24 August 2016

Mapping Flora of Cherry County

Records of known occurrences for flora within Cherry county are being mapped by the University of Nebraska.

There are more than 1400 collecting localities within the county and the sites are being mapped by a student intern working especially with herbarium specimens at the University of Nebraska State Museum, said Thomas Labedz, collections manager. The intern is from Southeast Community College and completing their degree studies.

"Cherry County was chosen for several reasons," Labedz said in an email. "It has enough different anomalies to truly test how we are going to do this. It has one of the most diverse flora of any Nebraska county. It has habitat diversity among an overall habitat type that is largely homogeneous, which begs the question of whether collecting has been evenly distributed or centered on a few spots. It has a long history of collecting. It has federal, state and private properties with long histories."

Habitats include those present at wetland lakes, meadows and fens, expanses of grasslands, woodlands and the unique overlap of plant communities along the Niobrara Valley.

Known records will be evaluated to make sure they are from within Cherry county, and then geo-referenced to a locality using geographic information system software. Some of the place names "haven’t appeared on a map in about 100 years," Labedz said. Assistance on locations have been provided by staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Prominent emeritus professors such as David M. Sutherland, UNO and Robert Kaul of UNL are involved, with both having decades of experience with Nebraska floristics.

The Cherry county effort is an initial effort to represent how floral records can be mapped and made publicly available for online access.

Heritage associated with plants within Cherry county started more than a century ago. Plants were found, then kept in a suitable manner as a botanical specimen in a herbarium, including at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and Chadron State College.

Plant research occurred amidst the county in 1915 and during the 1930s. A multi-county survey was done at the Niobrara Valley Preserve when it was newly established more than 25 years ago. More recently, there have been floral studies done associated with evaluations of unique wetland fens in 1996 (i.e., Jumbo and Pullman valley fens, Big Creek Fen). Surveys occurred at Valentine National Wildlife Refuge in 2006. In 2009, surveys by the staff associated with the Illinois Natural History Survey were done at Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, and at the privately-owned Vanderploeg Ranch, along the river south of Valentine.

Similar efforts to denote plant locations may hopefully occur for other Nebraska counties, depending on the availability of funding, Labedz said. Nearly all records of collected plants indicate the county, and often include a more specific mention of a particular locale.

The Cherry county project will hopefully be completed in late September, Labedz said.


Ranchers Ode to Cherry County Flora and Ranching

A unique facet of Cherry county flora is an ode written by Clarence Nollett during his time ranching 15 miles northwest of Crookston. He describes the local flora in his self-published work – written from a self-expressed rancher’s perspective – as prepared from 1993 to 2000, while living on the ranch where he was born. Plant types include prairie grasses, legumes, colorful forbs and woody trees and shrubs.

The history for the ranch starts in 1918-19 when Felix Nollett paid $29 per acre for 320 acres, Clarence Nollett said. Martin and Irma Nollett carried on at the ranch. This was the range country where Clarence grew to appreciate floral and their differences.

While was growing up in the 1930s, he "thought we were in the forgotten part of the world." The land and its livestock, as well as the outdoors were features he enjoyed.

When a youngster, Clarence remembers walking the 3/4 mile to the mailbox south of the house. "We would pick wildflowers during the walk," down the country lane. Nollett said. "Mom would trim them and put them in a vase" for appreciation in the kitchen.

One reminiscence he mentioned was arriving late for classes at the country school because of the time spent gathering flowers. The wild rose is one plant he especially enjoyed then.

Nollette returned to the ranch land in October 1953, after his service in the Army. The youthful interest in blooming plants started again with in the 1960s upon winning a $100 savings bond for first place in a state conservation district competition.

Days on the prairie were some of the best times of my life, Nollett said. "One day with a range conservationist was one of the best days of my life," he said. He heard about grassland features, plants and other new things. "Prairie is an amazing feature of our area."

He worked on his flora book from about 1993 to 2000, he said. It started with a personal inventory with text about the grasses and wanting to put a name on them. Pictures were then added for many other species, including legumes and forbs with their flowers.

