About Us

The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition was founded in 2004 at the El Paso Zoo in collaboration with El Paso Water.  CDEC is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization serving as a resource on information about the Chihuahuan Desert and encouraging lifelong learning about the Chihuahuan Desert.  The board of directors and members collaborate with educators and the public.  We want everyone to know what CDEC is doing to help educate others about the Chihuahuan Desert. The Chihuahuan Desert is considered the epicenter of cacti diversity with 318 species of 1500 species worldwide.

2021 Board of Directors

  • Chair, Rick LoBello

    Rick has worked in the field of conservation education since 1973 when he started his career as Zoological Curator at the Kansas City Museum of History and Science. For nearly 25 years he worked as a park ranger and Executive Director at Big Bend, Yellowstone, Guadalupe, and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks. Since coming to work at the El Paso Zoo in 2002, his main goal has been to help people in El Paso connect with the animals that live there and to encourage them to take specific actions in their personal lives to help the zoo with its mission of saving endangered species. The zoo is focused on becoming a leader in promoting sustainability in El Paso.
  • Vice Chair, Vacant
  • Secretary 1, Diane Perez
  • Secretary 2, Amanda Leverett (Nomination status)
  • Treasurer, Robert Vines
    Robert Vines is an engineer who has risen to middle management in 4 Fortune 500 companies.  At retirement Robert was a Plant Manager at Lexmark International, the printer spin-off from IBM.  After retirement he entered a second career as a professional engineer consulting on specialty recycling where he helped set up the world’s largest recycler of laser cartridges. He has a degree in Mechanical Engineering and has maintained a Professional Engineering License along with Certified Purchasing Manager.  He is an avid environmentalist and has been a Texas Master Naturalist for 10 years regularly volunteering in state and local parks.  He has been a frequent speaker at universities and technical conferences on Concurrent Engineering, Design for Manufacturability, and Off Shore Sourcing of Manufacturing.


    Advisory Board

Jason Abrams
Jason Abrams was raised in Miami, Florida and spent countless days camping, hiking, exploring, and training in tropical wilderness survival in theSecretary 1.5 million acres of Everglades National Park. He also camped in the majority of Florida State Parks during his youth and 10 years with the Boy Scouts, South Florida Council, Hurricane District. In 1997 he took a hiatus from his graduate studies in history at the University of Florida to enlist in the charter joint AmeriCorps/Florida Park Service program. He served a second year in the program in 1998 as a team leader. In January 2014, Abrams began extensive sponsored research at the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland regarding efforts to establish a binational park including present-day Big Bend National Park and contiguous lands in the states of Chihuahua and Coahuila. After scanning and photographing thousands of archival documents, including previously unexamined Department of State files on Big Bend National Park, he constructed a timeline of events from 1933 through 1963 regarding obstacles to establishing the binational park. With help from Rick LoBello and the Greater Big Bend Coalition, Abrams gained a greater understanding of post-1963 successes and failures to establish the park and provided invaluable assistance in communicating with current and former National Park Service staff. Abrams holds degrees in history and teaching and hopes to contribute his experience with park management, ecology, history, and education to assist with conservation efforts in both the El Paso area and Big Bend, and the long-term goal of establishing the binational park.

Jacob Croft
Aspiring self-driven conservation and wildlife biologist focusing on maintaining and protecting biodiversity. I am a biological science major from Arizona State University who focused on organismal and ecological biology and will be graduating this summer after the completion of my last class. While completing my education I did several observational projects upon the common blotch lizard and Rio Bosque biodiversity in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I recently moved to the El Paso region and wanted to get involved with the conservation and educational efforts in the area. I have been passionate about wildlife and conservation throughout my life and finally find myself in a position where I can make a difference to the community.

 Vidal Davila

Vidal Davila started working as a seasonal park interpreter in the summer of 1974 at Amistad Recreation Area, Del Rio, Texas.  He has worked in the field of conservation education and natural resource management for most of his 45 years with the National Park Service.  He worked at Amistad Recreation Area, Big Bend National Park, the Regional Office in Santa Fe, NM, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Great Basin National Park, Big Bend National Park ( second time) .  Most of his last 35 years was spent as a Resource Management Specialist at these various parks.  His last assignment was at Wind Cave National Park as Superintendent for the last 12 years of his career.  Vidal retired in December, 2019.  Most of his career was working in the Chihuahuan Desert.  He loves the outdoors and visiting National Park Service areas.

