Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network voices his opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline while law enforcement monitors a recent protest on the street in front of the North Dakota Capitol. Highway Patrol Capt. Bryan Niewind, left, offered him a megaphone to amplify his voice. (Amy Sisk)

Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network voices his opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline while law enforcement monitors a recent protest on the street in front of the North Dakota Capitol. Highway Patrol Capt. Bryan Niewind, left, offered him a megaphone to amplify his voice. (Amy Sisk)

Pipeline Battle Draws Hundreds To Remote North Dakota

Just 12 years old, Alice Brownotter leads a crowd of hundreds in a rally against a major oil pipeline.

“We can’t drink oil,” they chant. “Keep it in the soil.”

She’s protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is slated to cross under the Missouri River, just upstream of her home on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in south-central North Dakota.

“When it goes through – or if – and when it breaks, it will affect everyone,” Alice said.

She’s worried it will leak and poison the drinking water for the 8,000 people living on her reservation.


Continue reading

Remembering the 1966 Starr County Farm Worker Strike

On June 1, 1966, the newly-formed farm workers’ union based in Rio Grande City voted to strike for higher wages. Lonn Taylor was there. On this edition of the Rambling Boy Lonn tells us about his role in the strikes, which … Continue reading

The Rambling Boy is broadcast Mondays after the 10 am newscast and again after the 7 pm newscast.
Mural in Alpine, TX, home to Front Street Brokes (daveynin via Flickr/Creative Commons CC BY 2.0)

Mural in Alpine, TX, home to Front Street Brokes (daveynin via Flickr/Creative Commons CC BY 2.0)

Texas Bookseller Picks 3 Summer Reads

Julia Green of Front Street Books in Alpine, Texas, recommends Moonlight on Linoleum by Terry Helwig, City of Women by David R. Gillham and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.


Continue reading

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman David Porter speaks during a Sunset Advisory Commission hearing in Austin on Aug. 22, 2016. (Marjorie Kamys Cotera)

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman David Porter speaks during a Sunset Advisory Commission hearing in Austin on Aug. 22, 2016. (Marjorie Kamys Cotera)

Lawmakers Push Back on Railroad Commission Overhaul Proposals

State lawmakers on Monday considered a host of recommendations to reshape and rename the Texas Railroad Commission, a powerful agency that oversees a host of oil and gas activities but not railroads.

Staff of the Sunset Advisory Commission, the legislative body that periodically reviews state agencies, has called for big changes at the 125-year-old agency, including beefing up its oversight of drilling, pipeline safety and abandoned wells; improving record keeping; changing its name to the Texas Energy Resources Commission; and no longer regulating natural gas utilities.

But as a hearing of lawmakers on the Sunset commission stretched into evening, it appeared unlikely that all of those recommendations would make it into legislation.

One legislator said he believed the entire review was was unnecessary, and the criticism mean-spirited.

“When I went through this report, I thought to myself, ‘Why are you so angry at the Railroad Commission?'” Rep. Dan Flynn told Sunset commission staff.

“Oil and gas industry is the heart and soul of the state of Texas, the Canton Republican added, “And for us to go and attack an agency that’s done a pretty good job, it just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Though no lawmaker completely echoed Flynn, his spirited defense of the Railroad Commission underscored the difficulty of implementing change at the hulking agency in Texas, the nation’s oil and gas king.


Continue reading

A camera captured gunmen storming a restaurant in Puerto Vallarta in August 2016, where they kidnapped Alfredo Guzmán and five others. (Omar Gonzalez/YouTube)

A camera captured gunmen storming a restaurant in Puerto Vallarta in August 2016, where they kidnapped Alfredo Guzmán and five others. (Omar Gonzalez/YouTube)

Son of ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Released Unharmed After Kidnapping

When the son of imprisoned drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán and five others were abducted from a restaurant on Mexico’s Pacific coast last week, analysts said revenge attacks would follow.

The younger Guzmán is wanted by the U.S. for alleged drug trafficking while working for his father’s Sinaloa Federation.

But on Saturday, Guzmán was released unharmed reportedly after negotiations with the cartel that took him.

