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The Desert NewsFlash
October 2020
Image of  Blue Mountain, Fort Davis, Texas, by Guy McCrary.    
Feeling grateful, and it's not even Thanksgiving!
We are grateful for all of you, and here's why:
The CDRI Mission Statement (printed below) is our compass, it's the North Star that guides our every move, our every decision, every day.  CDRI's Mission Statement helps us stay on track and maintain our focus. It serves to unify the hundreds of CDRI members, its directors, volunteers, donors, and supporters on whom we rely. As far as Mission Statements go, it serves us well because it has meaning and impact, and it can be achieved operationally; but moreover, it's doable. The purpose of these opening thoughts is to thank you -- our visitors, members, volunteers, and directors -- who make it possible for us to fulfill our Mission. It takes you. We are grateful for y'all!  It's been wonderful seeing you return (after the temporary closure), and we're enjoying meeting all of the new friends who have just discovered CDRI. Thanks to each of our considerate visitors for wearing a face mask and not complaining about it, and for respecting others by social distancing. You've been an easy crowd, the best kind, and we thank you. It may be another full year or longer before things in our lives and at CDRI begin to feel normal, but know that we are focused on our Mission, and we are focused on getting through this pandemic together. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your friendship. Stay safe. Stay well. 

Mission Statement
Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute
The mission of the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute is to
promote public awareness, appreciation, and concern
for nature generally and the natural diversity
of the Chihuahuan Desert region specifically,
through education, the visitor experience and
through the support of research.

The World Lost Two-Thirds of Its Wildlife in Fifty Years. We are to Blame. 
by Nathan Rott
@YEAR National Public Radio, Inc. NPR news report titled "The Word Lost Two-Thirds Of Its Wildlife In 50 Years. We Are to Blame" by Nathan Rott was originally published on npr.org on September 10, 2020, and is used with the permission of NPR. Any unauthorized duplication is strictly prohibited. 
 A baby turtle is released into the ocean in Bali, Indonesia, Tuesday, June 9, 2020, part of a campaign to save the endangered Lekang sea turtles. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)
Human activities have caused the world's wildlife populations to plummet by more than two-thirds in the last 50 years, according to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund.
The decline is happening at an unprecedented rate, the report warns, and it threatens human life as well.
"The findings are clear," the report states. "Our relationship with nature is broken."
The Living Planet Report 2020 report drew on wildlife monitoring of more than 4,300 different vertebrate species - mammals, fish, birds and amphibians - from around the world. It found that population sizes for those monitored species declined by an average of 68 percent from 1970 to 2016.
In the American tropics, including the Caribbean and Latin America, population sizes decreased by a staggering 94 percent.
Forest clearing for agricultural space was the predominant cause of the decline, the report says, noting that one-third of the planet's land is currently being used for food production. Human-caused climate change is another growing driver.
"We can't ignore the evidence – these serious declines in wildlife species populations are an indicator that nature is unraveling and that our planet is flashing red warning signs of systems failure," wrote Marco Lambertini, Director General of World Wildlife Fund International.
The 83-page document, a collaboration with the Zoological Society of London, joins a growing and ominous list of academic research and international reports warning that human activities are causing a steep decline in global biodiversity.
The United Nations published a sweeping report last year cautioning that 1 million of the estimated 8 million plant and animal species on the planet are at risk of extinction, many within decades, because of human activities. It made a similar plea for people to care, punctuated with a warning:
"Protecting biodiversity amounts to protecting humanity," UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, said at the time of the report's release.
A subsequent United Nations report, published in July of this year, warned that biodiversity loss, and humans' destruction of nature, would lead to an increase in animal-to-human diseases, like COVID-19. The pandemic has also reportedly contributed to an increase in deforestation in some parts of the world, amplifying the risk.
Scientists have long-warned that the world is entering a sixth mass extinction, driven by humanity's consumption of wildlife and wild spaces, and the burning of fossil fuels. Global warming will also cause ecosystems to shift faster than some species can adapt.
Actions can be taken to slow the decline. An article published Thursday in the journal Nature outlined steps that the global community could take to "bend the curve" on biodiversity loss. People could rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions, avoiding the worst climate change scenarios; vast tracts of land and sea could be conserved; damaged areas could be restored; and food production practices could evolve to lighten its impact on existing ecosystems.
The World Wildlife Fund's report says the planet's ecosystems only have a limited ability to regenerate, a process that it says is essential to all life on Earth.
The report's authors compared ecosystems' ability to regenerate with the ever-growing human population and found an ecological imbalance.
"The human enterprise currently demands 1.56 times more than the amount that Earth can regenerate," the report says.
Seth Hamby in the field researching Dalea reverchonii, commonly known as Commanche Peak prairie clover. 
Garden Notes:
The Intrinsic Value of Nature
by Seth Hamby

