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CDRI Desert Newsflash
May 2021

Staying cool on a warm afternoon. White-crowned Sparrow visiting the water feature at CDRI's bird blind.
Photo by Alan Wintz.  
Pollution doesn't go away

Plastic pollution is on my mind, especially after participating in CDRI's most recent Adopt-a-Highway cleanup a couple of weeks ago. This cleanup project is through the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) Adopt-a-Highway program which we are delighted to be a part of. We are fortunate that our two-mile strip for which we are responsible is evenly divided from our front gate with one mile to the left and one mile to the right. It makes us proud to have a beautiful drive up to the Nature Center from either direction. And, we are grateful to CDRI's wonderful volunteers and the CDRI Team for their hard work, year-round, keeping that two-mile stretch along the highway looking beautiful. 
What became immediately apparent to each of us who were walking along the highway was the increased amount of trash we were finding along the roadside. We can only make assumptions as to why this "sudden" increase has come about, but it seems that it is largely due to the increased traffic from heavy trucks hauling large machinery or manufactured homes, more truck traffic from the oil and gas industry that moved into the region a couple of years ago, and the increased amount of tourism. We're delighted that so many people find this sky island to be a "little slice of Heaven," but the region is not going to be able to maintain that look of Paradise, Shangri-la, or Heaven if we don't respect the land. Everyone should know this, but in case they forgot, DO NOT THROW YOUR TRASH OUT ON THE SIDE OF THE HIGHWAY. There. We now said it. All better? No!  Here's why.
While picking up trash consisting of disposable plastic drink bottles, disposable styrofoam cups, disposable plastic lids, disposable straws, disposable diapers, and disposable styrofoam food containers, I began to think about where this trash would go next. How would these disposable items be disposed of? All of the trash that I picked up went into a large, heavy-duty, plastic bag. When that bag was too full to carry, I got another large, heavy-duty, plastic bag and began filling it with more disposable items. Where would all of these disposable items, these throw-away items, or these throw-out-of-your-car-window items go? All of these disposable items will likely be disposed of and out of sight at the landfill.  It's no longer my worry. Right? No, that's not right either.
We do the same at our homes as we make sure we've sorted the recyclable items from the trash. We do-gooders (and I lump myself into that category) think we're helping to save the planet because we are sending our recyclable items off to a better place --- a place where they will be crushed or shredded or melted and reused to make an even better "thing." We're working to save our planet. Right? Wrong, again. 
Did you know that only ~9% of plastics are recycled?  And, of the 9% of recycled plastics, the plastic is actually "downcycled." It becomes less and less useful through each reprocessing until it cannot be used or recycled anymore. 
What do we do? What's the solution? Educate ourselves. Get informed. And, write to our elected representatives. It's time that we say something and see some changes.  The following article addresses the crisis we are facing regarding plastic pollution. Not only is it worthwhile to read, but the accompanying hyperlinked articles are also worth reading about this topic.
We hope you enjoy this issue of the Desert NewsFlash. Feel free to contact me with comments at lgordon@cdri.org. Thank you.
Lisa Gordon
CDRI Executive Director
Proposed legislation would deal with the plastic pollution problem
The "Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act" would make U.S. polluters pay.
The following article by Katherine Martinko, March 29, 2021, www.Treehugger.com. This article was reprinted with permission from Treehugger.com.
Photo by Abdul Raheem/Mohamed/Eyeem/Getty Images  
Did you know that every day the United States sends 225 shipping containers filled with trash to developing countries for "recycling"? Of course, these receiving countries hardly have adequate facilities to process such a great volume of waste and usually end up burning or landfilling much of it.
It is hardly a stretch to suggest it's unethical for the U.S. to offload its recycling waste onto poorer countries with laxer regulations. In fact, it's uncomfortably reminiscent of colonialism, with a larger, more dominant power exporting a product that knowingly causes harm to the recipient but is too inconvenient (or unsightly) to deal with at home.

