Hello, I am Jacob Croft, a scientist trained in biology working with the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition. Over the past year I have been working on a project to bring back the black-tailed prairie dog to the El Paso region. Over the past 4 months I have been in contact with many different local, state, and federal organizations trying to find ways to bring back prairie dogs. This has always led to the conversation of why, why the prairie dog, why El Paso and why should we do it now. This is a question that has multiple answers, and therefore it should be important to all of us living in the region. Let us begin with the reason why they are gone and the reason why we should bring them back. First off, we, the human species are the reason why they are gone. In the early 1800s and early 1900s there were three major colonies living in our area. Unfortunately a nation-wide propaganda campaign about needing to poison the prairie dogs or hunt them to give cattle more range to room resulted in mass poisonings throughout the US. During this campaign prairie dogs were extirpated from our region and across 98% of the country.
This leads to the next question. If we removed them there could not have been too much of an impact. Not so, we are clearly seeing today that the prairie dog throughout the US is a keystone species. A keystone species is one where other organisms depend on it for key resources in their ecosystem. In fact, prairie dogs have over 100 other species in the ecosystem that depend on them. Prairie dogs affect plant behaviors and modifications of terrain and old burrows provides homes for other species. They also are an important food source for many apex predators like raptors and endangered black-footed ferrets.
Another reason to bring the prairie dog back is how they impact soil and ground water enrichment. Our desert soils are not forgiving to many plants and are often dry. So how does a prairie dog burrowing into the ground help nutrients? It’s pretty simple, they bring food into their homes to store, they defecate in these burrows and when they eventually die in the burrows, the nutrient enrichment cycle continues. The introduction of all these materials helps to provide nutrients for plants helping to increase the richness of plant communities for generations to come.
Prairie dogs also provide deep burrows which helps ground water penetrate deeper into the ground rather than having rainwater get lost through evaporation in the topsoil.
Now I know that that was a lot to take in, so let us look at what we have done thus far to bring back prairie dogs!
The first thing was to get the project idea on the radar screen of El Paso. I had moved here in December of 2020 and knew I wanted to work in the field of conservation. This quest eventually led me to the zoo and to meet my mentor and fellow Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition member Rick LoBello. Through his guidance and advice I found the passion to take on this big project and that led me to learning about prairie dogs and become an expert on them. While my education in college had given me a good understanding of how ecosystems work, I had to learn specifically what the prairie dogs like, what vegetation needs they have, what soil requirements they have as well as how they interact with each other. This led to reading many papers about prairie dogs and getting in contact with other organizations like the Prairie Dog Coalition and the Humane Society, both of which are based out of Boulder, Colorado. We have a Humane Society in El Paso, but this one in Colorado, has a special individual, Dr. Lindsey Krank, who has been working with prairie dogs for years and has run successful translocation programs. Through her mentorship I was able to get a good idea of how to complete a translocation, what budget would roughly be needed and how to get in contact with people who have completed successful programs in desert environments. This was all positive information I have gained and helped me get the ball rolling. I have also been meeting with other people in the El Paso region who have provided great insight and led me to begin seeking a prairie dog reintroduction site. After combing through many papers about prairie dog towns in Texas and historical towns in El Paso, I have found that there has been records of them on the north side and west side of the Franklin Mountains. These locations where historic prairie dog towns had been are now altered by man made structures making the areas less probable for returning prairie dogs. Visiting these locations did on the other hand give me ideas on where to look for similar habitats.
The most successful conversations I have had come from meetings with the Bureau of Land Management in New Mexico and new talks with Ft. Bliss representatives about the use of Castner Range. One thing is for certain, this is a process that will not happen overnight, but is one that could only bring benefits to the community of El Paso and all the native species that call this place home.
A growing number of people are volunteering with the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition (CDEC). Most are serving on the board of directors, but there are also opportunities to volunteer for specific tasks. Here are a variety of ways you can get involved in support of our mission in educating people about the fascinating Chihuahuan Desert. For more information Contact Us.
–Plan and launch a CDEC Conservation Fund fundraiser
–Lead a guest blog program at chihuahuandesert.org
–Plan and coordinate an interactive program at the El Paso Zoo and Botanical Gardens for our nature club
–Plan and coordinate a social media campaign for one month or more
–Plan and coordinate a photo contest
–Collaborate with the Zoo by helping to promote the wild about art program
–Help to plan a nature bookshop run by volunteers at the Zoo
–Coordinate the next Chihuahuan Desert Conference
–Coordinate a Chihuahuan Desert Conference Network
Earlier this year after reading a number of Facebook posts on the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition group page, I met Ray Aguilar and his friend Nestor Acosta from Juarez on Zoom. Ray and his friends are working to protect the Sierra de Juarez mountain range and other desert mountain areas in northern Chihuahua, Mexico.
Very few people are aware of the biodiversity of the Sierra de Juarez overlooking the city which according to Ray is very vulnerable to urbanization. The mountain range is located within the same Rio Grande Valley as the Franklin Mountains in El Paso and the Organ Mountains in Las Cruces. Unfortunately, expanding developments in the city combined with the impact of the border wall are a major impediment to wildlife corridors that historically connected the mountain ranges.
For the most part the Sierra de Juarez has been abandoned by the Mexican government and today people drop their trash around the area, illegally remove plants and animals that are often sold, drive off road vehicles all over while companies destroy natural resources as they develop the area and use the mountains as one giant dumping ground.
Ray and his group called Defensa De La Sierra de Cuidad Juarez hope to change all that. He often posts pictures of the area’s biodiversity and helps to call attention to other conservation issues threatening the desert mountain region in the Samalayuca Dune Fields area and the Sierra Presidio.
Defensa De La Sierra de Cuidad Juarez wants to distribute as much information as possible on why this region is important to the area while encouraging the government to take all necessary steps to stop the uncontrolled destruction of wildlife habitat. A new website is in development and anyone who wants to help can contact the group by email at Sierradeciudadjuarez@gmail.com or text at 011 52 656 214 4109.
Ray Aguilar Spadefoot Toad – Jasper Nance, Wikimedia Creative Commons Cover and bottom – Simon Foot, Wikimedia Creative Commons
These rare specters are still surviving, perhaps even thriving, since their release in 2018 into the lowlands of the Sacramento Mountains near Alamogordo, New Mexico (90 miles north of El Paso). Forty desert bighorn sheep were released by the New Mexico Game and Fish to reintroduce this native species back into its original habitat. Since then, there have been several additional adults and juveniles seen in the Alamogordo herd, many without collars or markings, indicating recruitment or a growing population in the area. I recently spotted a population of about 12 individuals on US Highway 82 between mile markers 3 and 5 headed to Cloudcroft, NM. Competition and disease from other sheep species as well as over-hunting contributed to the accelerated loss of this unique indigenous species in the area.
The males have large curved horns that can be over three feet long, weigh over 30 pounds with a base circumference of a foot. These horns are used for defense both against predators and for mating-privileges with females. The females’ horns do not curve and are also used in defense and foraging. Their stocky bodies are covered with a tan to a light coffee-colored fur, accentuated with a distinct white rump. When observing the Alamogordo population, I noticed their coloration blended them into the landscape with remarkable precision, but that white hind patch made them easier to locate. My thanks goes out to one of our local game warden that alerted me to their rare presence at this location.
Their unique hooves’ construction provides the elasticity and buoyancy to scale the side of cliffs that seem to have no footholds at all, at least from a human perspective. They seem to defy gravity in their graceful ascents up sheer cliff faces without even a second thought of the possibility of falling. I can see how this adaptation has given them the advantage to avoid their natural predators such as mountain lions and coyotes. Having spent many years in the harsh heat of the desert during the summers conducting my own research on turtles, I can’t help but think that this ability to scale mountains may also help with their access to water, shade, cooler elevations and deft navigation of the harsh terrain. Other adaptations to their desert environment include being able to get some of their water from plants and enduring short stints of dehydration.