John Fahey
I am interested in Nature and the Environment.I have a long-term interest in Natural Language learning and Technology. I have lived or worked in Madagascar, Japan and Mexico at different times. I was born in Massachusetts and moved with my family to Florida when I was 4, where my father worked as an electronics tech in the Cape Canaveral area supporting the early space program. When I was 15, we moved to Madagascar, where my father worked at the Nasa satellite tracking station and I went to Lycee Technique Industrielle, a French speaking High school for one year. After High School, I worked for the Boston Zoological society from 1971-1974 as a zookeeper at the Franklin Park Children’s zoo and the Stoneham zoo. I lived in San Diego from 1975-1979 and worked a variety of jobs including in a Shipyard, in a health food coop, and in a Spanish speaking music store. I studied Spanish and trained as a Machinist at San Diego City college. In the Summer of 1980, I moved to El Paso, Texas and joined the US Army.  I spent over 3 years as a Pharmacy Tech at Ft. Meade in Maryland. During that 3 years, I started and completed an Associate Degree at Anne Arundel Community College outside of Annapolis, Maryland. After completing 4 years in the US Army, I moved back to El Paso, Texas to begin studying at the University of Texas at El Paso. From the fall of 1984 til the spring of 1989 I studied Biology, Computer Science and Modern languages (Spanish, Mandarin and mostly French). I also worked for a Language school teaching English and Spanish in the US and Mexico. I graduated in 1989 with a BA in French and spent the summer traveling in Europe, France, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, and Spain. I started graduate school in El Paso in the fall of 1989 and began studying linguistics. I took additional Computer Science classes. I also taught English as a Second language part time at the University of Juarez. I left my graduate studies in 1991 and moved to Torrence, California to join a start-up Japanese Computer company called Susteen Inc where we installed Japanese software in Southern California and assembled PC clones for the largest chain of computer stores in Japan. I also spent some time in Tokyo providing computer hardware support and developed an interest in Japanese Language and Culture. In February 1996, I began working at the University of Texas at El Paso as a Macintosh Network Manager in the Liberal Art Center for Instructional Technology (LACIT). I started over again in the graduate Linguistics program, finally receiving my Master’s Degree in Linguistics in 2003.  In 2000, I became director of LACIT and a few years later added an additional role as Technology Implementation Manager for the College of Liberal arts providing support to all the departments and programs in the college of Liberal Arts and coordinating with the main University I.T. department. I retired in the Fall of 2018 and recently became a volunteer in the Teals program with a local High School. I also audit a Russian class and lead two online study classes for French and Japanese. I attended the LangFest in Montreal last August (2019).

Dora Hernandez

Dora Hernandez is a native El Pasoan, who recently returned to the region after living in Washington State for the last 13 years. She graduated from Ysleta High School and received her associate degree at EPCC (El Paso Community College). Her general biology courses would take Dora on several research trips where her interest in science grew. Later, she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science at Washington State University. While in Washington, Dora began to volunteer regularly with the Clark Public Utilities: Stream Team. Her many volunteer hours would eventually lead to a full time position with Clark County Public Works as the Parks and Lands Division-Volunteer Program Coordinator. As coordinator, she built up 3 successful restoration and community stewardship programs: VINE (Vancouver Ivy Near Elimination) Squad, VolunTOUR and the Summer Riverside Cleanup Series. Dora returned to El Paso to be closer to family. She enjoys birding with her husband, gardening and spending time with her mom. She is passionate about environmental issues, helping others connect with nature, and building relationships.

Kendra Jones
I’m a consultant, artist, technologist and researcher based in the Big Bend region since 2015. I’m interested in systems, movement and futures in remote, rural and bi-cultural spaces. My most recent service-oriented work in the area was participating in Leadership Big Bend – an excellent opportunity to understand changing community aspirations hands-on. I’ve studied organizational Leadership at Royal Roads University (Canada) at the graduate level. I have a professional certificate in Innovation and Technology from MIT, and before that, I studied Design at Alberta University of the Arts. I worked on international logistics projects and executive-level communication at Apple, Inc. for a decade. I previously served on the Board of Directors for the American Poster Institute and managed operations for the trustees at Ballroom Marfa – both 501(c)3 non-profit organizations. My professional work focuses on leadership development, strategic foresight, innovation, and creativity. White I don’t have training in ecology, I’m happy to collaborate with people who do! I come from a family that has been active in conservation in the Canadian Rockies and introduced me to elephant conservation in South India. The Chihuahuan Desert is stunning and my time exploring it has been instructive, personally rewarding and transformative. All that is to say, I wholeheartedly support the vision an understand to frame it properly and am happy to help in some capacity. My leadership orientation is based on attention to what is possible, desirable futures and collaboration when addressing challenges.</li>

