02 January 2019

Wildbirds in the Vicinity of Valentine During November-December 2018

The last two months of 2018 brought the typical variety of wildbirds at Valentine in north-central Nebraska. Weather was highly variable with many periods of snow-covered ground.

These are some details associated with notable observations:
¶ Canada Goose: the greatest number ever seen in the vicinity was associated with the flight of many flocks on December 20th. There was ample open water water with roost habitat at the Valentine Mill Pond, with others birds going easterly or southeasterly to other nearby roost sites, including Potters Pond along the county road to Berry Bridge and others most likely to the Niobrara River roost site near Borman Bridge WMA, after they have returned from foraging grounds to the north. This species will be prominent in area skies through the first weeks of 2019.
¶ Cackling Goose: only a very few seen despite checking flocks numerous times for this more diminutive sized goose which can also be readily identified by its notably different call.
¶ Trumpeter Swan: the single bird and then two swans eventually left for some place more suitable.
¶ Wood Duck: notably reduced in numbers this year.
¶ Gadwall and Mallard: prefer the marshy area at the western extent of the mill pond where there are cattails and shallow waters which mean it is a wetland. The Mallard also like to forage along Minnechaduza Creek below the dam.
¶ The families flock of Wild Turkey were regular daily visitors until the end of December. The group included a female with five young and another female with a single youngster. They certainly had it figured out how to seeds to eat, especially the blackbird seeds. They arrive soon after sunrise, eat their fill and then go wander around nearby. Once they recognized the squeaky door associated with more of the seed mix have been provided, they would return again. Then they would wander around the nearby hills and then return late in the afternoon and eat more of what had been spread for the smaller birds. This was the hierarchy: deer would use a leg to get rid of any turkey ... turkeys would chase away the Eurasian collared dove if they were around ... then the juncos and finchs would get along. The juncos can almost be compared to feathered mice and they sccury around eating.
¶ Rock Dove: pigeons most typically occur at the Valentine Livestock Market and westward from there to near the intersection of Highway 83 and Highway 20.
¶ Eurasian Collared Dove: many arrived late in the season and were sometimes very common as they gathered without interspecies strife and ate in their manner. There was more than one grand bird day when the pioneer doves flew and landed where the seeds where, and then other mates then did the same. Perhaps these birds left the city environs because of the bird roost disrupters placed prominently at electrical power substations. They are not pigeons despite what a city electrical worker may convey.
¶ Great Horned Owl: a regularly enjoyed visitor as heard on several nights.
¶ Woodpeckers: three species regularly seen while the Red-bellied Woodpecker is less regular in its occurrence.
¶ American Crow: a few spend the winter here. Three of them actually visited the bird seed source on a couple of days to determine what the many other birds were eating. They then went back to their norm of foraging.
¶ Cedar Waxwing: permanent residents that apparently roam around a lot for find suitable food.
¶ Brown Creeper: more prevalent than expected since there are a very few Valentine residents obvious enough to realize that a so subtle sound heard where there are tree, is its winter song as it feeds on tree bark.
¶ Common Starling: usually limited to interurban spaces, especially the livestock market, though they do occasionally get together amidst the tree-scape north of the mill pond.
¶ American Robin: ubiquitous in their appreciation of tree seeds.
¶ House Sparrow: this small bird of birddom usually resides amidst nooks and crannies in Valentine, but when cold weather arrives, hey gather at spots where shrubby vegetation provides cover where they can elude avian predators.
¶ Red-winged Blackbird: a few lingered late in the season, probably because they could find something to eat at the seed buffet.
¶ Rusty Blackbird: based upon a review of multiple records for Cherry County, this late November and through December is a very distinctive set of occurrence records. The numbers are indicative. A small group were the first arrivals at the seed buffet and in the horse pen outside my north window. Their arrival was a great surprise, because this species has been reported so rarely. My gaze became fixed on this sort of bird, and my effort of looking was a success. The birds survived into December, and a hearty bunch spent Christmas at my place, then the bunch of four continued to linger until the last day of the year. Didn't have any turkey side dressing for them but they were seen vibrantly feeding on seeds provided in various mixes readily available at local businesses.
¶ Harris's Sparrow: one of the most beautiful visitors during the two months considered, especially during November.
¶ Dark-eyed Junco: daily bird friends about the shack, at the seed and elsewhere including the park and feeders within Valentine. They can get along well until one gets to close to another one and with a flutter of wings the interloper is urged to move a short distance away. With snow on the last day of the year, the seed was getting covered so an alternative was needed to make seed readily available. The steps to the porch were swept and ample seed was provided there to make it easier to reach. This mites can be especially frenetic on days when ongoing snows continue to obscure edible food.
¶ Northern Cardinal: a permanent resident but not always obvious with its color and vivacious expression known to be at the top of some peoples list of one particular bird or two to see and enjoy, once and again along the drive and the north side of town. A visiting male on the last day of the year was vibrant against the white of the landscape as it enjoyed seed provided so it could get something ample to eat.

