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Imagining the Earth through Art

2013 June 4
By Casey J. McLaughlin

Written descriptions of the earth can be quite informative, but all good Geographers (in my opinion) know and love pictures and maps of the earth.  National Geographic is an incredibly successful example of the visual appeal of our planet.  I am not a huge art connoisseur, but Conversations XIV: Water hosted by the Spencer Art Museum at the University of Kansas had a few pieces that really jumped out at me and that I find relevant to human health and the environment.

The Big Blue Thread is rooted in the idea that the Missouri River ties the four states (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska) of Region 7 together.  Water is critical for our region’s population and agriculture.  The Spencer Art Museum introduces their water exhibit:

Water is timeless… or is it? This installation of works from the Spencer’s permanent collection explores contemporary artists’ perspectives on the elixir of life: H20. Many of the works assembled for this installation take an eco-critical approach to the subject matter, exploring pollution and scarcity, whereas others address water less literally and more symbolically, as a cleansing or destructive force. From this selection of 20th- and 21st-century works, a subtle visual dialogue emerges between the Kaw River of Kansas and the Yangtze of China.

Maple Tree and Stream

Maple Tree and Stream at the Spencer Art Museum (KU). Credit: Casey J. McLaughlin

Many maps depict water with various shades and hues of blue.  It seems universal from my bubble perspective, but Maple Tree and Stream from the Japanese Edo Time period (1600-1868) reminded me of the swirling muddy waters of the Missouri River. The piece is a folding screen, ink, color, and gold on paper — that’s the description provided by the museum anyway.  I have a personal affinity for nature scenes and I felt an emotional bond to this specific piece given my work with the Big Blue Thread.  Seeing the brown stream reminded me of the swirling waters where rivers meet (Kaw Point) and the green trees of the spring.

Bridge over the Yangtze River. (2001)

Bridge over the Yangtze River (2001). Credit: Casey J. McLaughlin

More poignant to Region 7 and protecting human health and the environment is the exhibit by Chinese artist Chen Zhiyuan, Changjiangg Xingzou—Jingti (Yangtze River Walk – Crystals).  I remember visiting the Yangtze River in graduate school and have studied the river a bit – plus my kids and I love The Story of Ping.  I can hardly imagine the journey that took Chen from Shanghai to Qinghai along the Yangtze River (also known as the Chang Jiang).   For 21 days he walked and drank river water.  At the end of each day he distilled the salt from his intake.  As noted in the Museum’s description, he was hospitalized at the end of his excursion.  The piece was behind some shiny plexiglass so I couldn’t get a good picture with my cell phone.  I was first drawn to the huge wall map with a simple blue stream winding on a white background broken by pictures of each stop he made.  In front of the wall map, Chen has displayed his collection of dark colored salt crystals in glass beakers.

I am unsure where in the museum my appreciation of the art moved into concern for the water quality, but it did.  EPA does a lot with water monitoring and you can find out more from the Big Blue Thread ( PAHs in the Water, What’s in Your Water, and most recently in Gone Fishin).  I really wonder what a trip from the upper reaches of the Missouri to St. Louis would look like both from a naturalist (Lewis and Clark) perspective (can it even be walked?) and from a water quality one.  How many salt crystals or other materials would be distilled every day?  Would 21 days of drinking Missouri River water necessitate hospitalization?

Casey McLaughlin is a first generation Geospatial Enthusiast who has worked with EPA since 2003 as a contractor and now as the Regional GIS Lead. He currently holds the rank of #1 GISer in EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Gone Fishin’

2013 May 31

By Jeffery Robichaud

My boys have been bugging me to go fishing and I just haven’t gotten around to taking them (gotta get some licenses first).  Also our fishing hole (the creek down the hill) used to have a nice big pool at the bottom of a low water crossing but when they fixed it up for a new trail, the pool disappeared.  Now that they are older they probably wouldn’t be satisfied with the smallish sunfish we used to catch anyway.  Maybe I will take them down to the Missouri River to get a look at some Asian Carp.

With the weather finally warming up you might be taking your kids out for this annual rite of passage.  Each of our four states (Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska) have wonderful programs to encourage and safeguard this fun pastime for the enjoyment of all.

Fish are an important part of a healthy diet, since they are a lean, low-calorie source of protein.  However some caught in lakes and rivers throughout the Midwest (as well as throughout the country) may contain chemicals that could pose health risks if these fish are eaten in large amounts.  EPA maintains a system that provides you information about Fish consumption advisories.


