Letters to the Editor

Letter: Wetlands not ‘vacant’

September 5, 2013


To the editor:

Chad Lawhorn’s article, “Trafficway contract to be awarded within weeks,” in the Aug. 30 Journal-World, states that the planned route of the South Lawrence Trafficway travels across “vacant ground.” It’s not surprising that Lawhorn uses this term to refer to the wetlands that the SLT is scheduled to traverse; in the prevailing culture, any land that lacks a human-built home, business or structure is termed “vacant.”

However, this conception is inaccurate — as any high school biology student can point out. Natural areas, especially the Haskell and Baker Wetlands, are home to rich varieties of interacting, mutually dependent plant and animal species, thriving in specialized ecosystems that make up the grand system of nature that enables human life on earth. Such ground is far from “vacant!”

Incidentally, can anyone assure us that plans for the SLT through these wetlands include provisions — such as under-road tunnels — for wildlife to pass safely between the surviving wetlands on the north, and those on the south, of the highway? Connectivity between natural areas is essential to maintaining healthy, life-supporting ecological systems and is conducive to safety for human and non-human creatures alike.


christy kennedy 4 years, 9 months ago

Well put. Thank you. I didn't see his article but "vacant ground" is indeed a loaded, uninformed, and culturally-insensitive way to describe the area. The majority of our national parks and forests are "vacant ground," thank goodness.

2002 4 years, 9 months ago

Comparing the Baker Wetlands in any way to national parks and forests is either disingenuous or naive. They are, at best, average quality wetlands. They aren't sacred either. The anti-development lobby in Lawrence has been lying about this area for years. What they are is nice open space that has been for decades the storm drain outlet for Lawrence. I actually like the area and hope that the construction of the SLT will result in better filtering of drainage before it hits the area so it actually will be free of crap. Environmentalists need to make wiser choices about what they push to save at all costs and what they compromise on to create a better environmental outcome. If done correctly, the SLT could improve and area that has been neglected since I first walked it more than 40 years ago.

I have always been very skeptical about the pro-development establishment in Lawrence and its desire to progress in a positive and sensitive way. But one thing that I have learned through the years is that the anti-development, "so-called" environmentalist, establishment is just as damaging and just as dishonest.

tomatogrower 4 years, 9 months ago

We'll see how "vacant" this area is. I live near there, and am waiting for the onslaught of confused wild animals that will be displaced. We already see deer coming into town from that area. I know there are fox, opossums, and raccoons aplenty. I'm sure the developers are really going to help us as these poor animals find their way into the city. Watch for a lot more road kill.

IdahoWinds 4 years, 9 months ago

You are overreacting. The animals will most likely go east, south, and west rather than to come into town. There is natural habitat those directions. Why come into town?

rtwngr 4 years, 9 months ago

All of those animals that you mentioned can be found anyplace in this town.

Ken Lassman 4 years, 9 months ago

If you are seeing neotropical cormorants, longnose gars, orangethroat darters, southern leopard frogs, slender glass lizards, river otters, minks, Ross' goose, American golden plovers, western sandpipers, dunlins, least terns, pileated woodpeckers, Philadelphia vireos, Cape May and cerulean warblers, and lazuli buntings around your place or anywhere else in Lawrence, I'm thinking you might have slipped a cog or two and should read up on what is a visual hallucination and what might be causing it.

Brian Hall 4 years, 9 months ago

Rtwngr said "All of those animals that you mentioned can be found anyplace in this town." The animals that tomatogrower mentioned were deer, fox, oppossums and raccoons, all of which are plentiful within the city limits.

Ken Lassman 4 years, 9 months ago

But the wetlands have plenty of other species besides those more common ones. That was my point.