In graduate school, my committee asked me to quantify the potential economic importance of the organism I was studying. From the outset, even before I gained an intimate knowledge and appreciation for the plant that was the focus of my research, this request seemed like an impossible task to me. How do I convince people to care about something so small and so seemingly inconsequential that they probably have never even heard of before? I tossed the query back and forth in my mind over the next year or so, and the more time I spent out in the field with this plant, the further I got from an answer. I fumbled with a variety of responses to oblige my well-intentioned professors with statements like these that follow:
“This plant could potentially be used as fodder for livestock in harsh arid environments because of the habitat it grows in;” or
“This plant could be used in the horticultural industry as a drought-tolerant native for xeriscape gardens;” or
“This plant could be used to mediate soil erosion because of its growth habit and physiology.”

Ultimately, I chose not to include any of this in my thesis manuscript. After two and a half years of eating, sleeping, and breathing the Comanche Peak prairie clover, I knew the answer was this simple: It is important and has value because it exists.

As a boy, wandering through the towering pines, black walnuts, and turkey oaks on our rural South Carolina homestead, I felt at home. Walking barefoot through the cold water of the creek, catching small fishes, salamanders, crayfish, and tadpoles, I felt at home. Gathering blackberries and wild strawberries, pulling the long style from a honeysuckle flower to get at the sweet drop of nectar, and picking grape hyacinth bouquets for my mother, I felt at home. Sitting at the edge of the creek nestled in the ancient roots of an oak tree stoically clinging to the crumbling banks, I felt at home. As the years went by, I gradually forgot how to speak that silent language of the forest. I forgot the lessons of grandfather squirrel, busily gathering nuts to store in his larder for the winter. My mind became occupied with the ways of modern culture, with fitting in and measuring up and amassing things, and I did not feel at home. I continued on through this great forgetting, gradually becoming more and more unhappy. There was something missing. There was a nature-shaped hole in my heart.  

As I desperately tried to reconcile this emptiness, a voice from within whispered, “Go home!” Not back to the old homestead or to any place in particular, but back to the innocence of that boy who understood the language of the forest because he was the forest, and the forest was him. So I asked, "How can I put a price on nature? What is a Mother, a Teacher, a Provider, a Friend worth?" The answer was and still is that it is priceless. I cannot own that which belongs to itself.

The focus of my Thesis research was a rare plant, endemic to only eight counties in northcentral Texas, known as Dalea reverchonii, or Comanche Peak prairie clover (CPPC). There are only ~70 known populations of the plant in the whole world. This small and unassuming member of the Fabaceae family (peas) only grows on exposed Cretaceous-age limestone outcrops. These outcrops, called glades, are defined as open, rocky areas of exposed limestone consisting of soils 0 to 5 cm in depth, with little to no canopy cover. Because of limited soil, mesic (dry) quality, and exposure to ultraviolet radiation, glades are harsh environments that limit vegetative growth to highly adapted glade endemics and other specialized plants. These glades are dotted over much of the eastern half of the United States and harbor unique suites of mostly rare and unique plants. It is thought that during a much warmer period, the forests retreated and allowed for colonization by arid-adapted vegetation. When temperatures cooled again, forests reclaimed the land, leaving these glade endemics marooned on islands of aridity. Over thousands of years, they evolved into the species we see on these glades today.

While conducting fieldwork over two consecutive springs, I visited every known population of CPPC. It is likely that more populations exist on private land, but just the thought of having the opportunity to see the totality of an entire species was truly humbling. These were, in essence, the sum of thousands of years of evolution clinging to existence on tiny islands of barren rock in a sea of encroaching humanity. When I visited my first glade, I have to admit that I was underwhelmed. It looked like an old asphalt parking lot that had been abandoned with only the hardiest weeds poking up through the cracks. However, when I got down to ground level, a marvelously complex and diverse world was revealed.

