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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.

Don’t miss Parts Unknown this Sunday

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Anthony Bourdain was one of my all time favorite TV show personalities.  I loved the way he told stories of his food adventures from around the world.  I had hoped to meet him someday thinking that he might come to El Paso like in 2013 when he visited Las Cruces filming an episode on New Mexico.   I wish I had known that he was headed to Big Bend National Park where I worked for nearly 17 years.  I would have done all I could to find a way to go down the Rio Grande with him and his crew.   Now that he is dead I can only admire this weekend’s episode.  It’s called West Texas and CNN will air it Sunday night, October 21, 2018.

This past March Angell Expeditions took Anthony on a trip on the Rio Grande through Santa Elena Canyon.  The canyon forms the border between the US and Mexico at Big Bend National Park in Texas and the Santa Elena Protected Area in Chihuahua.   Angell Expeditions described the trip on their website –  “In March we had the privilege of taking Anthony Bourdain and his crew on an overnight river trip through Santa Elena Canyon to film an episode of Parts Unknown. For a day, we were pulled into Tony’s orbit and, for many reasons, it was the grandest overnight trip we’ve ever had. The man was kind, intelligent, thoughtful, and inspiring to be around. Our discussions were critical to the times as well as fun and light-hearted. He had the ability and platform to shed light on important issues in a way that was so very human, everyone could understand and relate.”

On a final note if you enjoyed Bourdain’s work like me you can watch all of his past CNN episodes online.  Simply download the CNN app on your phone.

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The famous Rock Slide inside Santa Elena Canyon from the Mexican side and the Santa Elena Canyon Protected Area in Chihuahua.   Photo by Rick LoBello

 

The Fandango Owl

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Summer of 1986, Alpine, Texas

Kevin Costner was coming to the Big Bend to make a movie and the producers of “Fandango” needed a live owl. Becky Smith, the bus driver for the longest school bus route in the United States, from Terlingua to Alpine, had given me a Great Horned Owl that she had found alongside the road months earlier. It was in pretty bad shape when I received it from an apparent collision with a power line. After two months of rest and all the meat scraps from Safeway it could eat, it healed quickly.

After spending the night at the Calvary Post in Lajitas, I was instructed to meet the film crew at sunrise at the Big Hill pull-off on the River Road to Presidio. Everyone was there, Kevin Costner, a number of actors I had never heard of, the camera crew, make-up people, an animal handler and some food people who had parked a silver canteen truck close by. I’ll never forget my first plate of sushi out in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert on a hot spring day.

Unfortunately for the owl the sun had moved too fast in the morning to get the shots needed for a low light scene of an owl on a boulder. We had to wait all day for the sun to go down. During the wait I got to know the animal handler who told me all about the other animals that were needed for the film including armadillos, snakes, lizards, coyotes and a roadrunner. My owl was an important part of a camping sequence when as is almost always the case in American films, a hooting owl at night scares everyone around the campfire.

When the time came to get ready for our important scene I was instructed to bring the owl to a large boulder where the animal handler would set him on top. I asked him what would happen if the owl were to jump off the huge rock and fly away? The answer was simple, monofilament line was tied to it’s leg. If it jumped off we’d pick it up and try again.

Everything was ready, the cameras where set and as they began to roll the owl readied for his film debut. As quickly as the director could say “action” the owl jumped off the rock, took one giant leap, broke the monofilament, and flew across the high walled canyon of the Rio Grande and on into Mexico, never to be seen again.

You won’t see an owl in the movie Fandango, but next time you drive the River Road (Texas 170) at night, stop alongside the pull-off at the Big Hill and listen. You might just hear that “Fandango” owl or one of its descendants hooting in the distance…a sound that I hope will forever be heard in the canyons of the Big Bend, long after movies and movie stars are forgotten.

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I love a parade

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The Rotary Club of West El Paso Independence Day Parade on July 4 is just around the corner.  I have loved parades since childhood.  When I was in high school I marched with two different Junior Drum and Bugle Corps and had a ball every summer when we traveled across Western New York from one festival and event to the next.

