Posts tagged with Environment

Fix-It: Install a bat house

Bats can eat more than 1,000 insects per hour and will consume 50 to 100 percent of their weight each night eating various bugs such as gnats, crickets, moths, mosquitoes, locust and flies. Bats often live for more than 30 years, so installing a bat house can be a great long-term method of insect control.

Several Internet sites offer free instructions for building a bat house, or you can pick up a ready-made house from your local hardware store or garden center. Before choosing a house, decide how and where to mount it, as some locations may determine the size and style of the house.

Step 1: Install the bat house in late fall or early winter to assure the home is ready when bats return in the spring.

Step 2: If the bat house is being installed to provide housing for bats destined to be evicted from a home or chimney, install the bat house 2-6 weeks prior to removing the bats from their current residence.

Step 3: Mount the bat house 12 to 25 feet above the ground. Mounting the house under the eaves of a two-story home or atop a singular pole works well.

Step 4: Choose a sunny location to mount the house. Typically, a southern exposure is recommended. Bat houses need 6-8 hours of sunlight to stay warm. Consider painting the outside of the house a dark color to encourage heat absorption.

Step 5: Keep bat houses at least 20 inches from branches, structures and other areas where predators, such as hawks and owls, can perch. If the house is mounted in a tree, bats often have difficulty locating and entering the structure.

Step 6: If possible, locate the house within 1,500 feet of a lake, stream, pond or other water feature. Bats need water to survive.

Step 7: Do not install the house above doors or windows where bat droppings could be a problem.

Step 8: Do not install a bat house on metal siding or near bright lights, though having a light to attract insects is beneficial for attracting bats.

Step 9: Plant a wide variety of plants, trees and bushes in the yard. Bats are attracted to diverse habitats. Trees and flowers attract bugs, which are vital to the bat’s survival.

Bats will move into a bat house 50 to 60 percent of the time. If after two years bats have not moved into the house, move the house to a new location.

— Linda Cottin can be reached at


Massive oil pipeline project has Kansans and national environmental groups concerned

Kansas sits squarely in the middle of a debate that national environmental groups say will shape President Barack Obama’s legacy on fighting climate change.

This week, droves of protestors were arrested in front of the White House as part of a sit-in opposing TransCanda’s 1,700-mile, $7 billion pipeline system that would transport crude oil from what supporters call the oil sands of Canada all the way to the refineries on the Gulf Coast. A segment of the Keystone XL pipeline runs through Kansas.

On Monday more than a 100 people gathered at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene to hear a company spokesman and an angry Texas landowner debate the merits of the project.

All the activity preceded Friday’s release of the U.S. State Department’s environmental impact study of the pipeline, which is needed before a Presidential permit is issued.

In a conference call Thursday morning with national environmental groups opposing the project, Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica said the decision to allow the pipeline project to move forward has political implications.

“This decision to approve or disapprove the Keystone XL pipeline is squarely on (Obama’s) desk and is a bellwether on whether this president is committed to addressing global climate change and this nation’s as well as the world’s dependency on dirty fossil fuels,” Pica said.

Last summer, TransCanada laid pipeline through Kansas to connect Steele City, Neb., with Cushing, Okla. That pipeline travels through Washington, Clay, Dickinson, Marion, Butler and Cowley counties.

The current approval process is for two expansion projects. One starts in Hardisty, Alberta, and travels through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. Another phase would take oil from Oklahoma south to Texas. As part of the expansion project, which would increase the amount of crude oil being carried from 591,000 barrels a day to 1.3 million, two pumping stations would be built in Kansas.

In Kansas, Marion County Commissioner Dan Holub’s main concerns are economic ones. Several years ago, the Kansas Legislature passed a tax exemption for pipelines in hopes of bringing employment opportunities and money to Kansas.

“We were told there would be jobs, camp sites, motels, trailer parks, all these construction crews coming through, a lot of restaurant businesses, more people, more fuel sales,” Holub said. “None of that materialized.”

Instead, Holub said, construction crews were made up of unionized laborers from outside the area and were housed about 100 miles apart from each other.

The state’s 10-year tax exemption means Marion County and its schools, townships and other government entities will miss out on about $30 million in tax revenue. In return, Holub said that when the pipeline was laid about $40,000 in sales tax was collected.

“It’s totally frustrating,” Holub said.

Jim Prescott, spokesman for the Keystone XL pipeline project, disagrees with Holub’s assessment and said plenty of businesses and companies in the state would as well. During last summer’s construction, the company and its contractors spent $481 million in Kansas and another $8 million in sales tax.