"I hope I have left some footprints that someone can follow."

His book begins with a preface and then an account for Big Bluestem, a prominent species of the "true prairie." Nollett then writes about Little Bluestem and Indian Grass and some of its features of particular interest. Switchgrass has its own account. For each of the plant types, his rancher’s perspective is indicative, and also included floristics, plant uses and the scientific name. Poems are included, including one from Robert Frost, a great American poet.

Personal essays are reading to enjoy, especially one about the family farm (with numerous pictures from the place during the years), then about range and management, financial management, marketing and conservation. Quotes from scripture and authors of renown are included as they convey important perspectives.

Cattle at the ranch were sold in 2002, though he stayed at the place for several more years before moving to Valentine. A favorite plant now is the shell-leaf penstemon. A picture hanging in his residence shows this species with a windmill in the background.

A donated copy of "Range Grasses and Plants of the Native Prairie" is available at the Valentine Public Library. It is an over 400 page book, - loosely bound in a large notebook - is dedicated to his parents Martin and Irma Nollett, who "helped nourish my interest in plants and birds."

His work was done to inspire future generations, as conveyed by the tome’s preface: "I want to create an awareness, stimulate the curiosity, and help to develop an understanding and an appreciation for the things found in our surroundings."

Nollett is still a member of the Great Plains native plants society, Hermosa, SD.


Vanderploeg Ranch a Natural Heritage Haven

Unique for the Cherry County area and its natural heritage is the Venderplog Ranch, located south of Valentine and at Schlegel Creek.

Marvin and Martin Vanderploeg have conserved many hundreds of acres here and southward along Highway 83.

Marvin came to Cherry county in 1983, first residing near Sparks, after retiring from Dow Chemical in Michigan. He wanted to get some grouse for his stuffed bird collection.

He moved to the Niobrara valley in 1988. The first 500-acre purchase was followed by others, as his son Martin Vanderploeg was a successful businessman in computer software, making it possible to buy additional parcels as they became available for purchase.

Marvin retired for good at Niobrara place. For a while he raised exotic birds, including ostriches. He’s always enjoyed wild birds. A pond at the place, built in 1998, is attractive to various sorts of ducks. Along the river bottom, wood ducks appreciate the natural setting.

A marsh provides habitat for the trumpeter swan. A pair showed up in 2004, and then started nesting two years later, Marvin Vanderploeg said. He's kept a list of waterfowl present on the place, based on records kept during recent years. A pair of Bald Eagles have been nesting; many Wild Turkeys appreciate the wildlife haven. More than 85 species of birds are known to occur among the diversity of habitats.

The plant communities indicated by the specialists in 2009 were: "dry ponderosa pine open woodland and savanna, dry upland bur oak woodland, freshwater seep (marsh-type), green ash-elm-hackberry canyon bottomland woodland, ponderosa pine forest, sandbar willow shrubland, Sandhills dune prairie, Sandhills mesic tallgrass prairie, threadleaf sedge western mixed-grass prairie, western sedge wet meadow," according to a botanical report. Schlagel Creek flows through, and has trout, while other wetland seeps provide year-around water for the marsh.

More essentially, he gave attention to land management. Starting in 2005, invasive cedars began to fall as a removal effort was initiated. There have been more than 250,000 trees with a diameter of more than 2.5 inches subsequently removed since then, he said.

Not all of the red cedar trees have been cleared. There is a different strain that has been left in place, especially along Schlagel Creek. Additional trees have been kept to provide a food source for migratory birds.

"Removing cedars is very expensive," he said. "It is kind of like we had to buy the place twice" due to the ongoing costs. Also being done is a thinning of pine trees.

Every few years, professionals are hired to conduct controlled burns to improve habitat conditions of the grasslands.

These efforts have improved the condition of the woodlands and grasslands, and more resilient if there is a wild fire.

The results are "much better than ever expected in terms of attracting wildlife," Marvin Vanderploeg said. "The prairie has a lush growth of warm season grasses" instead of the once predominant cool season grasses. Even now, Marvin continues to have work done to thin the pines.