This is the overall tally of the 42 species seen at regularly visited locales associated with the Heart City during the two months.

Proper Name     Julian Date: 308 310 314 319 327 330 339 345 350 354 364
Canada Goose 55 185 445 550 250 81 185 395 650 4500 200
Cackling Goose - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - -
Trumpeter Swan 2 - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Wood Duck - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - -
Gadwall 20 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Mallard - - - - 40 2 - - - - 4 4 6 1 - -
Hooded Merganser - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Wild Turkey 8 8 8 11 8 8 8 8 8 8 - -
Sharp-shinned Hawk - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - -
Bald Eagle - - 1 - - - - - - 1 - - 1 - - 1 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2 1 1 1 1 - - - - 1 - - - - - -
Rock Dove - - 8 - - 6 30 - - - - 2 - - 35 - -
Eurasian Collared Dove 10 6 5 11 21 6 4 8 7 32 16
Great Horned Owl 1 - - 2 1 - - - - 2 2 2 2 - -
Belted Kingfisher - - 1 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Red-bellied Woodpecker - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Downy Woodpecker 1 - - 1 1 - - 1 1 1 - - 1 - -
Hairy Woodpecker - - - - 1 1 - - 2 1 1 - - 1 - -
Northern Flicker - - 1 3 3 - - - - 1 2 - - - - 2
Merlin - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Blue Jay 4 - - 4 3 2 1 2 2 - - - - 2
American Crow 1 3 7 2 1 3 2 - - 5 - - 5
Cedar Waxwing - - 4 9 - - 3 30 1 - - - - 30 - -
Black-capped Chickadee 2 - - 4 2 3 2 2 2 4 2 3
Golden-crowned Kinglet - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2 - - 2 1 2 - - - - 1 1 - - 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 2 1 3 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 2
Brown Creeper - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - 1 - - - -
Common Starling 2 7 - - 18 23 - - - - - - 35 7 - -
Eastern Bluebird - - 16 16 7 7 - - - - 2 - - 5 - -
Townsend's Solitaire 1 - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
American Robin 65 35 18 10 65 175 25 5 20 35 225
House Sparrow - - 10 20 10 20 15 30 25 39 - - 25
House Finch 4 6 3 4 65 65 12 3 8 28 8
American Goldfinch 2 - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - 2 - -
Red-winged Blackbird 4 11 - - - - 3 12 3 4 - - - - - -
Rusty Blackbird - - - - - - - - 8 9 7 - - - - 2 4
Common Grackle 3 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Harris's Sparrow 2 3 3 2 2 2 1 - - - - - - - -
Dark-eyed Junco 25 15 14 12 30 32 15 30 12 25 34
American Tree Sparrow 2 3 4 2 3 3 2 2 - - - - 2
Northern Cardinal - - 1 2 - - 2 1 1 1 - - - - 1

The 42 species seen during November-December 2018 (273 records) compares to 35 in 2015 (172 records); 41 in 2016 (292 records); and, 37 in 2017 (176 records).

There are a few bird feeders along Lake Shore Drive so the area wildbirds certainly have some food to eat as they strive to survive snow covering the spaces where they forage, very cold temperatures and other threats to their survival. If a few birds are present when more seed is spread, within a minute or two they are right back and once again busily feed. Seeds for the birds are especially important on snowy days and what follows when the landscape is covered by inches of white. These birds have to survive as they will establish the next generation of our featured friends. Without wildbirds we would live in a boring place, since often it is the color, life and a sudden view of something never seen before that can often create a special day to share. It only requires some attention and a helpful pair of binoculars or a spotting scope.

