March 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).

The Brisbane Floods

By Paul Gottlieb and Kay Pearse

After more than a decade of drought, Queenslanders in Australia were revelling in a return to a more regular summer season in 2011. The gardens were greening up, the cicadas and frogs were chirping again and we could shower for longer than the three minutes required during the extended water restrictions.

The source of Brisbane’s water, Wivenhoe Dam, had dropped to just 16 percent during the drought, and now it was full to overflowing. At the peak of the flood, it reached 190 percent capacity—which includes 100 percent of its water supply and 90 percent of its flood mitigation capacity.


Unpublished Journal,
Dec. 28, 1991

For many years, while writing for and publishing the weekly The Polk Progress—described by critics of the effort as “The Polk Regress”—I spent two to three hours between 5 and 8 a.m. at this typewriter putting down, in black and white, opinion, ideas and stray philosophical thoughts. Alvena Lind, the Progress Swedish philosopher, was of fortunate help and inspiration. She is certain we were put on this planet to do something—because “If you don’t do anything, you get out of practice.” Couple that observation with “If you don’t talk, you never say anything,” and Alvena’s constant talk and doing is understood.

Increasing Flood Risk: Is This Our Floodplain Management Policy?

By Larry S. Buss

Flood damages and flood risk are increasing in the United States! Do you believe that? If you do not, just talk to any person who is knowledgeable about the status of flood damages and flood risk in this nation. He or she will say yes. This yes is in spite of all the money, all the effort and all the time spent over the last few decades trying to reduce or eliminate flood risk and flood damage. This nation is in its third “campaign” to reduce the undesirable effects of floods on people.

Leveling the Political Playing Field: The "Top-Two" Primary Election for Nebraska

By Randall Moody

The most important election this year for some Nebraska partisans might not have been in November or even in Nebraska. On June 8 in California’s primary election, 54 percent of the voters approved Proposition 14, which converted that state’s primary elections for partisan offices from a closed system to a top-two process.

Book Review: "Sandhill and Whooping Cranes: Ancient Voices over America's Wetlands" by Paul A. Johnsgard

Review by Michael Forsberg

“Sandhill and Whooping Cranes: Ancient Voices over America's Wetlands”
Author: Paul A. Johnsgard
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press

In 1991 Paul Johnsgard authored Crane Music: A Natural History of American Cranes. The book told the stories of North America’s two crane species—the sandhill crane and the critically endangered whooping crane, and underscored the importance of Nebraska’s Platte River Valley, a critical sliver of habitat these species depend on during their annual migratory journeys. The book became a classic and sits on our bookshelf today at home alongside the other Johnsgard books that have become dog-eared and coffee-stained over the years with repeated use.

Those That Stay

By Stephen Nesbitt

When I came to Florida in the late summer of 1971 to begin working for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, I was unaware that sandhill cranes were part of typical Florida avifauna. I don’t know whether that says more about my personal ignorance or a wider lack of knowledge within the birding community. In point of fact Florida has two populations of sandhill cranes: a winter population of the eastern greater sandhill cranes and a year-round population of Florida sandhill cranes.


Whooping crane reflection. (International Crane Foundation/

By George Archibald

Most springs during the past three decades I have been joined along the Platte River by a group of staff and members of the International Crane Foundation (ICF) to experience one of earth’s great spectacles—the gathering of perhaps more than a half-million sandhills cranes. The dean of Nebraskan ornithology, Dr. Paul Johnsgard, writes beautifully about the special magic that happens when in spring the river and the cranes meet.

Where and When to Find Snow Geese in the Platte Valley

By Paul A. Johnsgard

Persons visiting the Platte Valley to see sandhill cranes are very likely to see some flocks of snow geese, as well as Canada geese, cackling geese and white-fronted geese, but all of these species are very early migrants, appearing as soon as the Platte begins to thaw, usually by mid-February. As the marshes of the rainwater basin to the south of the Platte also thaw, they spread out over this entire area, usually choosing the largest wetlands, where they are less likely to be shot by waterfowl hunters during the state’s interminably long “conservation season.” The numbers of all these geese usually peak between March 5–15, or about two weeks before the peak of the sandhill cranes.

