By Rick LoBello
Every day in El Paso we see more and more of what remains of the natural landscape in lower elevations of Franklin Mountains going under the blade of the bulldozer. In the name of progress we can’t seem to stop making more roads, building more Walmarts and more strip malls. I am all in favor of progress, but is this the kind of progress El Paso needs to have a sustainable future? What are we going to do when all the land has been developed? Why can’t we build away from what remains of these lands and protect them for our community today and future generations who will need more open space for outdoor recreation opportunities? Have you ever tried to find a hiking trail in the Franklins that did not include climbing up a mountain side? We definitely need more trails for senior citizens and families who simply want to take more level walking trails. Saving these wild places also helps to protect trails and pathways that wildlife need to move from one part of the landscape to the next. Why can’t we focus more on building upward like we see happening downtown and in places like the Venue at Montecillo on Mesa? We are running out of water too so what’s going on here?
Did you know that some of the oldest organisms in the world live in the lower elevations of the Franklin Mountains? One creosote bush in the Mojave Desert was found growing in a single clonal colony up to 67 feet in diameter and was estimated to be 11,700 years old. Who is to say some creosote bush rings right here in El Paso may be older. We may never know since no one will have a chance to find out as every square inch of desert is destroyed and covered with concrete.
Here is what is going on, special interest groups with lots of cash are making lots of money destroying El Paso’s natural heritage. We are talking about the southernmost region of the Rocky Mountains in the United States of America – they’re called the Franklin Mountains. These mountains cannot survive ecologically with only the higher elevations intact. The lower elevations are important too because many wildlife species spend their entire lives in or travel through these lower areas to get from one part of the mountain range to the next. Some species survive only in the lower elevations. For example, how many jackrabbits do you find climbing up a steep mountain side? These prey species live in lower elevations areas and guess who eats the jackrabbit, the Golden Eagle. Golden Eagles have long been admired by people around the world and are one of best known birds of prey in the Northern Hemisphere. They live in the Franklins and beyond and hunt in the lower elevations for rabbits and other small prey species.
Everyone in El Paso now and in the future needs to be connected to the natural world, for their physical and psychological well-being. The estimated population of El Paso, County is now nearly 900,000. The Franklin Mountains are home to thousands of species of animals and plants. Looking for some good reasons to protect our natural environment? How about 900,000?
Now that you have read this what are you going to do about it? Need some ideas? Contact organizations like the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition and Frontera Land Alliance for some guidance. Both are very active in trying to find solutions to protecting the natural environment in El Paso. You can also form your own group and make your own noise. Don’t just sit there and watch it happen. Look into the face of a child if you need some motivation and ask yourself, is it worth it for their sake?