This is where I want to be right now and its SNOWING!!!!

The bison in the Yellowstone Park bison herd are American bison of the Plains bison subspecies. Yellowstone National Park may be the only location in the United States where free-ranging bison were never extirpated, since they continued to exist in the wild and were not re-introduced, as has been done in most other bison herd areas.

As often as possible I head to Yellowstone National Park where I worked as a park ranger in the late 1970s. Its snowing right now on Saturday afternoon, October 24, 2020 and the weather forecast in El Paso says there is a chance for snow here in a few days!!! You can see the snow falling by watching the Old Faithful webcam.

If you have ever wanted to go to Yellowstone and have the resources to hire someone to take you on a private tour let me know and we can talk about the possibilities.

When I worked as a Park Ranger in Yellowstone one of my most memorable assignments was the year I operated the Old Faithful Visitor Center.  Back in April of 1978 I was the only Park Naturalist on duty at the visitor center.  The Park’s Geologist at the Time was Rick Hutchinson.  Rick and I spent many hours at the VC talking about all the thermal features from the view of the information desk where I would predict the next Old Faithful eruption for the benefit of a handful of park visitors. There were some days when I counted only ten visitors. Those were the days, almost perfect solitude.

Like the geysers name, it was pretty easy to predict eruptions using a stop watch.   The same formula I used then works pretty much today.  If  Old Faithful has a short eruption,  the next one will be in 60 minutes (plus or minus 10 minutes). If it has a long eruption, it will be 90 minutes (plus or minus 10 minutes) before the next eruption.  Try it when you watch an eruption on the webcam.

The park superintendent was John A. Townsley and he wanted to encourage visitation in the park before the busy summer season.  That same year the park was inscribed by UNESCO on the World Heritage list — the United States’ first World Heritage Site .  Townsley decided to open the road to Old Faithful a few months early.   Lucky me, I was asked to take on the assignment.

At the time I was also working as a seasonal Park Naturalist at Big Bend National Park.  When I got the call I loaded up everything I owned in my little Toyota Corolla and headed to Mammoth Park Headquarters to get my keys and learn more about my assignment.

Years later whenever I need my Yellowstone fix and I can’t make it to the park I started  visiting the Old Faithful webcam.  The cam is pointed at the Upper Geyser Basin and Old Faithful.  Different park staff and volunteers move the cam from one spot to the next during the day focusing on making sure it is pointed at Old Faithful during its next eruption.   I only wish there was sound to go with it so just recently I came up with a new way to experience the cam.   I look for YouTube videos of winter snow storms and play the sounds on one windows screen while watching the Old Faithful Cam on another.    It’s not a perfect set up, but it works for me.

The nice thing about the cam is that you never know who might walk by.  If you are really lucky you might see wolves chasing bison or a grizzly bear, but more often there are some pretty amazing sunrises and sunsets.   Now that so many of us are at home, next time you are looking for a new online experience check out this cam.   There are others from different locations in the park, but the Old Faithful cam is the best.

Photo credits
Cover – Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Gregory Slobirdr Smith, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Bison – Top, Photo by Clark, Wikimedia Creative Commons

Who will speak out the American beaver in El Paso?

American beaver swimming in a small canal west of the Montoya – Meadowlark intersection in the Upper Valley

On June 25 distinguished El Paso biologist, Dr. Ad Konings, went birding at the El Paso Country Club and found a beaver in a small canal west of the Montoya – Meadowlark intersection.  As he approached this very rare animal for El Paso and the largest rodent in North America, the beaver did what most beavers do when alarmed. With its most noticeable long, flat, black tail, the beaver slapped its tail against the water possibly to warn others in the canal.  Along the ditch there was some heavy machinery that had apparently removed the reeds from the south side of the canal.  Konings was afraid that the machinery was going to clear out the whole canal and impact the life of the beaver(s).  He understood that nobody wants a beaver on his property chewing saplings of trees and wondered if there was a way to protect the beaver(s).

Waterways in this area are managed by the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1.  The Irrigation District manages 400 miles of canals including the international boundary with Mexico.   To protect beavers in El Paso we need to find out what happened to this beaver and what plans are in place to make our city a safe place for wildlife in El Paso waterways. 

Two days after taking making this rare wildlife sighting for El Paso, Konings returned to the canal and found a dead beaver.

At this time no one knows who killed the beaver and if local wildlife conservation officials were aware of what happened. I plan to look into it and hopefully others will join me. I have never seen a beaver in our area, but would be thrilled to encounter one like this. How about you? They are amazing animals when you study their life history.

No one knows how many beavers survive in our area, but I am pretty sure that they are not common.   If this beaver was causing a problem why couldn’t it be captured and relocated. Who will speak out for the American beaver in El Paso?  

I hope that you will share this post and speak out today.   If you don’t who will?

Rick LoBello

Last chance to save the vaquita

Over the past few years I have been involved with international efforts to help call attention to the plight of the rarest marine mammal on earth, the vaquita porpoise.  This beautiful sea creature from the Sea of Cortez is so rare, and its future so much in doubt, that the species could go extinct at any moment.  Today there are just a few animals living in a very small area of the ocean, about 1100 square miles in size. 

