Monthly Archives: April 2013

NRCS Announces Second Sign Up for Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative

Eric B. Banks, State Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for Kansas, announced that applications for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) will again be accepted through May 17, 2013.

This second sign up, according to Banks, gives producers another opportunity to improve the Lesser Prairie-Chicken (LEPC) habitat while promoting the overall health of grazing lands and the long-term sustainability of Kansas ranching opportunities.  Another option that may be available toKansas producers is for expired or expiring Conservation Reserve Program acres to be maintained in permanent cover and used for grazing.  Conservation practices, such as fencing, watering facilities, and others are available for financial assistance to aid in developing and enhancing existing cover.    

Eligible areas are located in the following Kansas counties:  Barber, Clark, Comanche, Edwards, Ellis, Finney, Ford, Gove, Grant, Gray, Greeley, Hamilton, Haskell, Hodgeman, Kearny, Kiowa, Lane, Logan, Meade, Morton, Ness, Pawnee, Pratt, Rush, Scott, Seward, Sherman, Stafford, Stanton, Stevens, Thomas, Trego, Wallace, and Wichita.

All applications need to be submitted before May 17 to be considered in the second sign up.

Additional information specific to LPCI is available from your local U.S. Department of Agriculture Service Center (USDA), from NRCS staff, or at 

Fabulous New Book about the Kaw!

Have you ever experience the beauty and serenity of a float trip down the Kaw (Kansas River)? Seen and heard Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons, Least Terns and other wildlife from a canoe or kayak? Picnicked on a sandbar and learned about the Kaw and its environs from guest speakers? Camped under a full moon on a sandbar in the Flint Hills? Experienced a sunset at Kaw Point – a historically significant Lewis and Clark site in Kansas?  Craig Thompson has enjoyed many of these outdoor experiences on the Kaw and is eager to share one of he state’s best kept secrets. ALONG THE KAW is a book about a recreational and scenic journey down the Kansas River. Through seventy-five color photographs you will discover the wonders of the Kaw, the beauty of the Kaw, and people enjoying outdoor recreation on the Kaw.

Many of the photographs are brought to life by comments from various people whose lives have been touched in some way by the Kaw. Throughout the book, comments by thirty-nine contributing authors are paired with images of the natural Kaw and images of the recreational Kaw. Many comments point to wildlife diversity and to recreational opportunities afforded by the river. Other comments express feeling of isolation, getting away from the hustle and bustle of life, and the peace of mind the river brings naturally.

ALONG THE KAW is in the class of illustrated photographic books that show the beauty ofKansas. Thompson’s book is the first of its kind to cover the entire length of the Kaw – from Junction City to Kansas CityKansas.

You can order this wonderful book at CreateSpace eStore for $29.78 + shipping and handling.

Federal Judge: TCEQ mismanagement contributed to deaths of whooping cranes

By David Sikes

Corpus Christi Caller Times

Mismanagement of the Guadalupe River water contributed to the death of at least 23 whooping cranes during the winter of 2008-09 in violation of the Endangered Species Act, according to a lawsuit ruling by Senior U.S. District Judge Janis Jack.

In her March 11 ruling in favor of The Aransas Project, Jack declared the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and its executive director continue to violate the Endangered Species Act through its water management practices, including its failure to monitor certain water uses and to exercise its authority to protect the world’s only naturally migrating whooping crane flock.

Jack has forbidden the commission from granting any new water permits for the Guadalupe and San Antoniorivers until the state provides reasonable assurances the cranes will not be further harmed.

Jack also ordered the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to seek an incidental take permit and develop a Habitat Conservation Plan for the Guadalupe River estuary. Compiling such a plan can be a lengthy process involving the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The plan must be designed to minimize and mitigate risks to the cranes while balancing the interests of other river users and water rights holders.

If, in the good faith execution of such an approved plan a crane dies, this would constitute a legal taking, or threat to their numbers, allowed by the incidental take permit.

The 124-page legal conclusion finds that The Aransas Project, a nonprofit group of local governments, advocacy groups and tourism-dependent businesses in the Coastal Bend, is entitled to recoup attorney fees as well as the cost of providing expert witnesses who testified during the eight-day civil trial in December 2011.

Jack’s ruling came three years to the day after the original filing of the lawsuit.

Officials from the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, one of several intervening parties siding with TCEQ in the lawsuit, said they will appeal the decision.

In a news release, TCEQ spokesman Terry Clawson wrote that the commission was disappointed but not surprised by the ruling. He reasserted “the TAP case is an unconstitutional attempt to use the Endangered Species Act as cover for rewriting the Texas Water Code.”

