Smart Goal Update

The El Paso Sierra Club Group has five active smart goals at this time.   We hope to report on next steps and progress on these goals in a future blog post.   Smart Goals are:

Specific – The goal should be clearly understood by all stakeholders and the owner of the goal identified.
Measurable – How do we measure and how often.
Achievable – A statement explaining why we think the goal is achievable.
Realistic-Is the goal something that can realistically be achieved and are the resources needed clearly identified?
Timely – Specific Timelines including a description of how the goals are reviewed and how often.

Smart Goal 3
Leader – Laurence Gibson.  Glass Recycling for El Paso.  Get a glass processing machine for El Paso with several drop­ off sites for bottles and other glass.

Smart Goal 4
Leader Rick LoBello.  Return of the Wolf To Texas Educational Initiative.  The Sierra Club will help to put the return of the wolf to Texas back on the conservation radar screen in North America.

Smart Goal 6
Leader Jim Tolbert.  Prevent Future Quarrying Near McKelligon Canyon.  Boundaries between the State Park and the Cemex Quarry near McKelligon Canyon need to be surveyed.

Smart Goal 7
Leader Rick LoBello.  Help establish Big Bend Maderas Del Carmen International Biosphere Reserve.

Smart Goal 8
Leader Neysa Hardin.  Sierra Student Coalition of Americas High School.

What’s in a Hueco?

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A species of Tadpole shrimps (Notostraca) living in temporarily water-filled pools. Length of this specimen: about 2.5 cm / 1 inch (incl. furca of the tail).  by Christian Fischer

What’s in a Hueco? An interpretive hike of aquatic habitats at Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site.

Leader: Liz Walsh, Professor of Biological Sciences, UTEP and National Sierra Club Treasurer & Executive Committee Board Member

Duration: 2 hr

Date: October 15

Time: Meet at Hueco Tanks at 9am

Limit: 10

Join Sierran and UTEP Professor Liz Walsh on a hike to explore aquatic habitats at Hueco Tanks. Liz has been studying life in the huecos and other temporary aquatic habitats at Hueco Tanks for over 20 years. During the hike, we will visit very temporary huecos that are the home to specialized communities of animals including fairy shrimp, tadpole shrimp, waterbears and even an endemic species of rotifer. Liz will explain how these organisms persist during prolonged periods of dessication and exposure to the elements. We will also visit larger temporary waterbodies such as Laguna Prieta where, in addition to fairy and tadpole shrimp, hundreds of species of invertebrates thrive during the wet season. Wear sturdy shoes, bring plenty of water and a snack for this 2 hr hike to North and East Mountain sites.​​

Student group visits Organ Mountains

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Sierra Student Coalition coordinator Neysa Hardin recently led a hike  to the Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks National Monument, one of the 27 national monuments that are under threat of being rescinded by the current administration. With passion and curiosity for nature, biology, history, archeology–the young people who are members of the Sierra Student Coalition deeply care about their national parks and monuments.

It was a great day to be in the mountains. We stand with our public lands!

Quarterly Report

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The El Paso Sierra Club Group is part of the Rio Grande Chapter.   Our chair, Laurence Gibson, recently compiled this quarterly report.

SSC leader Neysa Hardin recently took 25 Americas High School students to Hueco Tanks State Park for solar eclipse viewing.

Vice-Chair Jim Tolbert’s is back on the Excom as vice-chair and program chair. He wants to re-establish regular monthly general meetings, checking with all the single-issue egroups for a clear date, searching for a venue, and beginning to line up speakers through the spring semester. October program will probably be members showing photos from summer outings. Now that he is free of City Council, Jim may resume his crusade to stop Cemex from threatening the Franklin Mountains State Park boundary. A survey is needed, but Parks and Wildlife has no funding, and Cemex no interest!

We have our own website once again at elpasosierraclub.org, thanks to excom member Rick LoBello. Our previous site was shut down by David Van Winkle when he introduced the Sierra Club to the Drupal open source platform several years ago.