Twelve Days of a Valentine Christmas

To use the norms of a great song of the season this is a personal expression for the twelve days before the special Christmas holiday. Perhaps these words could fit into some lyrical presentation, but any attempt to do that would be well beyond my skills, so instead a faux representation will have to suffice. It is discombobulated for sure.

  • 12 days before Christmas: 12 dark-eyed juncos foraging because there has been deep snow on the ground.
  • 11 days: house finch in flight as seen outside the north window.
  • 10 days: Eurasian collared doves in the neighborhood.
  • 9 days: American robins foraging in the western tree line.
  • 8 days: roaming turkeys foraging on a daily schedule. The birds’ confrontation with a single coyote on the hunt had an obvious result: turkeys 8 and coyote 0.
  • 7 days: American Tree Sparrow appreciating bird seed.
  • 6 days: white-tailed deer foraging and eating provided seed on a Sunday evening.
  • 5 days: coyote pack traversing the land in search of sustenance, led by their supposed mom.
  • 4 days: cherry chickadees and vibrant nuthatches going from tree to tree amidst trees of the North Lake Shore Hills.
  • 3 days: American crow at the bird seed investigating why so many birds have been congregating.
  • 2 days: Northern Flickers foraging on the trees, or maybe the view of the early mornings of this day could be a couple of white-tailed rabbits that scurry to provided food.
  • 1 day before: an adult Bald Eagle soaring magnificently in the skyscape well above the pines outside a window.

And with one writer scribing in a padded chair in front of a computer within a Valentine shack. A belated Merry Christmas to all from a spot within such a special place ... the Great American Sandhills.

18 December 2018

Requests to Revise Wind Turbine Regulations Tabled

December 13, 2018. Grant County News 134(20): 1, 4.

Two indicative requests to revise wind turbine regulations in Cherry County were tabled on December 4th by the Planning and Zoning Board so their language can be reviewed by the county attorney. Board members Michael McLeod and John Wheeler volunteered to attend the review session.

The first one was a continuation of a request by rancher Wayne Eatinger to repeal and replace regulations so only wind turbines with a height of 80 feet or less would be allowed in the county. The initial public hearing was at the November 6th meeting, but was then tabled to December when it was tabled again to January. This request was originally submitted in February 2018.

Though the public hearing had already occurred, additional comments by a few people present were still allowed by board chairman Herb Pabst. This was initiated by the presentation of a Stahr letter referring to the Eatinger request. The point was: if his letter is read, other people should also be allowed to present testimony.

Prior to any comments regarding the Weller request, board chairman indicated that any discussion associated with property rights would not be acceptable. “No one has property rights,” he said, including how government would take any property it would want. It has become obvious that when it comes to private property rights, some people say they have the right to place turbines on their land while others say this sort of action diminishes their property.

William Weller then introduced his request that a classification as industrial be indicated for wind turbines in clauses of the zoning regulations that now refer to commercial/utility wind turbines. This request was submitted in July by this young Cherry County rancher.
A common and shared reasoning was that wind turbines are not an agricultural use of land while Cherry county is predominantly involved with raising livestock and crop production. These points were initially raised by Craig Andresen and supported by others.

There is a common sentiment that a wind turbine facility is not a “turbine farm.”

Brent and Janet Steffen, of Thedford and Kearney, shared a perspective that wind turbines would change the Sand Hill region, visually and functionality. “We shouldn’t let greed and money take over what we are blessed with,” she said, also referring to how “wind turbines have ruined Oklahoma state,” where she grew up.

Turbines facilities planned for the county are industrial because of the planned height and extent of power produced, said Mike Young, expressing how any turbines would ruin features so important to the county residents and visitor business places such as Valentine.

One point of view expressed was whether “Cherry County will continue to be a special place,” as conveyed by Craig Miles, Brownlee. His son Caleb read supportive comments from scribbles in his small pocket notebook.

Tom Witt, Steve Moreland, Wayne Eatinger and Bob Stetter were supportive of Billy Weller’s request.

“What is done needs to make Cherry County better,” Moreland of Merriman said. His son Brock was also present and supportive. These men know sandhill country and its so essential grasslands of importance to them every year.