The U.S. populations had been declining and even were extirpated or locally extinct in areas from Texas to Utah until the 1960’s when conservation measures such as captive breeding programs and translocations helped bring the populations back into existence. In Texas reintroduction efforts were also made in the Sierra Diablo Mountains, Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area and Black Gap Wildlife Management Area. The numbers have been restored enough that limited hunting licenses are now offered. The money raised from these tags go back into conservation efforts specifically for the desert bighorn sheep.
Most individuals are released with GPS tracking collars, so wildlife biologists are able to determine their movements, herd behaviors and survival rates. Scientists also study population trends using visual counts using binoculars or aerial surveys by helicopter. Other types of data are collected from tracks, scat or droppings, and identifying areas where animals bed-down. Genetic information is collected from either capturing the animals and collecting blood samples or can be extracted from the scat, hair or carcasses. This article is dedicated to three Texas Parks and Wildlife Department employees who lost their life in a 2020 helicopter accident while contributing to these conservation efforts. I personally thank you, Dr. Bob, for sharing your expertise when the wildlife needed your help. You have left a lasting legacy.
17th Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta September 25-26, 2021
Updated June 11, 2021
Once again it’s going to be a very different Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta this year. Day One will be at the El Paso Zoo on Saturday, September 25, 2021 and Day Two will be at Franklin Mountains State Park, Tom Mays Unit on the west side of El Paso off of Loop 375.
The El Paso Water Utility is urging us to “water less, reports the El Paso Inc in a cover story this weekend (April 18-24). That is apparently the first acknowledgment in the English media of the coming water woes and the proposed remedy in El Paso. Irrigation water will not be available until May 28, and even that will not be a full delivery.
El Diario by contrast has reported that the irrigation situation and the totally dry Rio Grande, nearly to Albuquerque, has resulted in stringent watering restrictions in Las Cruces (just 40 miles up the riverbed) and Albuquerque. And in Chihuahua state, public meetings are being convened to discuss the drought and what to do. Farmers are desperate. The US owes Mexico water under the nearly century-old treaty, but it’s hard to deliver what you don’t have.
Sadly, if not surprisingly, there is essentially no discussion of options other than reduced watering in El Chuco. But let’s reflect on what we may need to consider if the drought is not just a “short-term” problem.
First, the irrigation water is used for some 2000 farms in El Paso County, with some 20,000 acres of pecan groves (most of which are quite young). Some of the farming is for local-origin crops, such as chiles; but much is dedicated to crops such as cotton and alfalfa. Both use high levels of water, and cotton is heavily subsidized by taxpayers (giving it an unfair advantage over cotton produced in places that cannot afford such subsidies). Pecans are of course delicious, and are highly sought after on the international market – but again, the manner of their cultivation here uses substantial amounts of water – and worse, all this water is still delivered in open irrigation ditches (many other societies In arid climates have learned to cover these canals, and even to cover them with solar panels). As the grip of the drought gets tighter, somewhere down the road there surely must be some conversation…and some creative policy-making…to reduce the water impact of our farms and groves.
Second, another factor in water use here is the number of people who need water for their homes and businesses. This is a mountain desert and will never be able to supply generous quantities of water to ever-expanding development. The power of the developers has led to a cityscape well over twenty miles wide and there appears to be no interest in any discussion as to when or where the sprawl should stop. How many people can live in this desert? (The sprawl has other consequence; for example, as it grows, the ability of the public transportation system to provide frequent and convenient service declines.)
Third, resort to the saline underground water via the desal plant is not a permanent solution. Eventually all that water will be gone…and that aquifer is shared by Mexico! (The El Paso Times current water news reports that a company is planning to obtain minerals from the brine at the desal plant, and the remaining water will be treated and sold to the city’s water utility. How much water or how long this process might last remains unknown.)
As we watch the skies for rainclouds, it’s important to consider that this may not be just a bad year! (One friend says the dumbest thing he bought last year was a rain gauge.) City and County leaders should be joining with environmental groups to have honest discussions about where we are and where we may be going – and what we can do to mitigate the effects of this drought.
Meantime, put a bucket in your shower and capture some otherwise lost water for your garden!
Photos Water bucket by Michael, Wikimedia Creative Commons Pecan trees by Angi English, Wikimedia Creative Commons
A Big Bend Rio Bravo Transboundary Protected Area, originally called Big Bend International Park, was first proposed to the US Government by Albert William Dorgan (1887-1985), of Castolon, Texas (in Big Bend National Park) who wrote a letter to Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes–with a brief and a plan for the establishment of an international park on the Rio Grande. The first U.S. and Mexico agreement in support of that proposal was signed at a joint international meeting in El Paso, Texas on November 24, 1935.
In a letter to His Excellency General Manual Avila Camacho, President of the United Mexican States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote “I do not believe that this undertaking in the Big Bend (referring to the establishment of Big Bend National Park) will be complete until the entire park area in this region on both sides of the Rio Grande forms one great international park.”
President Barack Obama signed a statement with Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon, in 2012, expressing interest in realizing FDR’s dream, but at this time there are no plans by either country to establish an international park . President Roosevelt envisioned that such a protected area would become a permanent monument and symbol of peace between the US and Mexico and a meeting ground where the people of both countries and citizens from all parts of the world could come together to learn about each other’s culture while coming to a better understand the natural world that they all share.
Creating a giant protected area would help both countries better address key issues such as water and air quality, control of invasive species, wildlife protection and management of wildland fire.
Over the past 33 years I have been working with a variety of people and organizations who support international conservation along our border with Mexico on a plan to establish an international protected area in the Big Bend region. As of today no one has been able to successfully come up with a road map on how to best to make the original proposal happen. For such an area to become a reality the US and Mexico governments would need to designate lands currently protected by the National Park Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife and Comisíon Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas as one giant Big Bend Rio Bravo international protected area. Both countries would retain their national sovereignty over all lands within their protected areas and each land management agency would continue to manage lands as authorized by each government. If a road map can be found and implemented by both governments the establishment of such a protected area would become one of the greatest conservation achievements in North America since the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872.
The combined area would be managed using the successful model of cooperation at Waterton Glacier International Park on the US Canada border with each protected area managed and protected under their respective national legislative frameworks. Guiding principles would be established relating to natural and cultural resource management, visitor use and interpretation, science and research and relations with peoples living in the area, reflecting strong cooperation among the property managers. Management plans and their associated goals and objectives should be periodically reviewed and updated with all stakeholders.
The Boquillas International Crossing between the Big Bend National Park and Boquillas, Coahuila should be remain the sole crossing within the national park and no bridge should be built in Big Bend National Park. International bridges built or reopened in the future such as La Linda Bridge north of Big Bend National Park, should be considered.
One possible next step to establish this now 86-plus-year proposal would be for both countries to agree to a internationally recognized transboundary conservation agreement such as a International Biosphere Reserve designated by UNESCO. Legislation would not be required since the lands that could be included already have protected status. Over the past few years the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition has been advocating to help and an advisory committee is now being put together to move the proposal forward.
Eight protected areas could be included in any transboundary conservation designation. Each has distinctive climate, physiographic setting, mountain-desert interface and significant scenic values with abundant and diverse flora and fauna.
1.Big Bend National Park, Texas 801,163 acres 2.Maderas del Carmen Protected Area, Coahuila 520,000 acres 3.Ocampo Natural Protected Area, Coahuila Area 826,000 acres 4.Cañón de Santa Elena Protected Area, Chihuahua 511,508 acres 5.Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas 311,000-acre 6.Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, Texas 54,000 acres 7.Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River (196 mile portion of Rio Grande) 8.Monumento Río Bravo del Norte in México (300 mile portion of Rio Grande)
Total Size of Proposed Big Bend Rio Bravo Binational Natural Area – 3,023,671 acres / 4,724 square miles of contiguous parks and protected areas. For comparison Waterton Glacier International Park is 1,130,788 acres (1,766 square miles).