.New legislation hopes to get at the root of this problem. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act was reintroduced in Congress last month as an expanded and improved version of a bill that failed to pass a little over a year ago. But now with the political situation having changed, there's more hope for success. 
The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act strives to put the burden of dealing with plastic waste squarely where it belongs – on the shoulders of the producers of plastic waste, rather than the taxpayers, municipalities, and communities harmed by plastics production and incineration. It proposes the following changes:

*  To hold corporations accountable for their pollution, and require producers of plastic products to design, manage, and finance waste and recycling programs.

*  To press pause on new and expanding plastic facilities until critical environment and health protections are put in place.

*  To incentivize businesses to make reusable products that can actually be recycled.

*  To reduce and ban certain single-use plastic products that are not recyclable.

*  To create a nationwide beverage container refund program, and establish minimum recycled content requirements for beverage containers, packaging, and food-service products.

* To generate massive investments in domestic recycling and composting infrastructure.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), co-author of the Bill, said in a press release, "Many of us were taught the three R’s — reduce, reuse, and recycle — and figured that as long as we got our plastic items into those blue bins, we could keep our plastic use in check and protect our planet. But the reality has become much more like the three B’s — buried, burned, or borne out to sea. The impacts on Americans’ health, particularly in communities of color and low-income communities, are serious. Plastic pollution is a full-blown environmental and health crisis, and it’s time that we pass this legislation to get it under control."
A mere 9% of plastic gets recycled; the remaining 91% is discarded, left to contaminate air, soil, and water. This is partly due to a lack of ability. Plastic is not a material that's conducive to recycling or reuse in any widely applicable way. It degrades when recycled and must always be turned into a lesser version of itself until eventually it's thrown in landfill.
Companies should not be allowed to continue churning out products that have no comprehensive plan for end-of-life and that are known to cause harm to human and environmental health. If the U.S. is serious about making headway in its climate promises, ceasing to be the world's biggest waste exporter is a logical place to start.
The country (indeed, the whole world) is rebuilding after a devastating year. It's a good time to reform the waste management system to be more equitable and responsible. In fact, a Greenpeace press release states that "zero waste systems create over ​200 times as many jobs​ as landfills and incinerators, yielding both the most environmental benefits and the most jobs of any waste management approach." 
Now is when we should start fresh and demand more, when we should begin as we intend to go on. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act 2021 is the best solution we have available to us at this point and it could create the groundswell of change we so desperately need. 
Educate yourself by learning about the Act. Show support by contacting your local representative and signing this letter. And while you're at it, read Lloyd Alter's excellent and informative article, "How Plastics Add Up to the Climate Crisis."
Your CDRI Membership offers great "extras"

We're excited to share with you that CDRI is now a member of The American Horticultural Society - Reciprocal Admissions Program (AHS-RAP). CDRI's affiliation with AHS-RAP gets you free admission to more than 330 botanical gardens across the country. We're also a member of the Association of Nature Center Administrators (ANCA) which allows you free admission to about 125 nature centers across the U.S.  And, the best part of your CDRI membership is that you get free admission to "your" CDRI Nature Center & Botanical Gardens throughout the year.
We initially made this announcement in last month's Desert NewsFlash, and the response from renewal and new memberships has been great! Thank you for supporting CDRI through your membership. 
To renew your CDRI membership, or if you're thinking about joining for the first time, it's simple. Just click on the link below. Thank you!
What else have we been doing?

We've squeezed out time out of our already very full days to produce both a video and a few PowerPoint presentations to share with the gardening world and the general public. Projects include Lisa Gordon and Seth Hamby presenting a virtual tour of the Botanical Gardens and the Cactus Museum Collection for the Texas Master Gardeners Annual Conference on May 19. The tour will highlight the native plants throughout the garden and discuss the benefits of growing native. The presentation will be followed by a Q&A session.

Then, on May 20, Lisa and Seth will do an encore presentation of their virtual tour, plus an added special presentation of the Cactus Museum Collection  - this time to the Austin Cactus & Succulent Society (ACSS). This will be Lisa's second presentation made to the ACSS, which makes it extra nice to be among friends. 

And, below, you'll find information about a virtual tour we're doing for the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) on May 10. The public is welcome to join the APGA Go Public Gardens Days celebration. 