Amanda Leverett
Amanda Leverett has lived in El Paso for 26 years and has worked at the El Paso Zoo for 25 of those years.  She started as a volunteer at the zoo upon arriving to El Paso and is currently the Africa Collections Supervisor. Amanda loves the Chihuahuan Desert and enjoys hiking with her family and dogs.  Her son, Max, is 15 years old and is currently a sophomore at Franklin High School.  Max is very creative and enjoys cooking, photography, drawing, painting, and 3D rendering.  He also likes to ride his bike on the Lost Dog Trail near their home.strong>

Rick LoBello
Rick has worked in the field of conservation education since 1973 when he started his career as Zoological Curator at the Kansas City Museum of History and Science. For nearly 25 years he worked as a park ranger and Executive Director at Big Bend, Yellowstone, Guadalupe, and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks. Since coming to work at the El Paso Zoo in 2002, his main goal has been to help people in El Paso connect with the animals that live there and to encourage them to take specific actions in their personal lives to help the zoo with its mission of saving endangered species. The zoo is focused on becoming a leader in promoting sustainability in El Paso.

Luis Alan Medina
I am a biologist with experience in evolutionary biology, ecology, and water infrastructure. I have worked in various fields of research, but mostly in public health. Having a diverse background in science has helped me understand the challenges of protecting both wildlife and human evolvement. Water availability and water quality, in particular, are two key issues that I am passionate about. As a research assistant at the local water utility, I’ve been involved in local initiatives for improving the water quality of the Rio Grande and have participated in water infrastructure projects. Through this work, I have interacted with non profit organizations and have recognized their importance for accomplishing environmental projects. A good example is the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, where a combination of stakeholders helped restore native habitats that where largely lost due to channelization of the Rio Grande. As a prospect member of the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition, I look forward to participating in similar conservation efforts and creating opportunities to increase community engagement.</li>

Joe Montisano

Diane Perez

Mark Pumphrey

Carlos Rodriguez

John Sellers
I have long had an interest in the desert reaches of Trans-Pecos Texas and northern Mexico. This has been a lifelong relationship as a result of my family having homesteaded in Dog Canyon, New Mexico on the northern boundary of what is now Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Although my educational background is in environmental water resources engineering, most of my professional life has involved nonprofit and educational pursuits. From 1982 – 1996 I worked for Phillips University and Phillips Theological Seminary in Enid, Oklahoma, managing the university’s Colorado Field Campus and alumni and church relations for the seminary. Our camp was a 20 acre in-holding within Rio Grande National Forest in southern Colorado. Our academic curriculum included a range of 6-week university courses and graduate continuing education for teachers, gifted and talented programs for elementary, middle school, and high school students, as well as Elderhostel programs (now Road Scholars) covering subjects ranging from wilderness techniques to field biology. Following the closure of the university, I served as pastor of local church congregations in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and United Church of Christ in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Montana for 20 years before retiring back to Oklahoma to assist with family transitions. Presently I work part time as an economic assistant with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics as we establish a new statistical sampling area in Lamar County, Texas. I will be fully retired and splitting time between Oklahoma and our property south of Alpine, Texas over the next six months. Over the past 45 years I have made more than 60 week-long trips in the backcountry of Big bend National Park, Maderas del Carmen, la Sierra Rica, Canon del Peguis, Big Bend Ranch State Park and Canon de Santa Elena. I have led Oklahoma Chapter and National Sierra Club outings in the area along with dozens of personal trips. My wife and I made two trips a year, until we moved to Montana, to work in the Albergue Casa Hogar de Ojinaga orphanage assisting with a broad variety of capital and maintenance projects. I have served in state, county, and local elected office; 6 years as Chairman of the Garfield County, Oklahoma Local Emergency Planning Committee, and numerous nonprofit boards. I believe that the Big Bend/Rio Bravo nexus of the montane ecosystems of the southern Rockies and the Chihuahuan Desert environment is one of the most critical and endangered environments in America. While the cultural, historical, and political differences between the United States and Mexico have resulted in radically differing approaches to conservation of land, wildlife and resources. The sky islands of west Texas and northern Chihuahua and Coahuila call for preservation.</li>

Dr. Jennifer Smith

Jennifer Smith, PhD, is currently a professor of both Biology and Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology at New Mexico State University in Alamogordo (2007-present). The Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem has been the subject of her research where she studied the Rio Grande water quality at Sul Ross State University (M.S.) and a rare species of mud turtle in Presidio, County, Texas (Ph.D.). She has engaged students in conservation projects in the region through field work, research projects and hands-on learning experiences in the unique ecosystem of the Chihuahuan Desert. She has received several awards, two of which include the Donald C. Roush Award for Teaching Excellence and the Teaching and Leadership Excellence award from NISOD.

