Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

  Eco-Beat

Santa Ana Garden Center

Santa Ana Garden Center offers summer survival tips for gardens—and gardeners

—Margaret M. Nava, Signpost
With the dog days of summer well underway, many gardeners may be noticing their gardens don’t look as attractive as they did earlier in the season. Lack of rainfall combined with abundant sun and scorching temperatures can leave even the best-intentioned gardens looking drab. Add a handful of uninvited insects and the results are inevitable. In some gardens, plants wilt, leaves dry up and disease takes over. It can turn into a real mess. But Carol Scrivner, manager of the Santa Ana Garden Center on Jemez Dam Road says it doesn’t have to be that way.

“The first rule of gardening in our region should be to select native-grown plants that will survive in our environment. Plants that are shipped in from California or Colorado may look healthy at first but once they’re in our gardens they don’t perform half as well as those grown in New Mexico soil. Native plants are suited for the amount of rainfall our area receives and, once established, can tolerate the degree of heat we have. It just makes sense to use them.”

Although traditional gardens grown by the Pueblo Indians were usually limited to corn, beans, and squash, Carol says today’s New Mexican gardens might include tomatoes, artichokes, watermelon, and many other types of vegetables. Ornamental plants such as native Apache plume, New Mexico olive, and chamisa decorate our landscape. And perennials like penstemon, Mexican hat, blanket flower, and grasses have found their place in our gardens along with a wide variety of herbs and many other wonderful plants that, although not native, will do well in our climate if given a little extra care.

People once believed that the dog days were an evil time when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs turned mad, and all living creatures grew languid. Nowadays, we know they are nothing more than the time when it is too hot to do anything but lie around like an old coon dog. Unfortunately, because of the heat, some of us get lulled into a feeling that there is nothing we can do in the garden when, in reality, there is much that can and should be done. Carol recommends the following steps to help insure that your garden makes it through these sultry days:

Adjust irrigation based on rainfall and be sure to water deeply—shallow watering creates shallow root development and plants will dry out quickly. The best time to water is very early morning before the sun actually comes up.

Deadhead flowers to encourage new blooms and cut back tomatoes to encourage new growth for fall harvest.

Stay ahead of weeds—many weeds are trying to produce seed. If they are allowed to remain in the garden, you will be battling their offspring for years to come.

Replace mulch as needed. It conserves water, helps cool the soil, and prevents weeds.

Get ready to fertilize once the weather cools down. Deciduous perennials and ornamentals need extra nourishment to get them through winter. Any kind of organic and composted materials are recommended. These will feed the soil, not just replace nutrients.

And remember, your plants aren’t the only ones feeling the heat. Be sure to keep yourself hydrated and protected from the sun by drinking plenty of water and wearing a hat and sunscreen.

For more information about native plants and gardens, contact Carol Scrivner at the Santa Ana Garden Center at (505) 867-1322. Also, check the website at santaana.org for a complete list of available plants. Then get out there and enjoy your garden and what’s left of the summer… even if you’d rather just roll over and take a nap.


Borax

Pictured: Some of the wagons pulled by a "20 Mule Team" in the late 1800s that would carry processed borax from mines to the nearest railroad spur.

EarthTalkTM

—From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard so much about using Borax for green housecleaning. But if this mineral has to be mined, doesn’t that negate some of its “greenness?”—Elsa, Lincoln, Nebraska

Mining for minerals such as boron (the key ingredient in the Borax we use for cleaning, pest control, and other household tasks) is an activity that typically leaves behind a big environmental footprint. Mining degrades the local landscape and destroys wildlife habitat, while polluting both air and water. It also usually consumes large amounts of water, which can be taxing in already arid regions, such as the Mojave Desert, one of two regions of the world (along with parts of Turkey) with large boron deposits.

Typically, boron is extracted in open-pit mines by drilling, blasting, crushing, and hauling—all activities fueled by petrochemicals. The refining process then uses a significant amount of water. Finally, the waste product—known in the industry as “tailings”—is deposited in man-made ponds where further refining is done before the water is then discharged into the local watershed.