Jim Blackburn, lead counsel for TAP, declined to speculate on whether the ruling could have far reaching implications regarding environmental flows and the Texas Water Code. But conservation groups throughout the state suggest it indeed could influence future policy. For years conservation groups have called for a water policy designed to allow rivers and streams to nourish the state’s bays and estuaries, especially during drought.

Both the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation say this ruling underscores the need for a more comprehensive approach to water planning and development that includes water for the environment.

Rich Beilfuss, president and chief operating officer of the International Crane Foundation, said this is not about people versus cranes or downstream needs versus upstream users.

“It’s about balancing the needs of everyone concerned and trying to figure out how to share the water we have,” Beilfuss said about Jack’s ruling, which he called a reasonable plan with potential applications throughout the world.

Blackburn said while Jack’s ruling is a landmark decision, its legal scope is limited to water management of the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers as its affect on the endangered cranes.

TAP regional director Ron Outen said maintaining a healthy whooping crane flock means the nearby bays and estuary also would be healthier, which translates to healthier coastal economies.

“And the key to it all is river flow, which is heavily dependent on good water management,” Outen said. “This win is the first step, a big step, but there’s still lots of work to be done. We look forward to working with the state on this.”

Currently, state law prohibits TCEQ from issuing new permits for the purpose of allowing water to remain in a river or to flow freely into an estuary. Jack suggested that including environmental flows benefits as part of a water management process could eventually promote policies based on science to keep rivers wet.

Long before TAP filed its lawsuit, another environmental group challenged state law by requesting a water permit that would have allocated a sufficient amount of freshwater for environment needs in the San Marcos River. TCEQ denied the permit.

TAP’s lawsuit claimed state policy ignored federal law by causing the death of at least 23 cranes, in part, because the estuary was denied adequate freshwater to support a healthy population of blue crabs and wolfberries, two main components of the cranes’ diet.

Another 34 cranes that left Texas that spring failed to return from Canada the following winter. Some were presumed dead, possibly because they were emaciated from conditions near the refuge during their stay.

During the 2011 trial, TCEQ attorneys disputed or challenged the number of crane deaths during the winter of 2008-09, the method used in determining the deaths as well the credibility of the refuge’s former whooping crane coordinator, Tom Stehn, who helped make such determinations.

During the trial Jack appeared incredulous at such assertions, later going so far as to refer to TAP scientific witnesses, including Stehn, as world renown experts whose testimony was compelling and credible in her written summary.

By contrast Jack dedicated nearly two pages of her written judgment to berating the credibility of witnesses offered by TCEQ and the river authority. One witness, she wrote, admitted in court he had fabricated a statement about the whooping cranes ability to live without freshwater.

Other witness testimony, Jack wrote, lacked scientific support or was based on faulty information provided solely by GBRA the river authority. During an almost comical portion of the trial, Jack, a former nurse, repeatedly challenged a defense witness for associating a green fluid observed during a crane necropsy with gangrenous tissue. In conclusion, she wrote, that witnesses offered by GBRA the river authority were not credible and not reliable.

Following the trial, the defense team requested a reopening of the case to introduce additional evidence that challenged Stehn’s method of estimating the crane population. The evidence provided by the Fish and Wildlife Service involved a new abundance survey method touted as a more reliable way to estimate the population, compared with Stehn’s counts, which he’d used for 29 years.

Jack denied the request, denouncing TCEQ’s attempt to discredit Stehn and his methodology.

“No credible evidence casts doubt on the accuracy of Mr. Stehn’s peak abundance counts,” Jack wrote. “The abundance survey criticism of Mr. Stehn’s data is unsupported, and in turn, undermines the credibility of the abundance survey itself as there is no basis for its conclusions.”

Jack wrote that TCEQ had the authority and awareness to prevent threats to the endangered cranes but did nothing to avoid or curb the danger, according to the Endangered Species Act.

Whooping Crane Shooting Cases

by Paul J. Baicich

Birding Community E-bulletins

In separate incidents and legal cases, two men in the U.S. were recently sentenced for shooting and killing Endangered Whooping Cranes during their southward migration from the Wood Buffalo National Park population inCanada.

In Texas, a 42-year-old man shot a juvenile Whooping Crane in January after mistaking it for a Sandhill Crane. He pleaded guilty on 6 March to one count of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and was fined $5,000, ordered to make a $10,000 community service payment to the Friends of Aransas and Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuges, and placed on probation for one year.

