Learning about the Chihuahuan Desert

An important goal of the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition is to facilitate integration of learning about our desert into the school curriculum from kindergarten on. The Chihuahuan desert offers a wide variety of habitats that all have their own animal and plant communities, which again are interacting with each other in often wondrous ways that can amaze and inspire people, especially the young. Once children are exposed to the fascinating life of desert animals and plants and the challenges they have to master day in and out, they will appreciate our environment and understand why it needs protection. It is an environment that teaches us that we can master unimaginable challenges and prosper through them. The desert is an open book to explore and find adventures like nowhere else.

Learn more by checking out some of the online teaching tools available on our website. If you would like to help us expand and improve resources for teachers contact us today.

Countdown to the Fiesta – 9.28.19

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The Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta is the signature event of the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition and Franklin Mountains State Park.   Last year nearly 800 people attended and with the 15th Annual Fiesta just two months way,  we could break the 1000 mark.
(See poster below)

Behind the scenes, volunteers and park staff are making arrangements for tents, chairs, a stage, entertainment, food, speakers, guided short hikes and educational booths sponsored by local nature groups.  As in the past all activities will be centered at the end of the loop road at the Tom Mays Park section off of Loop 375 in West El Paso.   If you want to be involved in anyway please contact us.

Over the past fourteen years thousands of El Pasoans attending the Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta at Tom Mays Park have discovered the rugged beauty of Franklin Mountains State Park.  The park features hiking trails, camping and picnic sites surrounded by an undisturbed Chihuahuan Desert landscape.  The 15th Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta  is a free community event planned for September 28th, 2019 from 9am to 3pm.    Be sure to follow this blog to receive Fiesta Updates and other interesting news about our desert.

The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition is looking for new members and membership is freeMEMBERSHIP BENEFITS include:  -The good feeling of knowing that you are helping others understand and appreciate our beautiful Chihuahuan Desert
-Invitation to events including the Annual Membership Meeting, Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta, Special Programs and more.

Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta Poster 2019 -Final

CDEC renewal underway

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by Rick LoBello, Chair

With our 15th Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta just around the corner I am happy to report that the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition is experiencing an encouraging  period of renewal.  Our board is meeting monthly working on new smart goals and more people are signing up as members.  Membership is now FREE so please sign up today.

Please follow our blog to keep up with all of our news.  All you need to do is enter your email address when you see the follow button.   If you would like to be a part of the fiesta please let us know how and we will get back to you.  We need organizations who can offer interactive booths, entertainment, story tellers etc.   We also need help in promoting the event on Social Media so please contact us.

Here is our stage schedule for the Fiesta.  This year we are planning to offer guided hikes at times that do not conflict with the schedule as much as possible plus have times when nothing is scheduled on the stage so that participants can interact with the organizations that participate with informational and interactive desert education booths.

9 am. Opening welcome and entertainment until 9:30

9:30 – Story telling 

10 am -Zoo animal encounter

10:30 to 11 – No program, visit our desert education interactive booths 

11-11:30 – entertainment 

11:30-noon – No program, visit our desert education interactive booths  

Noon to 12:30 – entertainment

12:30 to 1 – No program, visit our desert education interactive booths 

1 to 1:30  -Zoo animal encounter 

1:30 to 2 – no program, visit our desert education interactive booths 

2 to 2:30  – entertainment

2:30 to 3  – no program, visit our desert education interactive booths 

Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta Poster 2019 -Final

 

Local leaders must act

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What will El Paso do when there is no more land to develop?

by Rick LoBello

All over El Paso and the surrounding area developers are on the move building new roads, shopping centers and housing areas.  These projects are making life a little easier for those of us who drive back and forth to work and the jobs that are connected to them, all obviously very important to our community’s quality of life.

The other day one of our members sent this message about what is being done to  save the land west of War Highway by the Newman power plant.  He asked “If its to be turned into subdivisions are there any plans to save some of the cactus or other things?”

The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition’s main goal is education and encouraging people to connect with our desert and be passionate about protecting it.  As a non-profit organization we do engage in as much advocacy as possible, but the IRS has strict rules about what portion of our budget can go toward these activities.  As a result we focus on our mission and collaborate with others who are more involved in pushing the envelope politically.

Since I am involved with more than one environmental group in El Paso and have been for nearly 20 years, in trying to help our member with his question I reached out to a number of people who I thought might be able to help.   One person who responded was Judy Ackerman.  I have know Judy ever since I moved to El Paso.  Judy is a conservation warrior extraordinaire.  Before I post her answer I have a question that I would like to pose, one that I have asked again and again at conservation meetings.  Unfortunately it is a question that few people want to hear.

What will El Paso do when there is no more land to develop?