The mining industry has long been criticized as an environmental baddie, but the leading company that mines Borax, Rio Tinto, has actually been given high marks for environmental stewardship. Jared Diamond’s 2005 book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed called the British mining giant the exception in its industry. Due to “a strongly supportive CEO and British stockholders,” he wrote, the company moved forward with the 2002 environmental recommendations of the mining industry’s Mining Minerals and Sustainable Development project that were for the most part ignored by the rest of the industry. “Rio Tinto foresaw business advantages to being seen as an industry leader in social responsibility,” said Diamond. “Its Borax mine in Death Valley, California is now perhaps the most cleanly operated mine in the U.S.”

Boron, oxygen, and sodium make up sodium tetraborate, which is sold as “20 Mule Team Borax” (the name comes from the teams of eighteen mules and two horses that would haul large wagons of processed borax from mines in the late 1800s to the nearest railroad spur). The powdered detergent is considered a least-toxic recipe as a natural disinfectant and household cleaner. Beyond cleaning formulations, boron is also used in a wide variety of other products, including the manufacture of fiberglass and Pyrex.

Pest control is another use. One boron compound is used to treat wood to prevent fungal decay and repel carpenter ants, roaches, and termites. Boric acid is included on the national list of allowed substances for structural pest control in organic food production (as long as there is no direct contact with food or crops). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that pesticide products containing boric acid and its salts are of low toxicity. (However, ingesting it or applying large amounts to the skin can cause acute poisoning, so parents should be vigilant about where they store and use products containing Borax.)

Emerging uses of boron, and new ways to recycle its waste, may make this mineral even more valuable. A Turkish researcher notes that borax waste added to red bricks and cement products increases strength and lifespan. And at the National Boron Research Institute in Turkey, it is being studied as an element to produce fuel cells and to aid in cancer treatment.

For more information, contact: Rio Tinto at riotinto.com; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at epa.gov; Turkey’s National Boron Research Institute at boren.gov.tr/en.


Green gearheads? Rev it up

— Ray Ring, Writers on the Range 
This idea will probably strike some people as outrageous. But what the hey, progress rarely comes easily. The Wilderness Society, a behemoth in the environmental movement, has been running a help-wanted ad. It’s looking to hire a “Public Lands Recreation Policy Advisor.”

Anyone taking that job, which is based in the group’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, would help shape its “national policy direction for off-road vehicles, transportation planning and recreation issues on public lands.”  

I just want to let The Wilderness Society know, I’m available; in fact, consider this my application. But if I got the job, I’d make sure to steer the group in a new direction based on a whole new strategy.  
This is what I would do: In the big off-road driving gatherings this summer -- on sand dunes and dirt trails and other challenging terrain on public land around the West, where motorheads roar around on souped-up ATVs and dirt bikes and Mad Max Jeeps -- I’d show up in a huge pickup truck, towing a trailer loaded with powerful machines that carry The Wilderness Society logo.  

I’d be accompanied by a team of professional off-road drivers wearing black leather and helmets also emblazoned with The Wilderness Society logo. We’d join the crowd of our usual opponents, who are getting their jollies and showing off their adrenaline and testosterone by riding motors. And we would excel at their sport.  

Then, next winter, when snowmobilers have their big gatherings to show  off their hill-climbing skills, I’d show up with The Wilderness Society’s new crack snowmobile team. If that sounds too politically incorrect for an environmental group to stomach, I’ll back off just a notch by having all my Wilderness Society machines powered by eco-friendly alternative fuels or batteries -- as long as we can get the horsepower we need to show off.  

All this might cost some serious money, but it’s bound to be cheaper than The Wilderness Society’s near-constant barrage of mass-mailings and press releases about the sins of off-road drivers who take delight in trespassing in wilderness areas or tearing up other wildlife habitat.  

And I think it would be make for far more effective public relations than the attempts of most environmental groups. Because all their “alerts” merely preach to an approving choir while revealing to the rest of the world an irritating and monotonous holier-than-thou tone.  

I would show the motorheads that many wilderness advocates understand that driving ATVs and snowmobiles is fun and exciting and requires real skills. Some wilderness advocates can probably drive to the top of that dune or snowy slope faster than overweight, beer-befuddled drivers who hate wilderness. But I would even make sure to have some overweight beer–drinkers on The Wilderness Society teams.  