Just the Facts
Big Bend Rio Bravo International Designation: Frequently Asked Questions
Why is this effort important? 1- An international designation that could enhance the protection of the Big Bend Rio Bravo region would help to call attention to the importance of collaboratively protecting the entire Big Bend and adjoining areas in Coahuila and Chihuahua and their fragile environments from development projects. Protecting this fragile desert mountain region and its wildlife and culture is important to the quality of life of people who live there and to ecotourism which is important to the economy of both countries. 2- An international designation would help the people of both countries build stronger partnerships along the US Mexico border. 3 – An international designation would be an example of how our governments and citizens can pursue through cooperation and collaboration a great humanitarian project that celebrates the border region and helps both countries improve their perceptions of what a border is and what a border can be.
If lands on both sides of the border in the US and Mexico are protected why is there a need for an international designation? An international designation would send a message to the people of both countries and the world that the entire region is an important conservation area worthy of care and support from citizens of both countries. If the federal governments of both countries would come together and recognize the value of declaring the entire region an international protected area, it would not only help not only help conserve the area, but also help to boost the economy on both sides of the border through ecotourism. Promoting the economy would have the added benefit of helping with the socio-economic needs of many impoverished people living in and near the area.
How wouldinternationally protected area be managed? The world’s first international protected area at Waterton Glacier International Park on the U.S. and Canada border is a perfect model for a Big Bend Rio Bravo internationally protected area. Border security requires that international travelers have all required documents as they cross into either country. Both countries retain their own sovereignty and both parks are administered separately.
Park managers work jointly on many issues, such as search and rescue, publications, ranger-led activities, exotic weed management, wildlife issues, research projects and native plant restoration.
Will a Big Bend Rio Bravo international designation require a bridge in Big Bend National Park?
The establishment of international protected area would not require new international bridges and crossings or that new lands be acquired. Current land-management practices in both countries would not have to change.
Why is an international designation important to protecting this area? An international designation would help both countries better address key issues such as water and air quality, control of invasive species, wildlife protection and management of wildland fire. The area would become a permanent monument and symbol of peace between the U.S. and Mexico, one that will celebrate the friendship between the two countries and be a meeting ground where the people of both countries and citizens from all parts of the world could come together to learn about each other’s culture while coming to better understand the natural world that they all share.
Big Bend International Park Historical Timeline
June 18, 1932 Governments of Canada and the United States of America proclaimed Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park, together, as the world’s first International Peace Park. In response to post World War I efforts to promote world peace, Rotarians from Montana(US) and Alberta (Canada) played an instrumental role in convincing their governments to create the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the world’s first international peace park.
October 8, 1934Albert William Dorgan (1887-1985), of Castolon, Texas (in Big Bend National Park) writes to Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes–with a brief and plan for the establishment of an international park on the Rio Grande. Dorgan becomes the first person to ever ask the federal government to establish a park in the Big Bend district of Texas.
February 16, 1935 Texas Senator Morris Sheppard writes a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt suggesting a park of international scope in the Big Bend area.
February 16, 1935 Senator Morris Sheppard (D-TX), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, writes a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt suggesting a park of international scope in the Big Bend area. Sheppard also mails two additional letters to National Park Service Director Arno Cammerer and Secretary of State Cordell Hull, and provides them with copies of the letter he mailed to Roosevelt. On four of his typewritten letters, he changes “national” park by hand to read “international” park in Big Bend–including his letter to President Roosevelt. These letters document the first time that Texas asked for a federal park project in what is today Big Bend National Park.
October 5 and November 24, 1935 Meetings were held in El Paso, Texas between officials of the Mexican and United States governments at which time the International Park project was discussed and a temporary joint park commission established. The first U.S. and Mexico International Park Agreement were signed on November 24.
February 8, 1936 Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, with the approval of the President, established a formal commission to meet with officials of the Mexican Commission to formulate policies and plans for the establishment and development of International Parks, forest preserves, and wildlife refuges and the International Boundary with final recommendations of the joint commission to be submitted to both governments for consideration and approval.
February 17-25, 1936 The joint commission met at Alpine, Texas and inspected the area in Mexico, entering through Boquillas and spending several days in the Sierra del Carmen, the Fronteriza range, and inspecting some of the adjacent villages. They then returned to the United States and drove to Castolon, visiting San Carlos and other nearby points.
November 6-9, 1936 Another meeting was held in El Paso by the joint commission and other interested parties and citizens. The east and the west boundaries of the proposed International Park on the international line were agreed upon at that time. Markers were established at these points in 1937 by the United States Boundary and Stream Commission. The western point is just below Lajitas, the eastern point is just above Stillwell Crossing. The Mexican Government approved the location of these markers.
April 28, 1940 Article published in the Daily Oklahoman describes efforts to create international park with the headline “While Europe Fights, Mexico and America Plan Peace Park.”
October 12, 1940 The Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Protection in the Western Hemisphere was signed to promote conservation between the United States and Mexico.
1941 The U.S. section of the joint commission was changed and Mr. M.R. Tillotson, Regional Director, of the National Park Service at Santa Fe, New Mexico, was designated as chairman.
1942 The Mexican government also reconstituted their section of the International Commission.
June, 1942 Mr. Tillotson and others went to Mexico City to discuss the project with the new Commission members, but did not achieve much as the Mexican members were not familiar with the situation.
WORLD WAR II INTERVENED, AND NOTHING FURTHER WAS ATTEMPTED UNTIL THE PROJECT WAS REVIVED IN 1944.
June 12, 1944 Big Bend National Park was officially established by the U.S. Congress.
October 24, 1944 President Franklin D. Roosevelt writes a letter to His Excellency General Manual Avila Camacho, President of the United Mexican States. He states that “I do not believe that this undertaking in the Big Bend (referring to the establishment of Big Bend National Park) will be complete until the entire park area in this region on both sides of the Rio Grande forms one great international park.”
November 30, 1944 President Camacho responds to President Roosevelt’s letter. In his letter he agrees with Roosevelts and states that he has instructed the Department of Foreign Relations and that of Agriculture and Formento to pursue as actively as is suitable studies that would lead to the creation of the Mexican Section of the said Park.
January 16, 1945 The Director of the National Park Service writes to the State Department, “referring to the proposed international peace park in the Big Bend section of Texas and suggested that the subject be kept alive through discussions with proper Mexican officials.”
January 30, 1945 The State Department requests the American Embassy in Mexico City “to inquire, and inform the Department…regarding any steps which the Mexican authorities may plan to take or have taken to carry out President Camacho’s special instructions regarding studies looking towards the establishment of a Mexican National Park adjacent to the Big Bend National Park.”
March 5, 1945 U.S. Chief of Lands, Conrad Wirth, writes a letter to Dr. H.W. Morelock, President of Sul Ross College in Alpine concerning progress on the international park. He states that “the National Park Service can do little more than keep in touch with the Mexican officials indirectly by occasional letter, which is not an effective means of making substantial progress in the Big Bend situation. Your contacts, and the contacts of Mr. Burgess and others, with the Mexican people appear to us to be far more constructive than anything we might undertake at this time.”
April 1945 A meeting sponsored by the Chihuahua Chamber of Commerce is held in Chihuahua “for the purpose of advancing the Mexican national park project adjoining the Big Bend National Park. This meeting is attended by Regional Director Tillotson of the National Park Service and Superintendent Ross Maxwell of Big Bend National Park.
April 12, 1945 Death of Franklin D. Roosevelt
April 16, 1945 Letter to George Collins of the National Park Service in Chicago from William Vogt, Chief, Conservation Section, Pan American Union, Washington states that “the biggest obstacle in rounding out the Big Bend area is, at the present of course, the total lack of interest on the part of the Minister of Agriculture (Mexico) in whose jurisdiction the Parks fall.”