There are also a couple of easy things you can do to ensure fish are safe to eat.  It’s always a good idea to remove the skin, fat, and internal organs before you cook the fish (since this is where contaminants often accumulate).  As added precautions; make sure to remove and throw away the head, guts, kidneys, and the liver; fillet fish and cut away the fat and skin before you cook it; and clean and dress fish as soon as possible.  You can find EPA’s guide about eating the fish you catch here.

In future blog articles we hope to share with you information about Regions 7’s Ambient Fish Tissue (RAFT) Program, one of the longest running in the country.   Until then, Happy Fishing.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  His prize catch was a a 6am catfish as a youngster at a campground in Illinois (unfortunately he woke up everyone in the camp screaming for his father since it bent his pole in half).

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Rerun of Twister TV

2013 May 21

By Jeffery Robichaud

I was saddened just like most of you to see the footage from yesterday’s events in Moore, Oklahoma.  Several years ago I posted this article on EPA’s main Greenversations Blog.  Two years ago our Region experienced our own devastation to the south in Joplin, Missouri.  Tornadoes are serious stuff.  Make sure you and your family are prepared especially if you live east of the Rockies as they can hit most anywhere (great visualization from John Nelson of


EPA has a broad and powerful mission to protect human health and the environment. We often think of this in the context of human impacts on the environment, but sometimes it is the other way around.

In Kansas City, a threat to our well-being rears its head every spring. I could tell it arrived the other night when I flipped on the TV to watch LOST and the screen lit up with red and green splotches over a map. It was storm season again and meteorologists had pre-empted Must-see TV for Twister TV with the fervor of election-night coverage or the latest celebrity car chase.

photo of a home demolished by a twisterIt was our first warning of the season, and my wife and I scooped up the kids and raced down into the basement. The all clear came, but another siren sounded an hour or so later. We repeated the drill (this time with sleeping children) and trudged to bed after another all clear. Not until the morning did we learn that two twisters touched down next to our local drug store. Five years prior a tornado ripped through Kansas City just a mile south of our house (my wife ever the wiser of the pair dragged me inside reminding me that I was now a dad). Sadly this was reinforced two years ago when our good friends lost their home in Springfield, Missouri to a twister. They had a newborn, which, as my friend told me, was the only reason they got off the couch and ran to the closet that saved their life.

Last year (edit: 6 years ago now) was a rough one for natural disasters in our Region. Everyone remembers the devastation that occurred in Greensburg, Kansas. At EPA, we get called in to assist with public health and environmental problems in the aftermath of events like the tornado in Greensburg or the flooding that struck Coffeyville, Kansas. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of our neighbors, especially the occasional ones who ignored warnings.

Yes, newscasters tend towards exaggeration and embellishment to ensure rapt audiences, but don’t let that overwhelm the importance of heeding the underlying message. Next time you are faced with a flood, fire, hurricane, or tornado warning make sure you get yourself and family to a safe place instead of watching TV. And if anybody in Kansas City needs to know what happened on LOST let me know… I DVR’d the re-broadcast.


Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

EPA Region 7′s GIS VIP

2013 May 20

By Shawn Henderson

After several attempts at college, including the part-time approach, I decided in the mid 2000’s to start taking full-time classes and finish up my degree.  I knew that I wanted computers to be my major, because I love technology, but I also had a strong affinity for geo-sciences.  Not knowing much about geographic information systems (GIS) at the time, it seemed to be the perfect mix of geography, geology, and computers and therefore tailored specifically to my interests.  I thought GIS was just going to be about map making, but I had a lot to learn.  I was in the first pure GIS class that my alma mater, Park University offered.  At the time there was no dedicated computer lab, and the text book was less than helpful, but it was interesting.  I remember that in the computer lab on the main floor of the science buildingpark there were only five computers with ArcGIS licenses; we had to fight other students who were working on reports in MS Word to get access to the software we needed.  Park’s Professor David Fox did the best with what resources were at his disposal, and he made the class really interesting and enjoyable.  I developed a good relationship with Dave.  One afternoon I was frustrated and fed up with the turn-over of professors in the Computer Science program back then, so I asked him if he would be my unofficial advisor. He agreed.  From then on, we were good.


