Researchers, conservationists to hold seminar on climate change

A wildfire at the Johnson Ranch, deep in Big Bend National Park, in 2018. Photo courtesy of Raymond Skiles at the National Park Service

ALPINE — Scientists and conservation groups are holding a meeting next week to discuss climate change and its impacts in the Big Bend area.

The seminar is Saturday, January 18, from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Espino Conference Center at Sul Ross University. The event is free, but organizers ask that attendees register first by emailing

The event is sponsored by the Big Bend Chapter of the Native Plant Society, Big Bend Conservation Alliance, the Sierra Club and the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District. Researchers from Texas Tech University and beyond will also be there to discuss climate change’s effects on water cycles, plant resilience, and fire behavior, among other topics.

“We should care about climate change because the climate is heating up,” said Carolyn Macartney, general manager for PCUWCD, citing the devastating and ongoing fires in Australia.

“This is a similar climate: arid and drought-prone,” she said.

The Big Bend Chapter of the Native Plant Society is a nonprofit focused on researching and preserving native plant habitats in Texas. Dallas Baxter, its president, said in a news release that the topic was important for a range of parties, from parks and ranchers to local and state governments.

“No challenge in the coming years is more dire than climate change,” she added.

In a follow-up interview, Baxter said the seminar aims to give people a better sense of what climate change could bring to the Big Bend region in particular.

“Climate change is not something that just impacts the Big Bend, obviously,” she said. “It’s a planetary problem. But we don’t live all over the planet — we live here.”

She hopes that anyone with an interest in the issue will consider attending — including skeptics.

“I don’t want to be preaching to the choir,” she said. “I want people who are unsure or skeptical to come to this thing and ask questions and get another view of this issue.”

Conservationists warn that climate change could have an outsized impact on the Big Bend, which already deals with droughts and wildfires. Extreme weather is also projected to become a larger issue in the area, with the Union of Concerned Scientists predicting that Presidio County will, by 2050, go from 41 days of dangerous temperatures per year to 97.

Dealing with a topic as large as climate change can be “a little daunting,” said Trey Gerfers, chairman for the PCUWCD. Still, he sees the seminar as a good “first step” that will help bring together conservationists with a range of expertise, from water to wildlife.

“I don’t think there’s any one magic solution,” he added. But he thinks it’s good to start addressing these issues sooner rather than later, so that the region can have a “future where our standard of living and quality of life is affected as little as possible.”

J.D. Newsom, executive director of the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, said the event would have a “great line-up of experts” that will give residents “a unique perspective to our region.”

“I don’t think it matters what you believe about the science behind climate change,” he said. “The information is going to be very thought-provoking and will help us better understand where we live.”

Like other sponsors, he also thinks it’s good for the Big Bend region to take proactive steps towards addressing the issue. “If we’re not prepared for it now,” he said, “we’ll wake up years later and wish we’d done something different.”