Plan now to landscape with native plants

ClevelendSq_signs_Torrey Yucca

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.

Make a plan, find a local nursery –click here.


Cutler calls upon the community to get involved in efforts to conserve the Franklin Mountains

Opening Remarks by Scott Cutler of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition at the 15th annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta at the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park.

September 28, 2019

Thank you all for coming to the 15th annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta organized by the Franklin Mountains State Park – a wonderful opportunity to learn more about our Chihuahuan Desert and local groups that help us understand and protect it.

Of equal significance, 2019 represents the 40thanniversary of the Franklin Mountains State Park’s creation. The Franklin Mountains have always been the centerpiece of our city.  As the City began to spread northward around the mountains, citizens began realizing this iconic piece of El Paso might be radically changed if not protected.  This concern came a reality when the owner of much of the Franklin’s bulldozed a road to the top of Mount Franklin. The community rallied together and convinced the City of El Paso and the State of Texas to produce legislation that created the Franklin Mountains State Park in 1979.  This legislation preserved a large portion of the higher elevations of the Franklins and the Park has become a major destination for El Pasoans and visitors from around the world to recreate and immerse themselves in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Forty years on, it is worthwhile to see where we are with the largest urban state park in the continental United States. 

Visitation continues to rise. In 2009 there were 34,996 registered Park.  In 2019 that number was 71,795.  That’s a doubling in visitation over the last 10 years.  As amazing as those numbers are, it is known that many people enter the park and use the trails without registering their visit. It is believed  the real number of people who come into the park is closer to 150,000 per year. 

 A new visitors center is nearing completion.  This will provide an official Park entry point where visitors can ask questions and get assistance in planning their visit.  

The Park now has over 100 miles of trails, providing nearly limitless opportunities to explore the many habitats and vistas within the park.

The Park and the mountains it protects are still the centerpiece of our city and a refuge for all seeking the opportunity to reconnect with nature and enjoy the healthful benefits of being outdoors, whether alone or with friends and family.

While this 40th anniversary of the Park’s founding is significant, and an important historical event, the Park will be here well into the future. So, while we are thrilled with what has happened to this point, we should also look forward to the next 40, 80, 120 years or more.  What might the Park’s and, by extension, the Franklin Mountain’s future look like? Here are a few possibilities.

1.  Without a doubt, park visitation will increase, perhaps doubling again in another ten years.  This will strain existing park resources needed to maintain trails and roads, protect sensitive areas and provide adequate staffing.  The park’s budget must increase to meet these needs.  To this end, it is very important that visitors to the park register their visit.  All funding decisions emanate from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) office in Austin and those decisions are based, in part, on visitation numbers.  The more registered visitors, the better the budget. Perhaps the Park will come up with an app that allows people to sign in electronically from wherever they enter the park.

Another source of funding for FMSP (and other State Parks) are funds generated by the sale of hunting, fishing and camping supplies.  A certain portion of the sales taxes from those purchases is supposed to go to Texas Parks and Wildlife for parks.  We, as tax paying citizens, need to ensure that the Texas Legislature fulfills its duty and directs those funds to TPWD.

2. When the Texas legislature created the Park, the enabling legislation included language that would allow Castner Range (a closed firing range owned by Fort Bliss on the east side of the Franklins) to be added to the Franklin Mountains State Park. Due to concerns about unexploded ordinance, the transfer never happened.  Local groups have worked hard for the past 40 years to find a way to preserve the 7,000 acres remaining.  Perhaps dialog and partnerships will form between the Army, the Park and the community that will lead to this striking landscape preserved in its natural state as park land, fulfilling the original vision put forward four decades ago.

3. Over fifty years ago the City of El Paso purchased upwards of fifty square miles of land around El Paso, many thousands of those acres being part of the Franklin Mountains.  Those mountain lands could provide excellent recreational opportunities for the growing city as well other no-cost environmental benefits.  Maybe a partnership can be formed between the City, El Paso Water, community groups and the State Park to manage those public lands as open space.  This would help conserve our water resources, reduce our City’s impact on climate change, and lower our future tax burden.

4. Volunteers will be able to play a vital role in helping the park function in the future – from manning the visitors center to leading hikes and maintaining trails. Hopefully community members will rise to this need and create a core of volunteer help that allows the park to serve its visitors while protecting the land’s resources.

