After Fire, Wind and Drought, Something Good Will Follow

from the Friday, April 29 edition of the New York Times and Texas Tribune:

 

 

 

photo by Alberto Tomas (Beto) Halpern/Associated Press

 

Wildfires overran parts of Fort Davis, Tex., in early April, destroying more than 60 homes in West Texas and killing livestock and horses.

By JOE NICK PATOSKI
Published: April 28, 2011

These are strange days in Texas. A severe drought gripping the entire state, unseasonably high temperatures, unusually low humidity and exceptionally gusty winds have created a perfect storm for wildfires, which have erupted statewide like never before. Horrible images of homes burned to the ground, property destroyed, and livestock, wildlife and human fatalities are impossible to escape.
The Texas Tribune

Expanded coverage of Texas is produced by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit news organization. To join the conversation about this article, go to texastribune.org.

Unfortunately, the greatest chronicler of such dire conditions — the person everyone in Texas turned to for perspective — is no longer with us to make sense of it all. It’s fair to ask, rhetorically: What would Elmer Kelton say?

Mr. Kelton was the farm and ranch editor for The San Angelo Standard-Times from 1948 to 1963. He was also the longtime associate editor of Livestock Weekly and the author of several dozen western novels. His finest work, “The Time It Never Rained,” published in 1973, focused on the historic seven-year drought of the 1950s as told through Charlie Flagg, the hard-headed, independent-minded protagonist.

If anyone knew about drought, wildfires and making a living from running livestock on the range west of the 98th meridian, it was Mr. Kelton. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2009. But his son, Steve Kelton, is alive and well and living in San Angelo.

Steve Kelton, who now edits Livestock Weekly, remembers clearly that his father considered the period of time spent covering the 1950s drought for the San Angelo newspaper the most traumatic in his life. “I’d long since run out of new ways to say ‘dry,’ ” the father had told the son.

What would the elder Mr. Kelton write about today’s news? That there is an upside — a silver lining. “Dad was always a firm believer that nothing was black and white, nothing was all good or all bad,” Steve Kelton said.

“Fire can be good for brush control, if it’s a good, hot fire; these should be pretty effective in that regard,” he said in droll understatement, referring to the so-called Wildcat fires that have raged over 159,000 acres north of San Angelo in the west-central part of the state, threatening to engulf the towns of Robert Lee, Tennyson and Bronte.

Indeed, for all its obvious negatives, fire was part of the life cycle of the arid western range long before humans settled the region and tried to tame the land, instinctively suppressing wildfires whenever possible. Today, when conditions are right, many landowners intentionally burn their property because, as Steve Kelton noted, “it will improve things.”

He cited the destruction of nuisance species like prickly pear, mesquite and ashe juniper — a k a cedar — and brushy undercover that compete with native grasses. “There are a lot of caveats to that,” Mr. Kelton added. “You have to have rain, but if it comes all at once, you lose all the topsoil.”

But if the rain falls gradually, the first land that will green up and spring back to life is that which burned. “A really hot fire brings out woody vegetation that deer, birds, and even goats and sheep like to eat,” Mr. Kelton said. “Their seed needs fire to germinate.”

He made the same observation about the Texas rangeland that critics have made about forest management in the American West: the human tendency to suppress fire at first sight has created a buildup of dry tinder that makes any wildfire that manages to break out “bigger than they ought to be,” Mr. Kelton said. “But we also have the technology and the people on the ground to fight them, so we’ve got a trade-off.

“During the 1990s and the early 2000s, we went 13 years with a really severe drought out here,” he said. “Then it rained.” The country was left so depleted, he said, that there were no cattle or sheep left to eat the grasses that sprang up; so in 2006, the worst year for wildfires in Texas on record until this year, “when it burned, it burned extra hot.”

Despite the horrific loss of property, livestock and wildlife this year, the longer view finds something to look forward to in the wake of the destruction.

“This is survivor country,” Mr. Kelton said. “It puts on its best clothes when it rains after a long drought.”

Joe Nick Patoski is the author of “Generations on the Land: A Conservation Legacy” (Texas A&M Press).

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Boquillas crossing at Big Bend National Park

 

Big Bend National Park News Release

BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK SEEKS PUBLIC COMMENT ON PROPOSAL TO CONSTRUCT VISITOR CONTACT STATION,

ESTABLISH PORT OF ENTRY AT BOQUILLAS CROSSING


The National Park Service (NPS) proposes to construct a visitor contact station in Big Bend National Park near the Rio Grande and across from Boquillas, Mexico.  The facility would provide visitors with information and would house the equipment necessary to permit the area to function as a Class B port of entry between the U.S. and Mexico.  The public, organizations, and other agencies are invited to review and comment upon an Environmental Assessment (EA) describing and analyzing the proposal.

