A Monthly Publication of the Nebraska Environmental Trust

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Dave Heineman, Governor

Board of Trustees

District I
District II
District III

Agency Directors

Trust Staff

October 2013

In This Issue:

  1. Executive Director's Corner
  2. Grant Helps Grape Seed Pomace Separator Production
  3. Bird-banding Stations Provide Important Data
  4. Upcoming Events
  5. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and find us on YouTube


Executive Director's Corner

Fall harvest is in full swing, if not finishing up in some areas.  Fall calves are being sold and fall sports, both high school and college are well underway.  Frost is occurring more frequently in parts of the state and the first significant snows have fallen in western Nebraska. 

The recent blizzard that hit northwest Nebraska, southwest South Dakota and Wyoming was devastating to the cattle industry.  Coming from a ranch family in central Nebraska, my heart goes out to those families that suffered losses.  Thousands of head of cattle and hundreds of head of horses were lost in the storm.  It is tough for folks not familiar with ranching to understand why so many animals were lost.  They hear of animals dying from hypothermia and suffocation and can’t make sense of the tragedy.  Stories of cattle being buried under several feet of snow, being hit with freezing rain before the snow fell, being trapped against fences, etc.  Places in South Dakota had upwards of 51 inches of snow and some places had two inches of rain before the blizzard.  There were reports of winds over 70 mph.  Many cattle were still in summer or fall pastures that didn’t offer the protection of windbreaks or natural features of canyons.

People have been asking me, why the ranchers didn’t get their cattle into shelter or into buildings.  It is not easy rounding up a 100 or more head of cattle on short notice.  Most ranchers don’t have facilities to put cattle in buildings even if they had time.  One story out of South Dakota reports a rancher that did get a bunch of his yearlings into a large shed, only to have the rood collapse and kill them all.  This was a very early storm that is not normal and some say cattle didn’t have their winter coats of thicker hair grown in yet; it was the cold temperatures combined with rain and then deep snow and high winds.  The old timers say this is the worst that they had seen, including the deadly blizzards of 1948-1949.  That winter Chadron received 41 inches on Jan. 2 and 3, North Platte got 17 inches, but winds up to 75 mph created drifts up to 50 feet high.  By late January that year, it was reported “hardly a road was open” in the entire state.  The army was called out with bulldozers to help clear roads and rescue families.  Hay was dropped from airplanes for cattle.  Let’s hope this isn’t the beginning of a long winter.

I must also take this opportunity to memorialize a great man.  Former State Senator Bob Kremer of Aurora passed away October 15th.  I had the pleasure of working with Senator Kremer for several years while I was working for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.  Senator Kremer represented District 34 in the Nebraska Legislature from 1999 to 2006 and served as the chairman of the Agriculture Committee from 2002 to 2006.  He also served on the Natural Resources Committee where I got to know him well.  His father, Maurice Kremer, was a well-known State Senator that was famous for serving 20 years (1963-1983) in the Unicameral.  Being a statesman and a leader in establishing Nebraska’s groundwater laws, he was known as “Mr. Water.”  Like his father, Bob was a true gentleman who was respected for his fairness, modesty and hard work.  Bob continued his father’s work in the State’s water laws and rural issues.  Senator Kremer will be greatly missed.  The State of Nebraska owes the Kremers a great debt of gratitude.  My deepest sympathy goes out to his wife Beverly and the Kremer family.

Have a safe fall. 

Mark A. Brohman
Executive Director


Grant Helps Grape Seed Pomace Separator Production - submitted by Robert Byrnes, NRES

Nebraska Renewable Energy Systems (NRES) has been tapping into numerous renewable and alternative energy streams in Nebraska for many years. In 2007, NRES first examined grape pomace biomass as a potential oil source for Biofuels production in the rapidly expanding renewable diesel (biodiesel) industry. Difficulties associated with collecting and handling of the wet grape biomass because of poor shelf life, coupled with low oil content saw this work go onto the back burner during the expansion years of biodiesel. Currently, approximately 250 tons of grape seed biomass is created from the rapidly growing Nebraska Wine industry after pressing the grape juice and discarded.

Biodiesel projects came to an abrupt end in 2008 and development in this sector was stagnant for two years as the young industry struggled with their identity based on water use, energy content and human food impact questions raised by the petroleum industry. These years were very slow for NRES and their sister company, Nebraska Screw Press (NSP) who had been part of tremendous progress seen in biodiesel prior to 2008. It was during these years that the answer was to develop process solutions for creating food and fuel. Their work into human food use oils continued and over the years a simple test was developed for determining the best use of locally squeezed vegetable oils, if it tastes good we eat it!

Renewed efforts into the recycling of grape seed biomass as part of a sustainable viticulture project within the NRES Internship program in 2010/11. These efforts confirmed basic processing steps for biomass processing and student efforts calculated energy usages. A critical partner in this effort is Silver Hills Winery in Tekamah, who installed solar energy capacity that would balance the energy used in the grape wine process and earned the distinction of an ‘energy neutral’ wine maker. Silver Hills is continuing clean energy efforts with installation of an 85 foot wind turbine on Oct 10, 2013.


Grape solar photo taken during the the first oil expelling. The seeds, pellets and oil can clearly be seen.

In the Fall of 2011 NRES used solar energy to extract the first grape seed oil in Nebraska. Paul Black, University of Nebraska Lincoln provided testing services for fatty profiles of several Nebraska Species and documented this landmark work. The 2012 Season saw renewed efforts to obtain and recycle the grape biomass where almost three tons was recovered. In 2013, with the NET grant support, mechanical processing steps and expanded collection systems were funded to greatly expand this recycling opportunity which will see over 20 tons recycled in 2013 with a goal of 50 ton in 2014.

