Sunday, March 8, 2009

TAMIU students fell cane

TAMIU students fell cane
TAMIU student Crystal Compass was one of many who cut carrizo Saturday.
Published: Sunday, March 8, 2009 6:17 AM CDT

Students from TAMIU labored tirelessly in humid, sticky temperatures Saturday morning cutting down the carrizo cane that blankets the banks of the Rio Grande next to LCC.

In a combination of community service and political activism, students came out to show their anger at the Border Patrol's plans to aerially spray 16 miles of Rio Grande vegetation with a toxic herbicide.

"They want to create a clear site to the river," said Jay Johnson-Castro, executive director of the Rio Grande International Study Center.

"There is a better way to do this."

Passion in action

The students joined forces to show the Border Patrol that cutting the cane down is more environmentally friendly than killing it with chemicals.

"When I first heard about this, I was upset; we all feel really passionate about what (Border Patrol wants) to do," said Charlotte Jackson, a member of the Student Government Association at Texas A&M International University and one of the organizers of the day's efforts.

According to Johnson-Castro, the Border Patrol will be using a helicopter to spray the chemical imazapyr, which will kill not only the carrizo cane but also many indigenous plants and animals in the area.

"We have nothing against getting rid of the (cane)," he said.

"But you don't have to kill all the good stuff to get to the bad stuff."

The area that will be sprayed with the herbicide is home to over 1,000 species of animal: 633 bird, 184 mammalian, 65 amphibian and 156 reptilian.

Johnson-Castro added that the chemical will also penetrate 3 feet into the soil and eventually run off into the river.

"The (Border Patrol) has every intent of doing this, and we have every intent of doing everything we can to stop it," Castro-Johnson said.

According to Jackson, in only a couple of weeks, she and TAMIU's student government were able to organize students and get about 70 volunteers to come and help.

"The community has no idea what is going on," Johnson-Castro said.

"There are a lot of people just as passionate as I am who want to help."

As an alternative to chemically spraying the area, Johnson-Castro and the students are asking the Border Patrol to simply hire people to cut down the cane.

"The Border Patrol has $1.5 million at (its) disposal for this project; rather than waste it (on chemicals), they could use it to put people to work," Johnson-Castro said.

According to Jackson, pulling the cane down is simple and not too time-consuming.

"It's not hard; I'm pretty girly, and I can do it," Jackson said.

"(Using the cutter,) it's a matter of swinging your arms from side to side."

The TAMIU student government currently has no plans for any further protests, but according to the president of the association, James Cortez, the group may feel the need to hold another protest in the future.

(Taryn White may be reached at 728-2568 or

Copyright © 2009 - Laredo Morning Times

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