There are no livestock grazing on the property. A portion of the ranch along the Niobrara has a conservation easement, which includes property of an adjacent neighbor.

Nearly every day, Vanderploeg especially watches the wild birds, whether it is from his residential vantage for the pond just to the south of the house, or elsewhere on the property. During the years, he has ventured to watch birds at Alaska, Costa Rica, Argentina and most recently Ecuador in December 2015.

Special features of the ranch are its place names. They include going from east to west along the southern extent of the river valley, 17 canyons, including Sport Canyon (east of the Schlagel), Two-log Gulch, Dari Canyon, Glen Canyon, Glen-Laura Canyon, Laura Canyon, Ben Canyon, Dania Canyons 1 to 3, J and R Canyon (for Jordan and Ryan Ross that have been clearing away the trees for the past ten years), Molly Canyon, Martin Canyon (named after Martin Vanderploeg), Isabel Canyon, Canet Canyon (initial homesteaders) and then The Island, where wood ducks congregate. Indian grass meadow has a lush growth of this tall, warm-season plant.

Many of these names are tributes to family relatives and former owners.

On any day’s outing on the ranch a great diversity of lush flora and dozens of wild birds can be enjoyed.

Court Case Between Ranch and NPPD Decision in August

James E. Ducey. August 18, 2016. Decision on powerline placement between ranch and NPPD should be known by end of August. Grant County News 132(3): 18.

A decision on a case pitting a ranch owner in the central Sand Hills and the Nebraska Public Power District that wants to place an industrial-sized powerline on their property should be known by the end of August.

Dan and Barb Welch own the ranch which is notably unique for its features and management practices. They have not provided permission to NPPD to survey the alignment for a segment of the R-Project so the case went to court.

A hearing on Brush Creek Ranch LLC v. NPPD was held in Thomas County court on August 11th. Judge Donald E. Rowlands heard comments from attorney David Domina - representing the land owners - and Kila Johnson representing NPPD.

The particular point of contention is whether NPPD has access to the Welch ranch, based upon current applicable Nebraska legislation (statute section 76-702).

Judge Rowlands also asked two questions of the attorneys at the court hearing, said Craig Andresen a local correspondent:

1) Have core studies been done for the locations of the towers: the response was no, with no plans for any to be done
2) Would the transmission lines be used to transport electricity generated by wind turbines: the response was yes

An additional concern is that NPPD will not provide remuneration for any damages to landowner property, following placement of the powerline towers.

The hearing lasted about 60-70 minutes, said Craig Andresen, while presenting a summary of the hearing during a KSDZ and KDJL broadcast live from the Cherry County fair. Nearby in the exhibition building, members and supporters of the recently organized group, Preserve the Sandhills, were providing information to visitors and gathering signatures from county residents opposed to turbines and industrial powerlines.

It was noted that the R-project would continue, even if the case was decided in favor of Welch. The company would however, not be allowed to conduct any preconstruction survey.

Prior to the court hearing, about 150 people showed up to peaceably convey their opposition to the powerline proposal and wind turbines, said Carolyn Semin of Kilgore, treasurer of Preserve the Sandhills; president is Merrial Rhoades, a resident of southeast Cherry County.

“We walked around the courthouse carrying signs and banners,” Semin said, noting that people applauded when the Dan and Barb Welch arrived.

There would be “92 miles” of new roads required to provide vehicular access to R-Project construction and maintenance, Andresen indicated. There would also be the need for a “landing pad” every 10 miles where construction material would be placed, and which needs to be within the five mile limit of range for a helicopter that would be used to place the lattice towers for the powerline.

It was also noted that by using existing roadways, the cost of the project could be reduced by $92 million, Andresen said.

Domina encouraged people to pursue options on tower placement, he said.

“A pseudo-government company should not do surveys on private property,” Andresen said during an August 12th discussion with Jim Lambley, radio announcer.

At a luncheon after the hearing at Thedford, a number of people gathered to discuss turbines and powerlines, Semin said.

Volunteers also inserted an advocacy letter into an envelope, and readied them for a mailing to registered voters in Cherry, Blaine, Thomas, Hooker and Grant counties.