This senseless spring goose-hunting season, which has failed to achieve even a slowing-down of the Great Plains’ snow goose population increase, extends through the sandhill crane migration period. In an effort to protect the cranes, goose hunting isn’t permitted on the Platte or its adjacent wetlands, so these are good places to see snow geese, as are the many small “borrow-pit” lakes close to the I-80 highway, where hunting also isn’t allowed. Among the best of these are the small lakes at Mormon Island State Recreation Area near Grand Island, Neb., where up to 100,000 snow geese, as well as smaller numbers of cackling and Canada geese, may be present in early March.

Snow goose flocks often have a small incidence (about 2–3 percent) of Ross’s geese, which very closely resemble and mingle with the larger snow geese. About 25 percent of the snow geese in central Nebraska are of the blue-morph plumage type, and many others are of genetically intermediate (heterozygote) plumages. No blue-morph Ross’s geese have yet been reported from Nebraska, but close examination of flocks are likely to reveal some possible hybrids between Ross’s geese and snow geese, based on intermediate body sizes and bill structures. Snow geese with rusty staining on their faces are probably birds that wintered in the more easterly areas of Texas and Louisiana where iron-rich wetland soils are common. Those with generally grayish or brownish heads are immatures approaching a year old. All are headed for breeding areas in the Hudson Bay region.

Major concentrations of snow geese settle on larger wetlands such as Harvard (1,480 acres) and Massey (670 acres) waterfowl production areas of Clay County, where they often forage in the fields of the Roman Hruska Beef Research Center immediately to the west of Clay Center. When enough water is present, the wetlands of Funk Waterfowl Production Area (1,980 acres) in Phelps County near Funk may attract up to a million snow geese, as well as relatively large numbers of greater white-fronted and Canada geese. Depending on the amount of freedom from human disturbance, flocks numbering in the tens of thousands may be seen feeding in corn stubble almost anywhere throughout the region.


Something New under the Platte River Sun

By David M. Freeman

How did it happen that representatives of water users in Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming stayed in negotiations with representatives of the federal Department of Interior and the environmental community from 1994 through 2006 to put into place a Platte basin endangered and threatened species habitat recovery program that was launched in January 2007? Consider how astounding it was that state custodians of utilitarian water uses, exercising their sovereignty in water as delegated by the United States Constitution, admitted a federally mandated environmental agenda to their waters.

Purple Martins

By Dave Titterington

One of the most sought-after birds that homeowners wish to attract to their yards is a colony of purple martins. The largest of the swallow family, martins have adapted well to living in close proximity to humans. Through our fascination with these birds, they have, over a period of time, developed a partnership of coexistence with humans. But this partnership did not develop overnight, or even in recent decades. It took over a thousand years for purple martins to gradually develop a sense of trust in their new landlords.

Pastureland Doubles as Wetland Habitat in a "Working Landscape"

By Doreen Pfost

It’s an oft-accepted truism that what’s good for agriculture is bad for wildlife. But conservation groups in the intensely farmed Rainwater Basin region are developing practices that benefit both agriculture producers and wildlife by making wetland habitats a productive part of farming operations. The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture calls this concept the Working Landscapes Initiative, and biologists who work in the region think it makes good sense.

Sonny's Corner

By Lynne Ireland

Three little words: We the People. Neither the words nor the concept are complex. But these three words bind together these United States of America, and a lot of our history is the struggle to figure out just who is included in the “We.” From that question came “We the People: The Nebraska Viewpoint,” an exhibit and series of free public lectures and community conversations underway this spring at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln, Neb.

Immigration in Nebraska

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