My message would serve as a challenge to stereotypes: We’re not green wusses who react out of knee-jerk opposition to machines. We stand for wilderness protection without being elitists who condemn the whole motorhead community. We clearly encourage responsible off-road driving in areas where it’s appropriate.  

That would effectively drive a wedge into the motorheads’ community,isolating their knee-jerk ideologues who are against all regulations and all wilderness, building bridges to their reasonable people.  

My idea doesn’t mean giving up The Wilderness Society’s goals of protecting wilderness, wildlife habitat and opportunities for non-motorized recreation. The idea is to present an image and a movement that gets beyond prejudice, staking out shared values.   Some environmental groups are trying this idea already in less controversial ways as they run eco-friendly ranches and eco-friendly logging, making some headway by showing those communities that all environmentalists are not the enemy.  

I’d also like to see the Sierra Club run an eco-friendly mine to show the mining community that it can be done with no pollution of water or air. Imagine burly (we’ve already got a lot of beefy guys in this one) miners in green-T-shirts operating huge machines fueled by garden compost. I’d also like to see the National Wildlife Federation set up an eco-friendly drilling rig. I’m not sure how that would work, but I bet it’s somewhere within the realm of possibility, just to show that there are green roughnecks out there.  

The wilderness movement tends toward absolutes. It would certainly benefit from adopting a “we have things in common” strategy, especially if it’s presented in an outrageously theatrical way. Let’s rev it up!


Burned Areas

Previously burned areas reduce the amount of available fuels to prevent fire spread. This area burned in the 1996 Dome Fire has a good clean understory, keeping fire contained to a low-intensity surface fire.

A cooperative approach to managing fire

—the National Forest Service

Even as the San Miguel Wildland Fire continues to burn, it represents an evolution in federal fire policy. “Managing fire is about more than fighting fire,” said Bandelier National Monument Superintendent Jason Lott. “Our goal is to allow lightning-ignited fires to burn naturally within fire-adapted ecosystems when we can do so safely, effectively, and efficiently,” said Lott. “Fire and smoke are an inevitable part of living in New Mexico,” said Bandelier National Monument Fire Management Officer Gary Kemp. “It’s not a matter of if they occur, but when,” he continued.

“Every fire is different, and we evaluate the potential risks and benefits of each one,” said Lott. Numerous fires started in the Jemez Mountains during the first week of July. Of those new starts, all but two were suppressed. “We decided to manage the San Miguel Wildland Fire for resource benefits based on guidance outlined in our fire management plan, in combination with an analysis of the current situation,” Kemp explained.

“It all comes down to when, where, and why,” says Lott. This fire started in early July, after the area had received substantial precipitation, and during a time when fire resources were readily available. The fire is located in a fire-adapted ecosystem within the remote Bandelier Wilderness where it poses no immediate risk to life, safety, property, or resources. The fire is also surrounded by rocky terrain, trails, and previously burned areas, which all serve as natural fuel breaks. The San Miguel Wildland Fire is playing an essential role in clearing out dead and downed vegetation on the forest floor, setting the stage for new plant growth and helping slow the spread and intensity of large, intense wildfires in the future.

“The San Miguel Wildland Fire is an excellent example of our flexibility in managing wildfire,” said Incident Commander Robert Morales. “We were able to use a variety of tactics to limit the spread of the fire on a portion of the fire while continuing to manage the fire for resource objectives,” he added. As the fire progressed, hotshot crews and water-dropping aircraft were brought in to limit the fire’s spread to the north, east, and south, where it had the potential to move into thicker fuels that would have burned hotter and faster than desired, and would have produced significantly more smoke that would have lasted for a longer period. “We focused our efforts on areas where firefighters could access the fire safely and where our resources would be most effective,” Morales said.

From the onset of the fire, Bandelier National Monument Superintendent Jason Lott and Santa Fe National Forest Supervisor Daniel Jiron agreed to work together to manage the fire for resource benefit as it progressed naturally from the Bandelier Wilderness into the Dome Wilderness on its western perimeter. “This fire set the stage for future interagency fire management opportunities,” Jiron emphasized.