Most people holding the keys to our future don’t want to deal with this question and the few people who go to the polls to elect them don’t really understand how bad things are getting.  Several months ago National Geographic published an alarming article entitled
Half of all land must be kept in a natural state to protect Earth.”  The easy to read report states that human civilization over the next ten years must double the size of protected zones to prevent dangerous warming and unravelling of ecosystems.

If world leaders, and that includes LEADERS IN El PASO, don’t increase their commitments to conserve land and water quickly, we won’t be able to preserve a stable climate and high quality of life.  As a conservation educator and scientist working to stay informed and working on the front lines of many environmental efforts, I am convinced that this science about our future is relevant to our community and the future of humanity.   If you agree then ask your own questions, stay informed and ACT.  Act now, Act tomorrow, Act every day of your life.  Our future, our children’s future, and the future of our civilization depends on everyone of us.

Judy’s answer

Several people are very concerned that city owned land west of Martin Luther King (War Highway) might be developed – especially since that land includes recently dedicated trailheads Lazy Cow and Round House!

I am currently unable to take the lead on this issue, but include on the “To” line several others who care about this issue, in the hope that someone will contact you with suggestions how to keep an eye on City Staff actions in TIRZ 13.

You might also contact members of the Open Space Advisory Board: http://legacy.elpasotexas.gov/muni_clerk/detail.asp?id=96.

On Cactus rescue, the leaders are Peter Beste and the El Paso Cactus and Rock Club, https://www.facebook.com/epcrc/.  Current president is Paul Hyder.

 

Only in the Chihuahuan Desert?

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Chisos Katydid, Big Bend National Park.       Photo copyright Rick LoBello

We are working with educators at the El Paso Zoo on interactive educational materials about the Chihuahuan Desert.  So far we have come up with the following list of animals and plants that we believe live naturally only in the Chihuahuan Desert eco-region.

We really need to add scientific names to the list to make it more accurate, but for now have this list of 10.   If you have feedback of any kind please send it to ricklobello@gmail.com.

We are sure that there are many other species out there that need to be added to this list so we hope to hear from you soon.

Animals
1.            Grey-Banded Kingsnake
2.            Bolson Tortoise
3.            Coahuilan Box Turtle
4.            Big Bend Gambusia
5.            Carbonera Pupfish
6.            Mexican Prairie Dog
7.            Chisos Katydid

Plants
8.           Lechuguilla
9.           Hechtia – Texas false agave
10.         Candelilla, Wax Euphorbia

Teaching Citizen Science in the Chihuahuan Desert

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Every July, amateur and professional naturalists descend on the Chiricahua Desert Museum located on the border of New Mexico and Arizona. Their purpose: to observe and document as many living species in the area as possible over a 24-hour period. The annual Charlie W. Painter BioBlitz is an important tool to engage the public in science and to help us better understand the long-term ecological trends in the Chihuahuan Desert.

New this year, the Arizona Game and Fish Department is hosting an educator workshop in conjunction with the BioBlitz. More than 20 teachers from across the southwest will participate. During the workshop, these educators will get to experience the very things that make the Chihuahuan Desert so special and unique while also learning about the role that citizen science projects, like BioBlitzes, play in our understanding of the natural world. They will leave with resources and ideas to bring back to their classrooms as they start the new school year. It is our hope that the participants will gain a greater appreciation of the Chihuahuan Desert and share that passion with their students!

We are very pleased that the Chiricahua Desert Museum, along with the Geronimo Event Center, has opened their doors for this unique opportunity. To learn more about this facility, visit https://www.chiricahuadesertmuseum.com/.

For more information about the Charlie W. Painter BioBlitz, visit https://www.cwpbioblitz.com/.

And finally, if you would like more information or are interested in participating in the teacher workshop, visit http://bit.ly/BioBlitzEducator.

Participation in both the BioBlitz and the teacher workshop are free!

 

The elusive alligator lizard

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Texas alligator lizard climbing an alligator juniper in Big Bend National Park.  Photo By Rick LoBello

by Rick LoBello

Not everyone living in the northern Chihuahuan Desert is familiar with one of the coolest and least known lizards in our eco-region, the Texas alligator lizard.   More people in West Texas have seen alligator junipers than they have alligator lizards.  The lizards are very elusive and live in higher elevation habitats like the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park.  You can see a list of 2019 observations in alligator lizard country on iNaturalist.org

The iNaturalist map below will give you some idea of just where people are seeing this lizard today.

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When I was a park ranger in Big Bend I hiked the trails in the Chisos Mountains several times a week.  I saw these lizards very infrequently and only on sunny days when they were hunting in the leaf litter and I could hear movement along the trail.

As far as I know the alligator lizard is the only lizard in the United States with a prehensile tail.  Some say it is relict species surviving on desert islands like the Chisos from a period before the last ice age when most of the region was covered by a temperate deciduous forests.   Imagine a time when the desert was covered by forests with alligator lizards in the trees.