Making a Stink

For as long as Abril and Ariss Cosino could remember, the noxious odor had been part of life in South Tower Estates, an unincorporated community of 3,300 near the Texas-Mexico border. Residents complained about it and told their children not to play outside on days when it was particularly bad. But the sisters didn’t know what was causing the rotten-egg smell until they participated in a summer leadership program organized by the nonprofit A Resource in Serving Equality. That’s when they learned about the antiquated wastewater lagoons across the street from their house, hidden by an embankment and a barbed wire fence. “The sewage doesn’t even come from our neighborhood,” Ariss explains. It’s sent there by the adjacent city of Alamo. “As Hispanic, low-income people, we have to deal with their stuff. When we found that out, we wanted to do something.” Keep reading at Sierra.

At This Texas School, Birding is the Big Game

Football may be king in Texas, but one of the fastest growing youth sports in the state may actually be . . . competitive birding? For the fledgling ornithologists who compete each April in the Great Texas Birding Classic—the birding equivalent of the state playoffs—Friday Night Lights have given way to Saturday Morning Pre-Dawn. In the Gliders division, teenagers race to find the greatest number of birds in 24 hours, while under-13 Roughwings participants compete in an eight-hour window. Up to 20 youth teams across the state participate, each composed of three to five students and at least one experienced mentor who verifies every sighting—but can’t point out or identify birds themselves. Keep reading at Sierra.

National Park Citizen Science Projects Anyone Can Join

The National Park Service will mark its 100th birthday on August 25, 2016. What better way to celebrate than to band (and hold!) a warbler in the Great Smokies or to net butterflies in an alpine meadow in the Cascades? These are just two of the citizen science projects anyone can join at national parks across the country. Citizen science also helps the NPS do its job: Data collected by scores of park visitors affords a much broader overview of ecological change than staff could collect alone. Some projects monitor threatened or reintroduced species, while others look at phenology—the relationship between climate and biological phenomena, such as plant flowering and bird migration—an increasingly important field as climate change disrupts linkages between species. The projects below require little or no training and are open to any visitor with a desire to learn and help out. To get started, just check out the websites below and find your nearest park. Keep reading at Sierra.

The Point of Thorns

“Often kids see nature as beautiful if they’re looking at a picture of a super-big, thick forest. If they see a plant that has thorns, they say, ‘It’s not pretty.’ I want them to see the beauty of our local ecosystem here in the Rio Grande Valley. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most biodiverse places in the country. But when I became the refuge manager two years ago, I realized that many people in the community didn’t know we existed.” Keep reading at Sierra.

Holding Back the Flood

In a bright turquoise house on the outskirts of San Juan in the Rio Grande valley, Josué Ramírez, the millennial co-director of a housing nonprofit, stood at a whiteboard with an Expo marker in hand. Around him, about a dozen people, community activists from the valley’s colonias, were seated at plastic tables, some eating homemade shrimp tamales. Ramírez’s subject was hardly riveting; he was talking about drainage, the mechanics of getting water out of colonias with little or no infrastructure at a time when extreme storms are getting more frequent. That was all too clear three weeks earlier, when October’s Hurricane Patricia dumped 11 inches of rain on the valley. In the colonias, front yards turned into lakes, and weeks later, vast stretches of still-standing water bred swarms of mosquitoes so thick that people avoided going out in the evening. Insects and vermin took refuge in people’s houses, and a scourge of skin rashes and head lice followed. Communities reeked of raw sewage, and residents believed contaminated water was the cause of a spate of stomach illnesses. Keep reading at the Texas Observer.

Revolutionizing Care for the Valley’s Diabetes Epidemic

It was a Sunday morning, already on its way to becoming the hottest day of the year, and the Alamo flea market, or pulga, was crowded. I wandered through aisles filled with people packed shoulder to shoulder, past vendors hawking everything from vacuum cleaner parts to a baby alligator. Next to a barbershop and an Affordable Care Act (ACA) enrollment center, I found it — a hand-lettered, neon-orange sign reading, “Previene la diabetes.” The clinic’s baby-blue waiting room was stifling hot, and full. Patients sat in flimsy plastic chairs, a line of strollers alongside them, waiting to be seen by one of the public health students who serve as clinic attendants. Behind a desk, the supervising physician, Dr. Brian Wickwire, sat thumbing through a collection of academic papers he’d printed for me. “Everybody loves the pulga,” he said by way of introduction. Keep reading at the Texas Observer.

Flight Risk

“It’s a bird’s-eye view,” refuge manager Gisela Chapa promised as we climbed the observation tower steps at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. It was a cold and windy March day, and we’d almost elected to stay in the warmth of her government-issued Escape Hybrid SUV. But as soon as we reached the top it was plain to see why Chapa insisted we brave the weather.Bundled in a brown U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service parka, Chapa oriented me: To the south, factory smoke rising from maquiladoras in Mexico. To the west, the Chase Tower in McAllen, part of the fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States. To the north, Military Highway, with truck traffic carrying goods to and from the border. Everywhere, fields of kale and sorghum and sugar cane that encircle the refuge like a lasso. “It’s the big-picture view of habitat connectivity, habitat fragmentation, urban development, the river and our neighbors to the south,” she said. “It’s my favorite spot. It synthesizes everything.” Keep reading at the Texas Observer.