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Daily Archives: April 2, 2015

Embracing prairie burning

By Brad Guhr

Dyck Arboretum

 

An important disturbance mechanism for prairie ecosystem health, a restoration ritual that connects a Kansan to its native landscape, and a series of sights, sounds and smells that both comforts and stirs heightened senses – prairie burning in the spring represents all these things to me.

 

Burning 1

 

Ever since participating in my first prairie burns during graduate school in Wisconsin, where I was trained to safely conduct prescribed burns, I have held a great reverence and respect for this process of igniting the prairie. Prairies and a whole array of plants and animals became adapted to semi-regular lightning-set fires on the Central North American Plains since the last ice age approximately 10,000 years ago.

In the last couple of thousand years, humans have also been important vectors for bringing fire to the prairie and helping determine its geographic extent on the landscape. Native Americans used fire to clear safe zones for lodging, attract or direct wildlife for food, and celebrate cultural rituals. Their actions helped extend prairie further east into areas that have since reverted back to oak-hickory forests, as the Native American presence and their fire rituals were extinguished. European ranchers on the Plains hold a similar respect for fire and use it to help fatten cattle and control invading woody plants that would eventually shade out prairie grasses.

 

Burning 3

 

Prairie fires in Kansas have been met with resistance. Increased human habitation and careless use of fire in untamed wild places puts residences more at risk and created an understandable fear of fire. Air quality problems affecting human health, due mostly to automobiles, power generation and industry in major metropolitan areas like Kansas City and most recently Wichita, are certainly not helped by spring prairie burns. Wildlife managers can cite that annual prairie burns in the Flint Hills have become too frequent for the success of grassland birds, including greater prairie chickens that require some residual cover for adequate foraging and nesting success.

 

Kansas has a rich history intertwined with the prairie and Kansans embrace prairie as an important part of our cultural and natural history, our recreation through eco-tourism (state park use, hunting, fishing, birding, hiking, etc.) and our economy (ranching). Where prairie has been removed, it has left behind a legacy of some of the best agricultural soils in the world. While mowing does provide some of the benefits of fire, it does not provide all of them, and is more costly and time-consuming. We must find ways to utilize and implement prairie burning with greater safety, intelligence, and purpose.

Simply put, a culture that values prairie must also value fire.

 

Burning 2

Is the Easter bunny a rabbit? Or actually a hare?

By eNature

 

Spring has sprung and Easter is right around the corner.  That means the Easter Bunny is on the minds of many children.

And on the minds of many adults is the age-old question…..

Is the Easter Bunny a rabbit or a hare?

As many of our readers know, hares and rabbits are cousins.  The good news for all candy-lovers is that both are well equipped by nature to handle the tasks that come with being the Easter Bunny.

Rabbit vs. Hare

It’s actually the European hare, or brown hare, that holds the impressive credential of being the original Easter Bunny.  At least according to a Germanic legend dating back to the 1500s. The ritual of children preparing nests and eagerly anticipating the arrival of Oster Haas (Easter hare), who delivers brightly colored eggs on Easter morning, has taken place in German-speaking countries for centuries.

In the United States the cottontail rabbit has been designated as the official deliverer of Easter treats. This is easily evidenced by the lyrics in popular holiday tunes such as “Peter Cottontail,” and the presence of that signature fluffy white behind in every commercial rendition of the Easter Rabbit imaginable.

How are the Easter Hare (brown hare) and the Easter Rabbit (cottontail rabbit) equipped for the daunting tasks associated with their profession?

Let’s take a closer look at the unique features of these members of the family Leporidae to find out.

Night Time Is the Right Time

It goes without saying that the job of the Easter Rabbit requires lots of stamina and endurance. This small mammal must accomplish the seemingly impossible task of delivering hundreds of thousands of eggs to children in a single night. Both rabbits and hares are primarily nocturnal creatures, thus able to stay alert and on-task the entire Saturday night prior. Their most productive hours are at dawn and dusk, times of heightened activity and energy for the rabbit and hare. Both species are equipped with large eyes for seeing at night, and their large ears allow them to detect territorial intrusions.

Lickety Split

The forefeet and hindfeet of rabbits and hares have strong claws and a special type of thick hair on the lower surfaces that provides better gripping. Not only does this adaptation aid with running on uneven terrain, it may also allow for the skillful carrying and maneuvering of multiple Easter baskets with minimal slippage (and broken eggs).