“I was pleased with the support shown for the Welch’s and for people to show-up in opposition to wind turbines and industrial powerlines in the sandhills,” Semin said. “People need to continue their active involvement."

Recently organized group, Preserve the Sandhills, providing information from their booth to visitors at the Cherry County Fair.

Enjoying the Light Show of the Perseids Meteor Shower

James E. Ducey. August 17, 2016. Look up! Enjoy the light show of the Perseids meteor shower. Valentine Midland News 43(7): 12.

There was fine viewing to enjoy the peak date for the Perseids meteor shower at Valentine.

An initial period of watching on August 12th occurred from 4:15 to 4:45 a.m., away from the city lights. There was a clear sky with a slight wind keeping away any pesky mosquitoes. During this half hour, more than 20 meteors in both short and long "lines" of light were seen, mostly in the northern portion of the sky.

The meteors - cosmic pieces from the Swift-Tuttle comet entering earth's atmosphere - moved from east to west and were part of an annual August event.

It was a grand night scene. Crickets provided a constant natural music. An eastern screech owl added its call from a nearby copse for a few minutes. In the distance were faint howls of a coyote.

Occasionally there was a passing satellite with its dot of light moving steadily from horizon to horizon, or the flash and colors of an airplane’s transit against the backdrop of constellations and the spiral of the vast Milky Way.

During the p.m., the first meteor was noted as a long streak just at 10 p.m. on the north horizon beneath the seven stars of the Big Dipper constellation.

A next meteors at 11:40 was one that streaked past the north star Polaris and that end of the Little Dipper. Another long track streak at 11:50 across the upper dome of the sky was vivid and enough to elicit a self-expressed Wow!

The gibbous moon above the western horizon did not add any significant light to the night setting that might detract from observational opportunities.

The last two views for this period of skywatching were at 12:10 a.m. when another long-track meteor split the dark just above the Little Dipper. Almost immediately the demise of another bit of cosmic rock occurred just to the westward.

Dark skies and the opportunity to appreciate the star-scape with its subtle constellations, make the Heart City a great place to observe stellar features. This year, the Perseid meteor shower will continue through August 24th.

Between midnight and 1 a.m. on August 24th, three meteors were seen. One at midnight at the west end of the Big Dipper, and two near the North Star and Little Dipper just before 12:30 a.m.

08 August 2016

Primary Educational Lands are Nebraska Public Property

In order to define the “ownership” status of school lands, an investigation was done to determine how property was conveyed from its ownership by the United States of America.

There are three known methods:

  1. the Nebraska constitution when the state was established in 1867
  2. an abstract as filed in association with Cherry county deed records
  3. through conveyance from a private landowner to the state or the agency responsible for management of school lands

Nebraska’s Constitution

When an Act of Congress was passed to establish the state, section 7 provides in part, that:

“And be it further enacted, that sections number sixteen and thirty-six in every township ... shall be, and are hereby granted to said state for the support of common schools.”

This is according to an opinion issued from the Attorney General Office of Nebraska, in 1989, as submitted by Robert M. Spire, the AG at the time. This document — available online — includes this statement:

“The fact that these lands are held in trust pursuant to the Nebraska Constitution and Enabling act has the effect of incorporating the rules of law regulating the administration of trusts and the conduct and duties of trustees.”

This is indicative that the Board of Educational Lands and Funds has specific responsibilities of a trust, which would include a regular trust report?

Land Parcel Sales Transactions

Another method of transference is shown by abstract filings in Cherry county deed records indicating when particular parcels were transferred from the U.S. government or as being made available for purchase.

Numerous property parcels had been selected by the state of Nebraska “for the support of schools” in July 1893. The filing as dutifully denoted by the deed office records comprised 38 parcels and 12,640 acres. Each parcel was individually denoted to a section within a township and range (Cherry county deed record book I, page 386, etc.). There were some additional parcels listed in association for an overall total of 13,638.18 acres. They were identified as “Clear List No. 2 of Valentine Nebraska, School Indemnity selections.” They were selected for sale.