“While smoke impacts were present during the San Miguel Wildland Fire, variable winds resulted in intermittent, temporary impacts to nearby communities during the most active days of the fire,” said Kemp. “We always prioritize public health and safety when planning and managing wildland fire activities in the Monument,” said Superintendent Jason Lott. “We have a responsibility to balance short-term impacts with long-term benefits,” he added. Slow-moving, low- to moderate-intensity wildfires like the San Miguel Wildland Fire help reduce the future risk of large, destructive wildfires which can produce heavy smoke and impact communities for weeks.

“Fire managers on the San Miguel Wildland Fire are exceeding basic reporting requirements and working closely with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) to strategize ways to ensure smoke management is a priority,” stated Jim Norton, NMED Environmental Protection Division Director. “We intend to work closely together in the future to ensure that management of smoke remains a priority for all types of managed fires, including naturally ignited fires.”

The San Miguel Wildland Fire burned 1,635 acres (1,442 acres on National Park Service, 192 acres on U.S. Forest Service), and resulted in a mosaic of burned and unburned vegetation. Fire activity has been minimal over the past few days and little growth is expected. “Some logs and stumps within the fire’s perimeter will continue to smolder until extinguished naturally by rain,” explained Kemp. Final costs for the fire are not available, but early estimates show the cost of managing the San Miguel Wildland Fire are hundreds of dollars per acre less than a comparable prescribed fire or a full-suppression fire.

In the future, the National Park Service and the National Forest Service will continue to assess naturally occurring fires as they did the San Miguel Fire to determine if they can be managed for resource benefits or if they should be fully suppressed. If a fire poses no threat to life, safety, property, or resources, fire managers may allow it to follow its natural course to cleanse the landscape and renew vegetation. Both agencies expect managed fires to be more of a norm within the Bandelier National Monument and the Santa Fe National Forest.


We battled beetles by burning our trees

— Vicki Lindner, Writers on the Range
Four summers ago, I enlisted in the war against the pine bark beetle raging on Wyoming’s Togwotee Pass. I started to fight by inspecting every pine on the two-acre lot where my partner and I spend much of the summer. Sawdust at the base of one tall lodgepole indicated that the humpbacked killers had already drilled in. Were they blocking the tree’s conductive vessels with deadly spores of blue-staining fungus?  Pink resin wads on the trunk indicated that this tree was trying to eject the evil dendroctonus by immobilizing it in sap.
But we faced a hard choice: Let this pine live, or cut it down.

The lodgepole’s crown was still bright green. We could leave it alone and hope that deep snow and cold would return. If the temperature dropped to 40 below and moisture helped my tree deploy sap, it might cast out the beetles. But if the barbarians took hold, their eggs would produce armies nurtured on my pine’s juicy phloem. By the time its branches turned rust-colored, the newly hatched soldiers would have flown out to invade another tree. I didn’t know then that I could peel back the bark to check for orange larvae galleries, indicating that the beetles had reached the invincible stage.

Instead, I exclaimed, “Let’s take out this weapon of mass destruction! Get a chainsaw!” After that, we burned the tree and its invaders before they could escape. Yet this was just the first wave. Our trees fell like dominoes. Even as pipes burst in below-zero cold weather, more orange pines turned blue inside.
Spying boreholes in a favorite lodgepole, we tweezered out a beetle and waterboarded it in gasoline. “Made you feel better, didn’t it,” chuckled an entomologist friend. After that, we sprayed our 150 surviving trees with Permethrin.

As it turned out, we needed to save some beetlemania for our neighbor inholders in the Shoshone National Forest. We found that most cabin dwellers who escape to the mountains for relaxation weren’t eager to join a labor-intensive campaign. At our first meeting, I passed out literature that urged  property owners to thin, trim and spray. Afterward, apathy returned, as the Forest Service had predicted: “We never got so many calls about dying trees, or saw so little being done,” a staffer told me.

One woman, who owns three lots, refused to thin. “The beetles are nature’s way,” she said.

“No, they’re global warming’s way,” I said, and watched 80 percent of her lodgepoles succumb, including a sky-brushing veteran that had stood there since before the white man’s time. When she sold her property to a dentist, he tried to save the remaining pines by watering them. Unfortunately, he committed a war crime by crossing a fence and pumping water out of the ditch that irrigates an attorney’s hay ranch. The lawyer showed admirable restrain by urging the dentist to get his own federal permit.

