Daily Archives: April 7, 2016

Do your part for the birds and bees: Go native in your garden this spring


Native plants provide high-quality nourishment for birds, butterflies, bees


By Jill Draper

The Kansas City Star


Do you live in a food desert? Not for you, with your grocery stores and farmers markets, but for the bugs, birds and butterflies that surround you as part of nature’s complex and mysterious web of life.


If your house is flanked by wide areas of lawn dotted with common Asian imports — Bradford pear trees, Japanese maples, burning bush, crape myrtle, day lilies, spirea, hostas, bush honeysuckle and such (there are thousands of introduced species like these in North America) — then the answer is probably yes.


That’s bad news for wildlife. The good news is you can improve the situation by simply adding more native plants to your landscaping.


What’s so important about planting things that naturally grow here? Consider this: One spring morning Doug Tallamy set up a camera in his yard full of native plants and trees near a chickadee nest and watched the parents feed their babies 30 caterpillars in a 27-minute period.


Other scientists have conducted all-day counts in similar environments and come up with equally astonishing numbers. After their eggs hatch, one single pair of chickadees, robins, bluebirds or cardinals will feed their clutch thousands of caterpillars over a two-week span, most of these gathered from less than 200 feet — or a few city blocks — of the nest. Like babies everywhere, young birds eat soft, squishy things and cannot digest hard seeds and insects.


“These common birds require a mind-boggling number of caterpillars,” says Tallamy, an entomologist and ecology expert who traveled to Kansas City a few months ago to speak to horticulture industry leaders at the Western Nursery trade show. “But there’s not enough nature anymore, and their numbers are dwindling. Homeowners play a huge role in all this, but most of them don’t know it.”


The problem is that local songbirds, butterflies and bees — things we like to see in our neighborhoods — co-evolved with local plants. When the landscape is full of non-natives, there’s not enough high-quality nourishment to go around. Sure, some species like pigeons or starlings will eat dropped French fries from a parking lot and survive. But many beneficial forms of life are going hungry and beginning to fade away.


Leaders of a new movement called the Kansas City Native Plant Initiative hope to change that predicament. For the first time more than 30 local wildlife organizations have joined together to win a $230,000 National Wildlife Federation grant to pay for workshops, demonstration plots and educational resources to encourage residents to plant more natives. Their message is not just for homeowners, though. They say that business sites, schools, churches, condo associations and even apartment dwellers with potted plants on a balcony can join in.


A parallel effort called the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge is a nationwide call to action that promotes planting sources of nectar and pollen and registering your yard at


Tom Schroeder, a south Kansas City homeowner, heard the call years ago. Half of his backyard is planted with trees, bushes and flowers that attract native bees and other pollinators. He says there are 4,000 species of native bees in the U.S., not including wasps. Some are black and yellow bumblebees, but others range from a brilliant metallic green to dark brown, and from one-eighth-inch to over an inch long.


“I never realized the diversity of bees that were here all along,” says Schroeder, who notes his 50-by-70-foot pollinator patch changes every month from March to November and requires little maintenance after early June. He grows perennials like anise hyssop, spiderwort and bee balm in 3-foot blocks so the bees and butterflies can forage more easily.


When he walks through his yard, it reminds him of wandering onto a prairie. “There’s so much motion and color — a vast, huge array of interest and beauty. I’m entertained by it all. I’m always surprised because something new is always showing up.”


Native bees live in solitary tunnels in bare spots of ground (the openings sometimes look like small ant hills) or in cavities like the stems of dead plants. Unlike yellow jackets, they rarely sting.


“I’ve probably spent a hundred hours with my head down in flowers with a camera, and I’ve never been bothered,” Schroeder says.


If the fate of native bees is a lesser known problem (conservation biologists believe dozens of species are going extinct every year), monarch butterflies are the poster children for troubled pollinators.


Even pristine lawn lovers are starting to pay attention. Mary Nemecek recalls growing up in the Northland with “sacred” grass.


“We didn’t walk on it after rain, frost or when it was just mowed,” she says. But not long ago her father asked about the monarchs: “If I wanted to help, what would I do?”


Eventually he volunteered a low spot along his fence line and allowed her to plant three kinds of milkweed along with asters, coreopsis, sneezeweed, liatris and coneflowers. As soon as the plants bloomed, he called her with exciting news: “I’ve got caterpillars! I’ve got butterflies!”


Nemecek, a member of the local Audubon Society and a spokeswoman for the KC Native Plant Initiative, says there’s no need to be fanatical. It’s OK to garden with beautiful non-natives, but think of them as sculptures: You need only a few.


This idea is echoed by Alan Branhagen, director of horticulture at Powell Gardens, who points out that some non-natives such as the Asian crabapple tree are actually beneficial for wildlife. But he shakes his head with disbelief that municipal arborists named the Japanese zelkova as the 2016 urban tree of the year.