“What do citizens of Cherry County prefer to be done,” said Stetter, Valentine. His perspective is based upon a long-time heritage of family ranching in central Cherry county.

The stellar features of the region’s skyscape were indicated as a distinctive feature. Eve Millar referred to the annual star party at Merritt Reservoir – indicated by a just recent NET television feature – as occurring at a finest site in our nation to look at stars and a setting realized and enjoyed for many years. She indicated that despite an initial, past reluctance to speak about the future of the county viewscape, she has decided that “we cannot leave the views out” of any decision regarding wind turbines, as conveyed during her testimony at the public hearing.

Cleve Trimble has often indicated that this very same feature is a prominent reason visiting golfers so much enjoy the Sand Hills Golf Club and the Prairie Club course.

Twice during the meeting – for each zoning change request - reference was made to letters from Orvil Stahr, of Stahr and Associates of Kearney, NE. Neither letter had an indicated date when written. It was also questioned as to whether or not he has a valid contract, even though a draft, though not finalized contract was approved December 27th by the county commissioners, via a motion made by Tanya Storer, according to known details. Another point was why any comments by this consultant could/should be accepted in a county when he may not have even been officially hired. In one letter, he referred to a citizens comments as “beliefs” and then continued in his letter with berating points how they were erroneous and unacceptable.

A few very current news reports indicate there is an impeachment effort underway by voters to remove Stahr as mayor of York, NE.
And personally, anyone that refers to raptors as raptures – as Stahr did in one of his missives – has made a huge mistake. I’ve might have had a near rapture experience while watching a golden eagle soar over the land, but this misuse of language is simply wrong and indicative of something missing when it comes time for some consultant to opine their faux reality.

Cherry County residents obviously are expressing their views on what they want, yet a trio of county commissioners has instead decided to spend at least $50,000 based upon commissioner meeting minutes. They hired someone who has already written government documents which have repeatedly been heard to not be acceptable.

About 45 people attended the December meeting, many of them area ranchers. Some drove along lengths of icy country roads to be present. There were 13 people that presented testimony on the Weller request during the public hearing from 4:30 p.m. to 5:05 p.m. No one spoke in opposition to either the Eatinger or Weller request at this meeting.

There were six zoning board members present, with one absent and two ongoing vacancies since the commissioners have been unable to find any suitable candidate(s). The current zoning administrator was also absent, which is the second time she was not present for her job, as personally known in the past two weeks. A fill-in transcriptionist was required.

This meeting was video-taped, as many others have been in recent months to make certain what was said, that being their veracity.
Once the two requests are reviewed by the county attorney, they will have to be presented at another zoning board meeting, with the public being allowed to review any changes. Another public hearing will be required.

The next zoning meeting will be January 15th at county facilities at Valentine.

In January there will be a different mix of Cherry County commissioners that will make final decisions on any recommendations forwarded by planning and zoning. James B. Ward will replace Jim Van Winkle, a known investor in Cherry County Wind L.L.C.

12 December 2018

Owls Hooting in the Night

There was a singularly exclusive hootenanny north of town during the early morning of December 5th. A pair of vocalists singing quite finely gave a short public presentation.

The pair of presenters did not have any sort of stage. There was no flyer or advertisement issued to indicate their appearance. No reservation was required nor would it have been accepted, and there was no place to provide free-will donations. Any buffet would have had only natural foods.

This local duo started at a time of their choice which has usually been during the wee hours of darktime while they linger at a suitable woodland venue of their choice. They are unique in their presentation, but not exclusive in ranch country.

Despite being immersed in a deep sleepy repose of this early morning time, the concerto very quickly became a time to get awake, listen and realize. The musical chords seemed to be just outside my residential walls. Some close listening ensued because it was not obvious at first whether there was one or two vocalists. Continuing to listen to this song of the night, repeatedly and with a tuned appreciation, it became obvious that two vocalists were expressing a duet in a manner most fine. Sometimes for the brief time of their presentation it was just one voice. A few times during the minutes after the 3 a.m. hour they conveyed a special repeated song together.

A throaty who-who-who in of a basic tempo were their lyrics, often in tandem and sometimes in an obvious and quick response to what was heard from their partner. These few expressions were not boring since their overall presentation was for such a short time amidst a natural setting. The pines were stolid. No limbs of the bare winter deciduous trees were shaking. Local horses were stalwart in their unmoving stance. There may have been a twinkle or two of some stars despite so many multiple nights of clouds above?