“We had a good experience in Kansas in terms of construction, in terms of local businesses and suppliers we worked with at the local level,” Prescott said. “We know that there was a substantial benefit.”

As Holub began following the project, his worries on the pipeline’s environmental effects grew. Holub, who lives about a mile and half from the pipeline, is concerned about the potential for spills and leaks and the company’s commitment to cleaning them up.

Environmental impacts have been the major motivating force for those opposing the project across the country.

On Thursday morning, opposing environmental groups said the method for extracting oil from oil sands produces higher levels of greenhouse gases than traditional oil reserves, threatens Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer and will increase pollution in communities surrounding the refineries.

“Americans have nothing to gain from this pipeline and everything to lose,” Sierra Club’s executive director Michael Brune said. “If the pipeline is built, it would be Americans that get the pollution and foreign corporations that get the profits.”

On the other hand, Prescott said the pipeline will be the most studied and analyzed pipeline in history.

“The Keystone pipeline is going above and beyond what is required when it comes to pipeline safety and integrity and operations,” Prescott said, and he noted that Canada has much more stringent environmental regulations than the other countries supplying the U.S. with oil, such as Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

Even if the permit is approved, the fight over the pipeline would be far from over.

“If we fail, there are quite a few people along the pipeline route that have already said, like the people in Washington this week, that they would sit in, that they would put their bodies on the line in front of bulldozers and pipes to prevent the construction,” said Kenny Bruno, campaign director for Corporate Ethics International.

By Christine Metz


JCCC to offer line-up of sustainability-minded speakers

From debt ceilings to farm fields, Johnson County Community College is taking a look at sustainability issues in its upcoming, four-part speaker series.

Sustainability will be the theme in a lecture series that runs every Tuesday from Sept. 13 to Oct. 4. The lectures will be held from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the M.R. and Evelyn Hudson Auditorium of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park.

The topic of sustainability fits nicely with JCCC’s long term goals, said Phil Wegman, program director for the work force community and economic development branch at the school’s community services division.

“One of the strategic initiatives of the college is to champion environmental sustainability through the curriculum, through infrastructure by transforming the physical campus into a living lab. It’s a perfect place for the community college to be,” Wegman said.

In the past, the series, which mainly attracts students, retirees and other none-working folks, has focused on issues such as retirement or investments. But sustainability is something that people have grown increasingly interested in, Wegman said.

“Our goal in community services is to meet the learning needs of our community. And, an area they want to learn about, want to know about is how can they be more efficient and how can they conserve resources,” Wegman said.

And at JCCC, sustainability covers energy conservation, the economy, climate issues, depleting water resources and leaving behind a smaller carbon footprint.

Speakers in the series include:

  • Sept. 13: Chris Kuehl, the cofounder and managing director of Armada Corporate Intelligence, will speak about economic sustainability. In particular, Kuehl will focus on how the debt ceiling debate will affect the economy now and in the future.
  • Sept. 20: Mike Ryan, who is the college’s campus farm and community outreach manager, will talk about the school’s 2.5-acre vegetable farm and its role in building a sustainable agriculture program.
  • Sept. 27: Bill Helming, executive director of Bill Helming Consulting Services in Olathe, is an agriculture economist who will provide a long range forecast of agriculture production in the region.
  • Oct. 4: Kristin Riott, executive director of Bridging the Gap, will share tips on how to save money, be healthier and help the environment by going green.

The lectures are free and opened to the public, but registration is required. To register call the JCCC continuing education office at 913-469-2323. Or enroll online. Click on the find a class link and search for “speaker”.

By Christine Metz


Kansas Bioscience Authority may invest in animal health products company seeking to relocate to Lenexa

The Kansas Bioscience Authority’s investment committee recommended new investments on Monday that would seek to bring jobs to the state and improve a company’s animal health products.

All investments must be approved by the KBA’s full board of directors before becoming official.

The committee approved an expansion and attraction grant that would give $550,000 to Ceva Animal Health LLC to relocate its North American headquarters to Lenexa.

Company representatives said the funds would allow them to keep 10 high-paying jobs in Lenexa while attracting 20 more to the state.

The jobs would have a payroll of more than $3 million in total.

Also on Monday, the committee recommended that Manhattan-based MegaStarter LLC receive a $205,000 research and development voucher that would be matched by the company in order to make improvements to an animal health product.

David Vranicar, KBA interim president and CEO, said the committee also heard a proposal from GreenTree Technology Partners to develop software that would assist clinical research organizations.

After hearing the proposal, Vranicar said the committee took no official action, but may move forward in the future with a smaller request for funding.

The investment committee also recommended a change in the way the KBA reviews its candidates for its Eminent Scholars program, frequently used by the KU Cancer Center to attract new recruits.