With their longer hind legs, European hares have a competitive edge over cottontail rabbits, able to reach a running speed of 50 miles per hour. The agile hare has the speed and skills to outrun and outwit predators. Cottontails move at a swift, but decidedly slower pace than hares, and often rely on surface depressions and burrows to conceal themselves. So far, both the hare and rabbit have managed to elude humans on every Easter Sunday to date—an incredible feat indeed.

Many Wabbits

Though it would completely debunk the theory that there is just one Easter Rabbit, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to assume that egg-delivery is a task shared by a complex, vast network of hundreds, if not thousands of rabbits. There certainly are enough of them to cover all the territory. It’s no secret that rabbits and hares are an exceptionally fertile and active lot, often producing dozens of offspring over the course of lifetime.

Newborn hares would most quickly be able to jump on board and help with Easter tasks. Just minutes after being born, they are fully-furred and able to run around with relative ease. Alternately, newborn rabbits are ill-suited for just about any activity; they are born blind and naked, and require much coddling by their mothers before venturing out in the world.

On the Job Satisfaction

One has to wonder what the glamour and allure in being the Easter Bunny might be. One of the draws may be unlimited quantities food. While children drool over the chocolate eggs and other sweets delivered to them on Easter Sunday, rabbits and hares are no doubt enticed by their favorite edibles—grass and clover—found in many backyards. Perhaps the payoff is the pleasure of seeing the smiles on children’s faces when they discover the colorful Easter eggs that have been left for them. Or maybe it is the honor in upholding tradition, year after year.

Whatever the reward or rewards, you’ve got to commend the Easter Rabbit and the Easter Hare for hundreds of years of excellent service and on a job well done.

Learn more about the Eastern Cottontail »

More about the Desert Cottontail »

FWS declares northern long-eared bat ‘threatened’

 

Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter

 

The Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will list the northern long-eared bat as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, a lower level of protection than it originally proposed for the imperiled species.

The agency also approved a rule to provide flexibility for forest managers and landowners by allowing for the incidental killing or harming of long-eared bats during the course of forest management activities, known as a 4(d) rule.

The move was panned by environmentalists, who favored listing the bat as endangered and are likely to challenge the decision in court. It received mixed reviews from industry groups.

The threatened listing and interim 4(d) rule will both be implemented on May 4. But FWS will continue to take comment on the rule until July 1 and plans to finalize it in some form by the end of the calendar year.

“Bats are a critical component of our nation’s ecology and economy, maintaining a fragile insect predator-prey balance; we lose them at our peril,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe. “The alternative to bats is greater pesticide use, which brings with it another set of ecological concerns.”

Northern long-eared bat populations in Eastern states have plummeted by more than 90 percent since the discovery in 2006 of white-nose syndrome, which the listing said is the primary threat to the species. As of 2014, the deadly fungal disease had spread to the District of Columbia and 28 of the 37 states in which the species is found.

After initially proposing an endangered listing for the species in October 2013, Fish and Wildlife determined that the bat is not endangered because the syndrome has not yet spread throughout its range. Furthermore, it said, bat populations in areas unaffected by the disease appear to be stable.

In areas not affected by the syndrome yet, all incidental harassment, harming or killing of bats — actions collectively referred to as “take” — will be allowed.

In states where bats are infected with the disease, the range of activities exempted from prohibitions on take is more limited. The 4(d) rule will only protect forestry management practices, maintenance and limited expansion of transmission and utility rights of way, prairie habitat management, and the removal of hazardous trees and others that are not used by the bats.

The rule and threatened listing were slammed by environmentalists as a gift to industry.

“These bats are losing more ground every day to a devastating disease, and instead of providing strong protection for the survivors, the Fish and Wildlife Service has given the green light to logging, oil and gas drilling, mining and other habitat-wrecking industries,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Weakening protections for the northern long-eared bat when it’s just barely surviving white-nose syndrome is like sucker-punching a cancer patient.”

“We’re definitely going to fight this highly political decision — one that all but ignores the science,” she added, pointing to a letter signed by more than 80 bat scientists that called for an endangered listing.

But Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh praised the decision.

“The decision to list the bat as threatened with an interim 4(d) rule represents a biologically sound determination that will address the conservation needs of these bats while providing flexibility for those who live and work within the bats’ range,” he said.

