petitions should be submitted by October 30th to the Executive Committee. Those nominated by the Nominating Committee or by petition should be prepared to give brief background summaries on themselves and why they wish to serve. Ballots will go out with the early November newsletter. Election results will be due by December 20th. The new Executive Committee will take office in January 2003. After the ballot is complete, the Executive Committee will appoint an election committee.

Calendar Sales

Ginny Campbell reminds me that the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club is offering its annual Sierra Club calendar sales. She will take orders if you want to place them. Calendars will be available at the rest of the fall meetings. She hopes that everyone will take calendars to sell this year as they did last. The price is the same as last year: $11.95 for the Wilderness Calendar and $12.95 for the Engagement calendar. As most of you know, the Sierra Club calendars have beautiful pictures on fine quality paper. We sold many last year, raising around $700. Without everyone helping with the selling, we could not possibly have done so well. So, you can take care of some Christmas giving needs and help us at the same time. Get in touch with Ginny Campbell in Marathon at (915) 386-4526, or talk to her at the October 15th meeting.

Executive Committee Meeting

The next Executive Committee is scheduled for October 30, 2002 at 1:30 p.m. in the Board Room of the West Texas National Bank in Alpine. All members are welcome to attend.

SIERRA CLUB STATEMENT OF PURPOSE:

To explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the Earth, to practice and promote responsible use of the Earth's ecosystems and resources, to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment, and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.


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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