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Two Letters to Kansas Legislators re. Flint Hills

There is less than 4% of native tallgrass prairie left in North America, and two-thirds of it is right here. Once you have experienced the spaciousness and exceptional beauty of open native grasslands, you know there is nothing in the world quite like it. These native grasslands are truly a national as well as a Kansas treasure.

First Letter:

I am writing out of great concern for the future of the Flint Hills and Tallgrass Prairie. My husband and I own and operate a stocker and grazing ranch SW of Council Grove, Kansas in the heart of the Flint Hills. We feel a responsibility to the land and it is our love for the native prairie that prompts me to write you.

As you know, the Flint Hills of Kansas is one of the few places in Kansas that is NOT flat, dry, and dusty. Simply put, it is beautiful with the native Bluestem pastures rolling off in the distance to meet the horizon. There is less than 4% of native tallgrass prairie left in North America, and two-thirds of it is right here. Once you have experienced the spaciousness and exceptional beauty of open native grasslands, you know there is nothing in the world quite like it. These native grasslands are truly a national as well as a Kansas treasure.

This area has been saved from the plow by the flint rock and limestone ledges and layers that characterize this land. We have only a few inches of topsoil that is held in place by the deep roots of the prairie grasses. It is a rich land for grazing, but while the prairie is very hardy, in many ways it is also very fragile. Tracks and scars in it are not easily healed. It has been preserved not so much by man’s wisdom, but more by default. The ranching management practices that make it a... [truncated due to possible copyright]  

First Letter:

I am writing out of great concern for the future of the Flint Hills and Tallgrass Prairie. My husband and I own and operate a stocker and grazing ranch SW of Council Grove, Kansas in the heart of the Flint Hills. We feel a responsibility to the land and it is our love for the native prairie that prompts me to write you.

As you know, the Flint Hills of Kansas is one of the few places in Kansas that is NOT flat, dry, and dusty. Simply put, it is beautiful with the native Bluestem pastures rolling off in the distance to meet the horizon. There is less than 4% of native tallgrass prairie left in North America, and two-thirds of it is right here. Once you have experienced the spaciousness and exceptional beauty of open native grasslands, you know there is nothing in the world quite like it. These native grasslands are truly a national as well as a Kansas treasure.

This area has been saved from the plow by the flint rock and limestone ledges and layers that characterize this land. We have only a few inches of topsoil that is held in place by the deep roots of the prairie grasses. It is a rich land for grazing, but while the prairie is very hardy, in many ways it is also very fragile. Tracks and scars in it are not easily healed. It has been preserved not so much by man’s wisdom, but more by default. The ranching management practices that make it a productive environment for raising cattle have also preserved it. I’m sure you can understand how rare that combination of production and preservation is.

But what the plow could not destroy, bulldozers, blasting, rock drills, and trenchers can. The wind industry has targeted the Flint Hills of Kansas as an ideal area to place many of their industrial wind complexes. While the western third of Kansas has a higher wind index (both in velocity and reliability), the Flint Hills have more power lines available for transmission. By developing the industrial wind complexes next to the transmission lines, the wind developers cut down on infrastructure costs, thereby making the project more attractive to the investors that fund the projects. The fact that these projects would fragment the last of the native tallgrass prairie does not bother speculators with money as their mantra. This has become such a problem that Governor Sebelius commissioned the Wind-Prairie Task Force to look into the conflict between siting the industrial wind developments and preserving what little is left of the Tallgrass Prairie. I was honored to be a member of that Task Force. We studied the wind energy and prairie preservation issue intently for five months before submitting our report to the Governor. She has called for development of wind energy, while preserving the Flint Hills and Tallgrass Prairie. She has requested that wind developers, wind energy purchasers, and local governing officials use restraint in developing wind complexes until the legislature can institute siting guidelines and regulations.

Instead of using restraint, wind developers are even more aggressively pursuing land leases and working hard to get their projects started and a “spade in the ground” before regulations are in place so that the projects can be “grandfathered in.” To lose even a small part of the last remaining Tallgrass Prairie would be a tragedy and would contribute so little to real energy production.

