Monday, November 24, 2014

Good morning.  I have been updating my take action page at  If you want to suggest additions to this section please let me know.  The site also has a new a slide show featuring some of my favorite wildlife pictures over the past year.  Here is the Coahuilan box turtle, the only box turtle that I know of anywhere that swims under water.   Most of the land turtles and tortoises in North America like the desert box turtle here in El Paso are land dwellers only.  

The Coahuilan box turtle is from Cuatro CiĆ©negas Biosphere Reserve in Coahuila, Mexico, an endangered habitat in the Chihuahuan Desert.  This endangered species spends 90% of its time in the water and is threatened because of wetland habitat loss.
The Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute has a podcast about this area at

The El Paso Zoo is planning a new exhibit for Coahuilan box turtles scheduled to open next summer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Texas Water Captains

Not long ago I was contacted by the Rev. Sam Brannon from the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy. I forget how he got my name but he thought that I would be someone interested in their Water Captains Program and help it get going here in El Paso. He was correct.

In brief, the program is a means to promote water conservation around Texas and to involve local people directly in the decision-making of regional planning groups and indirectly in the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). On that Board are a whopping three members from Brownsville, Austin and Beaumont. (None from West Texas.) They were all appointed by outgoing (finally) Gov. Rick Perry which should tell you a lot. The membership on the Region E (which includes El Paso) Planning Group is a bit deeper. A list of that group's voting members can be found HERE. Non-voting members are HERE.

The Texas Water Development Board has extensive responsibilities and power. They collect the data from regional water plans and formulate the Texas State Water Plan every 5 years. With the passage of Proposition 2 - the State Water Implementation Fund, the Board's influence over Texas water policy dramatically increased. Proposition 2 formed SWIFT by taking $2 Billion from the State's rainy day fund (how ironic) to be loaned out for water projects. I voted against this proposition because I saw it trying to conserve water the wrong way - more big holes and concrete dams around the Lone Star State - money in the pockets of huge corporate contractors for the most part. With Perry's three member board administering the fund, you know that the voices of just local folk are going to be muted which was the case when the TWDB had a work session in El Paso in May. That's where the Water Captains program comes in.

What is ingenious about the program is that it harnesses the power of local faith-based communities to disseminate information about water conservation and to find regional "armies" of folk who can help shape regional water planning. Nine of us met with Sam yesterday at the Columban Mission Center (MAP) to learn more about the program. We plan to meet there again on December 16th at Noon. If you are interested, please contact me at Our goal is to get ready for a visit to the next Regional Water Planning Group meeting to be held in Alpine, Texas on Thursday, Februrary 12, 2015 at 1:30 PM. 

One doesn't have to be a member of a faith-based community to get involved. At our meeting yesterday I knew that there was one person who was not such a member but nevertheless has an extensive network of "just folk" whose voices should be heard. However, working through faith groups can be very powerful. I have often wondered how those of us interested in the environment and conservation in El Paso can best get our message to El Pasoans as a whole. Water Captains may be an excellent template.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sign and Share the Petition against Fracking next to El Paso

Map taken from El Paso Inc., Searching for Shale Oil in Hudspeth County, Edgar Gonzalez, graphic artist. Note that the "prospect" is just over the hill literally from Hueco Tanks. Click on the image to enlarge.

Of the 172,000 acres Torchlight Energy Resources has leased for fracking in Hudspeth County next to El Paso, most of the land is owned by the University of Texas System. Click on the image to enlarge. 

Stop Fracking next to El Paso, Texas

Sign and Share the Petition

Fracking endangers the health, safety and welfare of people, pollutes the air and ground, results in rising crime and social and medical costs, utterly destroys ecosystems and permanently contaminates underground aquifers with toxic compounds and consumes billions of gallons of water. Yet, just a few minutes away from the city limits of El Paso, Texas a major metropolitan area of 675,000 people, and a few miles from the farming community of Dell City, Texas, the University of Texas System has leased over a hundred thousand acres to Torchlight Energy Resources, Inc. for the sole purpose of fracking. Torchlight Energy says that it may drill up to as many as 2500 wells on this area immediately east of El Paso called the Diablo Plateau which, with the Otero Mesa in New Mexico, forms a rich ecosystem of plants and animals. Torchlight Energy Resources must not drill there. The University of Texas Lands System must not allow them.

Please sign and share this petition.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

So what happened?

Yesterday by a vote of 6-1 OSAB recommended to City Council that the 10% of the stormwater fee for open space/stormwater projects be diverted to immediate flood control projects. Two points: the key words in the recommendation (and in the Mayor's proposal) are "up to $3.2 million". That is the amount that, under the current stormwater fee, will be collected over the next two years for open space. In our conversations with the Mayor and again at yesterday's OSAB meeting, I wanted to make it clear that we were only talking about the $3.2 million and not more revenue expected because the stormwater fee is most certainly going to be raised. The Mayor was on hand to give his presentation (a first as far as I know for a Mayor to come to the Board) and he personally stated that his request was for what will be collected in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 under the current rate. The rest he assured us goes into the open space coffers. 

The second point is this: much of what OSAB has sought to preserve as natural open space with stormwater function has now closed or soon will close. There is money on hand. Making this so is largely the result of EPWU attorney Lupe Cuellar's efforts for which she is to be showered with kudos. Here is her report from yesterday:

Click on the icon with the 4 arrows at bottom right to enlarge and scroll.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Open Space Moratorium Makes Sense

At its stormwater budget review meeting last night, the PSB recommended raising the stormwater fee by 8% over the next several years. Mayor Leeser proposed that for the years 2015-2017, that portion of stormwater fees that goes to the purchase of open space be diverted to other flood prevention projects which have become immediate priorities following the recent September rainstorms flooding. Identified projects include Fairbanks, the Diana Ditch and the Fort Bliss Slump. You can read more about these proposals in today's Times story.

