Local leaders must act

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

by Rick LoBello

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judy’s answer

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

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

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

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

 

Only in the Chihuahuan Desert?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching Citizen Science in the Chihuahuan Desert

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The elusive alligator lizard

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

by Rick LoBello

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

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

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

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

 

Do you know this boulder?

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This large boulder is along the road to the Aguirre Springs Campground at Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.   Anyone know its geology?  I wonder if it fell off the cliffs in the background and rolled across the desert or if when they made the road they simply moved it out of the way.   Let’s talk Chihuahuan Desert geology.   Please forward this blog to any of your geologist friends out there.

Join for FREE!

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We love our desert and are so excited about how more and more people in El Paso are working together to conserve the natural world around us.   On June 18, 2019 the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition Board of Directors approved a new plan to increase the conservation impact of our organization – FREE MEMBERSHIP.  That’s right, FREE MEMBERSHIP.  We are also working on a new list of projects that anyone with the interest can be involved in support of our efforts.  In the coming years we want to engage thousands of people in support of our mission in serving as a resource on information about the Chihuahuan Desert, encouraging lifelong learning about the Chihuahuan Desert and collaborating efforts among public educators, the public and CDEC.

It’s so easy to join.  All you need to do is fill out our membership application and you are a member.

Ongoing projects include:
-Improving our website at chihuahuandesert.org
-Helping to organize the annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta at Tom Mays Park in September
-Promoting a Certified Habitat program that encourages people to landscape with native Chihuahuan Desert plants

MEMBERSHIP BENEFITS include:
-The good feeling of knowing that you are helping others understand and appreciate our beautiful Chihuahuan Desert
-Invitation to events like Membership Meetings, the Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta and Special Programs

 

 

Celebrating life in the desert

The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition and Franklin Mountains State Park invites you to be a part of the 15th Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta at Tom Mays Park on Saturday, September 28, 2019. We are looking for local organizations to offer interactive educational activities, knowledgeable people to offer guided walks and demonstrations and musical groups and dancers. Sign up today or contact us for more information.