The Franklin Mountains State Park is a tremendous asset for the City and its residents.  It is here because people in this community, folks just like us, saw the mountain’s value being greatest as open space rather than as developments.  I hope that their vision and tireless work is never forgotten.  As we move towards the half century anniversary of the park and beyond, let us all remember that we, the people, have great power to make change.  

Get involved.  Commit a little of your time to a larger cause like protecting our mountain and the park.  Only through our support, vigilance, time and effort, will the Franklin Mountains and the Franklin Mountains State Park remain the treasured centerpiece of our community forever.

Borderland Jaguars

One of the presentations at the Chihuahuan Desert Conference on November 7 will be entitled Borderland Jaguars – Why There Are Jaguars in Mexico, but Only a Few in the U. S. by Diana Hadley of the Northern Jaguar Project. Formed in 2003 by a small group of dedicated conservationists from the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, the Northern Jaguar Project (NJP) is a binational non-profit dedicated to protecting jaguars and their habitat. NJP is revitalizing the northernmost jaguar population by maintaining a protected core reserve and by working with ranchers, schools, and local communities to promote conservation. They are in the process of expanding, managing, and rehabilitating the Northern Jaguar Reserve to attract and safeguard breeding jaguars and the dozens of rare and sensitive species that live within its boundaries.

A schedule of presentations and posters planned for the conference will be posted on the conference website by October 1. The Pre-registration discount ends on October 1. After that registrationwill continue until October 30.

Fiesta will feature two native wildlife presentations by the El Paso Zoo

Houdini the Harris Hawk with Heather Rivera.11.26.14 013

Heather Rivera, senior Education Specialist at the El Paso Zoo will present Houdini the Harris Hawk and Buckbeak the Swainson’s Hawk on the Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta Stage on Saturday, September 28.   Nearly two dozen environmental groups will be on hand at the fiesta this year presenting family friendly interactive discovery opportunities about the Chihuahuan Desert.

The event is free to the public at Franklin Mountains State Park where most the activities will be held at the end of the loop road at Tom Mays Park from 9am to 3pm.   See the schedule and more – click here.

Tuesday night at the Zoo – Sierra Club lecture on Mexican black bears

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Black Bears in Big Bend National Park especially relish the succulent base of Torrey yuccas and sotol plants.   Photo by Rick LoBello


The El Paso Sierra Club will kick off its 2019-2020 Kevin von Finger Speakers Series at the El Paso Zoo Wildlife Amphitheater on September 24 at 7:00 pm.  The illustrated lecture will be free and open to the public and will feature the story of how Mexican black bears successfully returned to the mountains of Big Bend National Park during the 1980s.  It will be presented by Raymond Skiles, a wildlife biologist from Alpine, Texas.

“The natural recolonization of the black bear to Big Bend National Park from the cross border population in northern Mexico is one of the most important conservation stories in Texas,” said zoo Education Curator Rick LoBello.  Earlier this year the El Paso Zoo piloted a Zoo-Park partnership with Big Bend National Park to coordinate efforts to help conserve black bears in the park after being awarded a $10,000 Winter America’s Keystone Wildlife Grant (AKW). The grant partners zoos with National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges to help America recover the wildlife legacy lost during the fur trade and westward expansion era of the United States.

The lecture series is named in honor of Kevin von Finger, a well-known El Paso naturalist and environmentalist.  The El Paso Zoo will host the first lecture in this year’s new series at the Zoo’s state of the art Wildlife Amphitheater.


Raymond Skiles grew up in Langtry, Texas and recently retired from the National Park Service after over thirty years of service.   While working as the park’s wildlife biologist, Skiles was at the forefront of proactive management, instituting programs to make Big Bend an exemplary “bear park.”




Learning about the Chihuahuan Desert

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

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

Countdown to the Fiesta – 9.28.19


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

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

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

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

Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta Poster 2019 -Final

CDEC renewal underway

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by Rick LoBello, Chair

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

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

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

9 am. Opening welcome and entertainment until 9:30

9:30 – Story telling 

10 am -Zoo animal encounter

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

11-11:30 – entertainment 

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

Noon to 12:30 – entertainment

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

1 to 1:30  -Zoo animal encounter 

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

2 to 2:30  – entertainment

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

Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta Poster 2019 -Final


Local leaders must act

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

by Rick LoBello

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judy’s answer

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

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

You might also contact members of the Open Space Advisory Board:

On Cactus rescue, the leaders are Peter Beste and the El Paso Cactus and Rock Club,  Current president is Paul Hyder.


Only in the Chihuahuan Desert?

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

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.

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

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