 Robert Vines
Robert Vines is an engineer who has risen to middle management in 4 Fortune 500 companies.  At retirement Robert was a Plant Manager at Lexmark International, the printer spin-off from IBM.  After retirement he entered a second career as a professional engineer consulting on specialty recycling where he helped set up the world’s largest recycler of laser cartridges. He has a degree in Mechanical Engineering and has maintained a Professional Engineering License along with Certified Purchasing Manager.  He is an avid environmentalist and has been a Texas Master Naturalist for 10 years regularly volunteering in state and local parks.  He has been a frequent speaker at universities and technical conferences on Concurrent Engineering, Design for Manufacturability, and Off Shore Sourcing of Manufacturing

Advisory Board members help with special projects and offer advice and assistance as needed.

2019 – Proud Sponsor of the Chihuahuan Desert Conference at the El Paso Zoo
The Chihuahuan Desert Conference at the El Paso Zoo on November 6-8, 2019 will celebrate the opening of the new while bringing together local, state and federal protected area staff, educators and various stakeholders from across the Chihuahuan Desert region.  The goal of the conference will be to facilitate collaboration in the Chihuahuan Desert and to share what we are learning from ongoing research projects, conservation initiatives and educational programs.

2017 – Chihuahuan Desert Certified Habitat Program
The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition encourages residents to landscape with native plants and create backyard habitats that will attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife. These mini habitats, when connected with other natural areas in the neighborhood, can make a real impact in helping wildlife such as birds needing trees to build their nests and butterflies needing nectar from flowers. Backyard habitats landscaped with native plants from our local Chihuahuan Desert also help the community conserve drinking water. Examples of drought tolerant plants include desert willow, yellow bells, acacia, sotol, ocotillo, and wooly butterfly bush.  It’s easy and free to certify your yard as a Desert Certified Habitat.

2015 – Cleveland Square Native Plant Project
This project was funded by the City of El Paso as part of a Think Tank Project that former City Manager Joyce Wilson sponsored in March 2011. El Paso Zoo Education Curator Rick LoBello proposed a El Paso Outside project designed to help El Pasoans share our city with native plants and wildlife in their neighborhoods, local and regional parks, and protected natural areas. Outcomes of the project included a El Paso Outside: A Promise For Future Generations graphics highlighting native plants living at Cleveland Square and a Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition Certified Habitat program.

2010 – Chihuahuan Desert Conference
CDEC sponsored a Chihuahuan Desert Conference A Desert Without Borders on November 13-14, 2010 at the Carlos M. Ramirez TecH2O Water Resource Learning Center in El Paso. The conference was organized by members of CDEC in hopes that a meeting of researchers, educators and members of conservation organizations would help to increase awareness of the research underway in the Chihuahuan Desert. In addition to presentations by Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Carter Smith and Dave Simon, Director of New Mexico State Parks, the conference featured 12 concurrent sessions highlighting up-to-date Chihuahuan Desert Research and Education Projects completed in recent years. A poster session featured other projects followed by an evening social event at the El Paso Zoo.

2004 – First Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta
This year on September 30, 2017 CDEC will help to organize the 13th Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta sponsored by Franklin Mountains State Park. The first fiesta was sponsored by CDEC in September of 2005 and has been the organization’s signature project ever since. The main goal of the event has been to encourage people to connect and learn about and appreciate the Chihuahuan Desert. Educators from across the region offer free presentations and demonstrations designed to introduce the curious to the wonders of our fascinating desert.

The Chihuahuan is the largest desert in North America

It stretches all the way from the southwestern United States deep into the Central Mexican Highlands.

Because of the region’s high altitude – 3,000 to 5,000 feet – winters and nights are cool while summer days can reach temperatures over 100 degrees. Very little rain falls in the area, but underground springs, small streams, and the Rio Grande River provide plants and animals with precious water.

The Chihuahuan Desert’s diverse habitats provide a kaleidoscope of textures and colors that shape its unique landscapes. Mule deer, pronghorn and kit fox roam the vast grasslands of the northern desert. In the desert scrub, roadrunners scurry after earless lizards while golden eagles search among the agave and creosote for blacktailed jackrabbits. But the magnificent landscape is threatened by an ever-increasing human population, water misuse and mismanagement, overgrazing by cattle and goats, and a lack of knowledge regarding the desert’s ecological importance.

Find more information on our Resource page.

Three easy steps you can take to help others in our community learn to share the Chihuahuan Desert with native animals and plants

1. Learn about it. Follow some of our desert links and plan a walk, picnic or drive to see some of the Chihuahuan Desert scenery.

2. Volunteer to help educate others about the desert by joining a local group or by spending 15 minutes or more per week at home helping to reach out to others and develop new content for this website – Contact us

3. Speak out on behalf of the Chihuahuan Desert by talking about a local conservation issue with the media, your representative or at a public meeting like those hosted by your city council or commissioners court.