One afternoon I had enough of my computer programming class and decided to go for a stroll to clear my mind.  I had been working on a user interface class but, the buttons and layout were not lining up. I wanted to throw the computer across the room.  I walked over by the library and found an advertisement for an EPA summer intern program.  At this point I had applied for a dozen internships and I chuckled to myself that I had absolutely no chance, but I also figured that I had nothing to lose.  It just so happened that I had a certification in MS Access, and a group at EPA was looking for an intern to develop a tracking database in Access.  I applied, the stars aligned, and I was accepted for the internship.


I quickly finished the tracking database, and I was able to detail into the Region’s GIS group and onto our Aqua Team with fellow colleagues like Roberta Vogel-Leutung and Laura Webb.  I transitioned into the Student Career Employment Program and was offered a full time position with the Agency after I graduated.  Sometime after that, my supervisor and I were brainstorming about GIS and we wondered if we could leverage my knowledge of Park’s program (which requires an internship) to offer their students a more robust GIS experience at EPA.   I approached Dave Fox with the idea, and he thought it was a fantastic approach.   Thus was born our GIS VIP (VOLUNTARY INTERNSHIP with PARK).  From there our program has blossomed with more than 15 students working on EPA GIS projects.


Map completed by Park Intern

Map completed by Park Intern

The experience of working with these students has been amazing!  There has been a variety of unique personalities come through the door.  I have had students that were worried and timid at the beginning, but by the end they were confidant and ready to save the world with GIS.  I’ve also had students come through to find out how much database/computer work is involved and realize that the real world experience of GIS isn’t something they want to head towards as a career goal.  In the end, not all the projects end up like we planned, but the experience the students and EPA staff get from these projects is invaluable.  Students have had the opportunity to work with EPA staff which provides them with professional experience and contacts.  In return the Agency gets a fresh look on things with young enthusiastic students and volunteer assistance on projects of substance.

Besides our work with Park, the Agency has several other voluntary opportunities.  Currently EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs, is seeking a volunteer intern to work on social media coordination who is motivated, hard-working, and interested in helping the EPA protect human health and the environment.   You can find out all the details here.  Additionally our Superfund program is seeking two volunteer interns to work on separate projects found here and here.  These are great opportunities to build skills and your resume.  Heck my old boss  Jeffery Robichaud, also a fellow blogger, did his own volunteer internship with EPA in Philadelphia 20 years ago.

Shawn Henderson is an Environmental Protection Specialist with the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch of the Environmental Services Division. He is a part of the Aqua Team, and conducts water quality sampling around the Region’s four states.  He has a Computer Science degree from Park University and helped to develop the Region’s KCWaterBug app and


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Get Out and See the Spring Wildflowers (or Nature’s Filters)

2013 May 14

Every mid-winter, I become impatient with winter’s cold, and dreary grays.   I find myself wondering if the world around me is ever going to be warm, lively, and colorful again.  And every spring, as the days grow longer and warmer, my faith is restored, as I see little signs of life popping out of the leaf litter in my yard and native metro woodlands.  In a matter of weeks, the grays, browns, and faded golds of the winter forest floor transform into a carpet of green, white, gold, blue, and purple.  The spring ephemeral wildflowers arrive, and the forest takes on a moist, rich scent and texture.

Busse Forest Nature Preserve

Busse Forest Nature Preserve, a National Natural Landmark in Cook County, IL. (

Growing up with the Cook County, Chicago forest preserves as one of my family’s most significant recreation destinations, I learned in our annual search for Jack-in-the-Pulpits, to appreciate how this time of delightful delicacy and color, is short-lived, as these forest wildflowers take advantage of the sunlight that temporarily reaches the forest floor, during the time between the end of winter, and the leafing out of the shrub and tree layers above them.


Jack-in-the-Pulpits (

Jack-in-the-Pulpits (

These flowers must complete their lifecycles in a matter of weeks, growing, blooming, being pollinated, and setting seed before the dense shade of summer arrives.  It is because their opportunity to thrive is so short, that these plants grow in great numbers, with several adaptations for attracting pollinators: bright colors, enticing scents, and nectar guides on their petals.  Some even have petals which serve as landing platforms for flying insects.

Spring ephemerals are perennials that sprout mostly from underground bulbs and corms, which they have stored with starch during their previous growing season.  They grow close to the ground because there is no competition at this growth level, and this low profile reduces damage from cold winds.  Because the weather in the early spring is still too cold for most flying insects, ants and small ground beetles pollinate most of these plants and disseminate their seeds.