Vaquita rarely swim beyond their small shallow marine environment and have the most restricted range of any cetacean. None of the vaquitas that might be still alive today are monitored by GPS devices so the only way scientists can get an accurate count is by photo ID.  Last October porpoise.org reported that a survey was underway, but no information has been made public since.   According to the website the “latest report by the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) estimates that only between 6 and 22 individuals remained alive in 2018. It is possible, though, that there no more than 10 vaquitas left. (For comparison, in 1997, the population was estimated to be about 600 individuals strong.)”

5 things you can do to help save the vaquita

Here are 5 things you can do to help the Vaquita on International Save the Vaquita Day, Saturday, July 18.

  1. Share this blog on social media.
  2. Discover how complex this rescue effort is by watching the free National Geographic documentary Sea of Shadows.  After you watch it organize an awareness and take action campaign where you live.
  3. Support organizations working to save the Vaquita like the Porpoise Conservation Society.
  4. Support the team of conservation warriors risking their lives to save ocean animals every day aboard the Sea Shepherd
  5. Stay informed and show your support conservation efforts by following this blog with your email address.

The Franklin Mountains are rich in biodiversity

Rock squirrel by Rick LoBello

by Rick LoBello, Education Curator

Everyone of us living on the planet needs biodiversity and ecosystem services to function. Biodiversity provides the world’s supply of oxygen, clean air and water, pollination of plants, pest control, wastewater treatment and many other ecosystem services. As a result we need to be informed and inspired to protect wild places and biodiversity. Our animals at the Zoo are conservation ambassadors for biodiversity around the world. They remind us that we share the planet with them and if the world becomes a unsafe place for wildlife, it will no doubt be an unsafe place for humans.

At the Zoo many of our animals and plants come from far away places like Asia and Africa. We also have animals and plants from the Chihuahuan Desert and our own backyard. For years the Zoo has encouraged our guests to continue their adventure after they visit the Zoo by exploring the natural world around us in local national parks and nature reserves. More and more parks are reopening and one of the best to explore close to home where you can connect with and learn to value biodiversity, is Franklin Mountains State Park. Franklin Mountains State Park currently summarizes what is known about the biodiversity of the Franklin Mountains on the list below. Next time you visit the park see how many plants and animals you can identify. The free iNaturalist app that you can download to your phone can help. The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition has a FaceBook group where you can post pictures and get help.

Ocotillo flower.

Plants

More than 650 species of vascular plants have been reported for Franklin Mountains State Park.  Among the most common and characteristic species are: creosote bush, Agave lechuguilla, ocotillo, Southwestern barrel cactus, sotol, Texas sacahuista, pricklypear cactus, desert willow, skeletonleaf goldeneye, resinbush, Sneed’s pincushion cactus (endangered species), Texas rainbow cactus and eagle’s claw cactus. 

Tarantula

Invertebrates

Although we do not have concrete research on the number of species of insects and other invertebrates, it is estimated to be in the thousands.  Some of the most characteristic species include walking stick insects (3 different species), desert tarantula, scorpions, millipedes, several species of beetles, grasshoppers and butterflies.

Amphibians

There are only two species of amphibians recorded in Franklin Mountains State Park.

Order Anura – Frogs and Toads

Scaphiopus couchi
 – Couch’s Spadefoot

Family Bufonidae – Toads
Bufo punctatus – Red-spotted Toad

Reptiles

There are about 33 species of reptiles confirmed to inhabit Franklin Mountains State Park.

Order Testudines – Turtles

Family Emydidae – Box and Water Turtles
Terrapene ornata – Western Box Turtle

Order Squamata
Suborder Lacertillia – Lizards

Family Iguanidae – Iguanids
Cophosaurus texanus – Greater Earless Lizard
Crotaphytus collaris – Collared Lizard
Holbrookia maculata – Lesser Earless Lizard
Phrynosoma cornutum – Texas Horned Lizard
Phrynosoma modestum – Round-tailed Horned Lizard
Sceloporus undulates – Eastern Fence Lizard
Urosaurus ornatus – Tree Lizard
Uta stansburiana – Side-blotched Lizard

Family Scincidae – Skinks
Eumeces obsoletus – Great Plains Skink

Family Teiidae – Whiptails
Cnemidophorus exsanguis – Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail
Cnemidophorus inornatus– Trans-Pecos Striped Whiptail
Cnemidophorus neomexicanus – New Mexico Whiptail
Cnemidophorus tesselatus – Checkered Whiptail
Cnemidophorus tigris – Western Whiptail
Cnemidophorus uniparens – Desert Grassland Whiptail

Suborder Serpentes – Snakes

Family Leptotyphlopidae – Blind Snakes
Leptotyphlops humilis – Trans-Pecos Blind Snake

Family Colubridae – Colubrids
Bogertophis subocularis – Trans-Pecos Rat-snake
Diadophis punctatus – Ring-necked Snake
Gyalopion canum – Western Hooknosed Snake
Hypsiglena torquata – Texas Night Snake
Masticophis flagellum – Western Coachwhip
Masticophis taeniatus – Striped Whiptail
Pituophis catinifer – Sonoran Gopher Snake
Rhinocheilus lecontei – Texas Long-nosed Snake
Salvadora deserticola – Big Bend Patch-nosed Snake
Salvadora grahamiae – Texas Patch-nosed Snake
Sonora semiannulata – Ground Snake
Tantilla hobartsmithi – Mexican Blackhead Snake
Trimorphodon vilkinsoni – Texas Lyre Snake

Family Viperidae – Vipers
Crotalus atrox – Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
Crotalus lepidus klauberi – Banded Rock Rattlesnake
Crotalus molossus – Blacktail Rattlesnake

Birds

There are at least 100 species of birds recorded by direct sight within the park boundaries.  The most common species are:

Mourning Dove, White-winged Dove, Gambel’s Quail, Scaled Quail, Greater Roadrunner, Golden Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Western Kingbird, Scott’s Oriole, House Finch, Black-throated Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, Cactus Wren, Rock Wren,  among others.  See complete list below.

