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Issue 75
October 3, 2003
Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet
Website: http://texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend

The Unknown Pecos: West Texası Hidden Treasure

pecos river The Pecos River, steeped in West Texas history and folklore, has a section that few people see or even know exists. For most of its length in the Trans-Pecos, the river is hardly more than a sinuous, turbid creek winding through the Pecos Plain between the New Mexico border and the canyonlands below Iraan. Below the Pandale crossing, the Pecos changes coats and character. Augmented by clear-flowing springs, the river renews itself and courses through magnificent canyons over deep pools and grooved flutes until it reaches Deadmanıs Canyon above Lake Amistad. Rich in wildlife and vistas, the river hosted a spring canoe trip of 60 miles over several days. The program will provide an interpretative narration of this reach of the river, the unknown and unappreciated Pecos as it might have looked more than a century ago.

When: October 21, 2003, 7 p. m.

Where: Lawrence Hall, Room 309, Sul Ross State University

The program is open to the public and free of charge

pecos river John is Conservation Biologist for The Nature Conservancyıs West Texas Program. His specialty is vertebrate zoology, distribution and natural history particularly in the southwestern US and northern Mexico. From TNCıs Fort Davis office, he currently is active in the ecological management and biological inventory of Conservancy preserves and projects and potential conservation lands in the Trans-Pecos. The preserves and adjacent conservation areas, total over 100,000 acres of desert, grassland, riparian and montane habitats, and include much of the biological diversity of West Texas.

John returned to Texas in 1991, to establish and manage the Conservancyıs Trans-Pecos program as the West Texas Land Steward. A long-time Texas resident, John grew up in Fort Worth, and attended college at Texas A&I University in Kingsville, and the University of Texas at Arlington, where he received his Masters of Science in Biology.

Those who have heard John speak before know what a treat lies in store; those who donıt will discover it.

Upcoming programs: November 18, Kevin Urbanczyk, Sul Ross State University speaking on his study of air pollution upon Big Bend National Parkıs plants and animals; and December 16, Edwin Hennessey, BBRSC member with a slide show of the Serengeti Plains in Africa.

by Jim Sage

yucca in bloom When I completed building my home in the South Double Diamond, I was so short of money that I went around to friends and acquaintances seeking plants that would live in almost solid rock. I was given two beautiful agaves about five years old, which turned into huge, magnificent plants. These two agaves are Havard Century plants and, in spite of the mythology, you do not have to wait a century for them to bloom. Twelve to fifteen years is more common.

These plants have leaves at least five feet long with a needle sharp point on the end. The plant exudes a muscle contracting substance on the point which makes being stabbed by one extremely painful. I backed into one and imbedded a point into my thigh. For a minute I wasnıt sure that I could walk and by the time I got into the house to investigate, I had a lump like a small teacup imbedded under the skin. I have seen houses in Mexico surrounded by a hedge of century plants and I can assure you that they offer more protection than a moat and hot oil. In fact, the points are so dangerous that people with small children should cut off the points.

I still refer to my century plants as cactus, but, in fact, agaves are not a cactus, but a member of the Agavaceae family. In northern Mexico the most common name for this plant is Mescal or Mezcal. In central Mexico, it is called the Maguey. It has been used for centuries as a source of food, fiber, and a very popular beverage.

Coprolites (fossil excrement) have shown that the plant has been chewed for at least 9000 years and in poorer Mexico it is still chewed to assuage hunger. Probably its most common use today is as a beverage. The plant produces two distinct types. One is the sap from the plant, which is extracted and allowed to ferment, producing a drink called pulque. All over Mexico are little cheap bars called pulquerias and the stench from them is so bad I could never force myself to go in one. Women were not allowed to enter and all the pulquerias I saw had an outside window where women bought the drink and consumed it outside.

Pulque had a religious significance at one time, being used in religious rites and human sacrifices. It is only mildly alcoholic; so often it was jazzed up with drugs from other plants.

The other drink is tequila or mescal, which is distilled from the sap of the agave. Nearly all Tequila was produced in the state of Jalisco near the town of Tequila. It has been made there for 150 years and each company has its own brand name‹Herradura, Viuda de Martinez, and Sauza, etc.

