February 2011


Prairie Fire Newspaper went on hiatus after the publication of the September 2015 issue. It may return one of these days but until then we will continue to host all of our archived content for your reading pleasure. Many of the articles have held up well over the years. Please contact us if you have any questions, thoughts, or an interest in helping return Prairie Fire to production. We can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you to all our readers, contributors, and supporters - the quality of Prairie Fire was a reflection of how many people it touched (touches).


Unpublished Journal,
Feb. 15, 1992

Mother Alfred was 95 years old when she died. The final five years were spent in the Covenant Home in Stromsburg. Senility had a strong grip on her mind, and memories, distorted by that grip, became her reality.

Book Review: "Rare" by Joel Sartore

Review by John Janovy Jr.

“Rare: Portraits of America's Endangered Species”
Author: Joel Sartore
Publisher: Focal Point/National Geographic

Joel Sartore’s “Rare” is as rare as his subjects: lichens, snail, birds, cats, flowers, fish and assorted other creatures seemingly destined to depart Planet Earth forever, not as individuals but as kinds. Nebraskans, especially, have come to admire Sartore as a combination storyteller, artist, crusader and guide to natural areas the vast majority of us will never see, much less crawl about in up to our eyeballs staring at wild things through a lens. We locals have been amazed at his touch of wonder and humility on stage, his ability to turn images into extended narratives and his constant focus on mission—to make us aware not only of our place in nature but also how we are messing things up to our long-term detriment. With “Rare,” he brings all of these Sartore qualities to us in book form. And what a book it is.

Book Review: "Consulting the Genius of the Place" by Wes Jackson

Review by Matt Low

“Consulting the Genius of the Place: An Ecological Approach to a New Agriculture”
Author: Wes Jackson
Publisher: Counterpoint

Even before the publication of his new book “Consulting the Genius of the Place” (Counterpoint, 2010), Wes Jackson had solidified his place among the most prominent and effective advocates of American environmental thought and practice. As director of the Land Institute in Salina, Kan. (since 1976), as a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship (in 1992) and as the author of such influential books as “New Roots for Agriculture” (1980) and “Becoming Native to This Place” (1994), Jackson’s career exemplifies personal success as the upshot of public service. His most recent book brings details of that career to new light, while furthering the cause to which he has devoted his life: namely, replacing the monocultural practices of modern industrial agriculture with a perennial polyculture that prioritizes sustainability, longevity and the health of both the environment and rural America.

Photographing Cranes

Thousands of sandhill cranes roost on the Platte River during their annual migratory stopover at the Rowe Audubon Sanctuary near Gibbon, Neb. Some 600,000 to 800,000 cranes use just a few miles of the river, and these areas must be mechanically cleared of woody vegetation to ensure that the habitat remains suitable for cranes. (Joel Sartore/www.joelsartore.com)

By Joel Sartore

At this time of the year, only Mardi Gras draws a bigger crowd.

Each spring some 600,000 visitors pile into the braided channels of the Platte River in central Nebraska. They’re three feet tall, noisy and weigh just nine pounds. They’re the sandhill cranes, and they are epic in every way, a species that’s millions of years old, yet still survives in flocks big enough to block the sun.

The Economics of Grassland Birds

By Sarah Sortum

A grassland without birds is like a home without children. Birds and the prairie go hand in hand. Likewise, so do birds and people. Native Americans have incorporated them into spiritual beliefs, symbols and dress for centuries. Pioneers who homesteaded the Great Plains welcomed them as a resource in a variety of ways, including nourishment, beauty and even companionship. Many grassland bird species have served the prairie and its inhabitants faithfully for eons. Sadly, in recent times some of these species have become threatened by a seemingly uphill battle against the plow and other factors that continually shrink their native habitat. Now another partnership between bird and human is being played out on the prairie surrounding Gracie Creek in the Nebraska Sand Hills.

14th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count

By Dave Titterington

As winter continues to drag on, the ground turning from a cottony white to a sticky gumbo that covers our shoes, only to be covered once again by icy white snow, we tend to spend more time indoors. But February offers an exciting event to help alleviate the growing “cabin fever.” Feb. 18–21 is the Great Backyard Bird Count, now in its 14th year. For this popular midwinter bird count, the Cornell University Bird Laboratory, the National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada recruit as many bird enthusiasts as possible across the North American continent to become citizen scientists.

Harlan Reservoir is a Prairie Paradise for Migrating White Pelicans

By Pat Underwood

If you ask most humans to describe what they think of as a vacation paradise, it is likely they will mention palm trees, fruity drinks with paper umbrellas and perhaps a little calypso music in the background. But for American white pelicans, millions of other migrating birds and a few in-the-know birdwatchers, Harlan County Reservoir is a paradisiacal stopover secreted in an unassuming little corner of south-central Nebraska.

Sandhill Cranes: Our Avian Ambassadors At-Large

By Paul A. Johnsgard and Karine Gil

There are some people, sometimes known as craniacs, whose calendars recognize only two seasons: crane season and the rest of the year. In Nebraska the prime season for observing sandhill cranes occupies only about eight short weeks in spring, from mid-February (or whenever the Platte River fully thaws) to about mid-April. The usual peak crane populations occur during late March but rarely may be as late as early April. Sandhill crane numbers quickly trail off during the first warm days and south winds of April, when migratory conditions become optimum. Then the birds often depart almost en masse, leaving the state about the same time that the first whooping cranes are arriving from their localized wintering area (Aransas National Wildlife Refuge) in coastal Texas.

A Guide to Central Nebraska

We welcome you to the Great Central Nebraska Flyway! While you are in central Nebraska for the Sandhill crane migration, consider selecting from the events, attractions and businesses listed here to enrich your experience. For more detailed information about items on this list, go to http://nebraskanature.org. In the top banner, click on “Plan Your Visit”, then click on “Enrich your experience” (at the left). You’ll find a pdf document that can be downloaded and/or printed.

How the Wild Trees Grow

By Jack Phillips

The late Alex Shigo was my teacher and forest companion. He is known to many as the father of modern arboriculture, and everyone who cares about trees owes him a debt of gratitude. Even those who found his teachings difficult to embrace were moved to see their own positions in a new light. Shigo still has detractors, but many more admirers. Everyone who plants or prunes has been influenced by his work or that of his philosophical heirs.


By Joanna Pope

Wetlands—some call them “wasteland,” “nonproduction acres” or simply “a pain in the neck.” Don Cox, however, calls them an oasis in a desert of cropland for wildlife to find rest, food and a place to call home.

Green Waste or Wasted Green?

By Matt Pirog

Now that the holidays have passed us by, it’s a good time to talk about all that “stuff” we just accumulated. Once a year, Americans embark on a truly unique cultural experience. On one of our few vacation days, we wake up before the dishes from last night’s dinner are even dry, sneak quietly to the car and drive to the nearest big box retailer where we find hundreds of people huddled outside, waiting to burst through the front doors to cash in on the once-a-year all-out bargain sale extravaganza that is Black Friday.

Immigration in Nebraska

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