April 18, 1946 President Truman wrote President Camacho of Mexico inquiring about the results of the investigation the Mexican Government was to make on Big Bend International Park and urging the establishment of the international park.
December 6, 1948 Hillory A. Tolson, Assistant Director of the National Park Service, speaks with the Department of State regarding “Proposed Mexican decrees establishing parks adjacent to the Big Bend National Park and Coronado International Memorial.” The State Department cautioned Tolson that “in the event that American interests should be expropriated in these areas it would be more difficult the negotiations which would probably result” and advised that “we would be glad to discuss the matter further in a meeting with Mr. Tolson.”
1946 President Manual Avila Camacho’s term as President of Mexico ends.
May 30, 31 and June 1, 1950 “El Universal” daily newspaper in Mexico City published articles urging the creation of the “International Park of Friendly Nations.”
1981-1986 Big Bend National Park Superintendent Gil Lusk initiated a long-term plan of friendship and communication on the grassroots level between the park and the border region in Mexico. Heads of State were taken on Rio Grande float trips and Mexican park managers were trained at Big Bend.
August 14, 1983 An agreement between the United Mexican States and the United States of America on Cooperation for the Protection and Improvement of the Environment in the Border Area was signed.
1986-1990 Big Bend National Park Superintendent Jim Carrico continued the Lusk initiative with closely with Coahuila Governor Eliseo Mendoza Berrueto.
October 14, 1988 Coahuila Governor Eliseo Mendoza Berrueto leads a group of staff members, private landowners, Mexican biologists and U.S. government officials on a trip into the Maderas del Carmen to inspect part of the area to be protected by the Mexican government across the border from Big Bend.
October 17, 1988 An agreement of understanding between the National Park Service and the State of Coahuila was signed by Governor Eliseo Mendoza Berrueto, NPS Regional Director John Cook and Superintendent Jim Carrico. The agreement espoused cooperation between the two countries in research and preservation of the shared environment along the border. A similar agreement was later signed with the state of Chihuahua.
May 5, 1995 Delegates attending an International Good Neighbor Council Spring Convention in Saltillo, Coahuila adopt a resolution urging both the U.S. and Mexican governments to move forward in creating an international park in the Big Bend region.
July, 1996, Big Bend Superintendent Jose Cisneros escorted a party of American and Mexican natural-resource officials to the international peace park at Waterton Lakes-Glacier National Park, on the border between Montana and Alberta. Writing three years later in the magazine Environment, Cisneros and his chief of interpretation and visitors services, Valerie J. Naylor, concluded that “the group was impressed with the international peace park designation and with the collaboration between the two parks.” Cisneros, his American colleagues, and the Mexican officials left Waterton-Glacier after four days of study believing that “such a relationship was possible in the Big Bend region.” In February 1997, Mexico’s SEMARNAP sent to the U.S. Department of the Interior “a proposal for the establishment of protected natural areas of bi-national ecosystems in the Big Bend area.” This region then would become the model for other shared park sites on the Mexican-United States border. (From Big Bend National Park Administrative History, Chapter 18, npshistory.com)
January, 1997 – At the invitation of Rotarian Rick LoBello National Park Service U.S. Mexico Affairs Director Howard Ness presented program to the Carlsbad Rotary Club on binational efforts to create an International Park in the Big Bend National Park area. During his presentation he told the story of the July, 1996 to Waterton Lakes Glacier National Park led by Big Bend Superintendent Jose Cisneros who escorted a party of American and Mexican natural-resource officials to the international peace park and how Rotarians played a key role in the establishment of the park. On July 4 and 5 Rotarians passed the following resolution – “Therefore , be it resolved , that the proper authorities be petitioned to commence negotiations to establish the two parks indicated as a permanent International Peace Park which shall be definitely set aside for this laudable purpose.”
March 11, 1997 – Carlsbad Rotary Club approves a resolution urging the U.S. and Mexico to see international park project to completion and that the park be designated a “Rotary International Peace Park.”
May 3, 1997 – District 5520 Conference in El Paso approves resolution encouraging government officials in the US and Mexico to see the original 1935 proposed Peace Park to completion.
May 5, 1997 – Letter of Intent between the Department of the Interior (DOI, US) and the Secretariat of the Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries (SEMARNAP, Mexico) for joint work in natural protected areas signed in Mexico City during President Clinton’s visit with President Zedillo. Agreement specifically called for increased cooperation in the wildlife protection areas in Mexico of Maderas del Carmen in Coahuila and Canon de Santa Elena in Chihuahua, and the adjacent protected area in the United States at Big Bend National Park in Texas.
September 12, 1997 At a Bi-District meeting in Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, Rotary International Districts 5520, USA and 4110, and Mexico adopted at Statement of Mutual Cooperation supporting the creation of a Rotary International Peace Park in the Big Bend area of West Texas and Northern Mexico. Since 1997 nine current and past District Governors from both Districts 5520 and 4110 have been working with the Presidents and members of clubs from both sides of the border to help with the peace park. Past Rotary International (RI) Vice President Sonny Brown with the help of Past RI President Jim Lacy and RI President-Elect Frank Devlyn from Mexico City have all actively shown their support.
November 29, 1997 Rotary District 5510 Governors (current, 1 past and two governors elect) met in Las Cruces and established a Steering Committee to enable better planning, focus and communication in regard to the creation of a Rotary International Peace Park.
December 1997-February 1998 – Carlsbad Museum (NM) displays new Peace Park exhibit featuring District 5520/4110 initiative.
February 8, 1998 – District 5520/4110 Peace Park Educational Initiative organizational meeting held in Las Cruces, NM.
April 1, 1998 – District 4110 published special report distributed at District Conference in Juarez entitled “Parque Rotario Internacional de la Paz.” New bilingual exhibit displayed during the meeting attended by nearly 1000 Rotarians from Mexico. Most Rotarians ask “how can I help?”
May 1, 1998 – District 5520 publishes special report distributed at District Conference in Ruidoso entitled “Rotarians in the U.S. and Mexico rekindle dream of an International Peace Park.” Peace Park Committee presents special program on the project and unveils new exhibit.
June 18, 1998 – Art Graff speaks to the Rotary Club of Fort Stockton, Texas.
June 16, 1998 – Art Graff speaks to the Rotary Club of Marfa, Texas.
June 4, 1998 – Art Graff, President of Rotary Club of Alpine, Texas begins series of presentations on the Peace Park with a presentation to his Alpine Club.
June-August, 1998 – Peace Park Exhibit displayed at Chamizal National Memorial Visitor Center and gallery in El Paso.
July 11, 1998 – Second meeting of the District 5520/4410 new committee held at Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso.
August 11, 1998 – Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, President of Mexico, writes letter to District 5520 Governor Robert Wootten saying that he was pleased to learn about District 5520/4110 efforts to create a Peace Park including the historic meeting to dedicate the effort at Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso.
August 15, 1998 – District 5520/4110 committee meeting held in Juarez at the Pueblito Mexicano.
August 21, 1998 – In a letter to District 5520 Director of the National Park Service Robert Stanton states that Rotary can play a key role in the effort to create an international park by doing much of the ground work needed to develop the political consensus necessary to garner support for Congressional legislation.
August 25, 1998 – Art Graff speaks to the Rotary Club of Van Horn.
October 7, 1998 – In a letter to District 5520 Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs of the Department of Interior, Brooks B. Yeager, welcomes Rotary as a partner in helping the DOI develop a strong program for technical exchange and cooperation with the Government of Mexico under the Letter of Intent signed on May 5, 1997.
October 27 1998 – Art Graff speaks to the Rotary Club of Del Rio, Texas.
September 18, 1998 – National Park Service U.S. Mexico Affairs Director Howard Ness attends 18th Border Liaison Mechanism Meeting and discusses Rotary’s efforts to create the Peace Park with several U.S. and Mexican participants. The proposal was enthusiastically received.
