A forester’s confession
Mary Stuever and her ill-fated pine
I noticed recently the tiles are back up on the front facade of a tile showroom in north Albuquerque. I had a regular chuckle each time I drove by the large building adjacent to the interstate and noticed the two or three tiles missing from the grandly decorated exterior. Great advertising, I would muse. Then I would immediately realize this was like the pot calling the kettle black. Their business is tiles, my business is trees, and in my own yard I have some definitely dead trees.
When I built my log cabin fourteen years ago, one of the first things I did was plant trees on the property. I ignored the fact that my property, nestled squarely in the middle of the piñon-juniper woodland, had more than enough trees growing on the site. Instead of the short-stature piñon and juniper that graced my view, I wanted pine, white fir, and even blue spruce trees. If I could not build a cabin in the forest, I thought I could bring the forest to the cabin.
I might have been successful if I had been a horticulturist instead of a forester. To keep these trees alive in this lowland environment they would need to be coddled. Tended to. Landscaped. Cared for. It went against my professional sensibilities to allocate precious water to nurturing trees during a drought. Instead I tried to create microclimates that would utilize existing moisture to the fullest extent. My best success was a pine tree that was planted at the corner of my office building where the pitched roof dumped harvests of rainfall. When it rained.
My efforts first started failing in 1996, when my budding orchard bit the dust. I had installed a drip system in 1990 when I planted the young catalog-ordered grafts, but over the years the system had deteriorated. As a member of the firefighting community, I am never home much during droughts because that is when fires occur. That drought year I wasn’t paying attention. Fortunately, my generous neighbors are more successful orchard tenders so I am never without fruit. I justified my failure with the orchard, mumbling that I was more interested in native ecosystems and the fruit trees just weren’t meant to grow here. Besides, I had this really nice ponderosa pine tree growing next to my office which was taller than the kids who helped plant it.
In 2000 I lost the last of the white firs. A fellow firefighter and friend gave them to me when I moved in. He had been growing them for years at his ranch near Cuba as possible Christmas or landscape trees. They were almost three feet tall when we transplanted several to my place. Although I lost one the first year, it seemed the mulch and drip irrigation were allowing them to hang on. However, through the years, only one tree adapted to living in the woodland. Then came another drought year, and another failed drip system. The failure with the irrigation system was my inability to turn the water on. My well is marginal at best and I feared the well would not meet our domestic needs if I spent precious water keeping trees alive.
This past summer the drought gods descended once again. When I arrived home from two weeks on a fire, my beloved pine tree next to the office was sporting some brown needles. All day I wrestled with the dilemma of whether to water in a drought. Almost on an impulse, I turned on the garden hose, hoping to salvage my last effort. Not wanting to admit my decision, I immediately forgot the deed.
A few days later there was no water at my tap. The thousand-gallon tank that collects the meager water my well produces was empty. All my fears of drought were well founded; my well had gone dry. I left for a weekend excursion, promising to face life without water when I returned. Sunday night, coming back tired and dirty, I was delighted to find my reservoir replenished. I turned the water back on to the house, and wondered how the well had been able to pump a thousand gallons when I thought it had gone dry. Did I have a water leak somewhere? Then I remembered the tree.
I raced out to my office and was immediately thwarted by the quagmire. At least a thousand gallons of water had dripped from the end of the garden hose over the last week. The ground around my office and my tree had the consistency of gelatin. As I shut the water off, I knew I had killed my tree. The ponderosa pine growing by my office that was now several feet taller than me would never survive this drastic over-watering.
I miss the missing tiles on the facade of the Albuquerque showroom. It was a nice reminder that I am not the only one with a blemish on my reputation. I won’t be planting any replacement trees. It has taken over a decade, but I’ve learned to accept that my log cabin is in the woodlands, not the forest.
Mary Stuever is a consulting forester specializing in forest ecosystems of the American Southwest. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
Eradication of non-native trout necessary for restoration of Rio Grande cutthroat? Hearing set
A hearing is scheduled in January to present technical testimony for the proposed treatment of San Antonio Creek and the Jemez East Fork River with Fintrol (antimycin A) to remove nonnative trout in preparation for native Rio Grande cutthroat trout restoration. The hearing will begin at 9:00 a.m. on January 14 in Mabry Hall Education Building, 100 Don Gaspar, in Santa Fe.
The Department of Game and Fish proposes to treat both waterways in partnership with the Santa Fe National Forest and the Valles Caldera National Preserve as part of the effort to restore native Rio Grande cutthroat trout to public fishing waters in New Mexico.
"This would be an excellent opportunity to move forward with Rio Grande cutthroat trout distribution and expansion on public lands with excellent partnership support," said Peter Wilkinson, fisheries division assistant chief.