Industries protected by the 4(d) rule were divided on the listing.

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Jo Ann Emerson said utilities “appreciate the decision” to go with a threatened listing.

But the American Forest and Paper Association thinks FWS is targeting the wrong culprit.

“We are concerned that listing the northern long-eared bat as threatened will hinder forest management activities that provide habitat for the animal rather than address and find treatment for the acknowledged threat to the species: white-nose syndrome,” AF&PA President and CEO Donna Harman said in a statement.

That viewpoint was echoed by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, whose members’ incidental take is not specifically protected in areas where infected bats are found.

“Rather than listing the bat and limiting development, the Fish and Wildlife Service should work toward finding a solution to this deadly disease, while ensuring energy development, environmental stewardship, species conservation, and economic growth can thrive together across the nation,” said Dan Naatz, IPPA’s senior vice president of government relations and political affairs.

FWS noted that it is also spending $20 million on white-nose syndrome research.

First detected in upstate New York, the disease causes infected bats to fly out of their caves in late winter, when they should be hibernating. The bats then die of exhaustion and dehydration while searching for insects that haven’t yet hatched.

Angler Education Certification courses to come to central and western Kansas

 

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT), in conjunction with Fishing’s Future, will host Angler Education Instructor Certification courses in Dodge City, April 11, and Burrton, April 18. Teachers and anglers aspiring to teach fishing techniques to youth, families, and students in Kansas are encouraged to attend. The Dodge City class will be held 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Dodge City High School, 2201 Ross Blvd, Dodge City. The Burrton class will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Harvey County West Park Community Building, 17 miles East of Hutchinson. The building is four miles north of the HWY-50 and Golden Prairie intersection. There is no cost to attend; however, classes will be limited to the first 40 registrants.

Apart from becoming a certified angler education instructor, attendees will also be given valuable information regarding working with children, sample curriculums, and tips for preparing a class or clinic. Other subjects covered in the four-hour class include current fishing regulations, species identification, fishing ethics, equipment, knot-tying, casting, fish habitat, aquatic nuisance species, and conservation practices.

Anglers interested in registering for these classes are encouraged to sign up by visiting www.fishingsfuture.org and searching the “Upcoming Events”.

For more information, contact Fishing’s Future coordinator Kevin Reich at kansasangler@gmail.com or by phone at (785) 577-6921.

Wilson Lake level requires boater caution

 

Wilson Lake, located in Russell County just north of the town of Wilson, is a popular fishing, boating and camping destination known for spectacular prairie views, sandstone bluffs, and deep clear waters. However, the lake’s normally consistent water level has declined during the long-term drought, and the lake is now 8.5 feet below conservation pool level.

The low water level won’t impact Wilson State Park or Corps of Engineers parks areas, which are ready for the spring and summer camping seasons, but some boat ramps are inaccessible. Two boat ramps, the Spillway Boat Ramp near the east end of the dam and the Wilson State Park Hell Creek Boat Ramp are useable and have floating courtesy docks and parking areas.

Until rains return the lake to conservation pool level, boaters must use caution to avoid shallow water hazards that are normally far below the surface. The upper, or west end, of the lake has areas too shallow for boating.

For more information on boating at Wilson Lake, or to reserve a campsite or cabin at Wilson State Park, go to www.ksoutdoors.com or call (785) 658-2465.

Youth Outdoors Day at Eisenhower State Park May 3

 

If your child is interested in finding out what Kansas outdoors is all about, encourage them to attend the Youth Outdoors Day, May 3, at Eisenhower State Park on Melvern Lake. Sponsored by the Outdoor Writers of Kansas, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, and Friends of Eisenhower State Park, Youth Outdoors Day will be open to youngsters age 10 to 15 with limited outdoors experience. The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will include three stations – shotgun shooting, fishing and archery. There will be a free hot dog lunch after the activities. There is no cost to attend, however space is limited to 50 participants who will be chosen through an essay contest.

To apply, youth are encouraged to write in 150 words or less sharing why they are excited to learn more about the outdoors. Submissions should be emailed to Eisenhower State Park manager, Dale Schwieger, at dale.schwieger@ksoutdoors.com. Entries can be submitted until April 20 and must include contact information.