Here in El Paso my favorite parade is the one my Rotary Club sponsors.   We are calling it this year the 22nd Annual Independence Day parade and our club President Don Powell and committee members are going above the call of duty in helping to make the parade better than ever.  You can buy an ad in the parade program and have a chance of winning a plane ticket. If you enter the parade you or your organization can win up to $1000 for best entry.   All the details for the parade including how to buy an ad or enter are including in this year’s parade brochure.

Over the years I have posted a few videos featuring the parade on YouTube.    Check them out here:

July 4, 2015
July 4, 2014

July 4, 2013

The River and the Wall

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Last month I was blessed in having the opportunity to meet the River and the Wall feature documentary team in Austin.    I spent two days with Ben Masters, Hillary Pierce, Austin Alvarado, and Jay Kleberg sharing everything I knew about Big Bend National Park and the long proposed US International Park with Mexico.   I was so happy to meet these folks and to learn about all the great projects they are working on to help Texans and people around the world connect with our natural treasures and learn about the Rio Grande and how one of the most endangered rivers in North America is threatened by Trump’s border wall.  The film will be released sometime in 2019 and will take viewers for a wild adventure through one of the most rugged landscapes in North America.  The wall threatens not only America’s natural heritage, but also one of the most biologically diverse regions on the continent.  I hope it doesn’t happen, but if it does the film might end up documenting the last visuals of the river valley before a wall is constructed and the Rio Grande is changed forever.

Over the past two years I have been meeting with a small group of people who care about protecting large open spaces in West Texas, New Mexico and northern Mexico.   We call the region we are focusing on the Greater Big Bend.   One of the exciting projects we are just getting started with is a Chihuahuan Desert Conference planned for the first week of November, 2019.  We are looking for new members to help plan this important meeting and just help get the word out that we exist as a new group.   If you are interested in a new challenge or just the opportunity to network and support a regional conservation group like this, the Greater Big Bend Coalition might be just right for you.

Prior to moving to El Paso I worked in our national parks including Big Bend National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Yellowstone National Park.   During my 25 years working in the parks I discovered that no park is an island and that the lands protected in parks are acutely connected to the lands around them.  As a result what happens outside a park can have a serious impact on wildlife living in a park as numerous species travel across park boundaries in order to find food, water, habitat and potential mates.   Biologists call these travel routes wildlife corridors and here in El Paso we can see every day how wildlife corridors are being destroyed by human development of all sizes.  The threats to wildlife corridors are very real and those threats are almost everywhere.

In order to help build bridges to facilitate relationships with land managers, researchers and stakeholders from all walks of life, we have invited speakers to come to El Paso to help us better understand and connect with the entire region.   To learn more about our group I would like to invite you to meet others and hear a presentation from the Superintendent of Davis Mountains State Park at 2pm on Saturday, May 19 at the Northeast Regional Command Center on Dyer.   To learn more about this meeting and more about our group check out our website at greaterbigbend.org.

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Left to right: Hillary Pierce, Rick LoBello, Ben Masters

Fight for their lives!

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If I was a parent I would be speaking out daily to elected officials and the rest of the country about how dangerous it is to be a student in America and how they need to be protected from gun violence.   Today Emma Gonzalez, a student and survivor of the Parkland, Florida, bravely and with all of her heart stood on stage at the March for Our Lives for 6 minutes and 20 seconds.   “Six minutes and about 20 seconds,” she said. “In a little over 6 minutes, 17 of our friends were taken from us, 15 were injured and everyone in the Douglas community was forever altered.”  “Everyone who was there understands. Everyone who has been touched by the cold grip of gun violence understands. For us, long, tearful, chaotic hours in the scorching afternoon sun were spent not knowing. No one understood the extent of what had happened.”

Like most Americans I am so upset at what is happening in our country.   This should not be happening, its totally crazy.   I hold everyone holding an elected office in this country accountable.  I plan to be calling all of you asking a simple question – “what are you doing to help end this madness, why do the young people of America have to be marching in the streets in a fight for their lives?

Please join me and the students of America in this fight.  Only if we speak out and take action will things change.  We ended the war in Vietnam.  We can end this war too.