Alfredo Guzmán, 29 years old, was eating at a restaurant in Puerta Vallarta, Jalisco in the early morning Monday August 15 when masked men brandishing machine guns entered. Guzmán was ordered to his knees. The moment was captured by security cameras, a gripping image in a country where the elder Guzmán once seemed untouchable. Alfredo Guzmán was taken, but others with him were not.

That suggested someone was sending a targeted message to fill a vacuum at the top of an  empire of organized crime.

The governors of Jalisco and Nayarit, which borders Jalisco, both said they were preparing for violence following the abductions. Then Saturday Alfredo Guzmán and the five taken with him were released.

A relative told Agence France Presse “They were negotiating all this time, but now (the kidnapped men) are free and well.” Mexican authorities stated that a rival cartel took Alfredo Guzmán, implying that enemies can negotiate.

The unanswered question for the U.S. is what that apparent negotiation might reveal about the current state of the structure of the Mexican underworld. Alfredo’s father El Chapo is in prison in Juárez, from El Paso, Texas. El Chapo’s extradition to the U.S. was delayed by a Mexican federal judge in June.

– Lorne Matalon

Kelly Bryan checks one of his feeders at the hummingbird sanctuary he runs in the Davis Mountains. (Rachael Vasquez)

Kelly Bryan checks one of his feeders at the hummingbird sanctuary he runs in the Davis Mountains. (Rachael Vasquez)

New Decade-Long Study Confirms West Texas Hummingbird Population Rivaled Only by Arizona

A new study published in July by Fort Davis biologist Kelly Bryan confirms that West Texas has the second-most diverse hummingbird population in the country, with 17 species identified in the region.

The study, which Bryan has been collecting data for over the last ten years, identified the 17th species, the Buff Bellied Hummingbird.

We never ever had any reason to think that a bird found in South Texas – that’s the Buff Bellied Hummingbird – would show up in West Texas,” said Bryan. “But one did.”

To collect the data need for the study, Bryan used a process called bird-banding, which involves catching individual hummingbirds and putting a .56 millimeter band on each bird’s leg. Each band has a unique number on it, and that number corresponds to a set of data specific to the bird’s species, age, and gender, and over the ten-year period Bryan banded over 18,000 hummingbirds.

Based on Bryan’s data, the most common hummingbird to the area was the Black-Chinned Hummingbird with 7,199 banded, followed by the Rufous Hummingbird with 4,426, and the Broad-Tailed Hummingbird with 3,705 banded.

– Rachael Vasquez

Five privately-run prisons will close in Texas. (Thomas Hawk/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

Five privately-run prisons will close in Texas. (Thomas Hawk/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

Feds to End Private Prison Contracts After Study Found Facilities Unsafe, Inefficient

The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday that they will end the use of private prisons. The department will review the contracts of 13 prisons and allow them to expire. Five of those prisons are in Texas.

Private prison corporate stocks dropped sharply after the announcement. The Inspector General’s reports found that private prisons had higher rates of violence compared to state-run institutions.

Michele Deitch, a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, says Texas began experimenting with state private prison contracts in the late 1980s, with four private facilities.

“Then the rest of the country started looking at what Texas was doing and expanding their use of (private prisons) as well,” she says. “However, the fortunes of those state-contracted private facilities started falling toward the end of the 1990s and that’s when the federal government got into private contracting.”


Continue reading

The Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise, Idaho, is a contract facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America. The Justice Department says it is phasing out its relationships with private prisons after a recent audit found they have more safety and security problems than ones run by the government. (Charlie Litchfield/AP)

The Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise, Idaho, is a contract facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America. The Justice Department says it is phasing out its relationships with private prisons after a recent audit found they have more safety and security problems than ones run by the government. (Charlie Litchfield/AP)

Justice Department Will Phase Out Its Use Of Private Prisons

U.S. Justice Department officials plan to phase out their use of private prisons to house federal inmates, reasoning that the contract facilities offer few benefits for public safety or taxpayers.

In making the decision, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates cited new findings by the Justice Department’s inspector general, who concluded earlier this month that a pool of 14 privately contracted prisons reported more incidents of inmate contraband, higher rates of assaults and more uses of force than facilities run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and … they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates wrote in a memo Thursday.