 

The purpose of re-establishing the Rio Grande crossing near Boquillas and constructing a visitor contact station is to provide visitor information and to support safe and secure international crossings of the Rio Grande.  This new contact station and re-established border crossing are intended to facilitate opportunities for visitors, scientists and researchers, and park and protected area managers to enter Mexico, as well as permit residents on the Mexican side of the border to enter the United States to purchase goods and services and to visit friends and family living in nearby West Texas towns.  Construction of the visitor contact station is proposed to begin in July 2011.  The port of entry opening is proposed for April 2012.

 

This Environmental Assessment (EA) evaluates two alternatives and the potential environmental impacts of each:  1) Alternative A, the No Action Alternative; 2) Alternative B, Construction and Operation of a Visitor Contact Station.  Alternative A describes the current condition of the project area and the environmental impacts that may occur if there were no changes in the way the park currently manages the area.  Alternative B describes construction and operation of a new visitor contact station and establishment of a Class B (remote, automated) port of entry.  Alternative B is the preferred alternative.

 

The EA has been prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations (40 CFR 1500 et seq), and NPS Director’s Order 12: Conservation Planning, Environmental Impact Analysis, and Decision-making (DO-12).

 

The 30-day review and comment period starts May 4, and continues through June 2, 2011.  To see the Environmental Assessment, visit the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/bibe during the comment period.  Written comments may be submitted on the PEPC website or may be sent to: Superintendent, Attention Boquillas Contact Station, P.O. Box 129, Big Bend National Park, Texas, 79834.

 

Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment – including your personal identifying information – may be made public at any time.  While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

 

 

 

–END–

 

 

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Bid to honor Western swing music hits sour note in Texas Legislature

from the April 18, 2011 edition of the Dallas Morning News

Bid to honor Western swing music hits sour note in Texas Legislature Does Western swing icon Bob Wills’ work represent Texas music better than Van Cliburn’s? Or Roy Orbison’s? Or Brave Combo’s? Or Johnny Winter’s? Or…?

By KAREN BROOKS Austin Bureau kmbrooks@dallasnews.com

AUSTIN — An effort to make Western swing the official music of Texas could see miles and miles of opposition, as one Hill Country music lover finds herself in the opening stanzas of a debate over what defines “Texas music.” “When we’re talking about a symbol, we’re talking about culture and heritage and history, and something that has been long lasting,” said Paula Jungmann, a Boerne housewife who is pushing for the legislative declaration. “When I look at Western swing, that is what I see.” But while she counts no time in politics, Jungmann is discovering that elected officials and creative artist types are pages torn from the same songbook in two big ways: You never know what they’re going to do, and you’ll never get them all to agree on anything. Some musicians — and the “Beer-drinkers and Hell-raisers” who love them (thank you, ZZ Top) — are wondering whether lawmakers should be trying to define and symbolize Texas music in terms of one genre. Particularly if it leaves out Hank Williams’ pain songs, Newbury’s train songs and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” “The official sound of Texas should be Texas music in all its glorious facets,” said Texas writer Joe Nick Patoski. “No official proclamation is necessary when everybody knows we make music better than anybody else.”

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Why Texans are Texans, a talk at Lamar University, April 14

“Why Texans are Texans: An Introduction to Texan Identity” presented by Joe Nick Patoski, author of multiple books on Texan identity and Texas music; former staff writer at Texas Monthly
“The Future of Texas” lecture series
Date: 4/14/2011 7:00 PM
Cost: Free
Location: McFaddin-Ward House Museum Visitor Center
1906 Calder Ave.
Beaumont, Texas 77701

The lecture series is sponsorsed by the Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities, the McFaddin-Ward House Museum and the Beaumont Public Library. The series features lecturers that discuss Texas historic themes. The lecture is free and open to the public. For information, call Lamar University at 409-839-2993 or the McFaddin-Ward House at 409-832-1906.

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SXSW starts now

Good luck, learn something, have fun

…and while you’re at it, come see this movie at the Paramount, 4:30 pm Weds and see how it all began.

Outside Industry: The Story of SXSW chronicles the origins and early evolution of the SXSW Music Festival, from breakthrough performances to fights over how to handle growth.  It follows the four founders as they navigate through the successes, backlash, criticism and even arson to become the biggest music industry event in the world.

http://www.outsideindustrymovie.com/

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