Until recently mescal was an inferior product produced in primitive stills avoiding taxes and regulations. It was what we called moonshine in this country and I suppose the same percentage of people went blind drinking it. A superior type of mescal was finally produced in Oaxaca and it became quite popular as Americans liked the worm put in each bottle.

Tequila has become a huge income producer in Mexico due to the immense popularity of the margarita. The cultivated plant agave tequilana takes about eight years to mature and then produces enough starch for five liters of tequila. Mexico forbids the exportation of these plants and recently Mexico tried to restrict the name ³Tequila² worldwide but failed.

While our agave is used primarily for decorative landscape purposes, over the centuries it has been an essential tool for the residents where it grows. It has been used for sisal fiber, bags, blankets, paper, clothing, armor, lances, musical instruments, bridles, saddles, medicine, soap, poison for arrow tips and shingles on roofs. It has been used for steroid drugs, cortisone, sex hormones, birth control and it is now synthesized by drug companions.

As important as the agave has been, I have not mentioned an essential use, which I am saving for next month.

Note: The definitive work on agaves is Agaves of North America by Howard Gentry. I found it at the Sul Ross Library (R635.9525 168A)


At a recent presentation about the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club to a local civic club, I structured my remarks on one of Hal Flandersı favorite themes ­ that of a web of life. Hal liked to say that whenever you looked at one thing, you found that it was connected to everything else. I think one of the strengths of the BBRSC is that our affiliation with a national organization with a strong state chapter helps us deal with local issues. In my talk, I talked about how local issues like air quality, nuclear waste, and water had a web-like connection to state and national policies and issues. This column deals with how a national issue relates to cleaning up our visibility problems.

Recently, Environmental Defense reached a tentative agreement with EPA on a deadline by which the Agency will issue requirements and guidelines for the best available control technology (BART). According to the Clean Air Act, if it can be shown that a large industrial facility built between 1962 and 1977 causes or contributes to haze in national parks, monuments, or wilderness areas, that facility must install BART. However, in the 25 years since the Act was passed, EPA has never implemented this requirement, which prompted ED to file suit. The proposed settlement between ED and EPA requires EPA to propose BART regulations by April 15, 2004, and to finalize such regulations by April 15, 2005. How does this relate to the Big Bend?

Some of you may remember that Frank Deckert, former superintendent of Big Bend National Park, gave a presentation on regional haze at one of our meetings a couple of years ago. One of the stated purposes of the BRAVO study was to try to identify specific sources that contribute to Big Bendıs visibility problems. In Texas alone, there are 74 plants that are considered to be ³BART eligible², some of which were specifically included in the BRAVO study. BART-eligible sources are those facilities that have the potential to emit 250 tons per year or more of any visibility-impairing pollutant, and that include an emissions unit that became operational between August 7, 1962 and August 7, 1977. BART regulations that presume control levels of 95 percent for sulfur dioxide (SO2) and 90 percent for nitrogen oxides (NOx) would significantly reduce the emission of haze-forming pollutants while improving visibility in national parks. SO2 emissions are the most important cause of visibility problems in Big Bend.

Currently, the Clean Air Task Force is asking organizations to sign on to a letter to the EPA urging them to agree to the deadlines in the consent degree. This letter specifically mentions Big Bend as an important National Park where visibility is actually deteriorating. The letter concludes, ³the national goal, stated in 1977, that haze be prevented and remedied remains unfulfilled.² Here in the Big Bend, our visibility problems are connected, like a web, to national policies that have long allowed dirty plants to pollute our air.

Tribulus Terrestris
by Patty Manning

Cathead‹bullhead--puncture vine--Abrojo de flor Amarillo‹cadillo--GOATHEAD. Regardless of the name, the pain is the same. Youıve stepped on them; youı ve probably had to have goop put in your bicycle or wheelbarrow tires because of them. They are so pretty and delicate in bloom, and so nasty and insidious in fruit. I felt that a plant that can get our attention so readily deserves a closer examination.

For those who are partial to native plants, you can rest easy about the Goathead. It is not a native. It is from warm Mediterranean and Eastern European regions, though the exact native range is hard to pinpoint. By now it is so well established, primarily in the warmer, drier parts of the United States, that many of us have assumed it to be part of the native flora.