Glass recycling in El Paso continues, but on “life-support” as reported by ex-city councilman Tolbert. Reaganomics, with services needing to pay for themselves, is the big problem. New Republican mayor has yet to weigh in. We would like to contact bar owners to pick up their glass but they are contracted out, mosrly with Waste Management. New activist from Austin reports her apartment complex is not allowed to recycle anything. (Waste Management again)

El Paso Zoo Educational Curator Rick LoBello continues efforts to awaken interest in restoring the wolf to Texas with over 4,000 letters from zoo visitors. Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept is now citing a state law, intended for citizens really, that forbids releasing wolves on to the land. It will take research and pressure from large-scale landowners to change the rule. Unlike New Mexico and Arizona, Texas has little public land. Rick is looking for researchers to help with a peer reviewed research project on the feasibility of returning wolves to Texas (ricklobello@gmail.com) . Obviously, this is a long-term project.

Group membership continues to rise, courtesy of the Trump administration. We are approaching 600 members now.

Tell Congress: No Trump Wall!

Help Sierra Club fight back against Trump’s proposal to build expensive, ineffective and environmentally devastating walls!

Walls and barriers have already been constructed across more than 650 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. These barriers block wildlife migration, cause flooding and damage pristine wild lands, including wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and national forests. Sierra Club Borderlands advocates for real solutions, such as comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, that address the root causes of complex border problems.     Act Now

Join the Texas Wolf Pack

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El Paso Sierra Club Group
Return of the Wolf to Texas Education Initiative

The Issue
Historically, Mexican wolves were distributed across portions of the southwestern United States and northern and central Mexico. In the United States, this range included eastern, central, and southern Arizona; southern New Mexico; and western Texas.  Prior to the extinction of Canis lupus baileyi in the wild, the last confirmed sightings of Mexican wolves in the United States were in 1970 when two wolves were trapped and killed in West Texas.  One wolf was documented on the Cathedral Mountain Ranch approximately 17 miles south of Alpine, Texas and 64 miles north of Big Bend National Park (approximately 230 miles southeast of El Paso.  A second wolf was trapped and killed on the Joe Neal Ranch about 10 miles southwest of Sanderson, Texas about 60 miles northeast of the park.

The Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).   At of the end of 2016, the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team counted a minimum of 113 Mexican grey wolves in the wild of New Mexico and Arizona.  The wild population in northern Mexico in early 2016 was estimated to be 19 wolves.  The plan is currently under review and comments are being accepted until August 29, 2017.  Any efforts to restore the wolf to Texas are not included in this plan.

USFWS has never conducted a comprehensive habitat analysis of the West Texas area as a potential site for reintroduction of the wolf.  A 2006 study that looked at strategies for regional reintroductions of wolves in the southwest included a habitat restoration scenario chart projecting that in 2025 the West Texas area just north of Big Bend National Park will have about 70% of the potential for wolf restoration as the state of New Mexico.

Why is the wolf not on the conservation radar screen of Texas?
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department “Reintroduction efforts of captive-bred individuals have been difficult to initiate due to residual fears for livestock and people, as well as a lack of large, remote tracts of suitable habitat.”  TPWD does not provide any scientific data to support their belief that there is no suitable wolf habitat in Texas and Carter Smith, Executive Director of TPWD, has not responded to correspondence asking the department to clarify.  It is the responsibility of TPWD to oversee wildlife restoration efforts in the State of Texas in cooperation with other government agencies.  For example, TPWD is currently helping to restore game fish and pronghorn.