The natural intricacies and beauty of this time in the woods are more than enough to provide a rationale for conservation and restoration, but recent research by the Leopold Center at Iowa State University tells us that these forest floor communities play a big role in water quality as well.  A recent press release from the center tells how certain species of the forest floor are high performers when it comes to capturing and storing nutrients, along with their companion native trees and shrubs.   Together, their root and shoot biomass act as giant natural sponges and filters.   Iowa State has a couple of nice write ups with more information and can be found at:

The weather this year has been unusual but normally I’d suggest you look for the earliest spring ephemerals between late March and early April, especially on moist south-facing slopes warmed by the sun, and on moist bottomlands next to streams.  Later in a normal spring, look for new blooms on rich, moist, well-drained east and north-facing slopes.  Some of the most common spring ephemerals you will see in our region are, Spring Beauty, Dog Tooth Violet, Toothwort, Dutchman’s Breeches, Virginia Bluebell, Wild Sweet William, May Apple, Wake Robin, Bellwort, Bloodroot, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Putty Root Orchid, and False Rue Anemone.  They will be interspersed with longer lived spring bloomers, like Wild Ginger, Wild Geranium, Jacob’s Ladder, Virginia Waterleaf, Solomon’s Seal, False Solomon’s Seal, and several ferns.

This spring, wander our metro region’s woodland wildlands with a guidebook and marvel at our ephemeral spring beauty.  You can search for carpets of color in the Fort Leavenworth bottomland forests, Swope Park, Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area,  Isley Park Woods Natural Area, Maple Woods Natural Area, the Blue River bottomlands, and Hidden Valley Natural Area.

Roberta Vogel-Leutung is a city girl with rural Iowa and Kansas roots who grew up on the southwest side of Chicago in a family of 13. There, she frequently took refuge at the top of her family’s three story Weeping Willow Tree, and explored the Cook County Forest Preserves with her family, her Boy Scout brothers, and her St. Albert’s Girl Scout Troop.  She’s a big fan of local nature, and works on Urban Waters partnership projects, and various community engagement and sustainability initiatives, from her seat in ENSV where she has been a contractor or employee since 1988.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Who Ya’ Gonna Call?

2013 May 10

If it is a spill and not a ghost then there is one number you should know…1-800-424-8802…the National Response Center (NRC).  The NRC is the federal point of contact for reporting all oil and chemical spills and operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  When the NRC receives a call regarding oil or chemical releases it contacts EPA Federal On-Scene Coordinators. (Interesting side note…the Image on Wikipedia is of Region 7 OSC John Frey!)

Each year, thousands of emergencies involving oil spills or the release (or threatened release) of hazardous substances are reported in the United States, potentially affecting both communities and the surrounding natural environment.  Emergencies range from small scale spills to large events requiring prompt action and evacuation of nearby populations.  EPA coordinates and implements a wide range of activities to ensure that adequate and timely response measures are taken in communities affected by hazardous substances releases and oil spills where state and local first responder capabilities have been exceeded or where additional support is needed. Below is a video of Region 7 On Scene Coordinators conducting a decontamination exercise.

For the geospatial enthusiasts amongst you, it is possible to access the data regarding spills around the country all the way back to 1982.  You can download it here, although the NRC also provides for more specific queries by state and by county. The address matching might be tough, especially for those older years where addresses like ‘5 miles south on County Road WW’ were more prevalent.  I whipped up the following map of my county in just a couple minutes using ArcGIS Explorer and an Online Geocoder. I admit, I dropped about 30 or so that I could have included if I spent a bit more time cleaning up the data. 


Hopefully I can get one or two of our OSCs to write a blog entry in the future since they have some really interesting stories to tell.  That is if they aren’t too busy answering the phone.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998.  He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division, and also serves as one of the Region’s two Scientific Support Coordinator whose role is to serve as a science adviser to the Federal On-Scence Coordinators if requested to obtain consensus on scientific issues, communicate differing opinions and resolve conflicting scientific information.



Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Acronym Soup…FIFRA, hold the DDT

2013 May 9

By Shawn Henderson

Recently a friend introduced me to a website called Reddit. For those who are unfamiliar with Reddit, it’s basically a forum message board on steroids. Redditors can post news articles, images, links, etc. in all different topic areas. Trust me; you can spend hours looking through the different stories and images many of which are amusing at times. Several days ago I was perusing one of the sections and ran across the picture below, which appears to be from a 1950’s magazine article. Ah yes the 1950’s, sock hops, soda fountains, drive-in movies… and DDT? I poked around a little more and found several You-Tube videos of DDT being applied to swimming pools with kids still in them and even one of a gentleman spraying DDT on a carrot and then proceeding to eat it portraying its relative safety. Needless to say we have learned a lot since the 50s.


EPA is responsible for regulating pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The beginnings of FIFRA actually date way back to a 1910 pesticide control law, with FIFRA itself being passed in 1947. In its earliest incarnation FIFRA was mostly concerned with labeling to ensure that folks were getting actual pesticides like DDT and not watered down ineffective products.

In 1972 FIFRA was re-written when it was amended by the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act (FEPCA) and has been amended numerous times since 1972, including some significant amendments in the form of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996. In its current form, FIFRA mandates that EPA regulate the use and sale of pesticides to protect human health and preserve the environment. Under FIFRA, EPA is specifically authorized to: (1) strengthen the registration process by shifting the burden of proof to the chemical manufacturer, (2) enforce compliance against banned and unregistered products, and (3) promulgate a regulatory framework missing from the original law. You can learn more about EPA’s role with FIFRA at EPA’s Pesticide website.ddt3

Much has changed since the 1950s. DDT has been classified as a probable human carcinogen and has been found to be persistent in the environment. It is one chemical in a suite of pesticides that we look for when analyzing samples of water quality. In my role as EPA Region 7’s STORET (Water Quality Storage and Retrieval System), I get a chance to see all of the water quality data for the Region, and thankfully, we have noticed a downward trend in DDT concentrations over the years, especially in fish tissue. USGS’s National Water Quality Assessment Program has found the same thing.  However, the picture above should serve as a constant reminder of the need to continue to monitor for chemicals in our environment and study their relationship with human health.  Something we think of as great today, might not be so good thirty years from now.


Shawn Henderson is an Environmental Protection Specialist with the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch of the Environmental Services Division. He is a part of the Aqua Team, and conducts water quality sampling around the Region’s four states.  He has a Computer Science degree from Park University and helped to develop the Region’s KCWaterBug app and


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

May is National Wetlands Month

2013 May 6

May is National Wetlands Month and three Wetlands of International Importance (designated by the RAMSAR Convention of 1971) are right here in Region 7.  They are Cheyenne Bottoms, Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (both in Kansas) and the Upper Mississippi River Floodplain Wetlands which stretches through Iowa.  These wetlands are three of the most important “flyways” for migratory birds in the country – right here in our backyards, folks!

The Ramsar Convention provides a framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.  The treaty was signed in the city of Ramsar, Iran, in 1971.  There were originally 21 delegates from countries around the world who signed the first treaty.  While it originally emphasized providing habitats for water birds, the Convention has subsequently broadened its scope to address all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use, thereby recognizing the importance of wetlands as ecosystems that contribute to both biodiversity conservation and human well-being. Wetlands cover an estimated 9% of the Earth’s land surface, and contribute significantly to the global economy in terms of water supply, fisheries, agriculture, forestry and tourism.    There are presently 165 Contracting Parties which have designated 2,118 wetland sites for the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.  Signatories are committed to the designation of wetlands of international importance, as defined by internationally agreed criteria.  That means that the designated wetlands are protected from development.

Let’s take a closer look at the three Wetlands of International Importance….

Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve and Wildlife Area is located in Barton County, Kansas.   With 11,500 acres of marsh land, it is the largest marsh in the interior of the United States.  There are 134 species of birds that breed

Harland Shuster (2012) Center for Great Plains Studies Photo Project

and nest in the area, 148 species that may winter there, and 63 species that are permanent residents.  At least 345 of the 472 species of birds known to occur in Kansas have been recorded at the Bottoms including threatened and endangered species such as Whooping Cranes and Piping Plovers.  Annually over 60,000 visitors come to Cheyenne Bottoms  for the purpose of hunting, bird watching, environmental study, fishing and trapping.  These visitors bring revenue to the nearby cities of St. John, Stafford, Great Bend and Hutchison by their use of hotels, restaurants and other facilities.  Here’s a link to a lot of interesting information and a calendar of migrations and events at Cheyenne Bottoms:

Kansas Wetlands Education Center

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (QNWR) was established in 1955 to provide wintering and migration stopover habitat for migratory birds along the Central Flyway of North America. These marshes, together with a wide diversity of other habitats, provide food, cover, and protection for a wide assortment of wildlife. Wetlands, large and small, are present throughout the Refuge which has 22,135 acres of rare inland salt marsh and sand prairie.