Candidates who are members of the National Academy of Sciences are also required to undergo a review of their credentials by a third party.

Bill Sanford, chairman of the investment committee, said it was the committee’s feeling that membership in the National Academy of Sciences was sufficient to determine if a candidate was qualified for the program.

By Andy Hyland


KDHE leader voices concerns over flood of EPA regulations

A steady stream of proposed regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency could be a burden for Kansas.

“We are in a period of time where the EPA is coming out with new regulation proposals almost weekly, sometimes it seems like it’s daily,” said John Mitchell, director of the environment division at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Mitchell discussed those regulations and how they could impact the state as part of his opening remarks Wednesday at the Kansas Environmental Conference in Topeka.

“States are in a position of reduced resources in way of staff and funding, but these new proposals that have come out generally are required to be implemented in a short period of time. That is a challenge for the staff,” Mitchell said after his remarks.

In particular, Mitchell is concerned about proposed regulations surrounding air and water quality.

Among the biggest question marks is the possibility of the EPA raising the standards for ozone pollutants, which cause smog. If new standards are adopted, some Kansas cities such as Wichita could be at risk for not meeting the federal agency’s standards and would be required to implement a plan to reduce ozone levels.

Kansas also is among the six Midwest states targeted in the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which the EPA finalized in July. The new rule requires these states to reduce their nitrogen oxide emissions during the summertime when ozone levels are at their highest. Kansas is also among the 27 states that have to work with power plants to reduce harmful emissions such as mercury, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.

Phase one of those regulations goes into effect next January and phase two in 2014. While states in the eastern part of the country have had programs in place to prevent cross-state air pollution, those west of the Mississippi have not, Mitchell said.

“The rule is requiring us to really think hard and work with (electric utility) companies in Kansas and figure out how we stay in compliance with new regulations. It’s a real challenge,” Mitchell said.

The EPA is also focusing on nutrient reduction, mainly for nitrogen and phosphorus levels. The nutrients come from wastewater treatment plants as well as water runoff and groundwater that contains fertilizer.

While the EPA is pushing to set a specific limit for nutrients, Mitchell said the reduction needs to be a shared effort among stakeholders.

High nutrients have become a concern because of the prevalence of large blue green algae blooms in reservoirs and ponds throughout the state. These algae blooms have made people sick and caused animals to die. Mitchell urged the state to take a leadership role in the problem.

“We do need to address nutrient reduction in surface water. We need to do that working together or someone from the federal level is going to do it for us,” Mitchell said.

By Christine Metz


Unique creature gained fawning following: Rare piebald deer was ‘quite a fixture’ along central Shawnee road

This piebald deer, which lived many years along Johnson Drive, became a familiar face for residents and passers-by in the neighborhood. The rare color pattern is caused by a genetic abnormality.

This piebald deer, which lived many years along Johnson Drive, became a familiar face for residents and passers-by in the neighborhood. The rare color pattern is caused by a genetic abnormality.

The first time Phil Smith saw the gray-and- white mottled face peering at him from a pasture near Johnson Drive and Lackman Road, he thought it belonged to a donkey.

But when Smith, a community service officer for the Shawnee Police Department, backed up and shined his spotlight through the dark, he realized the creature was something much more rare — a piebald deer.

Wildlife experts estimate the genetic abnormality, which results in deer with patches of white fur where it should be brown, affects less than 1 percent of all whitetail deer. Even some state wildlife experts have never seen a live one in Kansas, and Smith — an experienced hunter — only recognized the condition from articles and pictures.

That was about eight years ago. Smith would spot the unique deer many times in the years that followed, never far from the spot he first saw her.

So would others.

“Hey, did you see that funny looking deer?” new police officers asked after they’d patrolled Johnson Drive long enough to catch a glimpse of her.

Animal control calls came in from people who worried she was diseased, and some who thought they’d seen an antelope or a llama on the loose, Smith said.

Shawnee Police Sgt. Jim Baker, who leads Shawnee’s Traffic Safety Unit, said he’s had to shoo away drivers who stopped on the road to take pictures.

“She became quite a fixture along that little stretch of Johnson Drive for the better part of a decade,” Baker said.

Smith said no one that he knew of ever named the unique animal. “We just called her the piebald deer.”

Smith and Baker suspect street smarts helped her survive in Shawnee, where the automobile is the most threatening predator for adult deer.

“She actually looked both ways before she crossed the road,” Smith said. Baker said he, too, witnessed it more than once.