In response to the Southwestern Gray Wolf Management Plan review of December 17, 2012 TPWD stated there are no plans to reintroduce wolves in Texas and that State law prohibits the release of wolves in Texas. Sec. 63.102. WOLVES. (a) No person may possess, transport, receive, or release a live wolf in this state. (5620) (b) Subsection (a) does not apply to the transportation of a wolf by a state or county official while performing an official duty or to the possession or transportation of a wolf by the owner or agent of a licensed circus, zoo, or menagerie for exhibition or scientific purposes. (5621)   The code does not include details explaining if it was written to prevent a private citizen or group from releasing a live wolf. If TPWD and the USFWS agreed to a reintroduction program the law could be amended as it was in the past.

In addressing the possibility of wolves naturally dispersing or wandering into Texas from neighboring areas where wolves have been released, including New Mexico and Mexico, TPWD states that the plan outlines options for dealing with nuisance wolves that might naturally disperse into Texas.  TPWD does not address the possibility of wolves not being nuisance wolves and does not discuss how any wolves that might enter Texas are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

At this time the only hope for wolf restoration in Texas is the possibility of successfully reintroduced wolves in Mexico dispersing into Texas.   According to a USFWS (January 29-30, 2015) email from Jeff Humphrey “if wolf enters Texas from Mexico it would be fully endangered and we would not try to retrieve it”.  On the other hand if a wolf entered Texas from the current recovery area “any Mexican wolves entering Texas, from either Mexico or the U.S. Experimental Population, would be fully protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  As stated in our newly revised rule (under section 10(j) of the ESA), we retain the discretion to collect any Mexican wolves that leave the expanded MWEPA (Arizona & New Mexico).”

When asked about how the USFW would respond if wolves made it into Guadalupe Mountains National Park  Humphrey responded “I’m not certain how we’d proceed if a wolf moves into Texas from Mexico without passing through the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA).  However, we noted in our National Environmental Policy Act NEPA Record of Decision the National Park Service’s intention to require us to seek their permitted approval to remove any Mexican wolves from NPS administered lands. Ultimately, NPS’ and our determination to retain any Mexican wolves dispersing into Guadalupe Mountains National Park would likely hinge on whether sufficient wolf habitat, including sufficient ungulate prey, exists.”

Why is Wolf Restoration Texas Important?
Returning this apex predator will greatly benefit our environment in many ways by helping to maintain the balance of nature and restoring the biodiversity of Texas. For example, scientific studies at Yellowstone National Park where wolves have been carefully monitored since they were reintroduced to the ecosystem nearly 20 years ago clearly show numerous benefits to the environment.

The return of wolves to the wilds of Texas will also help to maintain the current growth of Texas’ dynamic travel and tourism industry and its important contributions to the state economy.  Texas is a premier destination for domestic and international travelers where travel totaled an estimated $70.5 billion in 2014 supporting 630,000 jobs across the state.   Reintroduction of wolves to Texas will positively impact ecotourism in the state and will greatly benefit Texas economically. For example, a study led by University of Montana economist John Duffield showed that visitors who come to Yellowstone to see wolves contribute roughly $35.5 million annually to the regional economy.

Millions of Texans are proud of their natural heritage and want to restore and protect Texas habitat and wildlife.

Join the Texas Wolf Pack today.   Sign up to volunteer by sending a message to ricklobello@gmail.com

Stay informed on facebook at Return of the Wolf to Texas

Castner Range Deserves Monumental Protection

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EL PASO, Texas — El Pasoans know and love Castner Range for its annual display of golden poppies and—together with The Frontera Land Alliance, the El Paso Community Foundation and the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition—have been working and campaigning to protect our Castner Range as a natural open area. El Paso has been seeking to conserve Castner Range since 1971, and now with the help of Congressman Beto O’Rourke we are one more step closer to realizing our community’s vision of a preserved and intact Castner Range National Monument.