At their peak, contract prisons housed approximately 30,000 federal inmates. By May 2017, that number will have dropped by more than half, to 14,000, Yates wrote. The Bureau of Prisons tends to use contract facilities to confine inmates who require only low security and who tend to be in the country illegally. The U.S. government spent $639 million on those facilities in fiscal year 2014, according to the inspector general report, in payments to three companies: Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp.


Continue reading

(Graphic by Gage Skidmore / Todd Wiseman)

(Graphic by Gage Skidmore / Todd Wiseman)

Hope as They Might, Democrats Don’t See Trump Losing Texas

WASHINGTON — Arizona. Georgia. Utah. Indiana. Is Texas next? 

Across the country in recent days, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has suffered polling collapses in a slew of traditionally conservative states. The deterioration raises the question: Is Trump such a catastrophic Republican standard-bearer that Democrats could actually poach their ultimate white whale, the Lone Star State? 

No. 

That’s the consensus of a raft of state and national Democratic insiders who discussed with the Tribune the possibility of Hillary Clinton winning Texas in November.

“I think that it could set off a little bit of a panic among Republicans, but you’re not going to see banners flying and people marching into Texas saying, ‘We’re gonna turn Texas blue,'” said Matt Angle, a Democratic operative with Texas roots. 

No matter the turmoil in Trump’s campaign, the Democratic refrain from earlier in the summer remains the same: Texas is too expensive and too conservative to justify mounting a full-bore bid on Clinton’s behalf. Spending millions on a Democratic push in Texas just doesn’t add up. 

“I don’t think it’s logical because I think they’re not going to make anything happen in Texas,” said Matthew Dowd, an Austin-based operative with experience in both Democratic and Republican politics. 


Continue reading

Hotel alternatives Air BNB and VRBO have grown in popularity alongside Marfa's growth as a tourism hotspot. (Kurt Johnson via Flickr/Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Hotel alternatives Air BNB and VRBO have grown in popularity alongside Marfa's growth as a tourism hotspot. (Kurt Johnson via Flickr/Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Does the Rise of Airbnb Mean Fewer Housing Options for Marfa Residents?

Home rental websites like Airbnb and VRBO have gotten hugely popular over recent years, but as the market for short-term rentals grows across the country, people are concerned about how that’s affecting long-term housing options.

The research is just getting started, but the impact of short-term rentals is most pronounced in towns where housing is already scarce – places like Marfa, where renters do lots of moving.

“It’s kinda known as the Marfa Shuffle,” says Julie Bernal, who’s done plenty of shuffling since moving here four years ago.

Before she landed her most recent place, Bernal moved six times in three years.

“Yeah it was a lot of moving,” she says, “and for someone who really values their home space, and all that it was kinda challenging but it does seem to be kinda part of life here in Marfa.”

Housing has been tight in Marfa for a while. The growth of Airbnb and VRBO have made some people, like Bernal, feel like finding a spot is even tougher now.

“It seems like there’s a lot more short-term rentals now in town than there were say five years ago,” says Bernal, “I don’t know for sure, but it feels like those short term rentals are taking away rental property.”


Continue reading

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego (left) was ousted by Republican Will Hurd, right, in the 2014 CD-23 contest.

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego (left) was ousted by Republican Will Hurd, right, in the 2014 CD-23 contest.

Trump Haunts Hurd, Gallego Congressional Rematch

SAN ANTONIO — The Democratic candidate wants to make the election about Donald Trump. The Republican wants nothing to do with his party’s presidential nominee.

It’s a familiar dynamic unfolding in many congressional battles across the country, but it is especially pitched in Texas’ 23rd U.S. House district — a swing district with a large Hispanic population that Democrats hope will respond to Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric by returning Democrat Pete Gallego to the seat he lost two years ago.

After eking out a two-point victory in 2014, incumbent freshman Republican Will Hurd knows he’s vulnerable.

“I was hesitant to be tough … on my opponent last time,” Hurd said last month at his campaign kick-off. “But this time I have no qualms about it.”

The district perennially alternates between Democratic and Republican congressmen, with no incumbent winning a second term in eight years. “People were saying, ‘Don’t unpack your bags,’” Hurd said last month.

