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BIG BEND REGIONAL SIERRA CLUB Newsletter

Issue 65
September 1, 2002


FERNS OF THE DAVIS MOUNTAIN AREA
by
Fran Sage

Please come hear Sharon Yarborough discuss ferns of the Davis Mountain area at the September 17th meeting of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club at 7 p. m. in Lawrence Hall, Room 309, Sul Ross State University. The meeting is open to the public.

Sharon wonders if you would be surprised to find that 78 species of ferns and fern allies occur in the Trans-Pecos. She says that during February of last year, in a two-week period, she found almost 17 species at Fort Davis National Historic Site. One can find many of these ferns at the Nature Conservancy land in the Davis Mountains, the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, and Davis Mountain State Park, and even in Sunny Glen and the Double Diamond and other private property in the area.

Left fern: Dancing Bommeria
Right fern: Star Cloak Fern

Sharon will show slides and discuss the fern life, including distinguishing characteristics, in the Davis Mountain area, based on her recently published book Ferns and Fern Allies of the Trans-Pecos and AdjacentAreas (Texas Tech University Press, $17.95 plus tax*), co-authored with Dr. A. M. Powell, faculty and herbarium curator at Sul Ross State University. Petei Zelazny did the photographs for the book, which those who have seen the book say are wonderful. Sharon will also mention likely locations and habitats where local fern populations can be found and provide a handout with identification tips on distinguishing some of the most easily confused species. Her book will be available at the meeting.

Sharon, a long-time Alpine resident, is assistant curator at the herbarium at Sul Ross State University. Her background is in biology, botany, and plant taxonomy. She has also contributed material on Asteraceae (Daisies) for the multivolume series Flora of Northern America.

I can personally attest to enjoying a talk on edible plants by Sharon some years ago. To conclude her talk she offered around a plate of flowers. I ate a pansy and others enjoyed munching on other flowers. While I don't anticipate ferns as part of the evening's refreshments, I do anticipate an engaging talk and slide show. Sharon will also answer questions you may have.

Front Street Books (121 E. Holland, Alpine) will host a book signing party September 13 from 6-8 p.m.

UPCOMING PROGRAMS:
October 15th, Dr. Matthew Shetrone, Lead Resident Astronomer for Hobby-Eberly Telescope, McDonald Observatory, will discuss air pollution at McDonald Observatory.
November 19th: State Representative Pete Gallego will discuss issues for the 2003 session of the Texas Legislature.
Our December 17th meeting will include a Christmas party but plans are not fully formed yet.

COCK OF THE DESERT
by
Jim Sage

Another of the real pleasures of living in the Chihuahuan desert is sitting in the living room and observing one of the most remarkable of all desert birds strut proudly across the patio, pausing at the glass door and peering in. This bird, two feet of relentless energy, is the roadrunner. I think there is no other single species of bird that has enjoyed more popularity and mystique than the roadrunner.

Photo by Marcus G. Martin
www.photobirder.com

He not only lives in the desert but also refuses to live anywhere except in the desert. Because of his hunting antics, darting first one direction and then another, his boldness, his swaggering tread, every thing proclaims him a rascal, a comic, and even a bird of great magic. His antics and exaggerated personality have made him known to millions in the form of a cartoon character on worldwide television. In Mexico he is know as paisano, a fellow countryman.

According to fossil records he has been around for some 33,000 years and has adapted beautifully to the desert. He survives on lizards, mice, rats, snakes, baby rabbits, centipedes, tarantulas, spiders, worms, and bees. Even scorpions are acceptable tidbits. He does not eat seeds and, while he can fly, he prefers to run. He can save body fuel by lowering his body temperature at night from about 101 degrees to 94. In early mornings when it is cold, he stands with his back to the sun, exposing a black-pigmented skin to the sun. Over this pigmented area he has black downy feathers, which prevent heat loss. Sunning occurs in many species of birds but Wyman Meinzer (a noted photographer and observer of the roadrunner) believes that none equals the roadrunner in efficient use of solar energy.

In the old pueblo culture, the roadrunner was a bird of great magic. His feet are zygodactyl; that is, two toes point forward two point backward. When someone died in the pueblo, a safe afterlife was ensured by placing roadrunner tracks around the house of the deceased. This would confuse the evil spirits as to the direction taken by the spirit of the dead. The Tarahumara Indians ate the flesh of the roadrunner to become endowed with speed and endurance. And for others the bird's willingness to fight and kill rattlesnakes made him an object of great bravery.