Another filing on public lands occurred in February, 1899 indicated property parcels that would henceforth be listed as school lands (Deed record book I, pages 395-401). The list of parcels spanned multiple pages.

The deed book record states:

“… the government of the United States confirms title in the State of Nebraska to the lands therein mentioned except that the annexed list of lands aggregating 13,907.55 acres mentioned only in the lands in Cherry County, which are confirmed to the state by said document, while this list of lands is one of the documents above mentioned and is on file in my office.”

The signature was by J.V. Wolfe, commissioner of public lands and buildings, from his government office in Lincoln. An additional signature was that by E.H. Nelson, deputy.

This list included multiple 16 and 36 parcels, with a list of the considered acreage as parcel size varied. Each parcel, with – “title in the state of Nebraska” - were subject to sale at Valentine, Nebraska. Some of the parcels also continued to be owned by the state, subsequent to 2000 A.D.

The Board of Educational Lands and Funds continues to regularly offer trust parcels for sale. There are also still significant tracts of state land, with one large area with more than 30 parcels westward of the confluence of the Snake River at the Niobrara River, northward to Church Flat, and then a few miles to the south (south of the Prairie Club); one parcel was sold to the Prairie Club Golf Course. Sixteen parcels occur along the North Loup River, in T28N R31W, near were historic DeWitty once occurred. Also along eastern Big Creek, westward of Brownlee (12 parcels).

Numerous examples of some of the parcels listed remained to be the property of the state, as indicated in recent plat books. In other cases, such as associated with the Fawn Lake Ranch, R.E. “Ted” Turner bought – early in the summer of 2006 – 15 parcels comprising more than 5680 acres with the within or immediately adjacent to the ranch property. A few parcels were also purchased that were associated with the Spikebox Ranch and Dan Hill Ranch, in Sheridan county.

Land Transfers

When considering method 3, one particular situation has a degree of vagueness. In April 1989, multiple parcels within T25N R28W were conveyed by “warranty deed” to the BELF, according to records carefully denoted by staff of the Cherry county register of deeds office (deed book I, page 765). The ownership of multiple parcels was transferred from Hanna Ranches Ltd. to Board of Educational Lands and Funds. There were more than a dozen parcels indicated, comprising more than 5200 acres. The transfer occurred with a consideration of one dollar. Signers of the official document were Samuel K. Hanna and Tom D. Hanna, representing Hanna Ranches Ltd.

Some other associated land transfers with this property area were associated with property exchanges, as designated in the official record, notably land exchanges as specifically indicated.

BELF parcels within T25N R28W have subsequently been indicated – based upon online Federal Aviation Administration records - as the location for a potential wind turbine farm. A permit to place a meteorological tower in section 36, T25N R29W was approved May 26, 2015 by the Cherry County Board of Commissioners.

School Land Management

Key historic documents indicate that school lands have been identified as public property owned by the residents of Nebraska, based upon the state of Nebraska constitution, parcel identification indicated in several plat map books, and details indicated in the official deed records.

The land is owned by the citizens of Nebraska, yet they have not taken advantage of the many opportunities to present comments that would have been useful for directing management.

Considerations — or even concerns — regarding management of the parcels include:

  1. What are the criteria evaluated regarding use and management of school lands?
  2. How does BELF provide opportunities for input, including public meetings, regarding the fate of property parcels this state agency manages? This is especially appropriate as parcels are regularly being sold to private entities?
  3. How does BELF provide opportunities for public comment in the local area where land parcel transactions occur? If property is to be sold in Cherry county, there should be a meeting in this regard within the county.
  4. How does BELF recognize any unique biological or cultural features associated with the land parcels which it manages?
  5. How does BELF suitably conserve unique features associated with the land parcels it manages? Does consultation with land management agencies, such as the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, or the Fish and Wildlife Service occur?
  6. How can the public actively contribute to any actions associated with school lands activities, including resource conservation and decisions on whether or not a parcel should be sold?
  7. What land management practices should occur on school lands, especially those tracts where there are multiple parcels in an associated tract? Decisions need to be made based upon more factors than simply economics.
  8. What is the difference in property originally transferred to the state when Nebraska was established, and property transferred to the Bureau of Educational Lands and Funds?
  9. Other points that need to be considered, etc..

