May 6, 2015

Nebraska bat designated by feds as “threatened”

A bat with white nose syndrome

A bat with white nose syndrome

Federal officials are now designating a type of bat that lives in Nebraska as a threatened species, because a fungal disease is wiping out large populations of the furry, flying creatures.

Kristen Lundh, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says the northern long-eared bat will have new protections in Nebraska and 25 other states under the “threatened” designation.

“A species that is endangered is defined as any species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range,” Lundh says. “A species that is threatened is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.”

Bats in Nebraska are falling victim to a disease called white nose syndrome, a disease that actually makes their muzzles turn white.

“Bats with white nose syndrome act strangely,” Lundh says. “They fly around outside in the winter when they’re supposed to be hibernating. In studies of bats with white nose syndrome, researchers have found that they have depleted most of their fat stores by mid-winter and they get really severe wing damage that shows up when we capture them during the summer.”

It’s difficult to determine how many bats in Nebraska are being impacted by the disease and more bat counts will be done this year. Some aspects of the disease remain a mystery.

Lundh says, “We don’t really know what the exact process by which white nose syndrome leads to the death of infected bats, but we do know the fungus, where it’s infected bats, is responsible for very large-scale mortality.”

More than 6-million bats of multiple species have been killed by white-nose syndrome since it was first documented in the U.S. in 2006.

Lundh notes, bats are particularly beneficial to an agricultural state like Nebraska as they’ll eat all sorts of insects that would otherwise damage crops, in addition to bugs that bug people. Some bats will eat a thousand mosquitoes per night.


Ag Director worries environmental, not health, concerns swaying dietary guidelines

Hereford_cattle_herdState Agriculture Director Greg Ibach worries environmental concerns are creeping into the dietary recommendations made by the federal government.

The United States Department of Agriculture is preparing its latest dietary guidelines and this time environmentalists are pressuring the USDA to recommend eating less red meat to reduce the carbon footprint of the cattle industry.

Ibach says there is no reason to reduce consumption of red meat for health reasons.

“The same message we’ve had for years that red meat can be a part of a healthy diet,” Ibach tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “You just have to follow the proper guidelines, pay attention to your portion size, and if you’re especially concerned about the fat in your diet, you pick leaner cuts.”

A panel that makes recommendations for the federal dietary guidelines has suggested sustainability of the environment should be considered in their make-up. Some argue the beef industry has too large a carbon footprint and needs to be scaled back.

Ibach has written Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, arguing that sustainability has no place in the dietary guidelines which should be solely directed at providing consumers with scientific-based dietary information.

Ibach contends the recommendations could eventually reflect more environmental concerns than dietary concerns.

“I think if you look closely at the recommendations they made, they really didn’t change their recommendations for red meat overall,” Ibach says. “They came in with a sustainability statement that then confused consumers.”

The USDA updates its dietary guidelines every five years.

Jane Monnich, KLIN, contributed to this report.

NPPD announces coal-fire power plant conversion to hydrogen

Sheldon Power Plant/NPPD photo

Sheldon Power Plant/NPPD photo

It could be the fuel of the future.

Nebraska Public Power District has announced it is working with California-based Monolith Materials to replace a coal-fired unit in southeast Nebraska with a hydrogen-fueled plant.

NPPD Chief Executive Officer Pat Pope says Monolith Materials will use natural gas and electricity to create a substance called carbon black.

“Will eventually lead to near zero carbon emissions and Sheldon Station will become the first utility-scale power plant in the country to use hydrogen as a fuel,” according to Pope.

The new power plant will replace one of two coal-fired plants at the Sheldon Station near Hallam.

Gov. Pete Ricketts praises the project as a huge step forward in how electricity is produced in Nebraska.

“We here in Nebraska, with the welcoming of Monolith Materials, will be able to expand the types of products we produce here,” Ricketts says.

Monolith Materials co-founder, Rob Hanson, says the new plant will produce a substance called carbon black.

“We take natural gas. Natural gas is made up of carbon and hydrogen. We have technology which takes the carbon out in the form of carbon black. The hydrogen passes on and is going to be used by Sheldon Station to generate 125 megawatts of clean electricity,” according to Hanson.

Hanson says carbon black, a fine powder, is used in a number of products, such as tires, batteries, ink, electronics and plastics.

Hanson says the investment in southeast Nebraska will total in the “hundreds of millions” of dollars, creating 100 new direct jobs and as many as 600 indirect jobs. He says the company began looking at sites across the U.S. over the past 18 months, narrowing sites to Nebraska, Texas, Iowa, Wyoming, Washington State, New York, Louisiana and Alberta, Canada.

Hanson says the plant should begin producing carbon black by next year with full hydrogen fuel operations slated to begin in 2019.

Doug Kennedy, KWBE, contributed to this report.

South-central Nebraska cattle operation wins Leopold Conservation Award

Gov. Ricketts speaks to (from left to right) Brian and Steve Shaw

Gov. Ricketts speaks to (from left to right) Brian and Steve Shaw

A south-central Nebraska family that made a switch from row crops to a cow-calf operation has won the 2015 Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award.

Brian Shaw, speaking for the family, says he began his career after playing football and graduating from the University of Nebraska at Lehmann Brothers in New York and Chicago only to return home to the farm near Hastings to become involved in an occupation he calls intrinsically rewarding, because it doesn’t just put food on his family’s table, but it feeds the world.

“And it doesn’t get much better than that,” Shaw tells reporters during a news conference hosted by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

The Shaw family began grazing federally protected wetlands as a way of expanding its cross-bred cattle herd. Shaw says the family found a way to satisfy all the rules and regulations, protect and even enhance the environment, and still make a living.

Shaw said he and his father, Steve, had to think outside the box and adapt to the resources at hand to expand their herd in an area of the state where crops are king.

They knew it would be a risk.

“We decided to take that chance and partner with the organizations in hopes of not only being able to increase our herd, but also to improve the wildlife habitat,” Shaw says.

Shaw says it is more common now to use grazing to improve wetland habitat, but that was far from the case when the Shaw family decided to do so.

Gov. Ricketts honored Steve and Vicki Shaw as well as Brian and Julie Shaw at the news conference held at the Capitol.

A moose seems to have taken up residence in the Panhandle

U.S. Fish and Wildlife photo

U.S. Fish and Wildlife photo

A moose is wandering around western Nebraska.

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission officials say a number of residents in the North Platte River Valley in the Panhandle have reported spotting a moose.

While it’s not common to see moose in Nebraska, they do occasionally make an appearance in western Nebraska. The confirmed sightings of this moose, according to Game and Parks, indicate the moose has been in the region for several weeks. Wildlife biologists believe the moose wandered into Nebraska from Wyoming.

Game and Parks does issue a precaution: keep your distance from a moose.

Moose are wild animals and even if they appear docile, they can turn aggressive.