IdahoWinds 4 years, 9 months ago

If you have visited the area, you have surely noticed the levee that surrounds it? That levee prevents runoff from the city getting into the current wetlands. One of the major natural services that provide is to filter "crap". They do it well...as long as they aren't overloaded. They have not been overloaded in the past and it is unlikely that the SLT will change that. According to the EIS from years ago, the road is designed to prevent pollutants from flowing directly into the wetlands.

rtwngr 4 years, 9 months ago

As your Vice President said, "Malarkey!" Take a drive down to the east end of 31st St and see where that swamp and sewer dump directly into the wetlands from the northeast.

Liberty275 4 years, 9 months ago

After crossing Alligator Alley, the alleged Lawrence "wetlands" don't fit my idea of wetlands, natural or worth more than the amount of soy beans you can grow there.

Those of you that have never seen real wetlands should go on vacation down south.

Jeanette Kekahbah 4 years, 9 months ago

um, please share how it is that you are qualified to determine what is or isn't sacred.

and thank you for pointing out how poor of a job baker did as stewards of that area...which was the condition of their ability to SELL after 30 years.

follow the money trail. then let's ALL talk about what we've learned.

Joe Blackford II 4 years, 9 months ago

Per a wildlife biologist who reviewed the project, "culverts" under the SLT are to have features to "accommodate" wildlife passage.

IdahoWinds 4 years, 9 months ago

KDOT design shows a culvert at both ends of the existing wetlands, both of which accommodate wildlife passage. Between those two culverts the noise wall will prevent passage but at the same time they will prevent road kills.

Stuart Evans 4 years, 9 months ago

Every square inch of land on this planet is covered by some forms of life; even if only bacteria, do they not have the same right to inhabit those spaces, as the beavers do in said wetlands? We upset the delicate balance of nature every single day on this planet, and we will continue to do so, because we are also nature, and unfortunately, not all of nature plays well with others.

Greg DiVilbiss 4 years, 9 months ago

I was wondering if moving 31st will rehabilitate the North of 31st side of the wetlands. It appears that there is no water flow or aeration and that it is stagnant. It seems completely different than the South side Wetlands. Now maybe that is just the way wetlands are in parts, I am not sure.

gccs14r 4 years, 9 months ago

It's actually demonstrating the benefit of having a wetland. The algae is living on fertilizer runoff from lawns in that part of town that would otherwise end up in the river and contribute to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 9 months ago

Every time a home is constructed, some wildlife is displaced or killed. Why isn't that ever discussed?

Mike Ford 4 years, 9 months ago

in contrast to previous comments these wetlands are sacred. they are sacred to the hundreds of current Haskell students and thousands of Haskell alumni whose ancestors knew what plants served medicinal or spiritual purposes for numerous tribes with diverse beliefs and geographical backgrounds prior to contact and removal through US Government policy of the 19th century. They are also scared to the indigenous students who went there to escape the suffocation of Christianity that permeated the early years of Haskell Instutute as it was known/

Armstrong 4 years, 9 months ago

That land is also scared to the taxpayer who will use the SLT for many moons to come.

rtwngr 4 years, 9 months ago

By your definition any piece of property could be considered "sacred".

Armstrong 4 years, 9 months ago

Does my swimming pool count as a wetland ?

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 9 months ago

Sacred is a cultural term, and those who do not respect what other cultures consider sacred deserve no religious freedom themselves.

IdahoWinds 4 years, 9 months ago

It occurs to me that part of the reason this project has been so controversial has been the lack of understanding - on the part of both sides. When Mr. Lawhorn uses the term "vacant land" he is referring to the COMMON usage of the term from the legal sense - the lack of human dwellings. Why is this so foreign to Ms. Hanson? I appreciate her frustrations and concerns but really, is "vacant land" actually a foreign concept? I doubt it! Try to keep in mind that 30 years ago the area was mostly crop fields.