Sometime you may see this bird strut by with the tail of a lizard or snake hanging out of his mouth. He is unable to swallow it all so he waits until the front end is digested and then swallows the rest. The roadrunner hasn't merely adapted to this rigorous environment. No, he has conquered it.

Note: I highly recommend Wyman Meizner's The Roadrunner (Texas Tech University Press, 1993). Wonderful pictures, informative text.

WHEN WILL THE BRAVO STUDY BE COMPLETED?

From July through October 1999 fieldwork was done, getting the data which, when analyzed, will demonstrate scientifically where the pollution is coming from. Preliminary results indicate polluting sources in Mexico, Texas and the Southeast United States. The usual explanation for studies is that we can not act with certainty until we can more clearly understand the sources. The BRAVO (Big Bend Regional Aerosol and Visibility Observation) Study results have been postponed a number of times. The scheduled completion date originally was mid 2001. But it has been delayed many times. We were last told in April 2002 that the complete report would be ready in September 2002.

When, however, I e-mailed Jim Yarbrough of Region 6 office of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in Dallas very recently asking if the Study was meeting its completion date, he said it has been delayed. "The emissions processing part of the project found numerous errors in the emissions and in the grid system for our modeling runs. We were forced to spend approximately 2-3 more months on that task than originally scheduled. However, there was no other option; we had to be as sure as we could be that the emissions inventory was accurate or otherwise our air modeling results would have little meaning." Frustrating as that information is, the scientific study will have to be accurate to have credibility, which is essential to using it to implement its recommendations.

When will it be ready?

The results will be given to the Technical Committee, who will be prepared to discuss them "versus other data analysis results at our next data analysis meeting in Denver September 19-20." The tracer information will be released in early September. Then comes the crucial and difficult crunch period: getting participants to agree on what the data means. Yarbrough says that there will then be weekly conference calls and probably more face-to-face meetings to hammer out a set of consensus results.

Writing of the draft report is now underway. Yarbrough says they hope to have the draft report completed by December 2002, then circulate it for comment and peer review and produce a final report shortly thereafter. So the timeline provides completion four months later than the earlier projection. If this timeline holds it will be available when the next Texas legislative session gets underway.

Yarbrough concludes by saying "There is always a huge tendency on the part of academic experts to want to do 'perfect' work. In my opinion, there is no such thing. . . . We cannot wait for an exhaustive analysis. It is essential that we complete a final report within the next few months that nonetheless captures the accurate essence of the field work-the proportional impacts of various source regions and source types to the haze at Big Bend. So, that's what I'm committed to."

The real and difficult work will come after the study is published. Seeing what remains to be done about Texas polluters, and working to make that happen, seeing if pollution coming from other parts of the United States will be addressed by an administration that is marching in the opposite direction when it comes to cleaning up the air, and finally, negotiating with Mexico on the Mexican sources.

LAJITAS UTILITY PERMIT

The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) held a public hearing August 15 in Lajitas on a request by the Lajitas Utility Company for a wastewater permit. The permit would allow up to 90,000 gallons of wastewater into the Rio Grande, though the plan is to treat it and filter it for the golf course(s). The TNRCC's hearing notice included the following section: "The TNRCC executive director has completed the technical review of the application and prepared a draft permit. The draft permit, if approved, would establish the conditions under which the facility must operate. The executive director has made a preliminary decision that this permit, if issued, meets all statutory and regulatory requirements." In other words, they are willing to approve it, though the formal responses may change their minds.

Most of the comments were negative. In fact, it appears that all the formal responses were either negative or at least wanting caution to be used as the TNRCC moves forward.

Don Dowdey has signed The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club on to the Texas Center for Policy Studies' response to the request of the Lajitas Utility Company for a permit from the TNRCC (Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission). Mary Kelly prepared the response, which requests the TNRCC to deny the permit. She rejects allowing constructing wetlands located in the 100-year FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) floodplain with no protection from flooding. She says the Utility misrepresents the potential for flooding and points out the errors. She says the permit request is vague on what facilities they would build to address a flood. Furthermore she says that it is not clear whether or not the chlorination facilities planned are in the floodplain and details the problems with having one there. She says the level of treatment would not be sufficient to protect the high quality aquatic habitat, contact recreation and drinking water. She goes on to say that the proposed lining of the wetland and ponds is inadequate. Finally she questions whether the applicant's approach is an appropriate treatment alternative for such an arid region. The utility would have to draw on groundwater at some times. For each of her points she cites the appropriate laws. She concludes her response by asking denial of the requested permit and asking the TNRCC to respond in writing to each of her points if it does not deny the request.

Our thanks to Mary for her careful investigation and clearly laid out response for denying the request.