Dozens of natural and cultural studies have led to the well-documented identification of a variety of plants, animals and archaeological sites that make the range’s 7,081 open-space acres worthy of protection as a National Monument. Researchers have identified more than forty archaeological and historical sites on the Range including extensive collections of petroglyphs, remnants of failed tin-mining operations, and small stone structures and pottery. A complete listing can be found in the Archaeological and Historical Background Study of Castner Range, now available at http://fronteralandalliance.org/

As of six months ago, more than 35,200 individuals from our city, county, region, state, nation and neighboring country had written letters asking then-President Barack Obama to designate El Paso’s Castner Range as America’s next National Monument.

Today we continue our push. Wording is now making its way through Congress that will strengthen our ability to protect this land. The bill under consideration states that it prevents future development and recognizes the land may not be conveyed to any other governmental, public, or private entity. The bill seeks to conserve and protect the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources of Castner Range.

 

Update-https://medium.com/@RepBetoORourke/defense-bill-recap-b6e85e7a21fa

Returning the wolf to Texas

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by Rick LoBello, ricklobello@gmail.com

Less than a 100 yards from my office at the El Paso Zoo every day I am reminded of one of the most important missing links in the Chihuahuan Desert ecoregion, a wild predator that we all know as a symbol of wilderness and as an important apex predator, the gray wolf or Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi).  Prior to moving to El Paso I was active in wolf restoration efforts in Texas during the 1990s when the Sierra Club and other environmental groups helped to gain public support for the return of wolves to the Southwest at the Apache National Forest of eastern Arizona.   I was greatly encouraged when I was asked to serve on the EXCOM of the El Paso Group that our chair, Laurence Gibson, had Texas wolf restoration on his radar screen.  Early in 2015 the El Paso Group launched a new “Return of the Wolf to Texas Education Initiative.

Prior to the war against the wolf that started in the 1800s and ended around the middle of the last century; wolves once roamed a large area of West Texas including the Davis Mountains region and the area now called Big Bend National Park.  Unlike the black bear that survived in great enough numbers in Mexico to eventually repopulate parts of West Texas during the 1980s, wolf extermination efforts resulted in the extinction of the wolf in Texas about the same time it was declared endangered (March 11, 1967).  The last two wolves known to Texas were killed in 1970 when one was shot from the Cathedral Mountain Ranch south of Alpine and another trapped from the Joe Neal Brown Ranch located at the point where Brewster, Pecos, and Terrell counties meet.

Today we can learn much about the importance of wolves to the ecosystem by paying close attention to what is happening in places where they made a comeback.   Predators like the wolf provide important ecological services in helping to control prey species like elk in Yellowstone National Park. If elk become too numerous, they can prevent the growth of certain plants. These plants, if not allowed to grow, can affect nesting sites for birds and food that other animals need to survive. Yellowstone illustrates a great example of the ecological value of wolves where their return has helped to restore willow trees, beaver and other species in the Lamar Valley.

The return of wolves to Yellowstone has also had a tremendous impact on the surrounding area’s economy.   A study led by University of Montana economist John Duffield showed that visitors who come to Yellowstone to see wolves contribute roughly $35.5 million annually to the regional economy.  Anyone in West Texas looking to see the economy improve?

In a letter to former Regional Director Michael Spear of the US Fish and Wildlife Service on August 8, 1986, Charles Travis, the Executive Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 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.”

Many people believe that Travis’s arguments in opposing wolf restoration are still valid today.  Perhaps not, many of the large land owners who opposed predators like wolves and mountain lions are no longer with us or have sold their land to people from cities who appreciate protecting the environment as it naturally occurred prior to the first Europeans coming to America.  As long as there are optimists like myself, I hope that someday we will prove them wrong.   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.  Imagine, the return of the “Grand Opera of Texas” to the dark skies of Texas.  Imagine, the return of the gray wolf.

Learn more – Take Action

Letter urges wolf release

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Letter Urges Release of Endangered Mexican Gray Wolves Into Wild

Faltering Southwestern Wolves’ Gene Pool Needs Bolstering

SILVER CITY, N.M.— Thirty-one conservation and wolf-protection organizations in the Southwest and nationwide sent a letter today urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expeditiously release endangered Mexican gray wolves to the wild.