We owe a huge thank you to Wendi Bates for producing the video. Wendi, who is one-half of our volunteer host camper couple currently residing at the Nature Center, graduated from the University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, with a double major in Radio/Television & Film and Printmaking, so we knew she would produce a wonderful video and be able to show off the beauty of the Botanical Gardens.
Got the travel itch? Looking for some inspiration and motivation to visit some amazing gardens across the nation? Look no further? Join the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) from the comfort of your home for FREE virtual profiles from the gardens in the link below, where they showcase ongoing research, amazing history and collections, and other incredible features via easy and convenient ZOOM webinars.
The CDRI Nature Center & Botanical Gardens will have a spot in the program on Monday, May 10, 6:15 - 6:30 p.m. CDT.  We'll present a short, 15-minute video with an overview of what visitors can expect to discover at the Botanical Gardens. 
We hope you will join us, as well as sign up for other garden tours from around the country.  Why not?  It's FREE!

Garden Notes
Trans-Pecos Invaders
By Seth Hamby
 
Far West Texas is often considered one of the great remaining frontiers. This 19- million-acre expanse of desert grasslands, desert scrub, montane woodlands, arroyos, canyons, and salt basins is the most sparsely populated ecoregion in Texas. Despite its isolation and relatively small population, the Trans-Pecos remains incredibly susceptible to human-induced degradation. It seems counterintuitive that the “tougher” things are, the more vulnerable they can be. Because the species here are uniquely adapted to the harsh extremes of the environment, they become more likely to respond negatively to change.
 
While many factors contribute to the degradation of the Chihuahuan Desert, such as overgrazing, erosion, land conversion, mining, plant poaching, and aquifer depletion, biological invaders can have far-reaching and long-lasting effects on the landscape and its ecology. Mammalian exotics include scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah), aoudad (Ammotragus lervia), gemsbok (Oryx gazella), blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra), axis deer (Axis axis), feral hogs (Sus scrofa), and yes, elk (Cervus candensis). While the damage these species do to the region could fill volumes, my focus will be on the botanical invaders.
 
While many definitions of invasive species exist, the legal definition of an invasive plant species is (1) "non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration," and (2) “whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” So why are plants that have evolved in sometimes completely different ecosystems on entirely different continents able to become so successful in novel ecosystems? There are complexities and nuances that contribute to the success of any given species, but many invasive plants have certain characteristics in common.  Invasive plant species often produce copious amounts of seeds, are able to thrive on disturbed soils, are transported easily by wind or birds, have aggressive root systems, have an early growth season, and/or produce chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants.
 
Why are invasive plant species bad? Aren’t more plants a good thing? Invasive plants often outcompete native plant species that have evolved to support wildlife and the ecosystem at large. Biodiversity is decreased when invasive plants create dense monocultures where very few other species can survive. Instead of biologically diverse desert ecosystems, invasive plants create sterile spaces devoid of life. Roughly 42% of endangered and threatened species are detrimentally affected by invasive plants. Of that, 18% are threatened or endangered as a direct result of those invasive plant species. Most invasive plants have escaped cultivation through the horticultural trade. Other non-native plants have been intentionally planted by government institutions before we fully understood how destructive invasive plants can be to natural ecosystems.
 