On November 7, 1998 – Rotary District 5520 (New Mexico and West Texas)/4110 (Chihuahua, Coahuila, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas and Durango) Rotary Peace International Peace Park Dedication Ceremony was held at Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso. Dignitaries in attendance included Rotary International President James L. Lacy, Superintendent of Big Bend National Park Jose Cisneros, Lic. Enrique Provencio Durazno, Presidente Institute Naciional de Ecologia, SEMARNAP, Dr. Glen Coulter of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park Association and Mayor of El Paso Carlos Ramirez.
November 9, 1998 – District 5520/4110 Peace Park Committee members join nearly 60 other conservationists, biologists, government officials, and landowners from the United States and Mexico to discuss cooperation in the management of joint resources in protected areas along the Texas-Mexico border in Big Bend.
November 9, 1998 At a Bi-District dedication ceremony at Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas, attended by government officials from the U.S. and Mexico and Rotary International President Jim Lacy, over 400 Rotarians from both Districts 5520 and 4110 joined hands in officially dedicating Rotary’s long-term commitment to the creation of the International Peace Park.
February 27, 1999 – Rotarians present program on Peace Park at a board meeting of the Friends of Big Bend National Park at Big Bend National Park.
March 8, 1999 – Rotary International President-Elect (2000-2001) Frank Devlyn of Mexico City addresses District 4110 in Juarez offering his continued support for the District 5520/4110 effort to promote the creation of a Peace Park. At the meeting speaks about the project with members of the Juarez media.
March 30, 1999 – Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club proclaims support for District 5520/4110 Peace Park efforts.
April 1, 1999 – 12 page feature article, “Uniting La Frontera” in April issue of Environment magazine reports on Rotary efforts and other important information on ongoing efforts to Establish a Transboundary Park.
April 1, 1999 – Letter from Andrew Sansom, Executive Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department offers support for Rotary Peace Park efforts and reports that new exhibits at the Big Bend Ranch State Park promote binational cooperation at every opportunity.
April 10, 1999 – Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt (US), Minister Julia Carabias (Mexico) and World Wildlife Fund President Kathryn Fuller join Big Bend National Park Staff and staff of the Maderas del Carmen and Canon de Santa Elena protected areas on a tour of the proposed Peace Park protected areas on both sides of the border. Big Bend Superintendent Jose Cisneros reports on Rotary Peace Park proposal.
April 11, 1999 – District 5520/4110 Peace Park Committee Meeting, El Paso, Texas.
April 16, 1999 – Lic. Leonor Ortiz Monasterio, Coordinator for Civil Matters at the National Palace in Mexico City, writes letter of support for Peace Park to Civil Ambassador Rosario Green Macias, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Mexico.
May 4, 1999 – Friends of Big Bend National Park offers support for District 5520/4110 Peace Park efforts.
May 22, 1999 – Multi-Media program on the Peace Park project presented to Rotarians attending District 5520 Conference in Silver City, New Mexico.
June 3, 1999 – Peace Park article published in the Alpine Avalanche.
June 28, 1999 – El Paso Zoological Society offers support for District 5520/4110 Peace Park efforts.
July 20, 1999 – Embassador Miguel Ruiz Cabanas, Ministry of Foreign Relations, Mexico writes letter of to District 5520/4110 Committee stating that the Peace Park proposal has been sent to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Natural Resources and Fishery (SEMARNAP).
August 6, 1999 – Peace Park was topic of discussion on KROD Radio Program, El Paso.
August 21, 1999 – District 5520/4110 Peace Park Committee Meeting, Juarez, Chihuahua.
August 11, 1999 – Letter from John E. Cook, Intermountain Regional Director on the National Park Service on behalf of Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt encourages Rotary International to continue its important advocacy role and to develop the political and diplomatic consensus that is required to establish such an international park.
August 18, 1999 – National Park Historian Dr. Michael Welsh addresses the Carlsbad Rotary Club and praises Rotarians for their efforts to help complete the 70 year effort to establish a Peace Park.
September 19, 1999 – Letter to the Editor on Peace Park published in El Paso Inc.
September 24, 1999 – Rotarians have a phone conference on the park with Congressman Silvestre Reyes at the office of Sonny Brown in El Paso. Congressman Reyes supports the effort to create the park.
September 25, 1999 – “Peace Across the Border” featured in the Sunday Living Section of the Carlsbad Current Argus.
September 26, 1999 – Letter to the Editor on Peace Park published in the El Paso Times.
April 6, 2000 – Rick LoBello presents a paper on the Status of the US Mexico International Park in Texas and Northern Mexico at the AZA 2000 Western Regional Conference sponsored by the El Paso Zoo, Texas
September 11, 2001 – United States Attacked by Terrorists in New York City and Washington, DC
August 2, 2002 – Ernesto Enkerlin, Presidente, Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (Mexico) informs Rick LoBello at a World Wildlife Fund sponsored meeting in Chihuahua City, Chihuahua that Mexico is interested in moving forward with discussions to establish an international park in the Big Bend area.
March 28, 2003 – Rotarians in El Paso meet with park officials from Big Bend and adjacent protected areas in Mexico at the University of Texas in El Paso to discuss a proposed International Park Conference to help move the project forward.
January, 2004 – Big Bend National Park Superintendent John Kings meets with Regional Director Steve Martin in Austin, Texas. At the meeting they address formulating a position paper on the international park and King meets with Texas Governor Perry’s staff who state that the “Governor is upset with Mexico over water allocation issues and is not favorable disposed to working with them on things until such time as the water dispute is cleared up.”
March 23, 2006 – US and Mexico sign Sister Parks NPS-CONANP Agreement setting the framework for increased cooperation on the US. Mexico border. This designation is considered by many to be a a first step towards formalizing a long-standing informal partnership that could eventually lead to a more formal, legislated type of designation.
October 26, 2006 – The Secure Fence Act of 2006 was enacted October 26, 2006 in the United States. The act allows for over 700 miles (1,100 km) of double-reinforced fence to be built along the border with Mexico across cities and deserts alike in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
July 9, 2007 – Big Bend Superintendent Bill Wellman writes Rick LoBello at ILovePark.com the following: ‘An international park is certainly a good idea. As you well know, it has been discussed for many years and most likely will one day be a reality. It is a concept that the National Park Service continues to support. However, with the current national debate over border security and immigration, I fear you may have a difficult task resurrecting the project at this time. We do wish you well with your efforts.
July 10, 2007 – Congressman Ciro Rodriguez presents House Resolution 483 recognizing the 63rd Anniversary of Big Bend National Park, established on June 12, 1944. The resolution states that “Together with two Mexican protected areas, Big Bend is now part of the largest transboundary protected areas in North America, serving as a model for international cooperation.”
July 19, 2007 – Texas Senator Elliot Shapleigh sends Congressman Ciro Rodriguez a letter in support of the international park.
January 23, 2008 – Hundreds of people in Presidio and Brewster County protest Homeland Security’s plans to build a US/Mexico Border wall.
March 1, 2008 – In McAllen, Texas on the campaign trail President Candidate Barack Obama in speaking about the border fence/wall says that he “has no desire to pursue a costly and ineffective project.”
March 31, 2009 – Alfonso Martinez calls Rick LoBello at ILoveParks.com informing him that he and others with the Museo Maderas Del Carmen in Monterrey, Mexico are working with the Governor of Coahuila on a presentation in support of the international park when President Calderon meets President Obama in mid-April.
July 29, 2009 – Congressman Ciro Rodriquez of Texas introduced H.Res.695 – “supporting an international park between Big Bend National Park in the United States and the protected areas of the Coahuila and Chihuahua States across the border in Mexico.” The non-binding resolution resolves, “that the House of Representatives supports an international park between Bend National Park in the United States and the protected areas of the Coahuila and Chihuahua States across the border in Mexico; and Requests that the President in conjunction with the Secretaries of Homeland Security, Interior, and State discuss with Mexico and study the probability of designating an international park.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
August 10, 2009 – The El Paso County Commissioners approved a resolution supporting the international park.