FAMILY CATHARTICAE

Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura 

FAMILY ACCIPITRIDAE
SUBFAMILY ACCIPITRINAE
Mississippi Kite – Ictinia mississippiensis
Northern Harrier – Circus cyaneus
Sharp-shinned Hawk – Accipiter striatus
Cooper’s Hawk – A. cooperii
Northern Goshawk – A. gentilis
Harris’ Hawk – Parabuteo unicinctus
Swainson’s Hawk – Buteo swainsoni
Red-tailed Hawk – B. jamaicensis
Ferruginous Hawk – B. regalis
Golden Eagle – Aquila chrysaetos

FAMILY FALCONIDEA
American Kestrel – Falco sparverius
Merlin – F. columbarius
Prairie Falcon – F. mexicanus
Peregrine Falcon – F. peregrinus

FAMILY ODONTOPHORIDAE
Scaled Quail – Callipipla squamata
Gambel’s Quail – C. gambelii
“Scramble” – Scaled – Gambel’s Quail Hybrid

FAMILY COLUMBIDAE
Rock Dove – Columba livia (I)
Band-tailed Pigeon – C. fasciatta
White-winged Dove – Zenaida asiatica
Mourning Dove – Z. macroura
Eurasian Collared Dove – Streptopelia decaocto (I)

SUBFAMILY NEOMORPHINAE
Greater Roadrunner – Geococcyx californianus 

FAMILY TYTONIDAE
Barn Owl – Tyto alba 

FAMILY STRIGIDAE
Flammulated Owl – Otus flammeolus
Great Horned Owl – Bubo virginianus
Burrowing Owl – Speotyto cunicularia
Long-eared Owl – Asio otus
Short-eared Owl – A. flammeus
Northern Saw-whet Owl – Aegolius acadicus

FAMILY CAPRIMULGIDAE
SUBFAMILY CHORDEILINAE
Lesser Nighthawk – Chordeiles acutipennis
Common Nighthawk – C. minor

SUBFAMILY CAPRIMULGINAE
Common Poorwill – Phalaenoptilus nuttallii
Whip-poor-will – Caprimulgus vociferus

FAMILY APODIDAE
SUBFAMILY CYPSELOIDINAE
Black Swift – Cypseloides niger

SUBFAMILY CHAETURINAE
Vaux’s Swift – Chaetura vauxi

SUBFAMILY APODINAE
White-throated Swift – Aeronautes saxatalis

FAMILY TROCHILIDAE
Black-chinned Hummingbird – Archilochus alexandri
Costa’s Hummingbird – Calypte costae
Calliope Hummingbird – Stellula calliope
Broad-tailed Hummingbird – Selasphorus platycercus
Rufous Hummingbird – S. rufus

FAMILY PICIDAE
SUBFAMILY PICINAE
Red-naped Sapsucker – Sphyrapicus nuchalis
Ladder-backed Woodpecker – Picoides scalaris
Northern Flicker – Colaptes aurantus 

FAMILY TYRANNIDAE
SUBFAMILY FLUVICOLINAE
Say’s Phoebe – S. saya

SUBFAMILY TYRANNINAE
Ash-throated Flycatcher – Myiarchus cinerascens
Cassin’s Kingbird – Tyrannus couchii
Western Kingbird – T. vociferans

FAMILY ALAUDIDAE
Horned Lark – Eremophila alpestris 

FAMILY HIRUNDINIDAE
SUBFAMILY HIRUNDININAE
Violet-green Swallow – T. thalassina
Cliff Swallow – Hirundo phrrhonota
Barn Swallow – H. rustica

FAMILY CORVIDAE
Western Scrub Jay – Aphelocoma californica
Pinyon Jay – Gymnorhinus cyanocaphalus
Chihuahuan Raven – Corvus cryptoleucus
Common Raven – C. corax 

FAMILY REMIZIDAE
Verdin – Auriparus flaviceps    

FAMILY TROGLODYTIDAE
Cactus Wren – Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
Rock Wren – Salpinctes obsoletus
Canyon Wren – Catherpes mexicanus
Bewick’s Wren – Thryomanes bewickii
House Wren – Troglodytes aedon

FAMILY MUSCICAPIDAE
SUBFAMILY SYLVIINAE
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher – P. melanura

SUBFAMILY TURDINAE
Western Bluebird – Sialia. Mexicana
Mountain Bluebird – S. currucoides
Townsend’s Solitaire – Myadestes townsendi
Hermit Thrush – Catharus guttatus
American Robin – Tardus migratorius

FAMILY MIMIDAE
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
Sage Thrasher – Oreoscoptes montanus
Curve-billed Thrasher – Toxostoma curvirostre
Crissal Thrasher – T. dorsale