I donıt know how or when it first arrived in the United States. One source indicated that someone had reported it around the Dallas area in 1860. Another source reported that it was first documented in California in 1902. It is easy to imagine how quickly it must have spread from the point of arrival. Those of us who have battled with it in our yards are familiar with its fecundity and mode of travel. Lord only knows how many thousands of seeds have been spread by hitchhiking in their protective thorny burr in the tires of almost any type of vehicle.

Apparently, prior to the 1980ıs it was even more prolific than it is now, but was knocked back by the introduction of two different species of Punturevine weevils that made inroads into the population. This sounds great, but there seems to be some evidence that these non-native weevils may be infecting a much more beautiful native relative, the Desert Poppy (Kalstroemia). Thereıs always a flip side when fooling with Mother Nature.

Tribulus terrestris is one of 25 members of the genus Tribulus, which is Greek for ³3 pointed². The genus is in the family Zygophyllaceae; the Caltrop family. The word Caltrop is Greek for a spiky weapon that was placed on the ground to prevent cavalry from approaching. (In the case of Goatheads, that cavalry is us!) Interestingly enough, this is the same plant family in which are placed the Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata), and Guayacan (Guaiacum angustifolium). If one were to examine the leaves and flowers of all three, the relationship might become apparent.

The flowers, which are small, yellow, and bisexual, bloom after the ground is sufficiently warm and moist. Should they get fertilized, and they always seem to, they will ripen into a 5 sectioned fruit each of which contains several seeds. Once dry, they split apart and lie in wait to nail some unsuspecting victim. The seeds inside the ³burr² are capable of staying viable for many years, which contributes to its proliferation.

So, what good is it? Undoubtedly, there is some ecological part that it plays in its native habitat, and it is certainly very attractive to bees. Apparently for thousands of years it has been desirable in some cultures, (Chinese, Indian and Egyptian, to name a few) as an herbal remedy for a myriad of ailments. Recently, however, it seems to be gaining popularity as a sexual tonic for men, and to some extent, women.

In the 1980ıs, researchers in Bulgaria studied chemical properties such as saponins, contained within the plant as an herbal anabolic steroid. It was claimed that herbal treatments enhanced the abilities of the Bulgarian weightlifting teams. An internet search reveals dozens of sights touting herbal formulas containing extracts from the Goathead. Most of them advertise it as a source of enhanced male virility, an herbal Viagra, if you will. There's a cottage industry for you!

It has also been a food source in times of famine. The vegetative parts have been cooked and eaten like other greens, and the dried fruits have been ground up and made into cakes. So there is at least a small amount of protein contained in them. They are reported to be toxic to sheep, though, causing photosensitization and swelling of the head and ears (a condition known as ³Bighead²).

Most people just want to know how to get rid of them. Aside from chemical herbicides, one can use a small propane torch to spot burn them. This is particularly affective with annuals, since their regenerative powers are through seeds and not perennial roots. They can also be pulled or hoed up before they start making fruits. After that the fruits tend to disarticulate when the plant is disturbed, leaving the burr behind.

My favorite method is the one related to me by a woman that used to work at Van's Tires. She and her husband would pass out successive pairs of flip flops to their four kids and have them run around the yard. After which the Goatheads were scraped off or the shoes discarded. She said that within a couple of years, they had no more Goatheads. All it takes is a little ingenuity.


Government Reorganization Bill As of October 2, 2003, the government reorganization bill is in a Conference Committee but it may have passed by the time you receive this. (A meeting of the Committee, however, scheduled for October 2 has been postponed). The House version and the Senate version are quite different. The House instructed its members of the Conference Committee to strip the bill of all Senate amendments. While it will take more phone calling and study to understand the differences in the two billsı environmental provisions, I can at least tell you at this point that there is no language on rock crushers in either version. (In the House version of the Reorganization bill which surfaced in May, there was a provision doing away with permitting for rock crushers.) I will keep you posted on this in later newsletters. All the attention now is on the redistricting efforts (itself uncertain at this time), making it harder for the reorganization to get the media attention it might normally get.