I first became aware of the Mayor's proposal at an October 22 meeting. He invited Charlie Wakeem, Rick Bonart, Richard Teschner and myself to meet with him and Rep. Niland to discuss their proposal and get our feedback. Initially he was proposing a 5-year moratorium. With feedback from EPWU officials and ourselves, the 2-year proposal seemed more appropriate. We met again as a group on November 3rd. The proposal comes up tomorrow at the 3 PM meeting of OSAB of which I am a member. The meeting is held in the Trost Conference Room in the basement of the City 3 Building, 801 Texas Avenue. MAP

I have had reservations about the proposal all along. I was mainly concerned about the impact that it might have on future open space funding. However, I had decided to vote for it on OSAB because I had given my word to the Mayor and he and I agreed that we were only discussing a difference in how one does their arithmetic with the money - not the sum.

Although I could not attend last night's budget review meeting, Charlie Wakeem did. He reported to me this morning that he felt very positive about supporting the Mayor's proposal. What he reported to me also removed doubts in my mind. Here is what he said in an email to me and others just a little while ago:


"Attached is the Open Space portion of the Storm Water Workshop presentation.  As Jim said, he and I both struggled with the proposal to support suspending the 10% for open space for 2 years.  I wanted assurances on 3 things before I could make up my mind, (1) A guarantee that the 10% suspension would last only 2 years with no extensions, (2) that the $3 million [$3.2 million] would be used for immediate public safety needs, and (3) and most importantly, that Lupe has sufficient funds to complete the open space acquisitions on the current OSAB list.

"I went to the Storm Water Workshop Monday evening with an open mind. After Marcella's [Navarrete] presentation I decided to support the mayor's proposal for the 2 year suspension.  The third slide shows the status of the open space acquisitions. It's the slide that convinced me not to oppose the 2 year suspension.  This is a good way to show the community that we want what's best for the city and not ourselves.


Here is the presentation from last night's meeting:

Charlie got the assurances that he was looking for and now so have I. I will vote for the Mayor's proposal tomorrow at OSAB.

Kudos to Mayor Leeser for an inclusive leadership style.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Celebration of Our Mountains, Special Desert Program, 7:00-9am, Saturday, November 15

by Rick LoBello

One of El Paso’s best kept secrets has been in the works and evolving completely on its own for thousands of years. Not long after the last ice age during the Pleistocene, the climate changed dramatically in this part of North America and the ensuing aridity made way for a desert landscape. Today, biologists call this unique eco-region the Chihuahuan Desert, an area of North America covering the surface of our planet for nearly 400,000 square miles. You and your family and friends can discover it and learn more about this important part of our natural heritage by joining me on a two hour short trip to Franklin Mountains State Park. I will lead a car caravan to the park on Saturday morning, November 15 at 7:00am. The group is limited to 20 people and there is a $2 entry fee to enter the park payable at the entrance station. To reserve your spot call or text 915-217-4233 or send an email to The group will meet at Starbucks, 5550 N. Desert Blvd in west El Paso at 7am and car caravan to Tom May’s Park in northwest El Paso. For a map and more details visit the Celebration of Our Mountains web link by clicking here.

This very easy walking morning discovery will include three major stops in the park at the parking area of the West Cottonwood trailhead, the new bird blind and at the end of the loop road. Participants will receive checklists to some of the more common plants and animals of the area plus a list of Chihuahuan Desert animals that live at the El Paso Zoo.

At the El Paso Zoo where I work you can see many species of animals native to the Chihuahuan Desert. The Zoo is uniquely divided into three major geographic areas, Asia, Africa and the Americas. To find species from our desert be sure to spend time in the Americas area. Some of these species are extremely rare including the critically endangered black-footed ferret that lives in the El Paso Water Utilities Discovery Education Center near the Zoo entrance and the Mexican wolf. Although these species no longer live in the immediate El Paso area, the Mexican wolf is being restored to the Gila Wilderness area of western New Mexico and Arizona about 3 hours to the west. To the south a similar reintroduction effort is underway to restore the black-footed ferret to the prairie dog towns of the Janos grasslands region of northern Chihuahua, Mexico.

Closer to home some of our Chihuahuan Desert species at the Zoo are found in the wilder areas in and around our city including the Western Harris Hawk, Western Cattle Egret, Swainson’s Hawk and the Common Barn Owl.

Our collared peccaries, also called javelinas, live in the area, but are very rare. This pig-like mammal is relatively new to the Franklin Mountains and may be expanding its range from southern New Mexico and parts of West Texas.

Another large mammal can be seen on the road to the Guadalupe Mountains after you pass Hueco Tanks State Park and head towards Carlsbad Caverns. Along the way watch for Mexican pronghorn, a very similar subspecies to the endangered peninsular pronghorns we have living in the Americas Lands Exhibit.

In the Reptile House you can see several species of reptiles and amphibians from the Chihuahuan Desert including a diamond-backed rattlesnake, grey-banded kingsnake, Mexican milksnake, barred tiger salamander, and Woodhouse’s toad.

A stones throw away from the Reptile House the America’s Aviary is also a great place to see some of our Chihuahuan Desert birds. As you walk through the aviary watch for the Roadrunner, Northern Mockingbird, Mourning Dove, and Blue-winged Teal.

I hope to see many of you this Saturday. Dress for the cooler November temperatures and bring plenty of questions.

Golden Eagle at Franklin Mountains State Park.   Visit the El Paso Zoo to learn more about animals that live in our mountains.