The district is the largest in the state, stretching from San Antonio to the outskirts of El Paso. It encompasses much of the state’s Rio Grande border with Mexico, Big Bend National Park and hundreds of West Texas hamlets, including Marfa. 

It is highly competitive, flipping with every national congressional wave of the past decade. No fewer than five men have represented the district over the past 10 years. In 2008, district voters cast a majority of ballots for President Obama, but four years later, it was Mitt Romney country. 


Continue reading

Lupe Dempsey, a retired federal agent, brings her Glock 9mm with her when she goes down to the Rio Grande. She believes the border is too wide open, evidenced by this unguarded metal walkway across the river in far West Texas. (John Burnett/NPR)

Lupe Dempsey, a retired federal agent, brings her Glock 9mm with her when she goes down to the Rio Grande. She believes the border is too wide open, evidenced by this unguarded metal walkway across the river in far West Texas. (John Burnett/NPR)

Borderland Trump Supporters Welcome A Wall In Their Own Backyard

Polls show that the idea of building a wall across the southern border remains unpopular with the general public and especially in the U.S. borderlands.

But not everyone living near the international divide opposes a barrier between the U.S. and Mexico. Donald Trump has a small, zealous following along the southern frontier.

Hudspeth County, in far West Texas, has desert, mountains, cactus, coyotes and 250 Republicans. The GOP county chair is Maria Guadalupe Dempsey. She looks as sweet as a school crossing guard, but for 20 years she worked as a criminal investigator with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She says lots of folks in lower Hudspeth, where she lives, are concerned about border security.

“Border Patrol does a good job of patrolling this area, but it is kind of difficult to patrol it all the time,” She says. “So I would see a wall maybe as a deterrent.”

As proof of a porous border, she describes a footbridge across the Rio Grande, built years ago, that is completely unguarded. After a bumpy 20 minute drive from Interstate 10 down to the riverside, seeing is believing. Sure enough, it’s a narrow metal walkway across the river that anyone could walk across from the Valle de Juarez, in Mexico, which is home to farmers and violent drug smugglers.

“[It’s] the same that you would do in your house,” Dempsey says, holding a Glock 9mm handgun for protection. “You build a fence, you put a gate up and you open and close it as you wish. You invite people in. You don’t want people who are not invited to come into the country.”


Continue reading

Pump jacks dot the landscape outside Midland, a West Texas oil town. (Ilana Panich-Linsman for NPR)

Pump jacks dot the landscape outside Midland, a West Texas oil town. (Ilana Panich-Linsman for NPR)

Texas Town’s Fortunes Rise And Fall With Pump Jacks And Oil Prices

Out on the wide open plains of West Texas, you can see the horizon for 360 degrees, interrupted only by the nodding up and down of pump jacks pulling oil up out of the earth.

There lies the aptly named town of Midland.

To get the hang of the place, you need to start downtown, on a corner near the Chase Bank, where an electric billboard displays the essentials: the temperature, a message — “God Bless Midland” — and a number. On this day, it’s 45.94.

That number — the price of oil by the barrel — affects everything in Midland: whether people have jobs, how much they pay in rent, whether waitresses make tips.

And that number helps explain why the middle class in Midland shrank faster than almost anywhere else in the country since 2000 — because so many people here have gotten richer.

This boom-bust town reveals a complex picture of America’s economic recovery.

During the boom, people got rich.


Continue reading

Outside the opening of Robert Irwin's new permanent installation at the Chinati Foundation on July 23, 2016. (Travis Bubenik/KRTS)

Outside the opening of Robert Irwin's new permanent installation at the Chinati Foundation on July 23, 2016. (Travis Bubenik/KRTS)

Robert Irwin Brings ‘Big’ To Texas With Permanent Art Installation

The 87-year-old conceptual artist unveils a large-scale installation of his work in Marfa, Texas, this week. He’s spent his career creating site-specific art that often treats light as its subject.

Listen to the NPR story above and read the full transcript of this story here.

Diana Moy is park interpreter at the Wyler Aerial Tramway, in El Paso's Franklin Mountains State Park. The tramway showcases the mountains' unique geology, and it carries visitors to the summit of Ranger Peak – and a panoramic view of the borderlands.