Rock Crushers and Quarries: In a press release sent out August 13, 2003, Governor Rick Perry announced an interim Advisory Committee on Rock Crushers and Quarries, which is to report back by December 31, 2004. The Committee will study The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) authority to adequately address citizen concerns about the construction and operation of rock crushers, including rock crushers operating in association with quarries. Governor Perry named three state senators, three representatives, and three public members to the committee: Sen. Troy Fraser, Committee Chair, Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, Sen. Kenneth Armbrister, D-Victoria, Rep.Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, and Rep. Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, as well as James Oakley, of Spicewood, a Burnet County commissioner, John V. Lattimore Jr, president and CEO of Lattimore Properties, Inc. in McKinney, and John Richard Weisman, president of Hunter Industries Ltd., San Marcos.

To date, as far as I know, no meetings have been held.


Release of the BRAVO study has been delayed once again. Jim Yarbrough of Region 6 of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in an e-mail sent October 3rd that ³The BRAVO draft report is progressing, but at a slower pace than I had hoped. I believe that there are two particularly major chapters that are not yet complete‹the ones dealing with the modeling techniques and reconciled results. . . ² I think what that means is that they do not yet have consensus of the 15-25 researchers involved in the report. Yarbrough goes on to say, ³Because there is a lot of pride of authorship in contributing to such a large and important study as BRAVO, all researchers involved want to do whatever they can to make it as ³perfect² as possible. On several occasions that sentiment has resulted in our performing supplementary analyses to test and confirm the original modeling results. That has happened in the last few weeks once more.² He says that this process can not go on indefinitely. He concludes by saying that ³my personal goal is to get the draft completed in the next few weeks and out to our peer reviewers‹whose names, as soon as I have their official permission, I will share with you.² I think issues are roiling just below the surface. It is not clear to me what they are but I expect this time to know more shortly. We will see. The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club will send letters to the appropriate persons in the National Park Service, the EPA, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality expressing our concern and frustration on the continuing delays.


Don Dowdey, chair, announces that Liz Hightower has resigned from the Executive Committee. Don expresses his thanks to Liz for all her work and hopes she will continue her commitment to the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club


Don Dowdey, chair, reports that Barbara Novovitch has accepted an appointment to fill out the term of Liz Hightower, which run through 2004. Barbara and her husband Luc joined Sierra Club in 2000. She brings an active interest in air pollution issues as well as a concern about the proposed bentonite plant near Alpine.

Barbara and Luc own the Sotol Gallery in Marathon, which displays fine art photographs by Luc and other artists. Barbara just sold the Marathon Gazette, which she published on a monthly basis and which will continue as the Big Bend Gazette under new publisher John Waters and Editor Marlys Hersey from Terlingua.

Barbara has a distinguished career in journalism, having worked as a correspondent and editor for the Washington Post, Newsweek, and Reuters international news service. She was also the start-up editor for Womanıs World, and briefly edited Country Music magazine. She came to Marathon after 15 years with Reuters, having been stationed in London, Paris, and Hong Kong for them; she also spent five years in Germany for Newsweek. She began her newspaper career in her hometown at The Nashville Tennessean.

We thank her for her willingness to serve.


The Big Bend Regional Sierra Clubıs Nominating Committee consists of Don Dowdey, Scott May, and Jim Sage. At the time this is written, the nominees have not been confirmed. Please check with Don Dowdey (432) 837-3210 or look at the website: http://texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend .

According to the BBRSC by-laws members have the right to submit petition candidates. One needs to get 15 or more memberıs signatures as well as permission of the potential candidate. Those should be submitted to Jim Sage, P. O. Box 564, Alpine, TX no later than October 28th. Ballots will go out November 12th and should be returned by December 10th. The ballots will have the Election Committeeıs mailing address. That Committee will be appointed at the next Executive Committee meeting (this month).


West Texas Regional Water Conference
Holiday Inn Suites ­ Midland, Texas
Saturday, October 25, 2003


8:15 -9:a.m. Registration/Check-In

9:00 ­ 9:15 a.m. Welcome & Overview
Ken Kramer, Director, Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club

9:15 ­ 10:00 a.m. Managing Water: Brush Management & Instream Flows Moderator: Ken Kramer


Brush Management ­
Steve Manning, Leon River Restoration Project

Instream Flows
Norman Johns, National Wildlife Federation

10:00 ­ 10:15 a.m. Questions and Answers

10:15 ­ 10:30 a.m. Break

10:30 ­ 11:45 a.m. Water Conservation in Texas: Progress, Challenges, Prospects

Moderator: Pat Stanley, League of Women Voters of Midland


Chris Brown, Consultant, San Antonio
Carole Baker Harris-Galveston Subsidence District
Ken Kramer, Sierra Club
Sam Godfrey, Samco Leak Detection