The restoration includes San Antonio Creek and the Jemez East Fork River on both the Santa Fe National Forest and the limited-access Valles Caldera National Preserve. It will provide ecological conservation of the species and expanded recreational opportunities for the public. Fish barriers on the streams will be located from one and a half to three miles below the preserve-forest boundary.
"Prior to treatment, the department will open an expanded bag limit followed by salvage fishing activity to move as many fish out of there as possible," said Wilkinson.
Fintrol contains the active ingredient antimycin A, which kills fish and other gill-breathing organisms by suffocation at the cellular level. It is said to be nontoxic to humans and other wildlife and dissipates rapidly after application of one part antimycin A to one billion parts water. The department declares that nonnative trout must be completely removed from a waterway before stocking with Rio Grande cutthroat because they outcompete, and interbreed with, the native fish.
Placitas Recycling drafts petition for government assistance, commitment in recycling plastic
Residents of Placitas will no longer be able to recycle plastic as usual. John Knapp, president of the Placitas Recycling Center’s board of directors, says the board has been unsuccessful in finding a plastics recycler.
Previously the Placitas center had been accepting all types of plastic, which were periodically transported to TEWA Corporation in Albuquerque. The company used the recycled plastic to make paving material. TEWA filed bankruptcy in November (see Signpost, November 2002).
Since learning of the dissolution of TEWA Corporation, the board of directors of the Placitas Recycling Center has been looking for an alternative location to take the plastic. They have been unsuccessful in finding one. Beginning January 2003 the recycling center will be forced to send all plastic to Cerro Colorado, the landfill for the city of Albuquerque. At that location only #1 (clear plastic bottles) and #2 (milk jugs) plastic is recycled. Therefore, beginning next month, the Placitas Recycling Center will accept only #1 and #2 plastic.
TEWA Corporation was forced into bankruptcy because they were unable to market their product to contractors in the state of New Mexico. Board members of the recycling center were disappointed the company was no longer able to put recycled plastic to good use. As a result, the board decided to draft the following petition calling for a greater commitment to recycling on the part of local and state governments:
Petition for assistance in recycling plastic wastes
We, the people of New Mexico, realizing the urgent need to drastically reduce the enormous quantities of plastic currently being disposed of in our landfills, urge our local, state and federal government agencies to assist us in finding practical ways to recycle and/or reuse this under-utilized resource. We are aware of processes which allow recycled waste plastic to be added into our asphalt highways rather then buried into our earth landfills.
We, the undersigned citizens, urge and request our federal, state, county and city officials to take immediate action to implement such new technologies, as a viable effort to relieve pressure on our landfills, lengthen the life of our highway system and reduce the cost of highway maintenance.
We, the taxpayers of New Mexico, thank you for your attention to this petition.
The petition will be available for signing at the Placitas Recycling Center during its normal hours of operation, 8:00 am to 1:00 pm.
EPA-funded air sampling begins
for study of toxic chemicals
This article originally appeared in the Corrales Comment on December 21, 2002.
First official steps toward monitoring Corrales’ air for toxic chemicals will begin this month while Intel’s assembly lines are shut down.
Air sampling sites at four locations in Corrales and Rio Rancho were chosen at the first meeting of the Corrales Air Quality Task Force funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Fourteen members of the newly-appointed task force met in the Corrales Recreation Center December 12 primarily to choose sampling sites so that work could begin during Intel’s annual end-of-year shutdown.
(Actually Intel officials explained it’s more of a “holiday warm-down” since operations are essentially idled rather than switched completely off. Emissions from the plants will be reduced during the period, although annual cleaning will release some pollutants, they noted.)
The four initial sampling sites chosen were: Joy Tschawuschian’s home near the top of Windover Road; Monica May’s home on 36th Street in Rio Rancho; Dorothy Smith’s pasture south of West Meadowlark Lane; and at Sandia View Academy, in the northern part of the Corrales valley.
Two of the sites, the Tschawuschian and May homes, are locations where residents have serious ailments they feel may be related to Intel emissions.
Samplings taken at these four locations and at other sites yet to be determined early next year will be used to design a more complete air toxics monitoring effort during the first half of 2003.
The air monitoring sites, as distinct from the initial sampling sites, will be selected later based partly on the sampling results. The detailed monitoring would come in May.
The EPA-funded project is not specifically aimed at detecting chemicals from Intel, but rather is measuring and assessing risks from air pollutants from any source that might affect health in Corrales and parts of Rio Rancho.
Still, it was clear from remarks by several task force members and N.M. Environment Department officials that Intel’s operations will be a prime target.