Living in the city probably helped protect her from hunters who would target the unique deer for a trophy, said Andy Friesen, Kansas City district wildlife biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

“If something like that comes by, or a hunter catches that out in the woods…that’s something that just doesn’t come up all the time,” Friesen said.

Friesen, whose office is in Shawnee, said he didn’t see the piebald but would have liked to. He’s never spotted one in the wild.

Lloyd Fox, the state’s big game program coordinator, said he’s only seen one piebald in Kansas. There have been a few other recorded cases, he said, but usually via photos sent in by hunters months or years after the animals died.

The gene that causes piebalds’ unique coloring — which can range from paint horse-like spots to nearly pure white — also causes varying degrees of other abnormalities including curvature of the spine, an atypical head shape and deformed jaw, Fox said. Shawnee’s deer appeared to have only slight deformities, if any, Fox said after viewing photos of the animal.

While the piebalds’ coloring may be beautiful to look at, Fox said, he doesn’t want more of them in the state’s herd because of their deformities.

“But I appreciate how people may be attracted to these,” Fox said. “If that results in those people becoming more concerned about wildlife health and habitat, then these few deer have served a good purpose.”

Smith was on duty July 27 when he was dispatched to check on a dead deer in a resident’s yard near Johnson Drive and Darnell Street.

The call was routine until Smith got close enough to see the deer’s markings.

“Sure enough,” he said, “it was her.”

Smith is quick to point out he’s no softie. Much of his job entails dealing with animals nobody (least of all him) likes.

But he admits it was sad to find the piebald deer — which he enjoyed watching and educating others about through the years — dead.

Smith said the deer had no outward signs of injury. He wonders whether age, the heat — temperatures reached 102 degrees that day — or maybe both got to her. Without examining the deer, Fox said it was impossible to rule out illness or even internal injuries from a collision with a car.

Regardless, the unique creature left an impression in Shawnee.

“This is a deer that’s lived her life right in your community, and it’s maybe a deer that didn’t have everything going for it but certainly was a unique animal,” Fox said. “It probably gave a lot of people a real thrill to see her.”

By Sara Shepard


KDHE seeks students' environmentally minded artwork for calendar contest

Students passionate about art and the environment might want to consider the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s annual Kansas Don’t Spoil It calendar contest.

Each year students ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors enter artwork depicting good environmental practices as a way to preserve the beauty and natural resources of Kansas. A winner from each grade is selected.

As part of the contest, students are encouraged to create a drawing or painting about composting, recycling, resource conservation, proper waste disposal and other green-minded activities.

Contest guidelines include:

Artwork must be submitted on 8.5 by 11 inch paper in landscape orientation.

Copyrighted materials such as comic strip characters can not be published.

Team mascots, such as the Jayhawk, can not be used.

The first place winners from the previous two years can not participate.

Entries can be set to Kansas Don’t Spoil It, KDHE—BWM, 1000 SW Jackson, Suite 320, Topeka, KS 66612-1366.

The post mark deadline to submit the artwork is Sept. 30. The winners will be featured in the 2012 calendar. For more information go to

By Christine Metz


Environmentalists seek to block western Kansas coal-burning plant

Environmentalists on Monday filed a legal brief with the Kansas Supreme Court seeking to stop construction of an 895-megawatt coal-burning power plant near Holcomb.

The Kansas Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, alleged the permit given to Sunflower Electric Power Corp. violates the federal Clean Air Act.

"The Sunflower permit process was so completely hijacked by coal supporters that a citizen lawsuit became necessary," said Stephanie Cole, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Sierra Club.

Sunflower Electric, based in Hays, and state regulators have said the permit meets all state and federal requirements.

The lawsuit filed against the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said the permit fails to protect the public health and was granted using an improper procedure. Environmentalists cited a recent Kansas City Star report that showed Sunflower was allowed to draft responses to public comments about the proposed plants for KDHE.

By Scott Rothschild


Straw bales provide foundation for sustainable building

It was late afternoon on the hottest day the year. And yet, a group of about a half-dozen students and instructors were chatting and laughing as they packed clumps of mud-covered straw between neatly stacked straw bales.

The students were participating in a straw bale building workshop. The half-built shed was on instructor’s Phil Holman-Hebert’s Sweetlove Farm in Jefferson County.

At that moment, four 18-inch thick walls of straw bales were up and framed at the corners with lumber. In between, bamboo rods provided extra support.

Halfway through the six-day workshop, the crews were preparing to plaster the entire building with two inches of a chocolatey and peanut butter brown clay mixture.

The wind and lack of humidity made that day’s temperature bearable compared to the ones before, Holman-Hebert offered as an explanation for why the crew had so much gusto.