Meet the kangaroo rat

5727365988_83cc8b45d4_oPhoto credit – copyright – J. N. Stuart, Merriam’s Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys merriami)

by Rick LoBello

One of the least known desert wildlife families living in the Chihuahuan Desert and right here in El Paso are the nocturnal rodents. The group includes kangaroo rats, cactus mice, pack rats and cotton rats.

The Merriam kangaroo rat is one of the easiest to look for. Next time you hike into the desert especially in areas dominated by creosote bush, look for kangaroo rat burrows near the base of the plants. Commonly called k-rats by biologists, watch for small piles of soil with multiple entrances each about the size of golf ball.

During the heat of the day these highly successful rodents stay underground waiting for the night. It’s at that time when temperatures cool down that the k-rats come out in search of food.

Kangaroo rats hop as they move around just like kangaroos.  They eat creosote, mesquite and grama grass seeds that they carry to their burrows in their cheek pouches. This amazing desert creature is able to survive without drinking water by metabolizing the water it needs from the seeds it eats and by conserving water by condensing moisture in the nasal passages.  Imagine if humans could do that!

If you want to see a kangaroo rat look for burrows during the day and return to these areas at night with a flash light. One rainy night this past summer I went to Don Haskins Park near my home to look for Couch’s spadefoot toads. As I walked towards a temporary breeding pool a kangaroo rat ran by me. Using the light on my IPhone 7 I captured it on video. I never imagined that my best pictures ever of a k-rat would be taken with my phone.

On another night when walking along Redd Road near the library I saw one running on the side walk.  I haven’t seen many kangaroo rats in El Paso mainly because I haven’t taken the time to look for them, but they are there, everywhere.

Get to know your desert neighbors and add a k-rat safari adventure to your bucket list.

 

 

Thank you Representative Svarzbein

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My city representative is Peter Svarzbein.  With all the bad news about climate change coming out of our nations capital, I was heartened to hear the news of how people like French President Emmanuel Macron and other world leaders responded with displeasure to President Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Today I read a report on KVIA.com about how my representative Peter Svarzbein, a man who truly cares about our future, put on the El Paso’s City Council agenda a topic where our city will discuss joining more than 300 mayors across the country in upholding Paris Climate Agreement goals.

For those of us who are have been on the planet more than two or three decades we have experienced climate change in many ways.   We have seen it, felt it and have little doubt that the actions of human civilization have affected our climate.   When I visited Glacier National Park in Montana last fall I saw first hand how the glaciers I had seen over 30 years ago were no longer visible.  Ask the people who live in Montana what is going on.  Ask the people who live along ocean shore lines.   To deny human caused climate change is to deny that the earth is round.

We respect the findings of scientists who are recording all the changes the world is experiencing every day.   Because of the effects of climate change our children face an uncertain future.   I hope that the El Paso City Council will join other cities across the US in upholding the climate goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.  If you do not know where your representative stands on climate change now would be a could time to find out.

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Take a stand for wolves in Texas

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by Rick LoBello

The El Paso Sierra Club Return the Wolf to Texas Education Initiative is seeking volunteers to help educate and involve school children in efforts to save critically endangered Mexican wolves. The historic range of the Mexican wolf included El Paso. It was 46 years ago in December that the last two wild Mexican wolves were killed in the United States. It happened not in Arizona or New Mexico where many government officials can’t agree on how to move forward in continuing a twenty year wolf recovery effort, but in Texas, just north of Big Bend National Park. With news of both New Mexico and Arizona wanting to take control of recovery efforts from the federal government, the possibility of new wolf recovery efforts in Texas and other states takes on new meaning.

Conservation leaders in Texas need to stop ignoring the scientific facts clearly indicating the importance of conserving apex predators like the wolf. Here in the largest international city surrounded by former wolf habitat, the El Paso Sierra Club Group is taking a stand for the wolf by launching a new campaign urging Texas Parks and Wildlife to develop and execute a scientifically reviewed plan to return the wolf to the wilds of Texas to benefit the ecosystem and ecotourism. For more information on how you can get involved contact me at ricklobello@gmail.com.