“This tree is becoming a horrible invasive. And how many things feed on it? Zero! It’s like you’re planting something plastic,” he says. By contrast, some of the most helpful native trees he recommends for our area — oaks, willows, hackberries, wild plums and cherries, and roughleaf dogwood — provide food and shelter for hundreds of types of caterpillars and birds.


Branhagen is designing a bed at Loose Park as part of the native plant initiative. Other new native plantings will include 100 acres along Mill Creek in Shawnee Mission Park, various schoolyards and along Missouri state highways.


With all this activity planned, you might be wondering why your yard matters. Aren’t there plenty of places for nature to be happy somewhere else? Not so, says Nemecek, who points out that we’re losing 2.2 million acres of habitat a year in the U.S. to development or cropland.


And many of the natural areas that remain are being taken over by imported plants that have escaped from our gardens and are crowding out the natives almost like a form of biological pollution. They’re green, but they’re not supporting wildlife.


Tallamy puts forth a solution: If we reduce the nation’s 40 million acres of lawn by half and plant it with native flowers, grasses, bushes and trees, it would create a natural area larger than a dozen of our most famous parks combined, including the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Denali and Yosemite.


“We could call it the Homegrown National Park,” he suggests with a smile. But he’s not really joking.


“Our little piece of the world plays a critical role in all this,” he says. “We’re saving ourselves here. That sounds dramatic, but that’s exactly what it is. Homeowners are living with a very powerful conservation tool, if they will use it.”


How you can help

▪ Reduce or eliminate applications of weed suppressants and just mow what grows (these chemicals are not only bad for pollinators — they’re bad for kids, pets and the watershed)

▪ Reduce the size of your lawn by enlarging existing beds or creating new plantings along the edges

▪ Begin transitioning your non-native ornamentals to native species

▪ Leave some dead leaves in planted areas as mulch (beneficial things live there over winter)

▪ Don’t kill wild violets — that’s what caterpillars eat to become fritillary butterflies

▪ Keep a few small piles of dead hollow stems as homes for native bees

▪ Grow a succession of native plants for each season: spring, summer and fall





Native plants will be available at most garden centers and the following spring sales:

April 16: Gorman Discovery Center, 4750 Troost Ave. (plus freebies while supplies last)

April 16: Backyard Bird Center, 6212 N.W. Barry Road

April 23 and April 30: City Market, 20 E. Fifth St.

April 30: John Wornall House, 61st Terrace and Wornall Road

May 7: Powell Gardens, 1609 N.W. U.S. 50, outside Kingsville, Mo.

May 6-7: Overland Park Arboretum, 8909 W. 179th St.

May 13-14: Weston Bend State Park, Bee Creek Shelter, 16600 Missouri 45 N.

Lesser Prairie-chicken range-wide plan reports successful second year


On March 31, 2016, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) its second annual report, detailing achievements of the Lesser Prairie-chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan (LPRCP). Highlights include the estimated 25 percent increase in the range-wide lesser prairie-chicken  population to just over 29,000 birds, the nearly $51 million in fees committed by industry partners to pay for mitigation actions, and the more than 67,000 acres of habitat landowners across the range have agreed to conserve.


The range-wide plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and the state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. It was developed to ensure conservation of the lesser prairie-chicken with voluntary cooperation from landowners and industry. This plan allows agriculture producers and industry to continue operations while reducing impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat.


“Conservation of the lesser Prairie-chicken is a long-haul proposition,” said Alexa Sandoval, director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and chairman of the Lesser Prairie-chicken Initiative (LCPI) Council. “We’re encouraged that after just two years of implementation, we have so many positive indicators that the range-wide plan is working. We commend all of our partners for their commitment to conservation of this iconic grassland species.”


The plan was endorsed by the USFWS, and as part of the conservation agreement, the states agreed to report progress annually. The findings for 2015 are summarized below.


Lesser Prairie-chicken Population Up

The 2015 range-wide aerial survey documented a 25 percent increase in the lesser prairie-chicken population to an estimated total of 29,162 birds. This increase is attributed to an abundance of rainfall in spring 2015, along with ongoing range-wide plan conservation initiatives. Aerial surveys for 2016 are underway and will run through mid-May. Results are anticipated in early July.


Land Conservation Efforts Increasing

Substantial progress was made on private land conservation across the lesser prairie-chicken’s range. Eight landowner contracts were finalized, encompassing 67,512 acres. Conservation measures are being implemented range-wide, including habitat restoration on 8,214 of 15,911 prescribed acres. And a total of $1,821,737 was paid to landowners managing their lands to generate credits for lesser prairie-chicken conservation. In addition, WAFWA acquired title to a 1,604-acre tract of native rangeland in west Texas, near the Yoakum Dunes Wildlife Management Area last June.