FAMILY BOMBYCILLIDAE
Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum

FAMILY PTILOGONATIDAE
Phainopepla – Phainopepla nitens 

FAMILY LANIIDAE
SUBFAMILY LANIINAE
Loggerhead Shrike – Lanius ludovicianus

FAMILY VIREONIDAE
Solitary Vireo – Vireo solitaries
Hutton’s Vireo – V. huttonii
Warbling Vireo – V. gilvus
Philadelphia Vireo – V. philadelphicus 

FAMILY EMBERIZIDAE
SUBFAMILY PARULINAE
Yellow Warbler – Dendroica petechial
Yellow-rumped Warbler – D. coronate
Wilson’s Warbler – Wilsonia pusilla

SUBFAMILY THRAUPINAE
Western Tanager – Piranga. lucoviciana

SUBFAMILY CARDINALINAE
Pyrrhuloxia – Cardinalis sinuatus
Black-headed Grosbeak – P. melanocephalus
Blue Grosbeak – Guiraca caerulea

SUBFAMILY EMBERIZINAE
Green-tailed Towhee – Pipilo chlorurus
Spotted Towhee – P. maculatus
Canyon Towhee – P. fuscus
Cassin’s Sparrow – Aimophila. Cassinii
Rufous-crowned Sparrow – A. ruficeps
Chipping Sparrow – Spizella passerine
Clay-colored Sparrow – S. pallida
Brewer’s Sparrow – S. breweri
Field Sparrow – S. pusilla
Black-chinned Sparrow – S. atrogularis
Vesper Sparrow – Pooecetes gramineus
Lark Sparrow – Chondestes grammacus
Black-throated Sparrow – Amphispiza bilineata
Sage Sparrow – A. belli
Lark Bunting – Calamospiza melanocorys
Savannah Sparrow – Passerculus sandwichensis
Song Sparrow – Melospiza melodia
Lincoln’s Sparrow – M. lincolnii
White-crowned Sparrow – Zonotrichia leucophrys
Dark-eyed Junco – Junco hyemalis

SUBFAMILY ICTERINAE
Brewer’s Blackbird – Euphagus cyanocephalus
Brown-headed Cowbird – Molothrus ater
Bullock’s Oriole – Icterus bullockii
Scott’s Oriole – I. parisorum

FAMILY FRINGILLIDAE
SUBFAMILY CARDUELINAE
House Finch – Carpodacus mexicanus
Pine Siskin – Carduelis pinus
Lesser Goldfinch – C. psaltria
American Goldfinch – C. tristis

FAMILY PASSERIDAE
House Sparrow – Passer domesticus 

Bobcat, NPS Photo

Mammals

There are about 30 species of mammals within Franklin Mountains State Park.

Order Insectivora – Insectivores
Order Chiroptera – Bats
Family Vespertilionidae – Vespertilionid Bats
Lasiurus  cinereus – Hoary Bat
Myotis californicus – California Myotis
Pipistrellus herperus – Wetern Pipistrelle
Plecotus townsendii – Townsend’s Big-eared Bat

Family Molossidae – Free-tailed Bats
Tadarida brasiliensis – Brazilian Free-tailed Bat

Order Lagomorpha – Hares and Rabbits
Family Leporidae – Hares and Rabbits
Lepus californicus – Black-tailed Jackrabbit
Sylvilagus auduboni – Desert Cottontail

Order Rodentia – Rodents
Family Sciuridae – Squirrels and Allies
Ammospermophilus interpres – Texas Antelope Squirrel
Spermophilus spilosoma – Spotted Ground Squirrel
Spermophilus variegatus – Rock Squirrel

Family Geomyidae – Pocket Gophers
Thomomys bottae – Botta’s Pocket Gopher

Family Heteromyidae – Pocket Mice and Kangaroo Rats
Chaetodipus intermedius – Rock Pocket Mouse
Chaetodipus nelsoni – Nelson Pocket Mouse
Dipodomys ordii – Ord’s Kangaroo Rat

Family Muridae – Mice and Rats
Mus musculus – House Mouse (introduced)*
Neotoma albigula – White-throated Woodrat
Peromyscus eremicus – Cactus Mouse
Peromyscus maniculatus – Deer Mouse

Order Carnivora – Carnivores
Family Canidae – Canids
Canis latrans – Coyote
Urocyon cinereoargenteus – Common Gray Fox

Family Procyonidae – Procyonids
Bassariscus astutus – Ringtail

Family Mustelidae – Mustelids
Mephitis mephitis – Striped Skunk
Mustela frenata – Long-tailed Weasel
Spilogale gracilis – Western Spotted Skunk
Taxidea taxus – American Badger

Family Felidae – Cats
Felis concolor – Mountain Lion
Felis rufus – Bobcat

Order Artiodactyla – Even-Toed Ungulates
Family Tayassuidae – Peccaries
Tayassu tajacu – Javalina, Collared Peccary

Family Cervidae – Cervids
Odocoileus hemionus – Mule Deer

Taken from elpasozoo.home.blog – El Paso’s number one Conservation Education news source.

Big Bend, a moment in history

Big Bend National Park is one of the best places in the world where you might see a mountain lion while driving through the park or hiking.

Special thanks to Dion Recachina who I met over 30 years ago at a Cooperating Associations Conference for all his help in making this film a reality. We talked about how Big Bend National Park needed a good documentary and without any cost to the park we worked together with park staff to produce this story. Since the film was released the park helped to produce three other documentaries with the most recent ones available through the Big Bend Natural History Association.

