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Local
Dewberry seeking County Clerk post

Hollie Dewberry, a former deputy county clerk, is running for county clerk in the 2022 Republican Primary.

Dewberry said she hopes to put her experience, integrity and work ethic to good use as the next county clerk. Current officeholder June Clifton has announced her plans to retire at the end of this term.

During Dewberry’s tenure with Clifton’s office, she helped convert paper records to digital files — a more efficient way to keep records. Dewberry also has experience with city courts in Nacogdoches and Garrison.

In Nacogdoches, Dewberry helped implement a resolution program that encouraged residents to take care of delinquent cases.

A turnaround program in Garrison launched while Dewberry served as associate judge and assistant city secretary has helped to modernize court and city processes.

“From day one, I have taken a lot of pride in my work with the public and with the staff of the county courthouse and the two municipalities,” Dewberry said. “With the encouragement of community leaders and members of the judiciary, I’m proud to be a candidate for county clerk.”

The Nacogdoches County native said she wants the county clerk’s office to be as welcoming and efficient as any in Texas.

The County Clerk serves as the custodian of records for the commissioner’s court, constitutional county courts and statutory county courts. The office records and maintains all public records from marriage licenses, birth and death certificates to the deeds conveying real property and cattle brands.

Other seats up for grabs in 2022 include:

■ County Court at-Law Judge

■ County Judge

■ District Clerk

■ County Clerk

■ County Treasurer

■ County Surveyor

■ County Commissioner, Pct. 2

■ County Commissioner, Pct. 4

■ Justice of the Peace, Pct. 1

■ Justice of the Peace, Pct. 2

■ Justice of the Peace, Pct. 3

■ Justice of the Peace, Pct. 4

Traditionally held in March, the 2022 primaries are likely to be delayed because of how late redistricting is happening this year. Lawmakers typically tackle the contentious redistricting process during the regular legislative session, but delays in census data because of the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed int into a special session.


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US declares ivory-billed woodpecker extinct; local scientist helped in search

Cliff Shackelford spent years chasing a ghost.

As the statewide non-game ornithologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Nacogdoches resident and Stephen F. Austin State University alumnus has been involved in one way or another for decades with the search from the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker.

This week, U.S. Fish and Wildlife signaled that scientists should end their search, declaring the majestic ivory bill and 22 more birds, fish and other species extinct.

But it didn’t fade from existence without a fight and unconfirmed sightings in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. Those fruitless searches yielded only grainy video but still some ornithologists and birders cling to hope.

“There are a lot of believers. I don’t fault them for that. I want to believe too, but if we want to base it on evidence there just isn’t any,” Shackelford said.

The ivory bill was never a common sight in the Pineywoods, at least not since scientists began cataloguing the flora and fauna of East Texas.

The last confirmed sighting in Texas was in November 1904 in the Trinity River bottoms near Cleveland. The birds were spotted in the Singer Tract — dense forest in East Louisiana — in the 1930s, and renowned nature illustrator Don Eckleberry made the last confirmed sighting in 1944.

Then 23, Eckleberry sketched a lone female flying over a recently logged forest.

“It was probably the last individual, which is sad,” Shackelford said.

It’s possible one or more of the 23 species named Wednesday could reappear, several scientists said.

A leading figure in the hunt for the ivory-billed woodpecker said it was premature to call off the effort, after millions of dollars spent on searches and habitat preservation efforts.

“Little is gained and much is lost” with an extinction declaration, said Cornell University bird biologist John Fitzpatrick, lead author of a 2005 study that claimed the woodpecker had been rediscovered in eastern Arkansas.

Shackelford participated in the search for the ivory bill in Arkansas but is convinced the sighting was a pileated woodpecker. It’s a common mistake.

“We have eight species of woodpeckers here in East Texas. We’re the home of woodpeckers because we’re forested. It makes sense. I think that’s confusing to a lot of people,” Shackelford said.

Early in Shackelford’s career he went to several reported sights of ivory bills, only to discover the bird in question was the lookalike pileated woodpecker.

“That got pretty old pretty quick. I was on a lot of wild goose chases,” he said.

Both birds are black with bold white stripes but there are some key differences in size and coloration.

The ivory bill has a streak of white feathers running the length of its spine. Males have a distinctive red crest like cartoon icon Woody Woodpecker. It’s also the largest woodpecker in America — somewhere between the size of a large crow and a red-tailed hawk.

The pileated woodpecker lacks those white feathers along its back and is between the size of a cardinal and a crow. Both males and females have the distinct red crest.

The factors behind the disappearances of the 23 species declared extinct vary — too much development, water pollution, logging, competition from invasive species, birds killed for feathers and animals captured by private collectors. In each case, humans were the ultimate cause.

The demise of the ivory-billed woodpecker can be largely blamed on logging, scientists say. The birds require around 10,000 acres of uninterrupted hardwood forest to survive.

“This is not a backyard bird,” Shackelford said. “It’s not easy to find big blocks like that.”

The final nail in the coffin might have come with the creation of large reservoirs like Sam Rayburn and Toldeo Bend.

“Those reservoirs submerged a lot of their good habitat, forever sunken like the Titanic,” he said.

Another thing they share: All 23 were thought to have at least a slim chance of survival when added to the endangered species list beginning in the 1960s. Only 11 species previously have been removed due to extinction in the almost half-century since the Endangered Species Act was signed into law.

“The ivory bill just didn’t hang on long enough,” Shackelford said.