Others opposing the request include the Big Bend National Park, which will request a contested case hearing if the request is approved. Frank Deckert, Superintendent of Big Bend National Park, sent a response asking that the permit be denied. He references his previous comments of September 18, 2001 that raised concerns about water quality in the Rio Grande being adversely affected as it flows through Big Bend National Park by the proposed discharge. He mentions aquatic habitat, recreational uses and public health. He then goes on to list further concerns. He says that the TNRCC Statement of January 20, 2002 says that the Water Treatment has not been constructed. Deckert says, "however, construction of this facility was well underway at that time, giving the impression that the system had been approved prior to receiving a permit." He further mentions the federally listed endangered species fish, Big Bend Gambusia, which lives in a pool in the floodplain and which would be vulnerable to pollutants that might be washed downstream in a flood. He also raises the harmful effect of chlorination in the wetlands if washed into the river in a flood. In addition, he raises concerns about "the primary settling tanks [being] vulnerable to 'floating' if flood waters were to reach them." He concludes his list of concerns by asking whether the permit applies to sludge disposal. He says it was mentioned in the permit application, not mentioned in the "Notice of Application and Preliminary Decision" and included in the draft permit. He talks about potential problems both of wind-borne sludge and water-borne sludge reaching the Rio Grande during flash flooding.

He concludes his letter by saying "We hope the TNRCC Executive Director will adequately address these and all other relevant and material issues raised during the formal comment period in his written response. If not, we intend to request a contested case hearing. . . ." A contested case on the permit request would be turned over to the State Administratives Judges for hearings. They would then make recommendations to the three commissioners of theTNRCC, who in turn would decide. If there is no contested case hearings, then the Executive Director would decide. Just as a point of interest, the current Executive Director, Jeff Saitas, resigned earlier this summer, effective October 1, 2002. The newly appointed Executive Director, Margaret Hoffman, would make the initial decision. The Director's decision will be made around October 15th, 60 days after the hearing.

Judge Val Beard of Brewster County sent in a response urging the TNRCC "to proceed cautiously and deliberately" as it considers the permit request. She talks about the importance of the BBNP as an environmental resource, one which is a key component of the South Brewster County economy. She requests that "this application be carefully scrutinized."

ENERGY BILL

Nothing much to report here. At least I do not have much in the way of new information. Congress will be returning after Labor Day. While early August news stories report that the Conference Committee (representatives from the House and Senate who must come up with a final bill) are still meeting and may be done mid September the prospects look rather dim at this point. The high visibility item is drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But there are a number of other issues. The speed by which a final bill could be adopted by both houses will depend on whether the controversial items have been adjusted adequately in Conference Committee. For example, several Senators have said they will filibuster the final bill if the drilling provision is included.

While I get reports from Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League, and Defenders of Wildlife on the e-mail, the other source is the news, especially from the wire services. Often stories have been filed which I have not seen in the paper or on the websites of the wire services. One area I check frequently is on the wire services carried on the Yahoo.com site. If you want to check it out, put in www.yahoo.com as the address, then click on News on that site. It is not as easy as it seems. Go down the right hand column where there are a few current news headlines. Right below those headlines is News, Weather, etc. Click on News. When the page comes up note the search item. In the first box put news and in the second box put "Energy Bill" being sure to put in the quotes. When you get the list of energy bill items note that there is an item called premium. Those would be ones you would have to pay for. Click Hide and you will get the short list. You can then see the headline, a sentence on its subject, and its date.

I will check and follow the bill for the October issue, but since I am working on it early (see below), it may not come to a head by the time I am writing.

TNRCC TOLL-FREE NUMBER

If you have an environmental problem, you can call the TNRCC to register a complaint. The toll-free number is 1-888-777-3186, 24 hours a day. You may also contact them via their website: http://www.tnrcc.state.tx.us/enforcement/complaints.html#contact. Or e-mail them at complaint@tnrcc.state.tx.us . On the website is information on types of problems, how to properly collect and submit information or evidence, what happens when you contact them, what details to report, etc. But the key thing is to call that toll-free number if you have a problem. They will explain the rest. I knew someone in Alpine who recently had an environmental problem. The TNRCC person listened, asked for a picture, and said they would be out in a few days to investigate. I do not know what came of it all, but at least he got some action. So don't be overwhelmed, just give them a call if you need to and tell them your problem. They can always direct you to other sources if needed.

Another TNRCC note: The name of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) will be changed to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality effective September 1, 2002.