August 31, 2009 – The City of El Paso City Council approved a resolution supporting the international park and Congressman Rodriquez’s H- Res 695.
May 19, 2010 – At a meeting at the White House Presidents Obama and Calderon noted the long history of bilateral cooperation in the conservation of natural and cultural resources. They recognized that Big Bend National Park and Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River in the United States and the Protected Areas of Maderas del Carmen, Cañon de Santa Elena, Ocampo, and Río Bravo del Norte in Mexico together comprise one of the largest and most significant ecological complexes in North America. In doing so, they recognized that increased cooperation in these protected areas would restrict development and enhance security in the region and within this fragile desert ecosystem. To preserve this region of extraordinary biological diversity, they expressed their support for the United States Department of Interior and the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources of the United Mexican States to work through appropriate national processes to recognize and designate Big Bend – Rio Bravo as a natural area of binational interest. The Presidents underscored their commitment to manage the region in a way that enhances security and protects these areas for wildlife preservation, ecosystem restoration, climate change adaptation, wildland fire management, and invasive species control.
October 24, 2011 – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Mexican Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada today announced a working plan that identifies the next steps for the continued coordination between the two countries in the protection and preservation of the transnational Big Bend/Rio Bravo region – North America’s largest and most diverse desert ecosystem.
June, 2013 – Big Bend Gazette publishes Op-Ed by Rick LoBello “Big Bend Rio Bravo International Park.”
April 19, 2013 – Rick LoBello met with Congressman Beto O’Rourke (TX-16) and staff in El Paso asking for his support. Congressman O’Rourke helps to set up a meeting between Rick and Congressman Gallego. O’Rourke offers to help anyway he can such as in communications with Homeland Security if Gallego takes the lead.
June 7, 2013 – Rick LoBello met with Congressman Pete Gallego and requests his help in creating legislation to establish a US Mexico International Park in the Big Bend National Park and Northern Mexico region. Gallego offers his support and advises that it will be important to get the support of Senator Cronyn and Senator Cruz.
June 16, 2013 – The El Paso Times publishes an Op-Ed “Rick LoBello: International park project needs a push for completion.
July 8, 2013 – Rick LoBello met with El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar and briefed her on his meeting with Congressman Gallego regarding the Big Bend Rio Bravo International Park effort.
August 1, 2013 – El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar hosts a meeting with Rick LoBello and Senator Cronyn’s Regional staff to brief them on efforts to create a Big Bend Rio Bravo International Park.
September, 2013 – El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar helps to arrange for UTEP intern Nikolas F. Tineo to assist Rick LoBello in conducting research on US Department of the Interior guidelines for an international park.
November 15, 2013 – Rick LoBello presents a Celebration of Our Mountains presentation at the Westside Regional Command Center in El Paso entitled “Big Bend – Rio Bravo International Park.” The presentation focused on the history of the park and how a giant US Mexico international park in the Big Bend would help both countries better address key issues such as protection of water and air quality, control of invasive species, and management of wildland fire.
January 15, 2014 – A previously unknown collection of 34 letters mailed to Albert William Dorgan (1887-1985) in Castolon, Texas, is discovered in North Carolina. Dorgan was the first man to ever petition Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes to establish an international peace park on the Rio Grande.
July 14, 2014 – The Department of State central decimal files related to the National Park Service, Big Bend National Park, and the international park project along the Rio Grande are located in the National Archives. These records span 1935 to 1949 and significant alter the known timeline of the international park history.
October 28, 2015 – Greater Big Bend Coalition launches new website making the establishment of Big Bend International Park a top priority.
November 17, 2015 – El Paso Sierra Club Group sponsors presentation by Jason Abrams of Forgotten Frontiers entitled “Rare photos and State Department documents to be revealed at Sierra Club presentation”
November 18, 2015 – Superintendent F. Gus Sanchez helped to recognize the 80th anniversary of the signing of the first U.S. and Mexico international park agreement signed in El Paso on November 24, 1935. The presentation will include a video portrait of the proposed Big Bend International Park at Big Bend National Park and adjacent areas in Mexico. Over the past 80 years United States and Mexican government officials have met in El Paso to discuss the proposal that many people in both countries hope will be established in the near future.
January 15, 2016 – Rick LoBello met with Congressman Beto O’Rourke and his staff in El Paso and presented a briefing on the status of the international park.
January 23, 2016 – Greater Big Bend Coalition core committee met in El Paso, Texas to discuss a strategic plan to help establish a Big Bend International Park in cooperation with the El Paso Sierra Club group, elected officials in Washington, DC and all interested stakeholders.
August 22, 2016 – Rick LoBello briefed David Anderson, Rotary District 5520 Governor asking for his support in creating a Bi-District Committee to help complete the park.
September 4, 2017 – In order to help Big Bend National Park explore the possibility of creating a transboundary biosphere reserve with the Maderas del Carmen Biosphere Reserve in Mexico the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition (CDEC) proposed to assist the Big Bend Biosphere Reserve with the full cooperation of the National Park Service in increasing stakeholder awareness of Biosphere Reserves in the surrounding West Texas region and adjacent northern Mexico. Funding is not available at this time to launch this initiative. For more information contact Rick LoBello at email@example.com.
With the help of partner organizations including the City of El Paso Zoo, El Paso Sierra Club Group, El Paso Community College, University of Texas at El Paso, Frontera Land Alliance, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Chamizal National Memorial, Davis Mountains State Park and the Greater Big Bend Coalition CDEC wanted to focus on the following four objectives that were included in a 2016 Periodic Review for Biosphere Reserves
Create an Advisory Committee for the Big Bend Biosphere Reserve that establishes new collaborative partnerships to further the biosphere’s connection and engagement with the broad range of stakeholders and the general public.
Raise awareness of the incredible biodiversity of the Big Bend Biosphere Reserve so that people know they are living, working, and recreating in a biosphere reserve that connects people with nature and culture in a global context.
Explore the opportunities for the creation of a Transboundary Biosphere Reserve with Maderas del Carmen Biosphere Reserve (Mexico) and the Big Bend Biosphere Reserve.
Promote public understanding of the reserve through developmental efforts that include a reserve webpage, updated communication and branding, and local community engagement in the partnership and cooperation zones (U.S. and Mexico).
September 7, 2016 – Greater Big Bend Coalition with support from the Nature Conservancy in Mexico City sent a letter to Big Bend National Park Superintendent Cindy Ott-Jones asking for support of a Big Bend Rio Bravo Binational Natural Area designation before President Obama leaves office. El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar and Texas Senator Jose Rodriquez both send letters to Ott-Jones in support of the proposal.
September 1, 2017 – The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition and Big Bend National Park seek funding for a Big Bend Biosphere Reserve Community Engagement Program. Big Bend National Park was designated by UNESCO in 1976 to help protect the Chihuahuan Desert ecoregion. On September 22, 2016 in a Periodic Review for Biosphere Reserves MABICC expressed concerns about Big Bend Biosphere Reserve’s development function. The ICC recommended that Big Bend show local communities’ involvement in activities promoting sustainable development. The ICC further recommended that U.S. authorities explore the possibility of creating a transboundary biosphere reserve with the Maderas del Carmen Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, as Big Bend is part of a cluster of an international area of huge conservation interest.
In order to help Big Bend National Park address these concerns the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition (CDEC) proposed to assist the Big Bend Biosphere Reserve with the full cooperation of the National Park Service in increasing stakeholder awareness of Biosphere Reserves in the surrounding West Texas region and adjacent northern Mexico. With the help of partner organizations including the City of El Paso Zoo, El Paso Sierra Club Group, El Paso Community College, University of Texas at El Paso, Frontera Land Alliance, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Chamizal National Memorial, Davis Mountains State Park and the Greater Big Bend Coalition CDEC wanted to focus on the following four objectives included in the 2016 in a Periodic Review for Biosphere Reserves MAB-ICC report.