The fate of this critically endangered species hangs in the balance and today the only wolves known to Texas survive in zoos. In one short century what took nature eons to perfect, came to a crashing end when the last Mexican wolves were killed in Texas. It took nearly twenty years for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to develop and execute a plan to put captive bred wolves back in the wild in 1998. Unfortunately the current effort continues to struggle because of bureaucratic meddling. Today, a little over 100 critically endangered wolves survive in parts of northern Mexico and a small area of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico.

We are living at a time when Americans are showing that they are fed up with the establishment, not just in Washington, but also in State Capitals like Austin. Join the new movement to conserve our wildlife heritage, take a stand for wolves.

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Last chance for the wolf in Texas

It’s time to stand up against the establishment in Texas and let TPWD know that you care about wolves


It was 46 years ago in December that the last two wild Mexican wolves were killed in the United States.  It happened not in Arizona or New Mexico where government officials can’t agree on how to move forward in continuing a twenty year wolf recovery effort, but in Texas, just north of Big Bend National Park. With news of both states wanting to take control of recovery efforts from the federal government, the possibility of new wolf recovery efforts in Texas and other states takes on new meaning.

Our conservation leaders in Texas need to stop ignoring the scientific facts clearly indicating the importance of conserving apex predators like the wolf. Here in the largest international city surrounded by former wolf habitat, the El Paso Sierra Club Group is taking a stand for the wolf by launching a new online campaign urging Texas Parks and Wildlife to develop and execute a scientifically reviewed plan to return the wolf to the wilds of Texas to benefit the ecosystem and ecotourism.  I hope that you will join the effort in any way you can.  For more information on how you can get involved contact me at ricklobello@gmail.com.

I have just posted on YouTube a new video of a wild caught Mexican wolf I filmed in 1978 that few people have seen in its entirety.  The 8mm silent footage may end up going down in history like so many other videos of animals that have gone extinct.  I hope that never happens, but it could.  The film shows one of the last wild Mexican wolves known to science before it went extinct in the wild.  It was captured in 1978 in northern Mexico by the legendary trapper Roy McBride.  Roy and I went to graduate school together at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas and one day when I was working as a park ranger at Big Bend National Park he invited me to come to his ranch to see one of the wolves he caught in Mexico.  Roy was hired by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to capture all the wolves he could before they went extinct in a  last ditch effort to save the species.   Previously I uploaded some of this footage set to music where on YouTube it now has over 63,000 views.   The footage I just uploaded in its entirety intentionally has no narration or music to help dramatize the fact that in Texas our conservation leaders in Austin have been totally silent when it comes to any effort to help return the wolf back to its rightful home in the wilds of West Texas.  The fate of this critically endangered species hangs in the balance and today the only wolves known to Texas survive only in zoos.

In one short century what took nature eons to perfect, came to a crashing end when the last Mexican wolves were killed in Texas.  It took nearly twenty years for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to develop and execute a plan to put captive bred wolves back in the wild in 1998. Unfortunately the current effort continues to struggle because of bureaucratic meddling.   Today, a little over 100 critically endangered wolves survive in parts of northern Mexico and a small area of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico.

We are living at a time when Americans are showing that they are fed up with the establishment, not just in Washington, but also in State Capitals like Austin. Join the new movement to conserve our wildlife heritage, speak up for wolves.

Take action at elpasosierraclub.org.

 

For the love of cacti

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Haystack cactus (Echinocereus stramineus), often confused with the strawberry cactus, (Echinocereus enneacanthus) in Big Bend National Park, by Rick LoBello

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When I worked at Big Bend National Park I spent much of my time studying the desert plants that surrounded my home at Panther Junction.   My favorite was the large mound forming strawberry cactus commonly called pitaya.   In the spring some of the larger strawberry cactus mounds would burst into bloom with dozens of red flowers that would later in the summer turn into red fruits that tasted like strawberries.  Unlike the fruits of the more common prickly-pear cactus covered with tiny spines called glochids, the strawberry cactus had fewer larger spines that were easy to take off.   Every summer I would collect the fruits of the strawberry cactus, put them in the refrigerator and then eat them with whip cream.  Back in those days it was a 200 round trip drive to get groceries in Alpine, so the bounty of the desert was very appealing to me on a hot summer day.