There was no sort of cost to hear this musical duo. Other members of this night band can not only be heard near the Heart City but also are a feature of some many nights at other arboreal places in the vast sandhill country.

The musical duet was by a pair of great horned owls expressing an obvious version two partners expressing to other denizens of the land their dedication of being together for the quickly approaching breeding season.

The pair heard resides near the Valentine Mill Pond and the hills to the north. It is country they have found to be suitable for their survival. Night time activities result in finding enough to survive, whether it is mice or other small mammals they get for their silent flight.

Somewhere in the vicinity is a nest where early next year they will lay some eggs in a carefully prepared nest to begin another generation of hooty owls.

They are really expressive at times and may be enjoyed by anyone wanting to listen to the unique sounds of one night or another.

Two Natural Mysteries of Late-Autumn at Valentine

Some mysteries of natural residents of the land can continue to be lesser known even after multiple years of natural history studies and published knowledge at particular places. This situation was very evident on Thanksgiving at Valentine for two notable occurrences of nature in the morning and initial hours of the night time.

During the first hours of this day’s light on a languidly nice morning of spacious blue skies with sparse winds, some blackbirds with their regular small size were seen foraging outside the big north window of my tiny, but obviously relatively larger residence. They were walking around looking for seeds on the ground in the horse pen. With a focused look through a spotting scope and with a bird-wise perspective, there was a realization that some few Rusty Blackbird were present for the first time at my local bird space. After a couple more close-up views through a spotting scope, checking bird guide details in the interim, and watching some more, the initial identity was confirmed. The blackbirds were among the many morning beauties including some Red-winged Blackbirds, numerous Dark-eyed Junco and a few Harris’s Sparrow with a distinctive plumage of such subtle beauty. An American Tree Sparrow was also at the scene eating weed seeds.

The unusual blackbirds were first seen on November 22nd and still notably present through the first several days of December. It was the 25th when they found the local seed bird buffet and took advantage of it when the big turkeys eventually decided to move elsewhere, rather than being the big birds on the block of concrete.

These few Rusty Blackbirds became one more record of rare occurrence for the Valentine vicinity and even throughout the Sand Hills. A last historic record for the area was made by the avian aficionado Marvin Vanderploeg, once a distinctive birder at his son’s property at the edge of the Niobrara Valley in late October 2017. He saw a flock outside his southward-facing bird watching window at a place now off-limits to local birders.
On another date also during the first days of November, during the same year, only one was seen at Valentine NWR by a traveling bird watcher.

Prior to the two 2017 dates, the most recent record readily available was one at rural Mud Meadow in central Cherry county, November 1996. Two records of historic importance were in late October of 1928 and then for 1919 at Fort Niobrara NWR based upon a specimen collected by Fred Dille and now kept in the University of Nebraska State Museum collection.

There has been a humongous lapse in sightings because there are so few indicative bird watchers. The available dates none-the-less do indicate times when the species found the county a suitable place to linger.

The few Rusty Blackbirds continued their presence at least through the first few days of December. They would forage for a time in the horse pen. They would perch together in a suitable bunch of trees just west of the shack. Their companions were some Red-winged Blackbirds.
Some short few hours after the day was waning on Thanksgiving, while just getting deep into the dark hours, land-based animals became phantoms in the early night just before 9 p.m. as they walked around looking for some suitable repast.

Ample moon-shine illuminated the moving-along critters initially seen as moving shadows on the ground of a grubbed horse pen. Upon looking closer, it seemed they were dogs walking about, but it was quickly realized there were some roaming coyotes; more than one. The leader of the pack quickly became obvious. At first, there were three seen. Then four together as an animal group. The groups’ leader walked about a bit and then went southward on an obvious route upon looking out the front window. It was beneath the moon’s seasonal light while going a short distance south across a horse pen, quickly through an open and soon reaching a fence barrier along the city street known as Lake Shore Drive. There was an immediate reversal in direction back northward. The other four coyotes lingered and smelled around while seemingly looking for some tasty tidbit.

The coyotes obviously were a group, being led by what must have been a mom. She seemingly decided where and when to move along through the pens, keeping the group going on their continuation of a night’s travel. This group activity had to be certainly a pattern of previous times because such an organized group movement does not occur due to one behavior.