Three common plant offenders in the Trans-Pecos are described below. A complete listing of the “Dirty Dozen” can be found at www.texasinvasives.org
Salt cedar (Tamarix ramosissima)
Salt cedar (Tamarix ramosissima)  Garden.lovetoknow.com    
Salt cedar is a 5-20 ft. tall shrub or tree. It is believed that the first salt cedars were introduced by the nursery trade on the east coast of North America in 1823. They are problematic because of their taproot, which monopolizes water resources, outcompeting almost all other native species. They are a fire-adapted species whose presence as a monoculture acts to increase the frequency and severity of wildfires. They provide very little food resources for native wildlife. Introduced to the U.S. southwest in the late 1800s in an effort to stem erosion, salt cedars have overtaken many of the watersheds within the southwestern United States and beyond. 
____________________________________
Puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris) 
Puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris) Reprovive.com    
A cousin of the creosote bush, puncturevine is a noxious summer annual that produces insanely spiky fruits often called “goat heads.” These spikes can injure humans and animals and be large enough to puncture a bicycle tire. It is invasive in at least 40 states. Stem and seed weevils can be used as biocontrol along with manual weeding. 
____________________________________
Russian thistle (Salsola tragus)
Russian thistle (Salsola tragus) Flickr.com
This noxious summer annual hails from the goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae). Russian thistle, or tumbleweed, has become invasive in 47 American states, causing untold economic and ecological damage. Germination of seeds occurs in just a few hours after as little as 0.03” of precipitation. Tumbleweeds are host to the beet leafhopper (Circulifer tenellus) which can carry a particularly nasty virus infecting beets, tomatoes, and melons. Ecologically, the Russian thistle, like many other invasive plants, competes with the native flora, often creating vast monocultures. 
CDRI's Volunteers of the Month
We are turning our attention this month to two volunteers who are both students at Sul Ross State University, Alpine, Texas. Our featured volunteers, David Gutierrez and Randall Moose, began volunteering, working mostly in the Botanical Gardens, almost two years ago.
Schoolwork always comes first, but anytime they find themselves with free time, they show up ready to work. They have moved untold amounts of landscape rocks for edging along the garden paths and around planting beds, filled and carried buckets of soil and wheelbarrows full of gravel, dug holes, helped to trim junipers, and they worked at one of CDRI's Adopt-a-Highway cleanup -- always with a smile. 
We wish them the best of luck (although we don't think they need to rely on luck) with their Spring Semester final exams. They will likely return to their hometowns at the semester's end, but we expect they'll be back in the fall, and we'll gladly welcome Randall and David back to the Nature Center.  
Thank you, David and Randall! Or is it Randall and David?
                     CDRI Volunteers Randall Moose and David Gutierrez.
Trail markers added to Clayton's Overlook Trail  

We are fortunate to have great volunteers who are always ready and willing to help with a project. This was a big project in which more trail markers were constructed along Clayton's Overlook Trail and the Outer Loop Trail.
Anthony Sanchez, repre-senting the Geology Club at  Sul Ross State Univer-sity, and Dale Pilcher,  Host Camper, volunteered their time to build and install trail markers.  
Several trail markers were added four years ago by Host Campers Andy and Terry Brightman. More markers were needed, so Dale and his wife Wendi Bates carried materials to the hilltop and the quarry overlook to stage the site, followed by Dale and Anthony who constructed the markers on Saturday.  
Above photo: Dale Pilcher (left) and Anthony Sanchez (right). 
Volunteers clean up the roadway for CDRI's spring Adopt-a-Highway clean-up day
Helping clean up the two-mile highway frontage with TXDOT's Adopt-a-Highway program, from left to right, are Steven Hamilton, Nancy Foxworthy, Judy Reichelderfer, Anne Adams, Karen Struthers, and Chris Pipes. Also helping, but not in the photo, were Amanda Carter and Lisa Gordon. 

It's beginning to feel like old times!
CDRI welcomed three school groups in April
We're not quite out of the woods from the pandemic, but life at the Nature Center is feeling a bit more like "old times" every day. In April, we welcomed students from three schools for guided hikes and a garden tour. 
4th and 5th-grade students from the Potter's Hand Christian School, San Angelo, Texas, learned about the flora and fauna of the Davis Mountains grasslands, and they learned about the geology of the region on their recent guided hike led by volunteers Marty Havran, and David and Cindy Sims. 
Photo by Wendi Bates       
Led by Addie Bencomo Langham, and accompanied by several parents, 6th - 8th Grade students from Uvalde Classical Academy, Uvalde, Texas explored Modesta Canyon and the geology exhibit at the top of Clayton's Overlook. 
Students from Sul Ross State University's (SRSU) Horticulture class toured the Botanical Gardens with their instructor, Jeff Keeling, and CDRI Gardener, Seth Hamby.
Save the Date!
CDRI's Cookout & Auction fundraiser
September 25, 2021
Photo of Scott's Oriole by Ad Konings   
From
"the best rural nature center in Texas" 
we wish you happy trails
and great birding!

Photo of Western Tanager by Alan Wintz    

All photos not previously identified are by Lisa Gordon for CDRI.     
Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, P.O. Box 905, Fort Davis, TX 79734
432.364.2499

www.cdri.org


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