Egrets. Photo from FWS

US Fish and Wildlife

 Thousands of Canada geese, ducks, and other migratory birds, such as Sandhill Cranes and shorebirds, use these wetlands as they pass through the Refuge on their annual migrations.  The grasslands surrounding QNWR also provide habitat for many mammals including beaver, porcupine, black-tailed prairie dog and armadillo as well as numerous species of grassland fowl.  This link will get you to a map of the driving route through the refuge as well as observation points and what kind of birds and wildlife to look for:

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is the newest RAMSAR site in Region 7.  Encompassing over 240,000 acres of diverse floodplain habitat, the refuge stretches alongside 260 miles of the Mississippi River through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.  The refuge protects a significant portion of

U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Upper Mississippi River

the Mississippi Flyway, the migration corridor through the center of the country used by over 40% of the migratory waterfowl in the U.S.  Other wildlife includes over 300 species of birds, 31 species of reptiles, and 14 species of amphibians.  Humans also flock to this natural treasure; more than 3.7 million visitors explore these refuges annually and enjoy recreational offerings like hunting, fishing wildlife observation, boating and camping.  For more information click here:

Visiting a wetland full of beautiful, vibrant life will restore your appreciation of the goodness of the earth.  Enjoy the contrast of organized chaos as flocks land and take flight and the perfect calm as they float and rest.  The mixture of noisy vocalizations and quiet feeding are better than any roller coaster ride. May is National Wetlands Month.  Come experience the smells of wet earth and salty sand.  Let the beauty of our Region 7 wetlands refresh your soul.

Cynthia Cassel is a SEE Grantee where, for 3-1/2 years, she has worked with the Wetland and Streams team in the Water branch.  Cynthia received her BS from Park University and lives in Overland Park where she regularly carries a bag of rocks so as to remain safely earthbound.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

News Where You Live

2013 May 2

By Jeffery Robichaud

Technology and communication have evolved over the past decade to provide consumers with experiences that are personally tailored to them. Facebook feeds can be set to only show items from those folks and groups that interest you. Twitter hashtags, RSS Feeds, Tumblr and Blog feeds all can be tweaked to allow you to consume what you want, when you want it. Google news even uses algorithms based on your history and web searches to share news it thinks you will be interested in reading, while your sibling on the other side of the country might see a whole different set of items based on their own unique web-footprint.

At EPA, part of our responsibility is sharing messages about important items, whether they be public meetings, results of enforcement activities, outreach events, or grant awards.  Traditionally these are shared via news release like last week’s Earth Day event in Kansas City (you can visit EPA’s news room here).

We also have our own Region 7 specific newsroom, however we have taken it one step further. Even though our Region only consists of four States, it stretches over 1,100 miles from the Oglala National Grassland in northwest Nebraska to the Bootheel of southeast Missouri, a nearly 20-hour drive. Environmental News related to Garden City, Kansas might not be as germane to folks living in Decorah Iowa (and vice versa). So several years ago our Public Affairs and GIS folks got together to develop a quick and dirty web map called News Where You Live that allows citizens to view news releases based on geography, not just date, or category. It is starting to show its age a bit given all of the new advances in web mapping, but it still does its job well reinforcing that old adage, if it ain’t broke don’t try to fix it.

So check us out.  And remember you can add the Big Blue Thread’s RSS Feed to get your daily dose (well more like twice a week) of environmental information from the heartland.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  His 15 minutes of fame may be over with his face already having graced newsprint from coverage of a first grade production of ‘Stone Soup’.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

NEPAssist: One of EPA’s Newest Geospatial Tools

2013 April 29

By Amber Tucker

Hi all, this is my first attempt at the blogging world, so please bear with me.  I initially started out intending to major in Journalism so maybe this won’t be as mighty of a feat as I’ve imagined it to be.  Even though I still do enjoy journaling in my personal time, my passion for career choice took a turn in my second semester of college.  It was in a requisite biology course that I took greater notice of and fell in love with wildlife, nature, and the great outdoors.  This led to a change in majors to Environmental Science which in turn, led me to the most amazing workplace I never dreamt I would get to be a part of; EPA.  Since day one, I’ve never stopped learning, and along the way, I’ve had the pleasure of being exposed to and able to utilize some of the most progressive scientific advances.