The script was a collaborative effort between Dion and his team and the park’s Interpretive Division. I was fortunate to serve as the location director and arranged to take the film crew at no cost to the park through Santa Elena Canyon. I also found a doctor in Fort Stockton with a pet mountain lion, but the most memorable moments happened in a helicopter. Thanks to the Border Patrol sector in Marfa a pilot and helicopter were donated to the park for several hours. Imagine how exciting it was after working in the park since 1975 to be able to tell the pilot where to fly to take the aerial footage.

Thanks to YouTube and the copyright holder I was able upload this original version of the production to my channel. It was dedicated to the memory of my mother Shirley LoBello.

The world needs super heroes

Every day more and more of our planet’s ecosystem is being destroyed by people who care more about short term gains rather than the future of humanity.   Last year Paulo Paulino Guajajara, an indigenous leader working to protect the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil, was shot and killed by armed men who no doubt saw him as a threat to the logging industry.

The problem in South America is the same around the globe as the world’s population climbs towards eight billion and natural resources are constantly impacted by people only wanting to survive and have a decent quality of life.   Amazingly the people who are aware of the complex problems every nation faces including the United States, oftentimes feel powerless when big money backed leaders of almost every country act irresponsibly when looked at in terms of the future of the planet.   We truly have one earth and one time, and each one of us needs to get involved and be a part of the solution.

People of the world in every country need to come together and find a better way to move forward.  Today we are not seeing the critical leadership the world needs in our hate filled capital in Washington D.C, we are not seeing that kind of leadership in other countries as well.  In spite of the best efforts and passion of those holding leadership positions in the United Nations, overall most of their efforts to bring the world together are failing.

So what can we do?   If you need inspiration all you need to do is look around.  On almost every corner of the planet there are people from all walks of life working on the ground making a difference.   Are you one of them?  If not, you don’t have to continue sitting on the sidelines.   Decide today to become a hero for the planet, perhaps even a super hero.

Dreaming of a peaceful world

buck mule deer

If there ever was a time for all 7 billion of us to find a way to become united like never before, that time is now.   During this pandemic and in the years ahead everyone of us needs to stay engaged, no matter how difficult.   We only have one time to make a difference for our children and future generations, and that time is now.    Yes, I am an eternal optimist and I will always dream and hope for a peaceful world where all life is respected and people live in harmony.

My rl update

Over the past six weeks I have been very fortunate to be able stay working and to telecommute from home.  Not everyone has this opportunity and I am blessed.   My main focus is keeping my team engaged with our community in every possible way by blogging about our animals and our conservation efforts and offering free distant learning programs.

Rick' Conservation blog graphic 1 proof

You can be a part of and support our efforts by simply following our blog with your email address.   And if you want to help in other ways simply let me know by sending me a text or dropping me an email.   It would be great to catch up on the phone someday too, just let me know.

Stressed by the pandemic? Get outside

IMG_0253

Spring is in the air, the birds are singing and flowers are blooming.   We are being told to avoid gathering with other people so what can we do to keep our sanity?   One way is to get outside, in your backyard pulling weeds, taking care of your plants, enjoying the night sky and going for a walk in nature.

Over the past week I have spent time enjoying the beautiful Mexican poppies in Northeast El Paso and exploring Franklin Mountains State Park.   Beauty is everywhere if you will just go out and find it.

IMG_0065

So far most parks and natural areas are open, but I suggest if you go somewhere you stay close to home.   I say close to home because of a Facebook post I saw yesterday from my friend Marcos who lives just outside Big Bend National Park.   He makes some good points about the stress those who provide visitor services are worried about.  Here is what he said in entirety:

To Brewster County Judge Cano and Robert Álvarez (Executive Director Visit Big Bend):

I am writing to ask you to consider suspending promotion of additional tourism to the Big Bend. On the contrary we should be sending a message to the public that this is not the best time to visit Big Bend. During this period when we are all trying to minimize our social contacts we do not need to be encouraging additional visitation to the Big Bend. These visitors present an increased risk for our community at a time when people should be encouraged to stay home and minimize the spread of covid -19. The increased visitation also creates a greater demand for the limited resources we have available to us down here. I believe that both the tourism council, and the Emergency Services District should be exploring how they can provide assistance to this community during this difficult time. Thank you for considering our recommendations for those of us living down here.

Marcos Paredes
Cc Bob Krumenaker NPS

 

My number 2 team is NUMBER 1!

1974 Kansas City Chiefs
Former Kansas City Chief’s Head Coach Hank Stram

The Kansas City Chiefs had just won Superbowl IV and I was a freshman at William Jewell College, home of the Kansas City Chief’s training camp from 1963-1990.   During my senior year I was able to take a job working at the camp helping where ever I was needed. The job came with a salary, free meals and lodging where I lived in a dorm called Newman’s Hall (Browning Hall) with the players.

I will never forget all the great food I was able to enjoy in the cafeteria including all you could eat filet mignon.   At lunch every day the veterans would pick on the rookies and one of the funniest things was when they were asked to stand up on a table and sing the Denver Broncos fight song.   Back in those days the Broncos were not that good having loosing seasons from 1960 to 1972.

During lunch time a number of the veterans would drive up to the cafeteria in fancy new cars and they were big, not just the cars, but the players.

