In Maverick Country, blue and orange make green

By Mark Permenter

A curious visitor interrupted my football watching one Sunday afternoon last fall. Sporting a mohawk, the unexpected guest quietly appeared on the front porch, bobbing its head in and out of view.

Being an amateur birder, I knew it was some type of avian creature. Probably a duck that had waddled over from a nearby creek. As I walked to the front door, the animal ran away. Fast.

A few strides into my futile pursuit, I realized it was a roadrunner. In an Arlington residential neighborhood? The only roadrunner I’d ever seen was scurrying across a dirt path in a remote South Texas preserve—unless you count the cartoon version that dodged Wile E. Coyote’s misguided anvils and cannonballs.

A couple of days later, I interviewed alumnus John Karges, one of the state’s foremost conservationists, for our Mavericks Personified feature. I told him about my unusual sighting. Turns out Karges is a roadrunner junkie.

“They can be adaptable yard animals,” he said, “especially if lizards are around.”

Karges has dedicated most of his professional life to protecting Texas’ natural habitat. As The Nature Conservancy’s West Texas program manager, he oversees key preserves, including the Davis Mountains in the Big Bend region.

Like Karges, UT Arlington is a leader in environmental stewardship. In our cover story you’ll read how the President’s Sustainability Committee is spearheading initiatives to green the campus. Efforts include construction of the Engineering Research Building to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification, the experimental green roof atop the Life Science Building and the establishment of student groups like the Environmental Society.

The organization’s vice president, Chelsea Roff, is so serious about sustainability that she likes it when gasoline prices spike. The more money people pay for gas, she reasons, the less they drive. Fewer drivers mean fewer harmful emissions.

“People start asking themselves questions like, ‘Do I really need to drive to get my lunch at the sandwich place a few blocks down the road, or might I just walk and enjoy the beautiful day outside?’ ” the junior psychology major said. “The rising price of gas is almost acting like a catalyst for a paradigm shift society desperately needs to make.”

Roff has made the shift. She drives a scooter that uses a gallon of gas per week. If more citizens were like her, Karges wouldn’t worry so much about whether Texas’ ecosystems can sustain future generations.

“If I’m fascinated by nature, I’d like my great-great-grandkids to be able to see it for themselves and not have to read about it in a book,” he said. “The sanctity of conservation has to do with the hope of preserving ecosystems and having them appropriately appreciated.”

Seeing people become engaged enough to provide a stewardship commitment is the most fulfilling part of his job. “There’s a spark there,” he says.

At UT Arlington, the spark is turning into a flame.

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