But even aggressive development of wind energy in Kansas will account for only approximately 1/10 of 1% of total energy. To sacrifice the Flint Hills for such little energy production is to disregard this valuable natural resource and our heritage. There are many threats already to the Flint Hills, let’s not add another one! For reference, you might want to check on the PBS documentary of “The Last Stand of the Tallgrass Prairie”, produced by Inland Sea Productions in 1999. The wind industry is a lucrative one for investors but it is a major threat to the existence of the future of these Flint Hills. I ask you to look at these pictures and read the materials, and even to call us or visit us. Once you have stood out here on this prairie, you can understand why we are working so hard to save it.

I believe wind energy is just one of the options we need to pursue and study, but to label it as an answer to our energy problems is just too simple. Industrial wind energy developments also have environmental impacts and are not ‘FREE’, especially when they threaten an entire unique ecosystem. Any incentives to the wind energy industry such as tax credits, tax subsidies, tax exemptions, rapid depreciation, or RPS mandates MUST be tied to siting requirements and stringent EPA regulations!

Very rarely will you find Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, KWF, and the Kansas Resource Council working hand-in-hand with ranchers and landowners on an issue, yet we are of one mind on this issue….the Tallgrass Prairie MUST be protected!!

Thank you very much for you time. My invitation to our ranch is indeed a sincere one. We are located eight miles SW of Council Grove, Kansas in the heart of the Flint Hills. We love this land and are trying very hard to be good stewards of the native prairie. We believe it is our land only in that it is our responsibility to care for it and to leave it in better condition for the next generations.

Sincerely,

Rose and Kent Bacon Second Letter:

The Prairie / Wind controversy continues to sweep across the Flint Hills and other native grasslands. We are writing to ask you to look far into the future and consider the legacy we will leave future generations. Please look past short-term profits and politically popular “green” ideas. We have the last large tract of Tallgrass Prairie right here in Kansas. It is unique in the world; how do you get any “greener” than that?

Tallgrass Ranchers and Protect the Flint Hills are two groups made up of ranchers, landowners, and friends of the Tallgrass Prairie who feel that the Flint Hills and other native grasslands should be preserved for future generations. They are supported in this belief by The Kansas Natural Resource Council, Kansas Natural Heritage Inventory, The Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, Kansas Wildlife Federation, and Konza Prairie Research Station biologists.

FACTS:

• 142 Million acres once comprised the Tallgrass Prairie; there is less than 4% remaining; 2/3 of that being in the Flint Hills. Does this generation want to be credited with wiping it out?

• The Flint Hills is the last largest piece of contiguous Tallgrass Prairie left in North America. It is recognized as one of six “World Class Grasslands”, and cannot be duplicated, replaced, or repaired to it’s original form once it is destroyed.

• Kansas Natural Heritage Inventory, in a letter to a wind complex developer, calls the Flint Hills “One of the most ecologically significant areas in the Great Plains,” and states that “Less environmentally sensitive choices for wind power development exist in abundance.”

• The Tallgrass Prairie regions have a unique landscape that has been both productive and preserved for 150 years by generations of ranchers with good land stewardship. That 150 years of preservation could be destroyed in the next 5 to 10 years if no safeguards are put in place for the prairie.

• Opinions… The “VAST MAJORITY” of opinions expressed to the Wind Prairie Task Force in it’s Public Forums, letters, and emails OPPOSED putting wind developments in the Flint Hills and other native grasslands of Kansas.

Issues:

• Industrialization of a previously Agricultural area… The wind developments are industrial complexes that will construct as many as several hundred towers in each location, that are 300 to 400 foot tall, on the ridges of the hills, thereby changing the landscape and viewscape permanently.

• Destruction of the prairie…The rocky ridges of the Flint Hills would have to be drilled and blasted to excavate the 30-foot deep and 20 to 30 foot wide holes, which are then filled with tons of cement. Remember, each site would have from 50 to several hundred of these foundations. A Native American woman called them “Daggers in the Earth”, an accurate term. No EPA studies have been done at all, and there are no currant regulations!