Most of the starters like Quarterback Len Dawson and Defensive Tackle Buck Buchanan lived nearby.  The players I came most in contact with were the rookies.   One memorable friend at camp in 1974 was John Casola.   John was the brother of Sal Casola, a college kicker that the Chiefs had signed on for the training camp in hopes of finding a new kicker to back up Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud. Although no one in camp knew it at the time, Sal was apparently discouraged when he was waived by the Buffalo Bills and did not want to come to Kansas City.   So his brother John who was also a kicker decided to take his place and use his brother’s name Sal when he signed with the Chiefs.   So when we first met he called himself Sal, but his real name was John.

I was also working part time at the Kansas City Museum of History and Science and invited John to come to the museum and meet some of my friends on his day off.   He dated one of the girls in the gift shop and we all went to an Elton John concert at Arrowhead Stadium.

One day John disappeared and I did not find out what happened until I read the Sport Section in the Kansas City Times on August 20, 1974.   The Chiefs had lost their game against the Buffalo Bills on Monday night August 12, and when they did they learned from the Buffalo Bills Coaching staff that the Sal Casola on the Chief’s roster was not the same Sal Casola who had played for the Bills.    After a short conversation with Bill’s coach Lou Saban, on Tuesday Chief’s head coach Hank Stram called Casola into his office.   After confessing that he indeed was an imposter, John packed up his bags and left camp that same day never to be seen again.

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My last day working for the Chief’s was on August 31, 1974 when the Chief’s played their final game of the preseason at Dallas.   My job on that day was to run Polaroid pictures of the formations from the Press Box down to the field for the coaches.  Back in those days we did not have all the technology that we have today.  Pictures could be sent down to the field on a cable at Arrowhead, but when playing away games someone had to run the pictures down to the field.   It was fun and great exercise and later some of my friends at Jewell told me that they saw me during the TV broadcast wearing my William Jewell shirt.

Most of my friends know that I have been a Buffalo Bills fan all of my life, but not everyone knows that my number two team has always been the Chiefs.   I am not sure if the Bills will ever win the Super Bowl in my lifetime, but at least I have one team that has become champions not once but twice.   Go Chiefs, Go Bills.

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William Jewell College is the oldest college still active today west of the Mississippi River.   Jewell Hall housed Civil War troops and was apparently also used as a military hospital.  

 

Help build a roof in Africa

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My friend Dr. Alan Goodall, who some of you may know as the author of The Wandering Gorillas, has asked me to help the Batwa in Rwanda with several projects – especially this one https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-kwizera-go-to-school.

I posted a blog about the Batwa late in 2018 and just recently have been in touch with Richard Ntakirutimana by SKYPE discussing ways that I can help raise funds by selling Rwandan coffee.

Whilst they only raised some $2000 of the needed $8000, they have made great progress as you can see here on the photo they just sent Dr. Goodall.

Now they desperately need funds to complete the roof – so PLEASE, PLEASE try and get ALL your friends to send some more donations via the GoFundme web site

Dr. Goodall is now working with them to get support from the Belgian Government for my ‘Dream Project’ (from several years!)

Project – Short title “Creating a Vision 2020 school for Historically Marginalised People in Rwanda”

Project – Long title ”Using the latest IT technology – to enable Historically Marginalised people in Rwanda to take advantages of  the new IT infrastructure – and thereby ‘leapfrog into the 21 st Century”

Dr. Goodall has believed for decades that this the future of education – ie not teaching but ‘Learning’  So, Teachers will have to become ‘Coaches’ – as in sports.  If you are interested in what remarkable work has already been done – look up Sugatra Mitra in Google and YouTube.

PLEASE – look up their organisation  ‘AIMPO’ via Google – and you will see the work that their amazing team are trying to do for the Batwa – who are now called ‘Historically Marginalised People”  This is because the new laws in Rwanda forbid any ethnic group names.

You will recall that these are the very people who were evicted from their traditional forest homes – to create the National Park – for GORILLAS!

Many of these people have since died. They are now in much more danger than the gorillas – who are increasing in numbers.

Why not in El Paso?

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Let’s create a Northern Chihuahuan Desert Wildlife Park in the Franklin and Organ Mountains

 

The other day I received a conservation alert from the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition.   The alert reported on City Council plans to discuss a conservation easement and Natural Open Space Zone to be placed on the lands that make up the Lost Dog Trail in Northwest El Paso.   The alert stated that 89% of El Pasoans who voted in the May 4, 2019 election support long term preservation of this area and that the people who support it want it fully implemented with no further delay.   Was I surprised by the vote?  Not a chance, over the past two decades I have interacted with thousands of people living in our area and the vast majority support natural open space and habitat conservation.

The Lost Dog Trail is located on a very small parcel of desert.  Overall very little of the lower elevation habitats in Northwest and Northeast El Paso remain intact from what I first experienced when I visited El Paso nearly 50 years ago.   Most would agree that the Franklins are one of the most unique aspects of our city attracting  many of the people who live here today.  Now that so much of the Franklin Mountain’s  wilderness has disappeared and been replaced by urban sprawl, the challenge of protecting what remains is greater today than when Franklin Mountains State Park was first opened to the public in 1987.