In South Dakota, a man was sentenced in February for shooting an adult Whooping Crane in April of last year. The 26-year-old man was ordered to pay $85,000 in restitution, placed on probation for two years, had his hunting rifle confiscated, and lost hunting rights anywhere in the U.S. for two years.

Urge Your House Representative to Support 2014 Wildlife Grants

The Teaming With Wildlife organization is urgently requesting that you contact your House Representative before noon, April 10th, to urge their robust support for the State & Tribal Wildlife Grants in fiscal year 2014. Simply ask them to sign onto the Dear Colleague Letter supporting the State & Tribal Wildlife Grants Program.  This program has already been cut by 35% since 2010 so it has done its fair share to help reduce the deficit. You can read the letter at FY14 Dear Colleague Letter. For a list of your state representatives, visit the following link:
House Environmental Contacts. Or you can phone the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your representative’s office. Then just ask to speak with the aide who handles Environmental and Natural Resource issues. Then leave a voice mail if they are unavoidable. It is simple and effective. Just request your representative to sign onto the letter supporting the State & Tribal Wildlife Grants Program and thank them.

Westar’s Green Team’s Falcon Cam

If you are interested in Falcon Watching, check out Westar’s Green Team’s Falcon Cam. It lets you watch a pair of Peregrine Falcons and their offspring in a nesting box on the roof of Westar Energy’s headquarters on 

Kansas Avenue

 in Topeka

            To date there are three eggs in the nest. The third falcon egg arrived Tuesday night. Eggs have arrived in the following order:

1st egg – 3/29 at 3:10 a.m.

2nd egg – 3/31 at 12:50 p.m.

3rd egg – 4/2 at 8:50 p.m.

If that pattern holds true, and there is a fourth egg, we should expect it sometime early on Friday. Incubation typically lasts 29 to 33 days, so we anticipate the first egg to hatch close to the first of May.

You can sign up for e-mail updates at the link above. If you are unable to access the above link, copy and paste the following link into your browser’s address bar:

Feedback and questions may be sent to [email protected] 

Kansas River Tire Cleanup near Linwood

Friends of the Kaw and Kansas Department of Health & Environment, Bureau of Waste Management are organizing a tire cleanup on the Kansas River south of LinwoodKS on Saturday, April 20 from 11am to 3pm.

They need:

Volunteers to dig tires out of the sand – please wear long pants and sturdy, closed toed shoes and bring a shovel and work gloves. You will receive a cool T-shirt and hot dog lunch. Tires are mostly on an island and we will transport adults  a short distance via canoes. There will be opportunities for adults with older children to clean up the bank and sandbar.

ATV’s and their owners to arrive at the location (see below) at 10:30am to unload.  ATV’s will drag tires from the sand bar, up the bank to the staging area.

Several four wheel drive vehicles to transport participants from road to staging area.

For more information or if you can provide an ATV or transport vehicle please let Laura now at 785 312 7200 or [email protected]

            Directions: Linwood is located between Bonner Springs and Lawrence on K-32. From K-32 turn south at Stout’s Corner (convenience store) and follow the signs to 

Alexander Rd.

 where cars will be parked. You will need to sign a liability waiver and then be transported by van a short distance to the cleanup area.

            Come have fun and help with a great project to improve the quality of the Kaw.

Cornell Lab’s NestWatch Underway

Over the past 30 years, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Violet-green Swallows, Purple Martins, and Eastern Phoebes have dropped in number. The cause remains unknown, though scientists believe it may be linked in part to declines in the insects that birds eat.

Anyone who loves watching birds can help scientists study and understand their plight by participating in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch citizen-science project (

“Every year, thousands of volunteers from across the United States monitor bird nests to help researchers track changes in bird populations,” says Dr. Jason Martin, NestWatch project coordinator. “By keeping track of how many eggs birds lay and how many young they raise, anyone can contribute valuable data that may help lead to the conservation of these species.”

“Recent population declines in North America‘s aerial insectivores are a growing concern,” said Dr. Amanda Rodewald, director of Conservation Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Conservation efforts to halt or reverse these worrisome trends are unlikely to succeed until we fully understand the causes of decline. One thing limiting our ability to identify factors driving population declines is a lack of information on reproduction.”

The nests of many birds are easy to find and observe. Tree Swallows readily use nest boxes. Barn Swallows and Violet-green Swallows often plaster their nests onto beams inside barns and under bridges. Purple Martins use large communal nesting houses, and Eastern Phoebes frequently nest under porch eaves and in garages.