It should also be noted that there is legislation that authorizes the purchase of a section of school land property on an annual basis by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The key facet is that the management and use of school lands requires an opportunity for a public dialog on their management, which should include active input and commentary by residents of Nebraska.

This has not been the case, thus far. The only notifications that BELF issues in a public manner is a notice of a parcel sale, indicating the property details, sparse particulars and the date of the auction. There is no indication given on what was considered that led to a decision that this public property should be sold.

Primarily, when was a public hearing held regarding any decision on listing public lands as places where wind turbines could be placed?

04 August 2016

Updating Cherry County Development Plan

An update of the Cherry County Comprehensive Development Plan has been initiated by the county Planning and Zoning Commission. At their meeting on August 2nd — in the commissioner’s room at the county building on Main Street — the five members present discussed the steps needed. Several county residents were also present.

An initial step would be that commission members review the current plan, and then come to the next scheduled meeting and ask questions.

It was noted that some portions of the Cherry county development plan have — since the original plan was issued many years ago — have been superseded by state of Nebraska regulations. This pertains notably to feed lots and hog confinement facilities, according to the comments made at the Tuesday afternoon meeting. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality now addresses these issues, and have recently undertaken a regulatory action north of Valentine.

It was conveyed during discussions at the meeting, that the update may require that only a few pages at a time be closely considered.

A request to have comprehensive development plans for adjacent counties was met with comments that they could be reviewed online. The request was to have plans available for review at the zoning administrator’s office. Thus any comprehensive plans will have to be reviewed via personal effort, perhaps via online access.

An initial consideration of the “plan” will first occur during a meeting scheduled for September 6th.

It was noted that the review and update of the county plan will likely require many months. Also mentioned was that the Planning and Zoning Commission should, as a result, have monthly meetings instead of their quarterly meetings.

Any “official” changes to the development plan would require public hearings, with a public notice needing to be issued for any date(s) that would be indicated.

The issued county development plan indicates that there will be an annual review of the document, which will include public input. Minutes for the planning commission indicate that this review has not occurred for the past many years.

One of the first items considered by the commission at this meeting were letters from county residents Carolyn Semin and Sherri Bacon. They expressed their thanks to commission members and the zoning administrator Joel Mundorf for activities and how the recent public hearing was conducted on the conditional use permit request to place a wind turbine facility near Kilgore.

At the meeting, an eight-page transcript for the public hearing on July 19 at Valentine High School Auditorium for conditional use permit 01-16 as prepared by secretary of the commission, Lynell Stillwell, was considered. There was one change made in regards to a Gary Swanson statement about how people should refer to regulatory agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission regarding wetland and wildlife issues.

These minutes were approved, with this one requested revision.

The minutes provide multiple pages of details for the meeting, including a summary of each of the comments made, including submitted letters as read.

The duration of the meeting was less than one hour. Jim Buer was the “chairman” as there was a discussion regarding how the county commissioners will select someone that will be a volunteer member since there was an obvious spoken resignation at the last meeting of the commission at the county building on July 19th.

Public participation is a key aspect as this county plan is updated. A letter to the editor in the August 3 issue of the Valentine Midland News conveys this perspective.

At the July 26 meeting of the Board of Commissioners, some names were mentioned in consideration as a new member of the planning and zoning commissioner. There was no decision made with further evaluation to occur.

One of the names suggested by a commissioner, is a business partner in the winery at Nenzel, according to comments made by property owners in the vicinity. These ranchers stated that the person mentioned would not be acceptable.

Other names mentioned at the commissioners meeting were from southern Cherry county, northward of Mullen. The commissioners asked that any candidates from the public should be submitted.

There is no information available on the qualifications needed to be selected as a new member of the planning commission. Based upon attendance at multiple board of commissioners meetings, it is seemingly based upon personal perspectives?