I have always loved cacti and obviously now that you have read my story, not just because of their beauty.   Earlier this year local authors Gertrud and Ad Konings donated boxes of their beautiful coffee table book – Cacti of Texas in their Natural Habitat to help the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition (CDEC) with its membership program. This book is no doubt the most colorful and complete book for its size ever published on the cacti of Texas.   I have looked over all kinds of cactus books over the years and few books can compare. As the membership chair of the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition I am in charge of giving out free copies of this colorful and informative book to all new and renewing members.   So far the going has been slow, but with the Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta coming up next month and the holidays soon after, I am hoping that hundreds of people in El Paso will want to have their own copy.  

If you don’t have much affection for the cacti of Texas, it is no doubt because you have no idea how amazing each species is, uniquely adapted to living in our arid desert.
Everyone living in the Chihuahuan Desert should be able to name at least a dozen or more species. Did you know that the Chihuahuan Desert is considered the epicenter of cacti diversity with 318 species of 1500 species worldwide.  In Texas alone there are 136 species and the Konings were able to include a photograph of each and every one in their book.

Thanks to the generosity of the Konings you can have your own FREE copy by becoming a member of CDEC for only $20!   At this time the books are not being shipped from El Paso, but if you live in El Paso and become a member we will get you a copy by dropping one off where you live or work or when you attend an upcoming CDEC event. The book sells for $59.99 plus postage when you get one on Amazon.com so don’t miss out on adding this title to your home library.

Every day as new developments destroy more and more large areas of desert, the cacti living in our area and all the wildlife species associated with them are disappearing.  Want to help conserve them?  The first step is learning the names of the common species in our area.   Cacti of Texas in their Natural Habitat will help you do just that.
 

 

 

 

Let’s return the wolf to Texas!

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Mexican Wolves courtesy Larry Bohlin of Bohlin Creative 2015

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For the sake of wilderness and our ecosystem, a growing number of people believe that the Mexican wolf should be given the chance to reclaim its rightful role in the Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas.

Please tell Texas Parks and Wildlife to support wolf-reintroduction efforts

Imagine the return of the “grand opera of Texas” while sitting around the campfire, hearing howling wolves in the distance, heads upturned, singing at the night sky. Imagine, the return of the gray wolf.

With all the attention on wolf restoration elsewhere in the Southwest, many people are not aware that the last wild Mexican wolves in the U.S., before the species went extinct in the wild in the 1970s, were killed just north of Big Bend National Park in Texas.

The fact that Texas is not part of the plan for saving the species is unacceptable. People need to know about this if we are ever going to see the wolf return to Texas and conserve our natural heritage.

The El Paso Sierra Club group has launched a Return the Wolf to Texas educational initiative, and we need your help in sending letters of support to Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Carter Smith.

Please act today to return the Mexican gray wolf to Texas

Texas needs to put wolf reintroduction on its conservation radar screen, and with your help we can make it happen.

Sincerely,

Rick LoBello, El Paso Group Executive Committee, ricklobello@gmail.com
P.S.: Be sure to take action today and share this petition on Facebook and Twitter!

To learn more about the work of the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter’s El Paso Group, visit our Facebook page.

Discover your sleepy neighbors

Discover your sleepy neighbors, the ones who spend most of their lives underground.

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Male red-spotted toad calling on all female toads in West El Paso, Texas.   Photo
by Rick LoBello

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Ever wonder why the desert seems so barren with few animals in sight? It is not because they do not exist; after all you can see pictures of desert animals in books and on the TV and Internet.  The reason why you don’t see them everyday is because you are either too busy driving down the road to stop and go outside and look for them, or because they are hiding from the desert sun waiting just for the right weather conditions to search for food and mates.

The Chihuahuan Desert is one of the most biodiverse deserts in the world with thousands of known species of wildlife and plants including reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, invertebrates, cacti and more.  One group of desert animals that you hear very little about are the desert toads. If described on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most out of mind, El Pasoans would probably rank desert toads as a 10.   With all the development going on in El Paso frogs in our area need our help more than ever. Once a piece of land is graded most biological organisms living in the soil structure are destroyed. No one knows how to recreate what nature has taken thousands of years to create so you can imagine how many living things are affected.