1. Create an Advisory Committee for the Big Bend Biosphere Reserve that establishes new collaborative partnerships to further the biosphere’s connection and engagement with the broad range of stakeholders and the general public.
2. Raise awareness of the incredible biodiversity of the Big Bend Biosphere Reserve so that people know they are living, working, and recreating in a biosphere reserve that connects people with nature and culture in a global context.
3. Explore the opportunities for the creation of a Transboundary Biosphere Reserve with Maderas del Carmen Biosphere Reserve (Mexico) and the Big Bend Biosphere Reserve.
4. Promote public understanding of the reserve through developmental efforts that include a reserve webpage, updated communication and branding, and local community engagement in the partnership and cooperation zones (U.S. and Mexico).
April 10, 2018 – The El Paso Zoo sent Rick LoBello to Austin, Texas to meet with the Director, Ben Masters and Producer, Hillary Pierce of the 2019 Documentary The River and the Wall. LoBello briefed the group including members of the cast on everything he knows about the international park effort and was interviewed on video.
July 20, 2018 – Landscape Architecture Magazine publishes an article highlighting the history of the international park and recent efforts to propose an international Transboundary Preserve with UNESCO.
March 14, 2019 – The New York Times published an opinion piece by Dan W. Reicher – Forget Trump’s Border Wall. Let’s Build F.D.R.’s International Park.
February 2, 2021 – Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition reaffirmed its commitment to help launch a second attempt in cooperation with the National Park Service to help with the following goals for an international Biosphere designation in the Big Bend region.
(1). Conduct a process of outreach and engagement around enhancing the health and well-being of people, communities and the environment in the Biosphere Reserve transboundary area. A foundation of trust and mutual understanding that community well-being and environmental health are inseparable is necessary before establishing goals of a transboundary biosphere reserve or an organizational structure to achieve them. The key to that process will be developing relationships and a strong rapport with public and private entities and their members and stakeholders. In order to find common ground on a vision for the biosphere reserve, positive feedback as well as any negative misconceptions must be addressed in an open, transparent dialogue.
People living and working in the transboundary area need to ask themselves questions and come up with answers on how to plan for the future so that both people and nature can thrive, and realize that the things we want to do in maintaining our quality of life, we can do forever. In other words how can we live sustainably? The Biosphere Reserve and the Maderas del Carmen as a Biosphere Reserve should work on shared values with local people resulting in a plan to ensure a sustainable future.
(2). Create an Advisory group for the Big Bend Biosphere Reserve that establishes new collaborative partnerships to further the recognition of the biosphere reserve’s potential with stakeholders and the public. . The Mammoth Cave Local Advisory Council and cooperative agreement between the Barren River Area Development District, Western Kentucky University and Mammoth Cave NP offer an example of how to create the organizational structure. Informed by the community outreach and engagement process, raise awareness of the incredible biodiversity of the Big Bend Biosphere Reserve and how the biosphere reserve can forward the goals of the region. Establish this collaborative group to develop and conduct a communication strategy so that people know they are living, working, and recreating in a biosphere reserve that connects people with nature and culture in the local, binational and global contexts.
(3). Explore the opportunities for the creation of a Transboundary Biosphere Reserve with Maderas del Carmen Biosphere Reserve (Mexico) and the Big Bend Biosphere Reserve.
(4). Promote public understanding of the reserve through developmental efforts that include a reserve webpage, updated communication and branding, and local community engagement in the partnership and cooperation zones (U.S. and Mexico).
The existing foundation of transboundary cooperation should be noted. Over the years Big Bend National Park has established cooperative agreements with protected areas in Mexico through Sister Park relationships. Working with the three protected areas the park cooperates with Mexico in species monitoring, water quality monitoring, invasive species removal and training in firefighting and management. The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition hopes to move forward with this proposal in working with the park and the entities noted above. Anyone wishing to help can contact CDEC from its website at chihuahuandesert.org
Special thanks to Jason Abrams and Forgotten Frontiers for his help with updates to this timeline.
Less than 200 yards from my office I am often reminded of one of the most important missing links in the Chihuahuan Desert ecoregion. An apex predator often thought of as a symbol of wilderness, the Mexican wolf or lobo (Canis lupus baileyi), has been systematically eradicated from the landscape. Because of conflicts with the ranching industry wolves that historically were living in harmony with the natural environment were no match for wolf hunters and trappers until they no longer remained.
In the minds of many people here in Texas and other states, its ok for wolves to live in Zoos, but not ok for wolves to live in the wild where they survived for thousands of years before the coming of the European settler. It’s also important that we not blame the extinction of the wolf in Texas solely on the ranching industry. Everyone who eats meat is contributing in a small way by supporting agricultural practices that are not always managed in the best interest of the ecosystem, something that few of us think about.
Prior to moving to El Paso I was active in wolf restoration efforts in Texas during the 1990s when the Mexican Wolf Coalition of Texas with the support of state and national environmental groups tried to convince government officials to bring back the wolf to the Big Bend area. Big Bend National Park and adjacent state park and wildlife management lands were established to protect the natural environment and livestock ranching on those lands were no longer present. To many the idea of bringing back the wolf to these large protected areas made a lot of sense and efforts were already underway to return the wolf to national parks like Yellowstone National Park. With the endorsement of political leaders like the Governor Richardson of Texas, the proposal gained a lot of media attention. In the end stakeholders were not fully engaged in supporting the effort and interest in helping wolves return to the Big Bend turned to other areas of the country like Arizona and New Mexico.
Prior to the war against the wolf that started in the 1800s and continues to this day, wolves once roamed a large area of West Texas including the Davis Mountains region and the Big Bend region. Unlike the Mexican black bear that was able to naturally reinhabit Big Bend National Park from the adjacent mountains in Mexico after being extirpated during the early 1900s, wolf extermination efforts on both sides of the border resulted in the extinction of the wolf about the same time it was declared endangered on March 11, 1967. The last two wolves known in Texas were killed 50 years ago in 1970 when one was shot on the Cathedral Mountain Ranch south of Alpine and another trapped on the Joe Neal Brown Ranch located at the point where Brewster, Pecos, and Terrell counties meet. Fortunately for the wolf, a population of perhaps less than a hundred wolves remained in northern Mexico.
Today thanks to conservation agencies in Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico, wolves in the region are increasing and the combined wild population is estimated at around 200 animals. Here in Texas many believe that suitable habitat remains on both private and public lands. Unfortunately, the State of Texas and the US Fish and Wildlife Service do not have plans to reintroduce wolves to Texas and there have been no measurable efforts to gain stakeholder support or to work on a restoration plan to return them to the Chihuahuan Desert ecoregion. Wildlife officials often quote a Texas Parks and Wildlife Code which states that no one can release a wolf in the State which makes it illegal for anyone to release wolves into the wild, but there is no indication that the code was enacted to prevent wildlife officials from undertaking such a conservation effort in the future.
Hope for the future – new Texas land buyers are committed to protecting the natural environment
On August 8, 1986 in a letter to Regional Director Michael Spear of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Executive Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Charles Travis summarized his opposition to returning the wolf in Texas by saying “there is already a history of conflict between stockman and the federal government in both of these areas (Guadalupe Mountains and Big Bend National Parks) concerning mountain lions that appear to range out of the park and kill stock on surrounding land. It is unlikely that Mexican wolves would be viewed any differently and these areas have limited suitability for that reason.”
Thirty-four years later are Travis’s arguments in opposing wolf restoration still valid? Perhaps not, many of the large landowners who opposed predators like wolves and mountain lions are no longer with us or have sold their land. A number of people are now buying up large parcels of land because they love the idea of owning large open spaces and want to help protect the environment. The King Land and Water real estate company refers to these lands as conservation real estate. On their website they describe large areas like this as “special lands for buyers committed to being good stewards of them. These properties frequently feature unique forms of flora and fauna, compelling live water resources, and, often, stunning, one-of-a-kind views.”