Technology Enhances Conservation Decision Making

Scientists are using the latest technology to designate where and how conservation actions should be implemented for the greatest benefit. The Southern Great Plains Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool enhances the existing Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT) program administered by WAFWA. It identifies focal areas and connectivity zones where lesser prairie-chicken conservation actions will be emphasized. A project estimator tool unique to CHAT was designed to encourage companies to implement more effective pre-planning development efforts and it worked. These enhancements have resulted in 5,066 instances of access to CHAT, with an average of 145 users per week.


Cooperative Efforts Enhancing Conservation

Working with conservation partners, programs and cooperative efforts are expanding voluntary landowner incentives and practices to benefit the birds. For example, the Natural Resource Conservation Service has incorporated CHAT elements into the ranking criteria for projects being considered under the Lesser Prairie-chicken Initiative. Using CHAT, prescribed grazing practices were applied on 179,805 acres through the Lesser Prairie-chicken Initiative in 2015. These combined efforts have resulted in nearly 250,000 acres being conserved for the benefit of the lesser prairie-chicken.


Mitigation Efforts Positively Impact Development Decisions

One of the major components of the range-wide plan involves working with industry to avoid and minimize impacts of development activities. The WAFWA mitigation framework can be used by any entity. In 2015, there were several industries participating, including oil and gas, pipeline, electric, wind energy and telecommunications. During this past year, 177 companies enrolled in WAFWA conservation agreements. WAFWA collected $11,843,403 in fees in 2015, bringing the program total to $50,800,884, which will offset unavoidable impacts at off-site mitigation locations. In 2015, 409 project agreements were authorized, assessing development costs tied to the quality of habitat being impacted. After two years of implementation, a review of all the projects assessed shows that the mean cost was $11,936 per project, varying by ecoregion. WAFWA has documented that these mitigation costs are positively impacting development decisions and participants are actively selecting areas with low quality habitat.


Listening and Learning Informs All Conservation Decisions

Successful collaborative efforts require vigilance and commitment to considering all input. Through the Lesser Prairie-chicken  Advisory Committee, WAFWA has been receptive to input from all stakeholders, including industry, non-governmental organizations, state and federal agencies, landowners and the general public. The LPCI Council has developed an adaptive management framework incorporating monitoring and new information to make adjustments as needed, maximizing conservation benefits to the lesser prairie-chicken.


Full details are available in the WAFWA annual report at


Back-to-back birding events coming up


Kansas bird enthusiasts, get your pens and keyboards ready because two exciting events in April and May should be on your calendars. The 2016 Kansas Birding Festival will be held April 29-30 at the United Methodist Church, Wakefield, at the north end of Milford Lake. Highlights of this event include guided field trips to the lake area marshes, parks and woodlands; finger food, wine and cheese reception at Tom’s Taxidermy in Wakefield; early morning field trips to see and hear the booming of greater prairie chickens on Saturday; and a banquet, featuring Dr. David Rintoul of Kansas State University, giving festival attendees an insight on birdlife and bird conservation efforts in New Zealand.


Local experts will also give attendees advice on best locations for those who wish to explore the area on their own.


The second organized birding event that is a must-do is the Kansas Ornithological Society’s (KOS) spring meeting, May 6-8 at Camp Horizon, just east of Arkansas City. This traveling annual spring event provides opportunities for birders to experience Kansas birding during one of the best bird watching weekends of the year. The event will kick off with a welcome reception at Camp Horizon Friday evening and include all-day fieldtrips on Saturday, and half-day trips on Sunday led by enthusiastic experts.


The Saturday evening program, “Wildlife Down Under,” will feature a presentation from Bob Gress, retired director of the Wichita Great Plains Nature Center, who will share his recent experiences observing and photographing wildlife in Australia.


If you’re excited about Kansas birds, don’t miss out on these opportunities to meet folks with a shared passion, and experience some great birding!


For more information on the 2016 Kansas Birding Festival and to register, visit


For more information on the KOS spring meeting and to register, visit


Paddle party on the Kaw April 16-17


Does the warmer weather have you anxious to hit the water? Join in on the fun of The Little Apple Paddle on Saturday, April 16, when water-lovers of all kinds will quench their thirst for adventure paddling on the Kansas River! The route begins at Junction City and travels 10 miles to Ogden. The cost is just $10 per paddler and everyone is welcome to attend. Please RSVP to Marcia Rozell (


Paddlers can enjoy just the Saturday paddle or stick around for more fun. Space will be available to campout on a sandbar in Ogden, or stay the night at one of several hotel rooms reserved in Manhattan. On Sunday, the group will then continue down the Kansas River from Ogden to Manhattan (14 miles).


Participants are asked to meet at the Fairmont Boat Ramp in Manhattan on Saturday, April 16 at 8 a.m. A shuttle car will be available to help transport items, and Tuttle Creek State Park will have kayaks for rent. Cost per kayak rental is $25 for one day, or $35 for the weekend.


What you need to bring:

-Kayak or canoe

-PFD with whistle


-Bottled water

-Food for the day

-Tent/sleeping bag


-Sun protection and a hat

-Change of clothes

-Water shoes


For more information, contact Rozell at (785) 537-3030 or