Participating in NestWatch is free and easy. Information on where and when to look for nests and how to properly monitor them is available at NestWatch accepts observations for all nesting birds, so information about any species is welcome.

Conservation Group Continues to Encourage Duck Stamp Double-Up

Ducks Unlimited, in its March/April magazine, is continuing an effort it began in 2011, by encouraging members and others to “Double-Up for the Ducks” and purchase two federal ducks stamps each year.

Since 1934, sales from the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, commonly known as the Federal Duck Stamp, have helped to acquire more than 5.3 million acres of waterfowl habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Ninety-eight cents out of every dollar is spent to acquire land and protect waterfowl habitat. Stamp revenues benefit waterfowl and countless other wildlife species as well as people by expanding opportunities and access for wildlife dependent recreation.

“The Service certainly appreciates this effort being undertaken by Ducks Unlimited to further waterfowl and wetlands conservation across the country,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “The Duck Stamp program has been one of the most successful conservation programs in history and buying not one but two duck stamps is one of the best ways around to protect wildlife and waterfowl habitat.”

Legislation in Congress that would have increased the cost of a duck stamp from $15 to $25 stalled last year, so Ducks Unlimited launched the “Double Up for the Ducks” campaign to encourage members to show their elected officials that they are willing to pay more for the stamp and for waterfowl preservation and habitat expansion.

The cost of the Duck Stamp has remained the same since 1991. Based on the Consumer Price Index, the stamp would need to cost more than $24 today to have the same buying power that $15 had in 1991. In 1991, revenue from the Duck Stamp enabled the Service to acquire 89,000 acres of habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System at an average cost of $306 an acre. In 2010, the Service was able to acquire only 32,000 acres because land values had tripled to an average of $1,091 an acre.

Federal duck stamps may be purchased online at

Whooper Migration Underway

Heralding an early start to spring, whooping cranes began breaking camp at wintering grounds in Texassooner than usual and are making their way back north.

Whooping cranes traditionally winter in coastal Texas on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and nearby areas, and that site continues to be the primary winter home of the flock that now numbers around 280 birds; however, a significant number of whooping cranes explored new wintering areas in 2012-13.

Among the nomadic whoopers, at least two whoopers spent most of the winter in Matagorda County near Collegeport, at least five were observed wintering in Wharton County near El Campo and Louise, and at least 10 whoopers occupied country far from the coast in Williamson County near Granger Lake. In addition, several individual sightings of whooping cranes were reported in Lavaca County and as far north as Wilbarger County.

Some of those “non-traditional” whooping cranes also broke with migration tradition this year. Normally, whooping crane spring migration begins in late March, with nearly all birds departing for the nesting grounds inCanada by mid-April. However, a USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) radio-tracking study and observations by volunteers with Texas Whooper Watch detected an earlier start to migration this year.

Some of the Granger Lake whooping cranes departed their wintering grounds as early as February 24 and have already reached northern Nebraska, some of the Wharton County birds are also in northern Nebraska, and one Granger Lake bird that departed on March 12 had already reach the South Dakota border by March 18. A total of seven whoopers were observed Easter weekend at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in southcentralKansas.

The new patterns for whooping cranes are an interesting development. As the whooping crane population that winters in Texas continues to recover, it is a healthy sign that the species is exploring new wintering grounds.

The expansion of whooping cranes observed last winter and this winter brings new challenges, such as public awareness, adjusting management strategies, and trying to obtain population estimates. But there is additional security in not having the species concentrated at one location.

The expansion has been a success in terms of winter survival on non-traditional sites, landowner acceptance, and public enthusiasm for additional opportunities to view whooping cranes.

While two whooping crane mortalities were documented on the traditional wintering grounds this year, no mortalities were reported from non-traditional sites. On the other hand, little is known about how well these cranes fare when they return to the nesting grounds. More information is needed on productivity of whooping cranes wintering in agricultural areas and whether food issues contribute to an earlier departure time.

During migration whoopers often pause overnight to use wetlands for roosting and agricultural fields for feeding, but seldom remain more than one night. They nearly always migrate in small groups of less than 6-8 birds, but they may be seen roosting and feeding with large flocks of the smaller sandhill crane. They are the tallest birds in North America, standing nearly five feet tall. They are solid white in color except for black wing-tips that are visible only in flight. They fly with necks and legs outstretched.

Additional information, including photos of Whooping Crane look-alike species, can be found at