Franklin Mountains State Park: El Paso’s Desert-Mountain Sanctuary

Their jagged profile announces El Paso del Norte – the Pass of the North. The Franklin Mountains are the signature of Texas’ only “mountain city.” At 24,000 acres, El Paso’s Franklin Mountains State Park is the largest urban park in … Continue reading

Nature Notes is broadcast Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:35 am and 4:45 pm.
Comments Off on Franklin Mountains State Park: El Paso’s Desert-Mountain Sanctuary
David Todd

Fri. Aug 19 Interview: David Todd and the Texas Landscape Project

David Todd is the founder of the Historic Conservation Association of Texas and one of the authors of a new book called The Texas Landscape Project: Nature and People.

It’s a collection of maps, photographs, and essays that explores conservation and ecology in every corner of the state.

Todd joins us today to talk about the book, the advantage of maps over narrative, and some conservation stories based right here in West Texas.

West Texas Talk is broadcast live at 6:30 pm each weekday.
Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on David Todd and the Texas Landscape Project

John Randolph: The man behind Texas Brags

Lonn Taylor, the Rambling Boy

Lonn Taylor, the Rambling Boy

Texas Brags was a series of illustrated booklets that covered Texas-based topics between 1944 and 1972. Think of it as a lighthearted version of the Texas Almanac.

In this edition of the Rambling Boy, Lonn Taylor digs into the history of the Texas Brags booklets and the history of it’s founder — John Hayward Randolph. The latter proved to be pretty difficult but was aided by an old Marfa resident.

The Rambling Boy is broadcast Mondays after the 10 am newscast and again after the 7 pm newscast.
Tagged , , | Comments Off on John Randolph: The man behind Texas Brags
Zelda Yazza, left, distributed roasted agave at Guadalupe Mountains National Park in May 2015. The Guadalupes were an historic homeland for the Mescalero Apache, and members of the tribe have returned to the mountains in recent years to conduct mescal roasts. Such roasts were at the center of Mescalero life in West Texas.

Desert-Mountain Harvest: Native Plants and the Mescalero Apache

Rising a mile above desert plains, the Guadalupe Mountains are an icon in the West Texas landscape. They draw geologists, biologists, artists – and Texans eager to climb the state’s highest peak. The forests and springs of the Guadalupes were … Continue reading

Nature Notes is broadcast Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:35 am and 4:45 pm.
Comments Off on Desert-Mountain Harvest: Native Plants and the Mescalero Apache
The Laser Interferometer Gravity-Wave Observatory looks for tiny changes in the length of the structure's 2.5-mile-long arms. There are two detectors: one in Washington and one in Louisiana (pictured). (Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)

How To Catch The Biggest Wave In The Universe

When it comes to waves, it doesn’t get much bigger than the gravitational variety. Einstein predicted that huge events — like black holes merging — create gravitational waves. Unlike most waves we experience, these are distortions in space and time. They roll across the entire universe virtually unimpeded.

Einstein first predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916, but none were spotted until recently. Given their incredible power, why did it take a century to locate them?

To find out, I went to see where the detection finally occurred. It’s just off Interstate 12 in Livingston Parish, La. To get there you head through town, past the “Gold and Guns” pawn shop and up a country road. Turn onto an empty lane and eventually some low buildings emerge from a forest of gangly pine trees.

This is the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. That’s kind of a mouthful, so scientists just call it LIGO.

Physicist Joe Giaime of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge runs this detector. He says measuring waves in space-time might sound complicated, but the basic concept is pretty simple.

“The thing we’re measuring is length,” he says. “Everybody kind of knows what length is.”

Because gravitational waves warp space, they literally change how long things are. LIGO is basically the world’s most complicated tape measure.

We walk up a little hill overlooking the machine. A drab concrete pipe stretches off toward the flat Louisiana horizon. Giaime explains that this is one of the LIGO’s two arms.

The machine is in the shape of a giant letter L. When a gravitational wave passes by, one arm of the machine gets a little shorter and the other one gets a little longer. The machine measures the difference in length. And that’s all there is to it.

At least, in theory.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , | Leave a comment