The areas of seemingly bare rock were covered in cryptobiotic soil crust communities of cyanobacteria, lichens, algae, microfungi, and bacteria. Diminutive, yet elaborate, plants dotted the glade in areas where a thin layer of soil had managed to develop. Missouri foxtail cactus (Escobaria missouriensis) blended seamlessly into the landscape, only revealing itself by its beautiful yellow flowers or bright red fruits. Arthropods and lizards buzzed and scurried around the hot rock surfaces, laboriously eking out a living. And then, lying prostrate on the glade, its meter-long taproot impossibly pushing through the bedrock, was Dalea reverchonii. Delicate, dark green, compound leaves erupted from stems, which billowed out from the center of the plant like a fountain. On the end of flowering stalks (peduncles) were born a mass of gorgeous purple flowers, each with the most brilliant neon orange pollen covering its anthers.

As I sat counting flower stalks, measuring the length of spread, counting branches, and collecting leaf material for DNA analysis, I felt that I was no longer just a curious scientist, emotionless and sterile in my approach, but a neophyte studying under a great master. For millennia these plants have persisted in the most inhospitable environment, sitting quietly as bison and indigenous peoples passed and as European immigrants and cattle eventually took their places. In that moment, my lowly “abandoned asphalt parking lot” was transformed into the greatest of cathedrals as I was humbled in reverence by this tiny plant that had withstood the test of time.

Nature has the ability to change us for the better if we are willing to listen and learn. Robin Wall Kimmerer, in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, writes, “We need acts of restoration, not only for polluted waters and degraded lands, but also for our relationship to the world. We need to restore honor to the way we live, so that when we walk through the world we don’t have to avert our eyes with shame, so that we can hold our heads up high and receive the respectful acknowledgment of the rest of the Earth’s beings."

The most revolutionary thing we can do is to help facilitate love and respect for nature in others. When that is accomplished, people will automatically strive to protect the things they love. We need not be experts in everything. All we have to do is get people outside, share our own passion, and nature will do the rest. 
Chihuahuan Desert Birdscapes
We enjoy working and sharing experiences with organizations in the region, and this is one of those special times when we get to partner with one of them. Ballroom Marfa will present Rob Frye's Chihuahuan Desert Birdscapes, a collection of new music, and "Hearing Hidden Melodies" an accompanying performative lecture centering on the study and appreciation of avian sound. 
The release date for new music is set for October 23, on Ballroom Marfa's Bandcamp
From October 23 - November 1, the performative lecture "Hearing Hidden Melodies" will be available on Ballroom Marfa's website.
Chihuahuan Desert Birdscapes is new music, commissioned by Ballroom Marfa, inspired by the diverse bird population of the Big Bend. These original compositions include granular synthesized and processed birdsong in addition to a rich texture of woodwinds and handmade flutes made from grasses collected on the banks of the Rio Grande. 
Although the initial plan was to present the lecture "Hearing Hidden Melodies" at the CDRI Nature Center Pavilion with a live audience, the pandemic has caused a change in plans with the informative performance taking place online. The lecture will take the audience through the musician's process of slowing down, transcribing, and imitating birdsong, in which you'll learn avian tone production, its connection to flute and myths, intonation, attenuation, what birds hear, and the neuroscience of hearing. Frye prompts the audience to consider critically how to hear and listen more acutely to the world around us. 
With the Big Bend Region of West Texas positioned along migratory routes from Canada to South America, it has one of the most diverse bird populations in the Northern Hemisphere. Unfortunately, global bird populations are declining just as humans are beginning to understand their evolutionary sounds and adaptations. This innovative project will highlight our unique location and synthesize Frye's diverse experiences as both a musician and a biologist. 
Participants in the lecture will receive half-off of the admission fee at CDRI and the opportunity to visit the bird blind and stroll through the gardens to listen for birdsongs after having listened to the program. Tickets to CDRI must be purchased online at www.cdri.org. CDRI will honor the half-off ticket admission fee from October 23 - November 2, 2020. Please call 432-364-2499 for additional information regarding CDRI tickets. 
Chihuahuan Desert Birdscapes was organized by Sarah Melendez, Ballroom Marfa's program director. 
Thank You for Your Support
Although the 2020 Pandemic has caused us to cancel our programs, including our signature fundraiser, the CDRI Cookout & Auction, CDRI's generous supporters stepped up, joined in, and generously donated anyway. Thank you!
The following list combines donations received in August and September 2020. 