When these furry phantoms beneath a moon-lit sky moved together through the observed open space, “mom” was in front and the youngsters were arranged behind in a suitably-spaced rectangular box of four corners with squarely-placed prominent corners, an arrangement that would seem to work well to locate small yet suitable food sources across more space.

At one or another fenced-narrowed place along their route, there was no hesitation to quickly traverse the path, one after another in line, going in the same direction.

The whole event was an obvious expression of a naturally organized group cognizant of a natural landscape terrain of pine-clad hills and growth of grasslands upon wild land terrains north of town where they have not yet been shot by some quick-trigger shootist.

Four resident horses were indifferent and didn’t move at all but kept laying around as the coyotes moved through their pasture.

If there had been a turkey or two that disappeared from the landscape – since there are plenty present at this Minnechaduza valley locality – it might have been strewn somewhere on a nearby hillside, that could have meant a holiday meal for the native carnivores. Maybe they would have expressed a post-feeding appreciation by yelping evocatively in the night as they sat together as is their way as a family and perhaps could have had a particular occurrence on some distant hill?

This might not be a cause of some change in the family activity of the roaming turkey flock, repeatedly on the scene, and so often because there is seed upon which they can feed, especially the black sunflower seeds they selectively peck away. The local rabbit is also still present and spending some time outside its shelter haven half-filled with hay bales, so it survived the visit of the carnivorous clan that kept moving as they have to find ample sustenance every day.

Thus Thanksgiving was a time at a place to appreciate and personally enjoy the Minnechaduza Creek valley of the Niobrara River watershed. Every day can provide an opportunity to look and learn about birds, wild animals, flora and natural features amidst wonder-filled lands at and around Valentine. The recent holiday was a prime example.

27 November 2018

Beauty of the Leonid Meteor Shower

November 21, 2018. Valentine Midland News 47(21): 12.

Perhaps too early for many the first of the morning hours, i.e., starting at 4 a.m. on November 16th, were a prime time to appreciate the dark sky at Valentine.

The Leonid meteor shower was happening. Most of the short tracks of the falling objects were east of the North Star with one near the Little Dipper. Another one seemingly took a dive into a pine tree atop the North Lake Shore hills. The sky-scape was a great place to gaze. A multitude of stars were bright, and represent light of the ages as it has taken a multitude of years for their steady shine to reach the sandhills. What was seen was not reality because of this lapse in stellar expression.

Meteors seen did not occur very often while my eyes were widely focused on the eastern skyscape. There was one temporary disturbance to a phantasmagoric view was the flight path of a blinking airplane travelling westward. A strobe of a red light of a tall tower on the north edge of town was thankfully low on the horizon so could be mostly ignored.

The plane was closest in the earthly air. Satellites were poised in place or brightly streaking along. The meteors were further away in the outer atmosphere. A bit of moon was to the south. And the multitude of stars were far, far away in the cosmos in every direction.

If there is one feature to appreciate for our community, it is the opportunity to readily appreciate dark skies, especially out in the big sky ranch country where anyone could get completely immersed in viewing nights of stars and constellations anytime.

My earth-bound perspective was at the northern edge of the Heart City, where wild turkey roost and horses walk about. The resident great horned owls were quiet during this morning time, but had been hooting a round the previous evening. Even the many Canada geese at the Mill Pond were quiet in their repose.

Eatinger Amendment Public Hearing Held at Valentine

November 15, 2018. Grant County News 134(16): 1, 5.

A decision on a submitted amendment that would prohibit industrial wind turbines in Cherry county was tabled at the November 6 meeting by the Planning and Zoning Board. Any decision will occur at its next meeting.

The amendment submitted in February, 2018 would repeal section 613 clauses in the county zoning regulations and replace them with language indicating that only personal use turbines of 80 feet or a lesser height would be allowed in Cherry County.

Rancher Wayne Eatinger explained his reasons for filing the amendment at the start of the public hearing, indicating why the change was necessary. He also submitted several documents prepared as testimony for the public hearing held November 6th, including commentary that would be discussed later by others.