A couple in their 70s lacked the strength to cut down red trees, so we marked 25 infected pines for them, all spotted with telltale sap “popcorns.”  “You have to axe them before they look dead,” I explained, “or they’ll infect the rest.”

“I’ll be right up to deal with it,” a busy sheep rancher promised, but in the midst of a divorce, he couldn’t face it. A year later, the bark beetles finished off his lodgepoles; our yellow tape was still tied around them.
After a couple of years of this, I had about given up when the will to resist finally moved the community.

Grandkids turned up to clear one lot, a neighbor who had been in denial borrowed a wood chipper, then loaned it to us, and the dentist chainsawed sick trees instead of watering them. And our fiercest opponent finally said: “Why don’t we just cut down all the trees and get it over with?”

Best of all, our community diplomat persuaded the last holdout that firefighters might not defend her home if the standing dead trees began blazing.

As for us, our early intervention paid off. We have saved most of our pines, along with a chunk of our property value. But how long can we spray, and what might we be poisoning besides the bugs?  Isn’t it futile?  Experts predict 90 percent mortality. When we sawed up one granddaddy pine that didn’t make it, a cloud of black beetles stormed out.

Putting aside those disturbing questions, we recently hosted a homeowner’s meeting. Instead of discussing beetle kill and the flames predicted to sweep the diseased forest, we drank watermelon margaritas, compared our visits to foreign countries and laughed at bad jokes. And people said they were already replanting.



Heard Around the West

—Betsy Marston, High Country News

UTAH
The Beehive State really let its hair down recently, finally permitting people to drink liquor without having to join a gentlemen’s club first. Before that, the state Legislature approved a bill allowing people to go out in public with “emotional support animals.” But after receiving complaints about flying squirrels and hamsters accompanying people to supermarkets and other public places, legislators are now trying to figure out where to draw the line. “When a customer is walking through a food store with a lizard, that doesn’t give other customers the kind of assurances that they come to expect,” Jim Olsen of the Utah Food Industry told the Salt Lake Tribune.

MONTANA
But Bozeman, it seems, remains uptight. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that for three years, city officials have been vetting job applicants by looking them up on Facebook, Web sites, chat rooms, YouTube.com, MySpace — you name it. This may be routine in Bozeman, although when the news got out, the Guardian, a London daily, named the city its “civil liberties villain of the week.” But another Chronicle story calls that moniker into question: After some to-ing and fro-ing, Bozeman finally permitted two extremely diverse groups to march down its Main Street on the Fourth of July, although not at the same time. One group is the Bozeman Tea Party, which protests any taxes and most government spending; the other is the Green Coalition of Gay Loggers for Jesus, whose name seems self-explanatory, although founder Brian Leland notes that he is neither gay or a logger; his group is just “a ‘big tent’ organization.”

WASHINGTON
The good news is that the wasps have flown away; the bad news is that the thousands of nests they built on six acres of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in south-central Washington are “fairly highly contaminated with radioactive isotopes such as cesium and cobalt,” reports the Associated Press. The mud daubers built the nests after workers finished covering some cleaned-up waste sites with fresh topsoil, native plants and straw — a perfect environment for the insects. So once again, workers have to scrape the ground and haul off radioactive soil. Hanford was busiest during the Manhattan Project of the 1940s, when scientists built the atomic bomb that the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The ongoing restoration of the entire site “is expected to last decades and cost $50 billion.”

WASHINGTON
Knute Berger offers a little primer in crosscut.com for newcomers to Seattle, a city that he says is a “cultural minefield of prejudice and political correctness.” First, he advises, never complain that recycling is a pain in the you-know-what. Next, don’t admit you shop at Bellevue Square, and avoid trying to get too cozy with your neighbors: “Being too friendly could result in a restraining order.”  You’d also better not mention that you’d rather drive than bike, and don’t even think of flinching if a dog poops on your shoe, since pets are holier than thou. Finally, “there is no surer ticket to the Mental Hospital for the Criminally Insane” than announcing “I’m a Republican.” Berger intimately knows his politically correct Seattleites; his new book is called Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes on Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice.

 

     

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