Products obtained through grape biomass recycling process covers the entire value added spectrum from human food to animal feed to energy and composting applications and NRES has used all of them to use 100% of the biomass collected in 2014 by using solar and biofuel energy sources to process it. Seed cleaning steps create several streams that can be used for composting and animal feeds. Grape seed finished broilers, hogs and beef consume materials that contain the valuable seed. Leaves, skins, stems, etc are all incorporated into the garden. Seeds are solar dried and expelled using solar energy to create high value grape seed oil and a meal that can be used for gluten free flour for baking.

Questions about this project can be directed to Robert Byrnes Owner, NRES, at 402-307-0280.


Bird-banding Stations Provide Important Data - submitted by Magdalena Vinson, Nebraska Education Coordinator, RMBO

Every fall students across the Nebraska panhandle are given the opportunity to get up close and personal with migrating songbirds at one of two banding stations run by the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, in partnership with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, with funding from the Nebraska Environmental Trust. These two stations, one at the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area and one at Chadron State Park were opened in 2007 and 2008 respectively, and are open from late August through early October each year. The two main goals of these stations are to gain a better understanding of the songbird populations in the panhandle and to expose the populace to some of the feathered members of their communities.

The Wildcat Hills banding station was the first to open in the fall of 2007, with a full-time bird bander who also helped with the education component of the school programs. RMBO has been involved with running an educational banding station at Barr Lake State Park in Brighton, CO for the past 25 years, and expanded their banding offerings into Nebraska with the opening of the Wildcat Hills station. A station at Chadron State Park followed in 2008 to provide those same opportunities for schools in the northern part of the panhandle. Songbird banding helps provide needed information on population numbers and migration patterns, while also providing an excellent way to introduce children and adults to some of the birds that share our homes. Often students are able to gain a closer look at American Robins, Black-Capped Chickadees, and other birds that are seen in towns and at backyard feeders.

School groups, ranging from pre-schoolers up to high schoolers, come for experiential programs that focus on migration, habitat needs of songbirds, and observing and learning about our native ecosystems here in the west. When a group arrives, they are welcomed to the banding station and given an overview of the program’s schedule.

Banding Program Tour:
They catch songbirds using fine mesh nylon nets called mist nets, either 6 meters or 12 meters long, and strung between two metal poles. The idea behind these nets is that birds are caught unaware as they fly through the area, become tangled in the net, and then are extracted (removed) by one of RMBO’s bird banders. The first step is to identify the bird by species, followed by putting on the correct size band and recording the number. Each bird band is made either from aluminum (for smaller birds) or steel (larger birds such as hawks or owls), and inscribed with a unique nine digit number specific to that particular bird. Other measurements such as wing length, tail length, and weight are also taken.


A black-capped chickadee caught in the mist net.

Additionally their banders will check for fat, necessary for migrating birds, and molt, the losing of old feathers and growing in of new feathers. Birds, unlike people, have nearly see-through skin, so stored fat appears yellowish while muscle appears pink or red. Due to the shape of their rib cage, birds have a large hollow at the base of their throats called the furcular hollow, where they will store up fat to be used during their migratory journeys. This stored fat provides energy for their arduous journeys as their new feathers provide speed and steering.

The next stop on the banding tour is the Great Migration Challenge, an interactive, life-sized game board, which comes to life when participants become birds and put their lives into the hands of fate. There are a wide variety of pitfalls that await migrating songbirds, including housecats, storms, tall buildings, water pollution or poisoned food sources, the spread of disease, and the development of stopover or wintering grounds. However, there are also events and actions that can assist songbirds on their journeys. Good winds, bird feeders or native plantings, and protected areas for rest and refueling all benefit birds. The survival rate of each species is recorded as participants finish the game, and then a lively discussion follows, as the realities of migration survival hit home for the students. Generally, 50%-75% of birds of one species that hatched this year will not survive their migratory journey to their wintering grounds and back to the summer breeding grounds; a stark future for young songbirds.

The final stop on the banding tour is the scavenger hunt hike. Focusing on observation skills and reading the native landscape, this hike requires students to find, describe, and draw grasses, shrubs, flowers, and the ways in which plants and animals interact with one another in their environment. The hike requires students to slow down, quiet down, and take note of the natural world around them as well as start to notice the subtleties that make up the pine forests and shorgtrass prairies of the panhandle. For younger students the hike involves a picture scavenger hunt with the same objectives in mind.

This year over 600 students and adults took part in banding programs, either through school field trips or the banding open house days held at both parks. Bird numbers were lower than usual at the Wildcat Hills, while Chadron State Park saw higher than usual numbers. While we are not sure what caused the low numbers at Wildcat Hills, Chadron’s bird boom is likely related to last year’s wildfires that tore through much of the park. Ponderosa pine forest is dominant at both sites, and the burning of the understory at Chadron combined with ample late season snowfall and rain this summer resulted in an explosion of grasses, providing food and shelter for many migrating songbirds.

Banding for this year ended as an early blizzard blew through the panhandle, and will start up again in August of 2014. For more information or to schedule a fall program, please contact Magdalena Vinson at magdalena.vinson@rmbo.org or (308) 783-1019.


Upcoming Events

- November 4, 2013 (Monday), 1:30pm - 4th Quarter Board Meeting, Ferguson House, Lincoln NE.

- December 8, 2013 (Sunday), 1:00pm - 5:00pm - Christmas Open House, Ferguson House, Lincoln NE.


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