Twenty people testified in support of the amendment including Le Roy and Carolyn Semin of Kilgore, Mike Young, Wanda Simonson representing her family, Gary and Glenda Phipps from north of Whitman, Craig Miles at Brownlee, Rick Weber, Sherri Bacon, golf aficionado Cleve Trimble and young rancher Brock Moreland who had to hurriedly leave behind chores at the ranch near Merriman to get to the hearing.

Dave Hamilton was the only one that spoke against the amendment.

Proponents of the amendment to prohibit industrial wind turbines referred to common themes that have been regularly discussed at several previous public hearings. These topics included: preserving the unique values of the sandhills including its notable viewscapes and life-style features so appreciated and important to residents and their friends and so many others including a regular multitude of visitors, avoiding impacts on tourism and recreation, negative impacts of turbine noise, loss of property value, negatives of turbine flicker, decommissioning of no longer useful turbines, loss of dark skies, “red-light” districts where the aircraft flight warning lights atop turbines would blink incessantly, threats to the endangered Whooping Crane and other wild birds of conservation concern, potential threats to groundwater quality, etc.

A common theme was that the Sand Hills are superb cattle country and should remain that way. There were many heartfelt words shared by some speakers as they shared experiences of people that have experienced negative impacts associated with industrial turbine facilities when the structures became prevalent to their place in the country in other states.

A few minutes of the hearing need to be especially appreciated and recognized. Bob Stetter has decades of life experiences in the sandhills. He waited until nearly the end of the hearing to speak. While sitting at the long end of the courtroom bench, when someone else would get up to speak, he sat down and patiently waited for the right time, which was an iconic moment in the courtroom. He slowly walked past other fine folks seated on the bench to his left to get to the desk where he would speak. After some more moments he slowly wrote his name twice on a page provided so there would be an officialist’s list of those giving testimony. Cattleman Bob sat in a hard wooden chair in front of the microphone and spoke significant words why there should be no wind turbines in the Sandhills. He said he would never take any amount of money in the world for turbines on any property he ever owned. Everyone was listening but there were no comments on one obvious misspoken word. There were a lot of busy eyes, because everyone realized the slip, but kept silent as it was very soon self-corrected. Details he presented were spot-on. These were Bob’s true words: “Cherry County is cattle country and not a place for industrial wind turbines.” His commentary was carefully typed and he read most of its details. One zoning board member tried to stop him from speaking because he had exceeded the five minute speaking limit, but the distinctive words continued for a short time. Upon conclusion, board members were given a copy of his written comments. Stetter has been a stalwart activist against wind turbines at many public hearings at Valentine.

The single opponent to the amendment touted supposed economic benefits and that turbines are a changing paradigm and need to be allowed. This speaker stated that the referendum was a “stalling tactic” by people “clinging to the past.”

There were at least 75 people attending the hearing, and when one speaker asked that those in favor of the amendment to prevent wind turbines stand to indicate their view, everyone stood except for three people associated with the turbine facility development company or the local group promoting turbines.

Those attending were predominantly ranchers from all sections of Cherry county and spoke with authority and knowledge. They also provided ample documentary proof, so obviously they had been doing much more than ranch chores. Some of the speakers indicated how industrial wind turbines could be a threat to their livelihood.

The hearing lasted from 4:30 p.m. until 6:10 p.m. Everyone that wanted to speak was allowed five minutes to present their testimony.

Following the hearing, and during subsequent board discussion, member Gary Swanson posed the situation as being two conflicting visions for the county. “Someone wants to impose their will on somebody else.”

One future would mean no turbines in the county. The alternative would result in wind turbine facilities and associated industrial powerlines crossing the land.

Another concern discussed by the board is the difficulty of getting enough members to attend meetings to make certain there is the required quorum, such as the five members present on the 6th. There are currently two vacancies. It was expressed that hopefully more members could be present at the next meeting scheduled for December 4th.

Following any decision on the Eatinger amendment by the Planning and Zoning Board, their recommendation will be submitted to the county commissioners for their yes or no vote after another public hearing.

At the pending December meeting there is an expected public hearing on the William Weller amendment requested a change in zoning regulations. Language which currently indicates commercial/utility grade wind energy conversion systems would be revised to industrial grade wind energy conversion systems. This amendment was submitted July 19, 2018.

The Eatinger amendment public hearing was held at the Cherry County courtroom along north Main Street, Valentine.