A growing number of people believe that wolves are not as polarizing to landowners in West Texas as they were 50 years ago. Former Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director Andrew Samson stated that he agreed that “the character of private landownership has fundamentally changed and that chances are good that some of the new landowners would have a different perspective on wolf conservation” than was the case years ago.
So what is the big problem?
Then what is the big problem with bringing the wolf back to Texas today? There are large areas of habitat on public and private lands for sure, but in places like Austin, Texas where the headquarters of Texas Parks and Wildlife is located, there simply is not the political will. Just the other day a respected government official told me that there is support among many biologists in Texas, but if anyone ever tries to bring up the subject they would get shot. Is hatred for the wolf really that intense in Texas? In some circles yes, but in reality there are thousands of Texans living across the state who support conserving the environment and all its parts, including wolves.
So how do we get State and Federal government officials to come to the table to start a conversation on the subject with all the stakeholders? Wolves are being returned to the wild in Mexico and could someday cross the border into Texas like black bears have for years. If that were to happen wolves would be protected by the Endangered Species Act and then the state of Texas would have little to say about it.
Last year the US Fish and Wildlife Service solicited comments from the general public on a Notice of Intent to prepare a supplement to an environmental impact statement for the Mexican wolf. I took the opportunity to outline what I think would be good next steps for a possible wolf reintroduction program in Texas and stated the following:
I have been advocating for the reintroduction of the wolf to Texas since 1978 when my friend Roy McBride invited me to his ranch to see one of the wild wolves he caught in Mexico for the captive breeding program. You may have seen a video of that day on YouTube. The 8mm footage was included in two documentaries on the Mexican wolf, “The Gray Area: Wolves of the Southwest” and the “Right to be Wild”.
I am a member of the Sierra Club in El Paso where we have gathered with the support of the El Paso Zoo over 20,000 hard copies of letters sent to Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Carter Smith and each of the ten TPWD Commissioners asking that they support a plan to return the wolf to Texas. They have disrespected the people of our City by not responding to any of our communications.
We hope that the US Fish and Wildlife Service will help us convince Texas to support putting Texas back on the conservation radar screen for a wolf reintroduction project. Areas believed to have sufficient prey base to support a small population of wolves, pending a comprehensive reintroduction study, include Guadalupe Mountains National Park and surrounding National Forest and BLM lands, protected lands in the Davis Mountains and the Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park areas.
Many of these areas are currently under tremendous ecological pressure from exotic species like feral hogs and aoudads. Bringing back the wolf to Texas could help control these species much more economically than methods like helicopter hunts currently being used by Texas Parks and Wildlife. Wolves can also be controlled to stay away from livestock areas using satellite tracking.
The Next Step for Wolves in Texas
The next step for the wolf in Texas is to assemble a team of biologists to survey habitat in West Texas that can support wolves. During this survey the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife should meet with stakeholders who raise livestock near these areas to help identify livestock safe zones. Livestock safe zones are land areas where wolves will not be allowed to live. Buffer zones will be identified as wolf management zones where wolves may roam, but if they stay in these areas and do not move back to wolf reserves, they would be removed from the wild. After meeting with stakeholders and identifying potential habitat, the USFW and TPWD should assemble a team of satellite tracking experts to put together a plan to monitor and control wolves with satellite collars that can inject wolves with tranquilizers if they move away from reintroduction areas.
Let’s hope for the sake of wilderness and the future of humanity that the wolf will be given the chance to reclaim its rightful role in the Chihuahuan Desert.
The reintroduction of the wolf will be a polarizing issue in West Texas for years to come. But in the years since wolves vanished, some of the best wolf habitat in Brewster and Jeff Davis Counties has evolved into something quite different: many large areas of the rugged desert mountain island country are now more dependent on tourism than on ranching. The value of wolves to Texas may not just be ecological in nature; it could have a huge economic impact. Ask the people connected to wolf ecotourism in Yellowstone where visitors who come to Yellowstone to see wolves contribute roughly $35.5 million annually to the regional economy. Imagine the return of the “Grand Opera of Texas” to the dark skies of Texas. Imagine the return of the gray wolf.
Photo credits: Top , Rick LoBello Third from top, Chad Horwedel, Wikimedia Creative Common Bottom, Don Burkett
Unfortunately prairie dogs in North America have declined by 95%. Two species, the Mexican prairie dog and the Utah prairie dog are endangered, yet prairie dogs are still being poisoned and colonies destroyed. Sometime within the past 50 years they were eradicated from El Paso County. Is there anyway we can change that and bring them back? Perhaps, over the past few months I have talked to a number of people in El Paso who are interested in helping to make that happen.
Today there are some small black-tailed prairie dog towns near the outskirts of the county in parts of West Texas and Southern New Mexico. According to recent reports on iNaturalist prairie dogs may still survive on private lands near Cornudas, Texas along the highway to Carlsbad Caverns. About five years ago I was able to document prairie dogs surviving in very small numbers on Otero Mesa in New Mexico about twenty miles north of Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site. There are also other areas in West Texas where they are found on private ranches including an area protected by the Nature Conservancy north of Marathon, Texas. Unfortunately it is very difficult to find prairie dogs near El Paso so any effort to help bring them back would be a big plus for our community and could help boost ecotourism.
There was a time when you could see prairie dogs within the city limits of El Paso. Now that most of the area has been developed are there any places with good habitat where they could be reintroduced? To help answer that question I am in touch with several researchers who have conducted studies on prairie dog restoration efforts at the Borderlands Research Institute at Sul Ross State University in Alpine. El Paso’s Urban Biologist working for Texas Parks and Wildlife is also interested in helping as well are others who are involved in habitat restoration and conservation efforts in our area.
The current vision for the project is to identify an area of at least 15 acres with potential prairie dog habitat and then to seek funding to relocate prairie dogs from other areas of Texas. If we are successful we will be able to help bring back an important part of our natural heritage while enhancing our quality of life and El Paso’s natural biodiversity.
If you would like to help feel free to contact me using our contact form.
Learn about what can happen next and how the proposal could impact major problems both countries are facing with climate change, the border wall, conservation of rare and endangered species, immigration, the economy and US Mexico relations. To join the public meeting click this Zoom link on November 19 at 4pm Mountain Time. Sponsored by the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition, advocating for conservation education in the northern Chihuahuan Desert Region since 2004.
Meeting ID: 856 1772 6222 Passcode: CDEC2020 One tap mobile +13462487799,,85617726222# US (Houston) +12532158782,,85617726222# US (Tacoma)
On October 24, 1944 in a letter to His Excellency General Manual Avila Camacho, President of the United Mexican States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote “I do not believe that this undertaking in the Big Bend (referring to the establishment of Big Bend National Park) will be complete until the entire park area in this region on both sides of the Rio Grande forms one great international park.” Today most people who support the proposal talk about a transboundary protected area since Mexico does not have national parks like we have in the United States.
Today the proposal is still just a thought with no serious plans by either government to complete Roosevelt’s dream for both countries. El Paso Zoo Education Curator Rick LoBello has been advocating for the project since 1988 when he was invited by the then Governor of Coahuila Mexico to visit the Mexican side of the proposed park region on an expedition with National Park and Texas Parks and Wildlife officials. In 1997 he enlisted the support of Rotary International and a year later hundreds of Rotarians from the US and Mexico gathered at Chamizal National Memorial for an international meeting where they dedicated their efforts to see the project though completion. Unfortunately Rotary was not successful in keeping the project on the international radar screen and we are where we are today.
At a meeting in Juarez in 1999 LoBello was encouraged by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and later in a letter via National Park Service Inter-Mountain Regional Director John Cook to continue advocacy efforts and to develop the political and diplomatic consensus that is required to establish the transboundary protected area. To see a historical timeline on the effort from 1932-2019 click here.