Adding new wolves from captivity to the struggling wild population is vital to diversifying the gene pool of the 113 closely related wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico, the letter noted.

“Inbreeding could push the Mexican wolf over the cliff toward extinction if the Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t release captive wolves soon,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The trail forward for successful recovery gets steeper and narrower every day that wolf families are kept behind wire mesh, when they could be helping fix the genetic crisis in the wild.”

Two specific packs should be freed this month, according to recommendations from a federal and state interagency Mexican wolf team. The team advised that releases occur in June or July after elk calves are born “to facilitate natural hunting behavior.” Conservationists want to ensure those wolves are not sequestered indefinitely in pens, as wolf families have been in previous years after release plans were shelved. Today’s letter recommends specific animals and release locations in southern New Mexico.

“The continued survival of the lobo has been jeopardized by agency inaction,” said Mary Katherine Ray, wildlife chair for the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club. “We stand at the precipice of losing our small Southwest wolf forever, a tragedy for nature and a moral failing of our own human species.”

“Wolves belong in the wild,” said Kelly Nokes, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Critically imperiled lobos should not be held in a state of perpetual captivity as a result of political pettiness. We call on the Service to put science and the law first, and release these genetically valuable wolves to their native southwestern homelands now.”

The conservationists requested that other wolves also be released, including a single female from Mexico, christened “Sonora” by schoolchildren in a naming contest, who was captured after crossing the border into Arizona in March. Freeing her in the United States to breed with wolves here would follow guidelines in the new draft Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan that calls for “translocations” of wolves between U.S. and Mexico populations to enhance both populations’ genetics.

“People all over the Southwest, including Utah and Colorado, are rooting for the Mexican gray wolf,” said Hailey Hawkins, southern Rockies representative of the Endangered Species Coalition. “Mexican wolves are one of our rarest mammals and treasured not just for their charisma but for their countless contributions to a healthy ecosystem. Folks want to see the Mexican wolf thrive, not just barely hang on like they have been for the last two decades. Federal management should reflect that.” 

The interagency wolf team also proposed “cross-fostering” as many as 10 captive-born wolf pups into up to five wild wolf dens this spring. However, just four captive-born pups were implanted into only two dens, and four wild-born pups were removed from those dens and placed in captivity, which the field team did not advise (or even contemplate) as it sought an increase in wolf numbers. 

“If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service releases more wolves, lobos will have a better chance at beating the clock on extinction,” said Bryan Bird, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “With more wolf releases, their low numbers and limited genetic diversity will also improve. Wolves can restore the balance. When lobos roam safely on the landscape, they can bring our Southwestern ecosystems back to life.”

The game departments of Arizona and New Mexico, governed by commissions with appointees from the livestock and hunting-outfitting industries, have opposed releases of wolves. The Fish and Wildlife Service has been reluctant to buck state opposition.

Background
Mexican gray wolves are the smallest and rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America. Federal trapping and poisoning of wolves on behalf of the livestock industry in the 20th century reduced Mexican wolves to just seven animals that, after passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, were caught and successfully bred in captivity.

Some of their descendants were reintroduced into Arizona and New Mexico starting in 1998 and into northern Mexico in 2011. But due to ongoing federal trapping and shooting, and the infrequency of wolf releases from captivity, numbers in the U.S. have lagged below projections. They are so closely related now that, on average, each wolf is as genetically similar to every other wolf in the population as if they were siblings.

Scientists have urged resumption of stalled wolf releases in the United States, less heavy-handed management — meaning less killing — and establishing additional populations in northern New Mexico and Arizona and southern Utah and Colorado.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, in contrast, drafted a recovery plan that gives the states veto power over wolf releases and allows for the removal of federal protections while the species is still biologically imperiled. The draft recovery plan is currently open for public comment until August 29.