And, he added, building with straw bales is just a lot fun, even in triple-digit temperatures.

“It’s the adult version of putting up a shelter with LEGO blocks,” he said.

A renewable material

Of course there’s other reasons why Holman-Hebert is an advocate for straw bale homes. Among them is because it is a sustainable building practice.

The tightly compacted straw bales insulating the house came from this year’s wheat harvest in Effingham.

Along with being an agricultural byproduct, straw bales, if used correctly, provide a level of insulation as high as almost any commercial product on the market, Holman-Hebert said.

The idea of the workshop came from the need to get the garage out of the second story of Holman-Hebert’s straw bale house, which was built nine years ago.

When completed, the shed being built this week will be used to wash and pack eggs and store meat and power tools.

At the same time Holman-Hebert was looking to expand his farm, he kept fielding inquires on how to build with straw bales.

“There seemed to be a growing interest in learning how to do this. So we put the two together to see if we could get this workshop going,” he said.

Straw bale codes

According to the International Straw Bale Building Registry, there are hundreds of straw bale structures across the country. In Kansas, 12 structures have been registered with a good chunk of those homes being in Leavenworth and Jefferson counties. Two of the structures are registered in Lawrence, one an art studio and the other a shed.

While straw bale buildings can be attractive as a sustainable building technique, it also can be a challenging one to get approved in some counties and cities.

The city of Lawrence and Douglas County won’t approve plans for a straw bale home unless it comes with a detailed engineering report or tests to prove the integrity of the structure.

Neither Jefferson nor Leavenworth counties require building inspections, so they don’t have to meet these standards.

Traditional wood-frame houses and even metal frame ones have a specific set of codes that builders in Lawrence and Douglas County must follow. A similar set of building specifications have never been adopted for straw bale buildings.

“Basically there are no standards as far as structural integrity and how they are to be constructed, which means they need to be designed by an engineer. And that makes it more difficult to get a project going,” said Barry Walthall, the city’s building code manager.

Douglas County building inspector Pat Wempe stressed that the building codes allow for alliterative forms of construction, the builders just have to prove they are safe.

Along with making sure a straw bale building is structurally sound, the building departments have to make sure it meets fire codes, plumbing, electrical and mechanical standards.

“It’s just not stacking hay bales,” Wempe said. “You have to be able to prove that it is just as good as a standard built house.”

Turning straw into homes

Many of those who came to Holman-Hebert’s workshop had plans of building straw bale structures on their property.

Jim Brabec, a middle school science teacher from Olathe, came to the workshop because he was interested in alternative building methods.

“The next generation is going to have to be able to use more (diverse) resources because we are running out,” Brabec said. “I’m just teaching children, students and my own kids, different ways of making things.”

Bruce Weber, who has been a carpenter for 35 years, liked the renewable qualities of straw bales.

“I’m learning better methods and more responsible building (practices),” he said.

Among the instructors at the workshop was Susan Jones, who three years ago hired Holman-Hebert to build a straw bale home in Grantville. She was attracted to the use of natural and renewable materials.

During the process, she uncovered an unexpected element to straw bale building.

“There’s just something about working together. Straw bale building is about community and that is probably my favorite part,” Jones said.

Holman-Hebert compares the process to an Amish barn rising.

“The materials and system is very conducive to a big group of unskilled workers getting together to do something that is wholly primeval,” Holman-Hebert said. “Most of our modern construction techniques won’t offer that kind of opportunity.”

By Christine Metz


Workshop to provide guidance on how building contractors can tap into wind farm construction

To help prepare the state for the four new wind farms and 800 megawatts of electricity that are planned for the next two years, the Kansas Department of Commerce is hosting a workshop on wind farm construction and logistics.

The workshop will be Aug. 9 in Wichita and will focus on how the state’s construction industry can tap into the supply chain needed for the construction of those wind farms.

From digging trenches to electrical work, subcontractors are needed for nearly every phase of the wind farm construction process. Those involved in planning, logistics, trucking, transmission, tower wiring and substation, site and foundation construction are encouraged to attend. Suppliers of fuel, metal materials, hardware and lumber are also needed for wind farm construction projects.

In 2011 and 2012, the four wind farms will be built in Ford, Gray, Lincoln, Ellsworth and Elk counties.

The workshop will provide information on the upcoming projects in Kansas, the opportunities available to building contractors within the state and the qualifications needed to work on the projects. It will also cover how the projects are managed and the expectations of wind farm developers and general contractors.

The workshop will be from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 9 at the Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center, 225 W. Douglas, Wichita. The cost for those who register before the Aug. 4 deadline is $50. For more information, visit the workshop's registration page.

By Christine Metz