ANTI-NUCLEAR CONFERENCE TO BE HELD IN NOVEMBER

Although Erin Rogers in the Lone Star Office is working on a conference for November 17 in Austin, the agenda has not yet been fully firmed. I will have more complete information in our next newsletter. Please give some thought to attending. It is a follow-up to the last spring's meeting held near the Comanche Peak nuclear plant. Don Dowdey and Gary Oliver attended on behalf of the BBRSC. If you are interested in going, you will find that many if not all of your expenses will be paid for. The next session of the Texas Legislature will, no doubt, consider radioactive waste disposal an item for attention. Call Don at (915) 837-3210 for further information. Or e-mail him at ddowdey@wildblue.net .

BIG BEND REGIONAL SIERRA CLUB NEWS

A personal note: I will be in Austin from September 22, 2002 until around October 7th or so, having, what else, surgery. This time I will be having my right knee replaced. As soon as this newsletter goes out I will be preparing the October newsletter for completion and mail preparation by the time I leave. Someone else will be mailing it. Advance apologies for its abbreviated length. One knows it won't be because of a lack of issues.
Fran Sage

APPEAL: 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.

Highway Cleanup

Thanks to Ruth Albright, Bob Brewer, Liz Hightower, Bennye Meredith, Barbara Novovitch, and Audrey Painter for their hard work in removing trash on the BBRSC stretch of highway located a little east of the Y on U. S. 90. It took around an hour and only yielded four bags of trash and some odd big pieces of trash. The last time we cleaned the stretch there were 11 bags of trash (if memory serves me right). Liz reports that Barbara found a "big, ole rattlesnake" and goes on to remind us that boots and sturdy, long pants are the appropriate wear for trash cleanup out in our country!

Social a Success

Great potluck food spread, rousing music, perfect weather, and best of all the hospitality of Luc and Barbara Novovitch in Marathon. Thirty-five people turned out for a pleasant get together in the Novovitches yard, shady, large, and privacy fenced.

Band Members: from left: Dan Keene, Chris Cessae, Gary Oliver
Photograph by Barbara Novovitch.

Our special thanks to the band Sluefoot from Marfa who made the long trek to help us forgot for awhile the woes of the environmental world. Well, not quite. The band had several great environmental numbers. Particularly popular was Oxymandias, sometimes called H2O on the Lajitas Resort (see above). You all may remember Shelley's sonnet Oxymandias. I simply can't resist quoting it (we former English majors writing environmental newsletters don't often have a legitimate excuse to put in a poem!) and congratulate Gary Oliver for such a fitting title. Perhaps even more fitting than Gary knew at the time.

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains, Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless, and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Well so much for editor indulgence. The band, Gary Oliver, Dan Keane, and Chris Cessae, played and sang several other environmental songs: "La Entrada," "Allons Cheri" (radioactive waste), "Atomic Power," and "Blowing Down Your Old Atomic Road." Needless to say they played many other songs that were not environmental protest songs. The music was thoroughly appreciated by the audience. We thank Gary for arranging the band and thank all of them for their music. And we thank Luc and Barbara for their hospitality.

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 invite nominations for the Executive Committee election this fall. There will be 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. The Committee would especially welcome names from all areas, not just Alpine. The Committee must report back to the Executive Committee by October 15th. 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 the end of October. Those nominated by the 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 next Big Bend Regional Sierra Club meeting will launch the annual calendar sales. She will take orders if you want to place them, and, with some kind of luck, may have some calendars at our September meeting. For sure there will be copies 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 meeting September 17th. Next month I should have other contact names.

Contributions

Ginny Campbell announces that the BBRSC received $180 in donations and pledges for July and August. Thanks to Thomas Reidy for his donation as well as thanks to our pledgers. Year's contributions to date are $890.07.

New Members

I would like to welcome new members to the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club. In fact, I would like to start putting in names. What I propose to do is put the name of new members in the newsletter, starting in November. I would, this first time, propose to put in the new member names starting from January 2002 to do catch-up and then add names on a regular basis. If anyone would rather not have his/her name listed, please send me an e-mail at sage@brooksdata.net or call at (915) 364-2362. As of August 18, 2002 we have 112 members. We all are always grateful to welcome more people in and regret our loss when members move away.

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.

Newspaper Editor: Fran Sage, P.O. Box 564, Alpine, TX79831

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

Executive Committee:

Chair: Don Dowdey (see above address) (915) 837-3210
Vice-Chair: Luanne Hirsch, HC 65, Box 37, Alpine, TX 79830
Secretary: Linda Hedges P. O. Box 2103, Ft. Davis, TX 79734
Treasurer: Virginia Campbell P. O. Box 474 Marathon, TX 79842
Liz Hightower: P.O. Box 1014, ALpine, TX 79831


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