I think we can all agree that technology is pretty amazing these days; through the remarkable technology of public GIS platforms like Google Earth, you have the ability to essentially tour the world from the comfort of your own living room.  In the words of the late, great Dr. Seuss…”Oh the places you’ll go.”  Well, if you’re like me, with the world at your fingertips and the possibilities endless, the first place you decide to visit…an aerial view of your own home.  Exotic destination, no doubt.  However, there’s certainly some value in checking out your own neighborhood from a different point of view.  It’s good to know what all encompasses your surrounding areas.  You may discover things you never knew about the places you see every day.

EPA has rolled out some new technology that allows you to do just that; spatially discover the world around you, from an environmental perspective. Previously only accessible to EPA employees and contractors, NEPAssist is now available to everyone wanting to take a look at environmental factors and conditions in any given area throughout the country.  A web-based mapping tool, NEPAssist is designed to help promote collaboration and early involvement in the NEPA process by allowing the user to raise and identify important environmental issues at the earliest stages of project development.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970 requires all federal agencies to incorporate environmental considerations in their planning and decision-making through a systematic interdisciplinary process. NEPAssist is designed to help promote collaboration and early involvement in the NEPA process by raising important environmental issues at the primary stages of project development. The mapping tool can be used by Federal agencies to identify alternative project locations, to avoid and minimize impacts, as well as identify potential mitigation areas. It’s a tool that can also help citizens to be aware of and involved in environmental decisions that affect their community.

NEPAssist draws information from publicly available federal, state, and local datasets, allowing NEPA practitioners, stakeholders and the public to view information about environmental conditions within the area of a proposed project quickly and easily at early stages of project development. There’s information on regulated facilities, demographics, water features, historic places, threatened & endangered species, wetlands, and so much more! You can trust me on this, or you can check it out for yourself (even though I assure you I’m trustworthy, I’d go with the latter).

The thought behind this is that NEPAssist could serve as an essential “one-stop shop” to garner environmental information for your desired vicinity.  NEPAssist also houses EJView data, formerly known as the Environmental Justice Geographic Assessment Tool, which is a mapping tool that allows users to create maps and generate detailed reports based on the geographic areas and data sets they choose.  Similar to the likes of Google Maps or Bing Maps, NEPAssist offers a variety of viewing options; Road, Aerial, and in some of the more urban areas, Birds Eye view.  I have to admit, the clarity and close-up image that Birds Eye view affords simultaneously amazes and freaks me out a little; I think I can see my dad’s pickup truck parked in my driveway!

A really cool feature of NEPAssist is the ability for you to define an area and then generate a detailed environmental report for that area. Using this tool, you can draw a point, line, area, or rectangle. You can also specify a buffer area radius for which the report will be generated. Draw your desired area, hit the NEPAssist Report button, and voila! You have yourself an environmental snapshot report. Information in the report will be displayed as a series of questions with yes or no answers based on the location of your project area. Click on a hyperlinked question to view the data source and associated metadata. All of this data, historical and current, available to you with just the push of a button.

This is the same primary and first-line tool we at EPA use to evaluate projects and generate comments. To access this tool and to learn more about NEPAssist and how it can aid you in your NEPA work, please visit the public NEPAssist website at  Here you will also find a link to a NEPAssist Demonstration Webinar, as well as other NEPAssist user resources.  EPA is continually striving to enhance the NEPAssist tool to facilitate more efficient and effective federal environmental reviews and project planning.

Pretty neat, right?  I’m all about making well-informed decisions and I appreciate that NEPAssist allows me to become more aware of the environmental conditions and features in my backyard, my neighborhood, my community, my state, and my nation. Today, my cul-de-sac. Tomorrow, the world! Check out our NEPAssist page and create your own environmental knowledge quest.

Amber Tucker is an Environmental Scientist who serves as a NEPA reviewer for EPA Region 7.  She is a graduate of Haskell University and serves as Region 7′s Special Emphasis Program Manager for Native American Employment Programs.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.