The announcement kicks off a three-month comment period before the species status changes become final.

Around the globe, some 902 species have been documented as extinct. The actual number is thought to be much higher because some are never formally identified, and many scientists warn the earth is in an “extinction crisis” with flora and fauna now disappearing at 1,000 times the historical rate.

At least one other threatened species appears to be rapidly dwindling in East Texas. Populations of horned lizards have noticeably declined in the past few years, said Paul Risk, a wildlife biologist and professor emeritus from SFA’s College of Forestry.

“They’re not anywhere near as common as they once were, and it seems to be a problem with fire ants,” Risk said. “There’s supposed to be a population of them at Highway 7 and (Loop 224). A family just inside the loop saw them fairly commonly until a few years ago.”

Since 1975, 54 species have left the endangered list after recovering, including the bald eagle, brown pelican and most humpback whales.

Climate change is making species recovery harder, bringing drought, floods, wildfires and temperature swings that compound the threats species already faced.

How they are saved also is changing. No longer is the focus on individual species, let alone individual birds. Officials say the broader goal now is to preserve their habitat, which boosts species of all types that live there.

“I hope we’re up to the challenge,” said biologist Michelle Bogardus with the wildlife service in Hawaii. “We don’t have the resources to prevent extinctions unilaterally. We have to think proactively about ecosystem health and how do we maintain it, given all these threats.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Coronavirus
COVID-19 cases down as fewer in hospitals

Active cases of COVID-19 continued to decline as the death toll ticked up in Nacogdoches County on Friday.

The number of active cases dropped to 552 Friday morning, down from 679 a week ago but new cases are still being reported, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Since Sept. 25, tests have confirmed 87 new cases in Nacogdoches County. Thirty-six were admitted to the hospital.

The death toll from Nacogdoches County from COVID-19 was at 207 as of Friday, with 10 new fatalities attributed to COVID-19 in the last week.

Local hospitals are getting some relief after being at or over capacity for weeks. Friday the total hospital census was down by 31 patients, with 143 currently in the hospital. Of those, 11 are intensive care patients battling COVID, another 33 are in general medical beds after a positive COVID diagnosis. Nacogdoches hospitals can accommodate 170 patients with provisions to offer another 34 “surge beds” should they become necessary.

COVID patients are occupying 55% of the ICU beds as of Friday, 11 of the 20 patients currently admitting to ICU. Data from the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, a regional health care coalition, showed one to two ICU beds being available since Sept. 28.

The state health department reports 54.75% of the county population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 41.21% have been fully vaccinated.

Community vaccine clinics are held every Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the library at 1112 North St. The clinic offers first and second doses of Moderna and Pfizer and a third dose of Moderna for those who with compromised immune systems.

Residents who received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine before April 1 are eligible for a booster dose if they are 65 years old or older or have a medical history that puts them at a higher risk of severe COVID-19.

To register for the shot clinic, visit tinyurl.com/VacNac.


Local
City paves way for clinic expansion

Legg

Nacogdoches City Council on Sept. 21 took action allowing an expansion of a speech and occupational therapy practice to move forward.

With the council’s unanimous rezoning of their site into what is known as a planned development, the owners of Hettie Legg & Associates plan to renovate an adjacent residential building at 813 N. Mound St. to accommodate their growing practice.

Unlike standard residential or commercial zoning, a planned development is custom designed for a particular area.

“With this (planned development), there will be no new construction permitted or expansion of existing structures,” City Planner Alaina Helton explained. “That was a concern raised when we first took this item to Planning and Zoning Commission as a zone change. There was a concern about maintaining the existing character so it was more compatible with neighborhoods.”

While allowing medical uses such as speech and occupational therapy, the approved planned development prohibits some of the uses that are allowed in medical zoning, such as retail and restaurant, health clubs or hotels.

“We’re just asking to be able to expand our services to accommodate the need,” founder Hettie Legg told the council. “Our office at this time provides around 70 to 100 hours of therapy between speech, physical and occupational therapy per day. We feel like this has been a blessing to Nacogdoches, and we have many goals in mind.”

Legg began the practice 35 years ago in a rented space. After outgrowing a second office on Ochiltree, the clinic in 2011 moved into a vacant day care center at the Mound Street location.

“We don’t want to change much,” Legg said. “We just want to use what we have.”

Some expressed concern about the residential and historic character of Mound Street giving way to development.

“We’ve gotten used to the regular procession of old house gawkers,” Mound Street resident Caroline Garner said. “People love Mound Street. Think about what we had on North Street, all those wonderful Diedrich Rulfs houses. I just ask that we keep that sort of thing in mind.”

While noting the work of the Legg practice is important, Councilwoman Kathleen Belanger said she has indeed noted “a pattern here in Nacogdoches of purchasing residential property, tearing it down and then up-zoning.”

Several addressed the council in support of allowing the expansion, including Stepping Stones Early Learning Center owner and director Tina Grimes.

“We currently have 13 kids who need (Legg’s) services and we have been waiting over a year because they have been so full,” Grimes told the council. “A lot of our kids who need the services are under 2. Their service has helped dozens of kids before these that are waiting, and I was one of Hettie’s patients many years ago. By prolonging it, you really are hurting many kids who are waiting for services.”

The council at the Sept. 21 meeting approved the planned development item, but there is another step in the process. A detailed site plan must be submitted and then approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission, which will hold a public hearing at a future date.


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