And that didn’t seem to bother the two Intel representatives at the first meeting, Mindy Koch and Jim Casciano.
No one doubts that Intel is the largest user of toxic chemicals that could contribute to health problems in the neighborhoods where health complaints have been most prevalent over the past decade.
With its new state air pollution permit, Intel is allowed to release into the air 96.5 tons per year of volatile organic compounds (mostly solvents), 24 tons per year of federally classified hazardous air pollutants, 14.2 tons per year of particulates such as silica, and even more tonnages of chemicals classified by the State as toxic air pollutants.
And, as Air Quality Bureau permit writer Richard Goodyear explained at a meeting in Corrales this fall, those limits are not set at levels in which they are known to be safe.
Congress and regulatory agencies have studiously avoided setting health-based standards, or emissions limits, due to political repercussions.
Instead the limits in the air permit are established at levels that let Intel be regulated as a minor source of pollution using its control equipment.
Similarly, before Intel began its major expansions in 1994, its permit ceiling for volatile organic compounds was set at 328 tons per year going into the air over Corrales. No one determined back then that 328 tons per year would be safe; that was just the number that Intel asked for, and was granted.
The new Corrales Air Quality Task Force was set up after a decade of activism by Corrales Residents for Clean Air and Water (CRCAW). Most of the original founders of that group have moved away to avoid continued exposure to Intel’s chemicals.
But one of those founders, Barbara Rockwell, now living in Placitas, was a representative on the task force at its December 12 meeting. She sat in for Robby Rodriguez of the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP).
Other task force members are: Fred Marsh and Dave Rockwell for CRCAW; Martha Egan and Judie Framan, appointed by the Village of Corrales; Sandy Hardy, representing local business, appointed by the Village; Kris Axtell and Julian Garza, appointed by the mayor of Rio Rancho; Don Chalmers, appointed by the Rio Rancho mayor to represent local non-Intel business; Sandoval County Commissioners Daymon Ely and Bill Sapien, Intel’s Mindy Koch and Don Fisher; Albuquerque Air Quality Division staffer Fabian Macías; and Randy Merker from the N.M. Department of Health’s State Scientific Laboratory, which will analyze air samples collected.
Also participating were two officials from the epidemiology section of the N.M. Health Department, Barbara Polk and Amy Lay.
Project manager for the Corrales air toxics program is Mary Uhl, of the Air Quality Bureau’s policy and planning section. She is assisted by Ken Lienemann, also in that office, who produced most of the technical proposal under considerations at the December 12 meeting.
So far Lienemann has directed the air toxic monitoring program toward two objectives sought by CRCAW’s Fred Marsh:
That residents who are experiencing health problems they relate to chemical emissions should take air samples at their locations, and
That the sampling and monitoring effort should emphasize detection of short-duration, high-intensity emission releases referred to as “spikes.”
Indeed, project manager Mary Uhl said repeatedly at the December 12 task force meeting that spikes would be given special attention. “The initial phase of the monitoring is to figure out what we need to look at in more depth. The entire world of air toxics is huge. . .
“The monitoring that will be done after we figure out where to look for it, through modeling and emissions inventory, we will work as hard as we can to identify those spikes.
“We will be trying to identify the maximum of those spikes. I want to commit to that.”
CRCAW has been most concerned about short, intense releases from Intel which are allowed by the chip manufacturer’s new permit.
Marsh, a retired Los Alamos chemist, explained the importance of that to the task force. “This permit offers no protection even when Intel is in compliance. I often give the example of phosgene, because that’s well known as a poison gas in World War I, when it accounted for 80 percent of the poison gas fatalities.
“Now, I’m not saying that Intel does this. . .I’m saying the permit would allow the following:
“The permit would allow them to release 5.9 tons of phosgene in a single day, or even in a single hour. This would kill thousands of people within several miles of the plant.
“And they could say in all truthfulness that they were in 100 percent compliance with the permit.”
(See Corrales Comment’s five-part series of articles on Intel’s new air pollution permit November 20, 1999 to January 22, 2000.)
The task force set its second meeting for January 29, 5-8 p.m. at an undetermined site.
As part of the overall Corrales air emissions inventory, the Air Quality Bureau is asking the public to identify possible minor pollution sources of which they may be unaware.
Forms were handed out at the December 12 task force meeting, asking for information about such operations as kilns, small generators, concrete plants, businesses that sell bulk quantities of sprays or fertilizers, sand and gravel businesses, auto repair and auto body shops and distilleries and fermentation processes, among others.
Such information is to be submitted by January 15 to N.M. Air Quality Bureau, 2044 Galisteo, Santa Fe NM 987505, attention Mary Hilbert.