• Erosion and fragmentation… The massive road system necessary for the construction and maintenance of the wind complexes will result in erosion of the fragile prairie hillsides and fragmentation of thousands of acres of natural native habitat.

• Springs and streams…There is a high probability of disruption of the springs and streams that lace the Flint Hills due to the blasting and drilling. No environmental impact studies have been done at all. The landowner may disrupt his own water supply or that of his neighbor once the layers of limestone have been disrupted by construction.

• Aesthetics…The whole vision of the Flint Hills consists of vast expanses of open, unobstructed skies over tall grasses growing over hills that stretch into the horizon, NOT hundreds of steel turbines!

• Avian concerns…The Flint Hills are a major migration flyway. It is documented that wind turbines do kill many birds; what will the long-term effects be in a migration corridor? Dr. Robel’s study on Prairie Chickens confirms they will be adversely affected by fragmentation of habitat.

• Permanent Footprints…Roads that are 20 to 30 feet wide have to be built to each tower for construction and maintenance. Consider that the ruts of the Santa Fe Trail are still visible over the prairie after 150 years and those ruts were made by wagons. The roads made by bulldozers, and gravel trucks to carry heavy equipment will leave a permanent scar across the prairie.

• Economics…The long term economic results of the wind complexes in some other areas has been negative by the time the higher electrical costs for all consumers have been figured in along with the tax subsidies and tax exemptions. Investors in the companies make the vast bulk of the money, which leaves the community. These complexes are not financially viable without numerous Federal tax subsidies, tax credits, and rapid depreciation schedules. Is that free enterprise?

• Energy …Wind complexes can take up to 12,000 acres to produce slightly over 100MW of energy which is an unreliable and inefficient energy. A conventional energy plant takes up 3 to 5 acres to produce up to 1000MW of energy efficiently 24 hours a day. The total energy balance is also negative if all the energy to construct the 35 ton turbines, the 281 tons of cement each foundation, the trenching in of underground wires, and the site construction were all figured in.

• Property rights…Property rights are similar to personal freedoms…In the United States you have both personal freedom and property rights to do as you please UNLESS THE ACTIONS INFRINGE ON SOMEONE ELSE’S RIGHTS! These are industrial complexes that would change the face of an agricultural landscape, infringe on the neighboring landowners rights, and even on the rights of those individuals that live in that community BECAUSE of the unique landscape it offers.

• Eminent Domain…Eminent domain can be invoked by utilities to cross property lines to transport power. This action also infringes on a neighbor’s property rights.

• Property values…Industrial wind developments can reduce the desirability of the adjoining land and therefore the value of that land for sale or for acceptance into conservation easement or GRP programs. Experiences in European countries and developments in the U.S. have shown that property values can decrease 20% or more. Again, where are the neighbor’s rights here?

• Logical Solutions…Solutions exist in abundance. Environmental studies are needed, as are safeguards and siting regulations for native grasslands and sensitive areas, and determination of threatened ecosystems to protect them.

• Incentives tied to responsible siting…Incentives such as tax credits, tax subsidies, rapid depreciation, and RPS mandates MUST be tied to siting requirements and EPA studies.

You can make a difference. We are asking you to research this issue and delve further into it than just what the wind developers are presenting. Get the facts from people concerned with the prairie and with real facts on energy efficiency and production; Dr. David Hartnett of the Konza Biological Research Station; Dr. Robert Robel, Biologist at KSU, Dr. Christopher Pflaum, Economic Analysis; H.Sterling Burnett, National Center for Policy Analysis; Glenn R. Schleede, Energy Market and Policy Analysis.

Thank you for your time,

Rose and Kent Bacon


Source: link missing! please notify us

AUG 28 2004
http://www.windaction.org/posts/209-two-letters-to-kansas-legislators-re-flint-hills
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