Anne Adams

Bruce Ballengee
The Wes & Victoria Bannister Fund
Ben F. Foster, Jr.
Rick Herrman
Jim Martinez & Jim Fissel

Victoria Lowe

Tom & Kristin Feuerbacher
Lisa Gordon
Clint Parsley & Alex Albright
R. Edward Pfiester, Jr.
Sam & Rebecca Pfiester 
Jerry & Susan Pittman

Lonnie Childs
Steve & Suzanne Tuttle

The Gardens Receive the Gift of Plants 
Gifts come in all kinds of sizes, shapes, and forms. During the month of September, CDRI received an assortment of plants from the following individuals. 
Beth and Larry Francell donated a bigtooth maple tree (Acer grandidentatum) which was planted near the specimen pine area of the Botanical Gardens. They also gifted several Mexican feather grass plants (Nassella (formerly Stipa) tenuissima) from their yard. Those have been planted around the Chisos red oak and Chinkapin oak trees in the front beds of the Powell Visitor Center. 
CDRI member, Laura Gold, donated an agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata) which she had hoped to plant at her apartment, but landscaping rules didn't include agarita. 
And, earlier in the month, David Harte and Lil Dave Harte from Seattle, Washington brought a gift of an icicle cholla cutting from the family ranch in Marathon. That cutting is now potted and living in the Cactus Greenhouse until it establishes roots so that it can be safely planted outside.
       Above left: Icicle cholla. Above center:  Bigtooth maple. Above right: Mexican feather grass.
Three CDRI Volunteers Achieve 
Vital Volunteer Status for 2020!

Although the coronavirus has sidelined our events, school programs, tour groups, and other activities, we are thrilled that several of our volunteers have remained active at the Nature Center. Three of those are Nancy Foxworthy, Judy Reichelderfer, and Julie Sieverman. They each have volunteered more than the 30 hours required to qualify for the honor of CDRI's Vital Volunteers. 
A volunteer must work 30 hours in a calendar year to earn the distinction of Vital Volunteer (V.V.). Although 30 is the "magic" qualifier to attain the V.V. distinction, most of our V.V.s go on to earning many more hours beyond the 30 during a year.
Judy and Nancy have spent the bulk of their volunteer hours helping Head Gardener, Seth Hamby. Besides helping with weeding, both have assisted with repotting cacti. The more than 1,600 cacti that make up the collection have been treated, as needed, for insects (spider mites), and also repotted as the plants graduate to slightly larger pots. Judy also volunteered for our early spring Adopt-a-Highway cleanup, and Judy and Nancy volunteered to help remove juniper sprouts that were popping up through the grassland last January.
Julie cheerfully greeted visitors from the Admission Window at the Powell Visitor Center, working two days each week through September. Although October 2nd will be her last day with us for this year, we are looking forward to welcoming Julie and husband, Casey, when they return February 1, 2021, to live at CDRI for three months in the capacity of Host Campers. 
Congratulations to Nancy, Judy, and Julie! We thank them and all of our wonderful volunteers. If you'd like to help out or just to learn more about volunteering at CDRI, please call Lisa at 432-364-2499 or email lgordon@cdri.orgWe are always happy to build our volunteer base, and we look forward to welcoming CDRI volunteers to the 2020 Vital Volunteer roster! 
Above left: Judy Reichelderfer cleans flower pots for replanting cactus. Above center: Nancy Foxworthy repotted cactus. Above right: Juiie Sieverman taking a break from the Admission Window.
Plein Air Artists Find Inspiration at CDRI
A cool, mid-September, Saturday afternoon made for the perfect invitation to tempt artists to go outdoors to paint. Oil and pastel artists from Midland and Fort Davis met at the CDRI Nature Center to capture the fall light and colors in their plein air paintings.
What is plein air painting? "En plein air" is a French expression that translates to "in the open air." Artists use this term to describe painting landscapes and other outdoor settings in natural light. 
CDRI member, Liz Culp, who splits her time between her homes in Midland and Fort Davis, generously donated her painting (above) to the 2021 CDRI Auction fundraiser.  Some of the participating artists are shown in the photos below.
   Above left: Sam House, Fort Davis; Above center: Liz Bartlett Culp; Above right: Diane Browne, Midland.
"the best rural nature center in Texas," 
we wish you happy trails. 

We look forward to seeing you soon!

(Image by Andy Morgan @

Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, P.O. Box 905, Fort Davis, TX 79734


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