Recently I read a story about how a privately funded non-profit organization is creating a 3.2 million wildlife sanctuary – American Prairie Reserve– in northeastern Montana.   When complete it will be the largest wildlife sanctuary in the Lower 48 states and a haven for wolves, grizzly bears and bison.   Wouldn’t it be great to have a similar reserve in the northern Franklin and Organ Mountains near Las Cruces?   A large protected zone straddling the border of New Mexico and Texas would provide a very large area of  habitat for a great diversity of desert mountain species and could someday be home to prairie dogs, bison, elk, pronghorn, wolves, bears and jaguars.  Very few people living in El Paso and Las Cruces know this, but there was a documented report of a critically endangered Mexican wolf in this area as recently as January of 2017.

A Northern Chihuahuan Desert Wildlife Park could be funded in many different ways including from both private and public entities.    With 89% of El Pasoans going to the polls in support of protecting the Lost Dog Trail, I wonder how much support there would be for a grand conservation project like the American Prairie Reserve in our part of the world.   Recently I was encouraged to learn that a similar reserve is being created southwest of El Paso in northern Chihuahua.   It’s called the Janos Biosphere Reserve.  The reserve is home to the largest prairie dog town in North America, bison and critically endangered black-footed ferrets and Mexican wolves.

What’s needed now more than ever is not just master plans for the development of infrastructure, but a master plan for the conservation of our desert and the Franklin Mountains.   Want to help?   Please use the contact form below.

 

Looking forward to Desert Conference

My 45-year journey in the Chihuahuan Desert began in 1975 when I was hired as a park ranger naturalist in Big Bend National Park.  My greatest joy ever since has been helping people connect with and appreciate this part of our world.  Today as the Education Curator of the El Paso Zoo I am working with staff and others who love this eco-region in pulling together a Chihuahuan Desert Conference on November 6-7 2019. 

During the Icebreaker we plan to show the River and the Wall, an important new documentary
that  follows five friends on an immersive adventure through the unknown wilds of the Texas borderlands as they travel 1200 miles from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico on horses, mountain bikes, and canoes.

The film was recently awarded a Jury Prize at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.

Why a Chihuahuan Desert Conference?   All one has to do is look around where you live to see how rampant urban sprawl is changing the landscape and destroying habitat and wildlife corridors. As the world’s population reaches the 8 billion mark, the future of humanity and the environment hangs in the balance.  The Chihuahuan Desert like almost every eco-region on the planet is constantly threatened.   The conference hopes to help people connect face to face and hopefully build and renew important collaborative relationships.  El Paso’s number one outdoor conservation education center, the El Paso Zoo, is the perfect setting.

About eight years ago when the Zoo crafted a ten-year Master Plan, the staff decided that the number one goal should be helping people discover and value the natural environment where they live.  When you look around El Paso and see how it has grown over the years it is easy to see how important it is for people who live here to value the natural landscape.

When it opens this fall the Chihuahuan Desert Exhibit will play a major role in helping the Zoo accomplish its mission of celebrating the value of animals and natural resources and in creating opportunities for people to rediscover their connection to nature. The $14 million signature project will replace approximately 20 percent of the Zoo’s exhibits.

The Chihuahuan Desert experience will highlight the flora and fauna of the region. The exhibit will include an arroyo helping people to better understand one of the desert’s important naturally occurring environmental features. A new Lobo Vista classroom with viewing windows looking into endangered Mexican wolf and Thick-billed Parrot exhibits will help Education Specialists present engaging programs for school groups. There will also be new exhibits for prairie dogs, desert birds, bolson tortoises, jaguars and endangered peninsular pronghorns. An abandoned old ranch house exhibit will be home to smaller animals of the desert that have moved inside. Just outside the house there will be a family of coatis.

A mountain exhibit surrounded by a grassland zone will be home to big cats like the jaguar and mountain lion. Natural landscapes featuring common plants of Chihuahuan Desert habitats will help to tell the story of how wildlife and people have adapted to this arid region. Habitat zones will include creosote, grasslands, pinyon-juniper woodlands and Madrean woodland.

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Leading a nature hike in the Grapevine Hills of Big Bend National Park

Photos –
Top, Rick LoBello,
Bottom, Vidal Davila

“Half of all land must be kept in a natural state to protect Earth”

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 I received an email asking me about what is being done to  save the land in El Paso west of War Highway by the Newman power plant. “If its to be turned into subdivisions are there any plans to save some of the cactus or other things?”

Since I am involved with more than one environmental group in El Paso 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.

 

Sign up today

If you’re looking to get involved with a group of people in El Paso who are working to encourage recycling, saving wildlife habitat in the Franklin Mountains and returning extirpated species to the wilds of Texas like the Mexican wolf, the El Paso Sierra Club is the group for you. Learn more about how you can get involved by contacting me by email at Ricklobello@gmail.com.

Go for the snow this winter

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Snow Geese at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge by Rick LoBello

Happy Holidays everyone. 

It’s a wonderful time of year and I am making plans for another trip to my favorite winter spot near El Paso – Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.   Last year I made a little video about the refuge that I sent out at Christmas time.  I sent it to my friend Jim Tolbert who decided to make it his video of the week at elpasonaturally.com.  Thanks Jim.

If you have not been to Bosque del Apache then consider giving yourself a special gift this Christmas with family and friends.  Located 176 miles north of El Paso along 1-25 on the interstate towards Albuquerque, the refuge is the winter home to nearly 10,000 Sandhill Cranes and tens of thousands of Snow Geese.