Ken Lassman 4 years, 9 months ago

Your "common usage" of the term "vacant" refers to a lot that is lacking a structure. I can easily distinguish between a vacant lot and the Wakarusa wetlands. The latter has had documented passing through it or living for extended periods at least 265 species of birds, 40 species of amphibians and reptiles, 28 species of fish and 333 species of plants, and this despite the many disruptions to its habitat, including its brief stint as farmland. Thanks goodness that 60 year episode didn't permanently destroy what had been a wetlands for the previous 600,000 years..

And even the law recognizes the difference between what was misidentified as "vacant land" and what are the Wakarusa wetlands. I suggest you spend some time out there and you'll see what I mean.

Ken Lassman 4 years, 9 months ago

This past weekend, the following 45 bird species were seen in just a 3 mile trek in the restored section of the wetlands west of Louisiana St. In other words, this is by no means comprehensive, and did not sample the more established wetlands east of Louisana St. People may misunderstand these wetlands as vacant, however these birds and many other animals and plants call it home or an essential resting place in its migration:

Canada Goose Northern Bobwhite Double-crested Cormorant Great Blue Heron Cooper's Hawk Killdeer Mourning Dove Great Horned Owl Ruby-throated Hummingbird Red-headed Woodpecker Downy Woodpecker Northern Flicker Olive-sided Flycatcher Alder Flycatcher Eastern Phoebe Blue Jay American Crow Barn Swallow Black-capped Chickadee Tufted Titmouse House Wren Sedge Wren Carolina Wren Eastern Bluebird American Robin Gray Catbird Northern Mockingbird Brown Thrasher European Starling Yellow Warbler Chipping Sparrow Field Sparrow Lark Sparrow Summer Tanager Northern Cardinal Blue Grosbeak Indigo Bunting Dickcissel Red-winged Blackbird Eastern Meadowlark Brown-headed Cowbird Orchard Oriole House Finch American Goldfinch House Sparrow

chargeit 4 years, 9 months ago

Congratulations, these are common and can be seen in any city backyard. Please stay out of the way of earthmoving equipment.......

Ken Lassman 4 years, 9 months ago

Your sarcasm is instantly recognizable to me, but some folks might not recognize the fact that you are simply not telling the truth. If you can go out to your back yard and find a Canada goose, an alder flycatcher, a blue grosbeak, a double crested cormorant, an indigo bunting, a great blue heron and a cooper's hawk having a chat with a great horned owl, do invite me over--and let the Audubon know what you are doing to create such incredible diversity in your little patch of earth.

Joe Blackford II 4 years, 9 months ago

~ 1977. while a Natural Resource Mgmt major @ KSU, I was compelled to holler out "BALDERDASH" during a Nat. Res. Economics lecture. The prof told us (large lecture hall full of Ag majors) that there was no means to assess the $ value of natural lands . . . .

UNTIL the land was put to a "useful purpose," per Joni Mitchell's 1970 "Big Yellow Taxi":

"They paved paradise to put up a parking lot"

Per my favorite wildlife biologist, evaluation of natural areas is still in its infancy. Environmental Impact Statements still provide weak evaluations of "natural" assets.

Mike Ford 4 years, 9 months ago

go to the Haskell Museum on the campus with the letters from a Chippewa child to her parent in the late 1880's. The teenage child passed away and the father who lived west of Ottawa, Kansas, had trouble getting to see his own child prior to her passing. The depravity here is expected after what I've witnessed for over a decade.

Armstrong 4 years, 9 months ago

That was 230+ years ago - move on, the rest of the world has.

Ken Lassman 4 years, 9 months ago

Give or take a century....time for remedial arithmetic?

Tomato 4 years, 9 months ago

Was it because he had no access to a highway? Because otherwise, I'm not sure what it has to do with the SLT.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 9 months ago

That's because you want pavement more than you want to spend the 10 seconds it'd take to understand the relevance.

kansanbygrace 4 years, 9 months ago

Some errors can be mitigated after they're made. That's what some of these people are talking about. Your position that since this happened in the past it doesn't need to bear on decisions today is empty.