11:45 ­ noon Questions & Answers

noon ­ 1:15 p.m. Lunch

Luncheon Address:

A State Legislative perspective on Water
Speaker to be confirmed

1:15 ­ 2:20 p.m. The Right of Capture: Rethinking Groundwater Law


Ron Kaiser, Institute of Renewable Natural Resources, TAMU

Response Panel:
Moderator: Melanie Barnes, League of Women Voters of Lubbock
Tom Beard, Rancher and President, Leoncita Cattle Company
Mary Kelly, Environmental Defense
Harvey Everheart, Mesa Underground Water Conservation District

2:20 - 2:40 p.m. Questions and Answers

2:40 ­ 2:50 p.m. Break

2:50 ­ 3:55 p.m. Hot Groundwater Topics
Moderator: Laura Brock, Environmental Defense


Brackish Water Desalination ­
Mike Fahy El Paso Water Utilities

Groundwater Availability ­
Robert Mace Texas Water Development Board

Groundwater Transport ­
Stefan Shuster, Freese & Nichols

3:55 ­ 4:15 p.m. Questions & Answers

4:15 ­ 4:30 p.m. Wrap-Up Ken Kramer, Sierra Club

By: Lue Hirsch

The BBRSC has reached a new member high and we have reached a new ³bench mark², over 120!! Welcome to all new members to Sierra Club and our local club and to all transfer in members. Our ranks now number 124! New or transfer members are: Cat Crumpton from BBNP, Ada June Miller and Jeff G. Smith from Ft. Davis, Kay Burnett, Cheryl Eakens, Robert Flanders, C. Harrelle, and Lid Otto from Alpine. Welcome and I hope to meet you at the next meeting on October 21st.

We remain at 6 members for the SuperFrip program and hope to attain our goal of 10 by February 1st! Please help us in our efforts by bringing a non-member friend to the next SuperFrip event. That event is on October 18, 2003 at the Marathon Coffee Shop in Marathon, TX! Mark it on your calendar now and join us for conversation and dinner that evening. Posters will be up in Marathon and Alpine prior to the event and reminder cards will be sent to Marathon, BBNP, Sanderson, members.

The highway clean up project has been a project that has had sporadic involvement up to now. I am hoping that some of our new members will find this option a way to help our local club. With that hope in mind I am scheduling the next highway clean up for October 25th. Our 2 mile portion of the highway is just east of the ³Y² of Hwy 90 and Hwy 67 approximately 8 miles east of Alpine. Letıs meet at the Lawrence Hall parking lot at SRSU (thatıs the same building we meet at every month) on Saturday the 25th at 8:00 AM and car pool to our work site. Weıll be back at the parking lot no later than 12:00 noon. If in October and January (the next clean up) we continue to have poor response we will end our commitment to the highway clean up project. If you have any questions or need more information please contact me at lffhirsch@msn.com or call 364-2307.

Most recent pledges/donations are from Marilyn Brady and Don Dowdey, Ginny and Joe Campbell, Edwin Dana Hennessy, Lue and Cliff Hirsch, and Bob Patterson. Silent Auction: $381 to date. Tee-shirt and refreshment donation: $14 for a total of $857.89 for July, August, and September. Thank you for your support of the local clubıs efforts. It is greatly appreciated. The yearıs total to date is $1660.59.

The Hal Flanders Memorial Fund has grown to a total of $320 with donations from Ginny and Joe Campbell, Susan and Tom Curry, Mary Flanders, Marty Hansen, Bennye Meredith, and Jim and Fran Sage. Thanks to all of you for your support for the special purpose memorial to help in fighting radioactive waste dumps in Texas.

Sierra Club statement of Purpose:

To explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the Earth, to practice and promote responsible use of the Earthıs 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 those objectives.

Big Bend Regional Sierra Club 50 Sunny Glen, Alpine, Texas 79830

Don Dowdey, Chair, 50 Sunny Glen, Alpine, TX 79830 ddowdey@wildblue.net

Fran Sage, Newsletter Editor, P. O. Box 564, Alpine, TX. 79831


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