Children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian the day of the event. Other activities, such as hiking on an interpretive nature trail, will also be available. Prizes will be awarded to all participants.

For more information, contact Schwieger at (785) 528-4102.

Landowner stewardship workshop April 18

 

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT), in cooperation with the K-16 Chapter of Quail Forever, Kansas Forest Service and the Jefferson County Conservation District, will host a Landowner Stewardship Workshop Saturday, April 18. The workshop will begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. at the Perry Wildlife Area, 7760 174th St., Valley Falls. Private landowners interested in improving and managing wildlife habitat are encouraged to attend.

Attendees will be presented with information and demonstrations regarding pond and woodland management, quail and rabbit habitat, wetland habitat basics and big game management.

Natural resource professionals will discuss technical and cost-sharing assistance available to landowners through state programs, as well as the Federal Farm Bill. If weather permits, a small prescribed burn will be conducted. Attendees should dress appropriately for outdoor activities. Lunch will be provided by K-16 Quail Forever.

Admission is free, but registration is required by April 15. For more information, or to register, contact KDWPT wildlife biologist Tyler Warner at (785) 945-6615, or by e-mail at tyler.warner@ksoutdoors.com.

Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission approves 2015-2016 Big Game hunting seasons

 

The Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission approved the 2015-2016 big game hunting seasons during the public hearing portion of the March 26 meeting in Topeka. Deer season dates were approved as follows:

  • Youth/Disabled – Sept. 5-13, 2015.
  • Muzzleloader – Sept. 14-27, 2015.
  • Archery – Sept. 14-Dec. 31, 2015.
  • Pre-rut Firearms Whitetail Antlerless-Only – Oct. 10-11, 2015.
  • Firearm – Dec. 2 - Dec. 13, 2015.
  • Extended Whitetail Antlerless-Only: Jan. 1-3, 2015, Deer Management Units 6, 8, 9, 10, 16, and 17 (One Whitetail Only (WAO) permit valid in these units.) Jan. 1-10, 2016, Deer Management Units 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 11, 12, 13, and 14 (Five WAO permits valid in these units.) Jan. 1-17, 2016, Deer Management Units 10A (Ft. Leavenworth), 15 and 19. Urban Whitetail Antlerless Only Archery Season – Jan. 17-31, 2016, Unit 19. There is no Extended Whitetail Antlerless Only season and no WAO permits will be valid in Deer Management Unit 18.

The Commission approved the 2015 antelope seasons:

  • Archery – Sept. 19-27 and Oct. 10-31.
  • Muzzleloader – Sept. 28-Oct. 1 (muzzleloader permits are also valid during the firearm season).
  • Firearm – Oct. 2-5.

Elk seasons were approved as follows:

Units 2 and 3 (Off Ft. Riley)

  • Muzzleloader – Sept. 1-30, 2015.
  • Archery – Sept. 14-Dec. 31, 2015.
  • Firearm – Dec. 2-13, 2015 and Jan. 1-March 15, 2016.

Unit 2a (Ft. Riley)

  • Muzzleloader – Sept. 1-30, 2015.
  • Archery – Sept. 1-30, 2015.
  • Firearm Any-elk – Oct. 1-Dec. 31, 2015.
  • Antlerless-only First Segment – Oct. 1-30, 2015, Antlerless-only Second Segment – Nov. 1-30, 2015, Antlerless-only Third Segment – Dec. 1-31, 2015.

 

The commission also approved a staff recommendation to strike the requirement that hunters provide a biological sample for testing within two days of harvest. Elk will be tested on a voluntary basis in the same manner as deer are currently tested.

 

Following the public hearing, Secretary’s Orders for deer permits were discussed. Those orders are as follows:

-A sixteen-percent decrease will be made in the quantity of Firearm Mule Deer Permits  available.

-No Antlerless-only Either-Species Permits will be made available in the East Zone.

-A nine-percent decrease will be made in the quantity of Antlerless-only Either-Species Permits in the Western Zone.

-A five-percent decrease will be made in the quantity of Non-resident Whitetail Either-sex Deer Permits available in Units 6 and 8.

 

To watch a video recording of the March 26 meeting, visit www.ksoutdoors.com and click “KDWPT Info/Commission/Past Meetings.”

 

The next commission meeting is scheduled for April 23, 2015 at the Great Plains Nature Center, 6232 East 29th St. N, Wichita.