And if you would brush up on your arithmetic, you might improve your credibility. You missed the time lapse by a hundred years.

Armstrong 4 years, 9 months ago

Yea I missed it 100 years. That error is zip in comparison to the $120/M additional cost of the project due to meaningless litigation from the environmentally friendly crew.

gccs14r 4 years, 9 months ago

You mean the cost of the litigation from ramming it through an inappropriate location.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 9 months ago

You left out inflation and outright profiteering by our well-connected pave-it-over industries, but Armstrong has already demonstrated his predilection for pulling out numbers from some dark space or another.

Mike Ford 4 years, 9 months ago

depravity.....not understanding indigenous connections to a specific place. The Kaw and Osage Nations can claim the wetlands areas as ancestral areas. The Shawnee can claim the area also because the Kaw treatied the land away to the US in 1825 for the purpose of American passage on the Santa Fe and Oregon trails and the opening of lands in eastern Kansas to put the Shawnee, Delaware, Wyandotte, Miami, Peoria, Piankishaw, Wea, and Kaskaskia, Ottawa, Chippewa, Munsee, three tribes of Sac and Fox. two tribes of Potawatomi, and two tribes of Kickapoo peoples onto this land between 1825 and 1848. The Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854 led to treaties with all the Kansas tribes above except the Chippewa, Munsee, and Citizen and Prairie Band Potawatomi Nations. These treaties involved the taking of thirteen and a half million acres of land that all of you live on. Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Church of the Bretheren missionaries followed these tribes with the purpose of undermining their tribal governments and culture for the benefit of the US Government so that a century or so later a populace could exist in this area once the physical removal and cultural genocide was accomplished. Indian Boarding schools like Haskell were created to grab kids by force from reservations and take them far away intentionally to disconnect their family ties and culture and language. In the early days these schools were established on or near existing reservations. The Shawnee Mission in Fairway, Kansas, was once on the Shawnee reservation that existed until the 1860's and parts of it still remain east of De Soto, Kansas. The Potawatomi Mission at the Kansas State Historical Society campus was on a Potawatomi reservation in the 1840's. The Kaw Mission in Council Grove was on the Kaw Reservation in the 1850's before that tribe was removed to Indian Territory. You all live on Indian lands. There were still legal cases involving former Kaw Indian lands between Topeka and Perry, Kansas until the mid 1980's. This is not ancient history. Ask KCK how ancient the Wyandotte Reservation is downtown KCK where the 7th Street Casino is. Yes, that one acre is a reservation by legal definition.

Mike Ford 4 years, 9 months ago

Haskell Institute was opened in 1884 with one land donation and a number of land purchases with treaty monies okayed by the US Congress and the Treasury Department which held monies for tribes from treaties and land sales and this money went educate children at boarding schools and purchase the area for the wetlands. The free education bit that is very popular with uninformed people is nonsense based upon the fact mentioned above. The Civilization Act passed by the US Congress in 1819 provided funding to tribes willing to sell lands to educate their children with. Quid Pro Quo.....monies from land sales for Indian Education. Which makes me wonder.....if the US Congress didn't okay the cession of wetlands purchased with Indian monies for farming that in essense would be a violation of the Indian Non Intercourse Act of 1790. When Congress passes laws they like them followed right? As for why all of this history is relevant to the wetlands area..... all of the above tribes had or have children studying at Haskell. Back then Haskell resembled a poorly ran Military School that drilled the Indian culture out of it's students. This was part of the assimilation process along with the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887. Those children suffered greatly in the late 19th century at places like Haskell and when one could get away from the campus and work in the fields or wetlands it was like getting in the open air at a prison or a concentration camp. Why are there books called "Education for Extinction" about Indian Boarding Schools? for the very reason I mentioned above. And if you think I've written too long think of writing this story over and over to the authorities who cast a blind eye and are letting this road happen.

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