The best way to experience this wonderland of birds is to stay at a motel in Socorro, New Mexico the night before. You will definitely want to get up very early so that you can leave Socorro about an hour before sunrise.   By arriving at first light you can experience the first flights of thousands of geese followed by sandhill cranes as they soar overhead.  Go straight to the main Flight Deck by turning left at the first intersection once you pass through the entrance gate.  Check out the refuge visitor center and flight deck the afternoon before if you have the time.

I have posted a couple of videos on YouTube to help you get some idea of what the early morning experience is like.   When you get there don’t rush home, drive the entire loop several times, bring binoculars, lunch and enjoy all the moments.

Watch this 2 minute video   Bosque del Apache at Sunrise

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Sandhill Cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge by Rick LoBello

Tree of Hopes

new treeA little over a year ago I realized something about myself that I knew was there, but for a long time was hidden from view.   As a wildlife conservationist working all of my adult life in National Parks and now the El Paso Zoo, I have always focused on my job and on related environmental education and advocacy efforts.  Then one day last year I discovered that I had a place in my heart that was pretty much wide open. It was a place where I have a passion for helping the less fortunate.  Soon I was doing what I always seem to do, trying to make a difference by encouraging others who also care.

As a member of Rotary International for over 30 years I have been encouraged to live by the 4 way test – (1) Is it the truth?, (2) Is it fair to all concerned? (3) Will it build goodwill and better friendships? (4) Will it be beneficial to all concerned?   I really want my life to reflect Rotary values which in my opinion are in line with my Christian faith and everything about being an American.  They are also in line with many other people’s values around the world like the global network I am a part of with 1.2 million business and professional leaders in Rotary.

The tree I helped to plant last year I am happy to report is growing.  Thanks to the Rotary Club of West El Paso Foundation and most recently the Zaragoza Rotary Club, Tree of Hopes is gaining more and more support everyday.  Our Helping Families in Need This Christmas Project is touching hearts as our Tree of Hopes bears fruit and grows into a stronger part of our community.

One of the greatest things that I have realized over the past year is what I describe as a “ocean of poverty” in my own back yard.  Back in the 1990s when I visited El Paso’s sister city Juarez, I only experienced the business district near the Bridge of Americas.  Today I am learning that the poverty of Juarez is much greater than I ever realized.   I can’t sit back and just pretend that I don’t live next to this ocean. I can’t drive to work every day on I-10 and not look to the right and see the homes of so many in need.   I just can’t.   It is my hope that this Tree of Hopes will become a important outreach effort for good in the days ahead and that it will encourage others to plant trees of hopes everywhere.

I tell my friends that when you help the Tree of Hopes grow, you can also experience an inner peace as you realize how “we belong to each other (Mother Teresa).”    Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

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President George H.W. Bush

41_george_h_w_bushI was greatly inspired this week when I watched America remember a great president like President George H.W. Bush.   With all the negative news and stories about President Trump, I only wish we had a president like President Bush today.  Like so many American’s I believe that President Trump wants to be a good President, but I really don’t know what to believe anymore about him and the rest of the bureaucracy in Washington D.C.   We need a great leader like George H.W. Bush as President.  I hope that if President Trump has committed treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors, that  he will resign for the good of the country.  If he has not done anything wrong then I hope he will study the life of the President H.W. Bush.   We need our President to be a point of light, not someone who so many people around the world do not respect and believe is unfit for office.

El Paso Zoo to Partner with Big Bend National Park on Wildlife Conservation

As you can imagine I am very excited about this project.   If you would like to help in anyway contact me at lobellorl@elpasotexas.gov.   To learn more about the park I posted a blog on my iloveparks.com site.   

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EL PASO, Texas – The El Paso Zoo (zoo) will be piloting a Zoo-Park partnership with Big Bend National Park to coordinate efforts to conserve wildlife.

Funding was made possible for this partnership when the El Paso Zoo and Big Bend National Park were awarded the $10,000 Winter 2018 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 El Paso Zoo is among a small inaugural group of accredited zoos selected that meet certain criteria, including AKW Field Conservation, AKW Citizen Stewardship, Community Engagement, and Sustainability. The zoo successfully worked with Big Bend National Park to create the Black Bear Habitat Improvement in Big Bend National Park Project to apply for the grant.

The project focuses on three components: (1) remove non-native invasive vegetation, (2) place food storage boxes in backcountry, and (3) bear-proof power poles in park. This winter, the zoo will send a group of volunteers and staff to work in the park to help complete the project.

“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 El Paso Zoo Education Curator Rick LoBello. “I was very fortunate to help document and launch current conservation efforts in Big Bend when I worked there many years ago.”

“Big Bend National Park has incredible diversity, including its wildlife. And the story of black bears in the park is unique among National Parks as it was the first of its kind of wildlife recolonizing a park area,” said park Resource Management Chief David Larson. “Bears are important to the ecology of the park, and we look forward to furthering their story and conservation.”

 

About El Paso Zoo 

The El Paso Zoo is a 35-acre facility that houses animals representing over 220 species, including critically endangered species. Accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), the El Paso Zoo celebrates the value of animals and natural resources and creates opportunities for people to rediscover their connection to nature.

About Big Bend National Park

Located in West Texas, Big Bend is the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States.

The park protects more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals. From an elevation of less than 1,800 feet along the Rio Grande to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend includes massive canyons, vast desert expanses, forested mountains, and an ever-changing river. Here you can explore one of the last remaining wild corners of the United States.