Here in El Paso we have three common frog and toad species. The most common is the red-spotted toad. They are often seen hopping around neighborhoods as soon as temperatures warm up. The red spots are very prominent and it’s hard to confuse a red-spotted toad with other species. Like all of our frogs red-spotted toads spend the cooler and dryer parts of the year underground waiting for the rainy season and for temperatures to warm up.

Another common species, the Couch’s spadefoot toad, has little black spade projections on its hind feet to help the toad burrow underground. Right now as you sit at your computer and read this blog there are literally thousands of spadefoot toads waiting beneath the soil surface a foot or so below in a state of estivation. This form of sleep is different from hibernation that occurs with some animals during the winter. Estivation is a state of inactivity and a lowered metabolic rate entered in response to high temperatures and arid conditions during the summer. So when it dries up after summer rains most of desert toads estivate. When conditions are right with warmer temperature and heavy rains they come out of the ground focused on eating and breeding. In some areas it may seem like its raining toads! You can see a great video I took of breeding Couch’s spadefoot toads and red-spotted toads a few years ago here in El Paso on YouTube.

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Woodhouse’s toad by Rick LoBello

Another toad that we have in El Paso is the biggest one of all, the Woodhouse’s toad reaching a length of 5 inches. On rainy summer days and nights it is often seen near the Franklin Canal and near other wet areas.  It is very similar to the Texas toad, but does not have a stripe on the back and crests on the head.  A female Woodhouse’s toad can lay up to 28,000 eggs!  This toad was named for naturalist Samuel Washington Woodhouse who explored the Southwest during the mid 18th Century.

Amphibians play an important role in the food chain as predators of insects and as prey for other animals. They also help people by acting as environmental alarms because their thin skins are especially sensitive to environmental changes. Like so many of the animals that we rarely see and are often misunderstood, frogs and toads need friends.   Look for them after summer rains especially at night and do your part to create frog friendly neighborhoods by making places for them to hid from the desert sun.

 

Meet the Common Raven

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On a recent trip to Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, I found this Common Raven alongside the road near the main flight deck.  Perhaps it was eating something dead nearby that was hidden in the vegetation.

When I look at this wonderful creature I am reminded of how much I love the natural world and how cool birds like Ravens are.   Normally I see them flying overhead when I am hiking in the mountains, but because they are scavengers and are a resident bird at the refuge, I am not surprised to see one when I drive around the loop drive looking for Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes.

I grew up in Western New York where the most common members of the Crow Family were Common Crows and Blue Jays.   It wasn’t until I moved to Big Bend National Park and worked as a Park Ranger that I started to see Common Ravens on an almost daily basis.  Most members of the Crow Family have reputations as being highly intelligent with some individuals favoring life in suburban areas.   Did you know that a member of the Crow Family living near people requires only 10% of the living space required out in the wild?   The reason for this is pretty easy to see when you watch what they are eating, almost anything they can find including people food.

One day at Panther Junction Park Headquarters where I lived in Big Bend National Park some friends and I were getting ready to cook steaks on the grill.  It was a hot day and the steaks were frozen so we put some on a plate to thaw out on the picnic table.  Not long after we learned an important lesson.  Never thaw a steak outside with Ravens in the neighborhood.   My friend Daniel let out a yell and our local Raven took off for the nearest tree, but not before digging deep into that steak and leaving its mark.

Members of the Crow Family all over the country and in other parts of the world have been successful in living with humans.  In some cases they thrive.  Unfortunately many other species are not able to adapt to our presence where we have now impacted over 80% of the Earth’s surface with some kind of human activity.   According to the IUCN over 22,000 species are now endanger of extinction with species in some part of the globe no doubt going extinct every day.

Let this Raven inspire you today to learn more about wildlife and how to get involved in any way you can in supporting conservation efforts where you live and in other parts of the world.  It doesn’t take long to find an organization out there that is working to make a difference.  With the tax year ending and income tax season just around the corner, consider making a tax deductible donation of any size somewhere or signing up to volunteer offering your time, talents and in-kind resources.   Find a list of local groups you can support here.