March 2012


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Unpublished Journal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. 2, 1992

Feb. 1, 1992, was a warm day with a top temperature of 65 degrees and enjoyed by everyone in Polk, including me. It was definitely sweater weather but not quite open-door temperature. Warm weather in February generates warm thoughts and, maybe, concern about the possibility of global warming—greenhouse effect —because 65 degrees of heat in February means temperatures steadily above 100 in August. Philip Heckman, former president of Doane College and now head of the Lincoln Foundation, told me about a conversation he had with a person who had spent his life studying the planet earth. Phil mentioned his concerns about the deteriorating environment and how our political leaders are paying little attention to cleaning it up. He predicted disaster in the next decade if more attention isn’t devoted to correcting our polluting ways. This knowledgeable conversationalist responded with: “Oh no! The planet is beginning to improve its environment and will continue to be more livable for the next 150,000 years. There’s a 300,000-year cycle the planet goes through…” Philip realized they were talking in two different time frames. He was in today’s and his conversationalist was in the far future.

Book Review: "Have You Seen Mary?" by Jeff Kurrus

Review by Shannon Peterson

“Have You Seen Mary?”
Author: Jeff Kurrus with introduction by Keanna Leonard
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press

When our son was 9, our family visited the Platte River Valley to see the sandhill crane migration. He was perhaps a little too young and the weather a lot too cold for him to enjoy the magnitude of the experience. He was more interested in returning to the hotel swimming pool than bracing against the piercing wind while watching thousands of birds fly overhead. Perhaps if we’d had access to a book like “Have You Seen Mary?” he would have better understood and appreciated the natural spectacle he was witnessing.

The Making of the Great Plains

National Park Service photograph of a large family on a successful homestead, late 19th-century. (Homestead National Monument of America)

By Richard Edwards

Nations need myths. Myths draw us together, define us as a people, give shape to our culture. Some myths elevate us; others produce harmful, even catastrophic results.

The myths I refer to are not fictions but rather the constructed and shared versions of our past. They may be fashioned out of historical accuracies or contain large portions of error or even fabrication. Some myths, like the story of our nation’s founding fathers or of President Lincoln’s personal growth toward becoming the Great Emancipator, give us a way to celebrate our past and unify us as a people. Others, like the notion that President Obama is a Muslim, are intended to divide us.

For the Birds

A studio portrait of a male lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus). (Joel Sartore/

By Joel Sartore

In all my years of watching sandhill cranes on the Platte, I’ve never forgotten about Martha.

When I was a child, she fascinated me more than words can say. There she was, in a grainy black-and-white photograph, in a book on birds that my mother had. The picture was taken at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1913.

Looking warily at the camera sat a solitary bird in an iron cage, the very last living passenger pigeon. For several years, people knew she was the last, and stopped by to see her while they could. She died in 1914, ending a species of bird that once numbered in the billions.

Why Wildflowers?

By Luann Finke

With thousands of planting options each season, why consider wildflowers? As so many native plants have been lost, their habitats destroyed and insect and bird populations decimated, can an individual’s small wildflower planting matter? The surprising fact is the cumulative impact of the small pieces of native plantings make a difference. They become a giant step forward in correcting decades of losses. When we work together to find every opportunity to include native plants in the right locations, we will rebuild our natural environments.

Rainwater Basin Joint Venture: The Early Years, Part One

By Doreen Pfost

In the waning days of winter, weeks before the soil sends up its first green shoots, the skies over south-central Nebraska herald the season of new life. No single description is sufficient for the Rainwater Basin’s springtime migration; every day and every place is different. Dark tendrils streak the sky high above Kearney County one afternoon as ducks and geese stream northward from their wintering grounds. The next morning hundreds of mallards might mill about open water at Funk Waterfowl Production Area, the drakes’ green heads iridescent in the sunlight. Miles away, 10,000 northern pintails rise from a wetland in a brown-and-white mass, briefly blotting out the sky. Days later flurries of snow geese—like localized blizzards—swirl here and there over Clay County cornfields. Other days, other places, a mile too far east or west, an hour too early or too late … the birds might seem to be gone.

A Sandhill Crane Family Nesting in Alaska

By George Happ and Christy Yuncker Happ

Fairbanks, Alaska. Almost every spring, we revisit the Platte to watch in awe as swirling legions of mid-continent sandhill cranes congregate while they fuel up for their long April journey north. After we return home to our own 40 acres in the middle of Alaska, we wait with trepidation for the return of two particular cranes from the Nebraska legions. April may not quite be “the cruelest month” for us, but it is the longest one.

Sandhill Crane Congregation Makes a Prolonged Visit

Sandhill cranes on the Platte River on Jan. 31, 2012. (Chris Helzer) Sandhill cranes on the Platte River on Jan. 31, 2012. (Chris Helzer)

By Chris Helzer

For the first time in anyone’s recollection, there have been sandhill cranes on the Platte River all winter long.

As Prairie Fire readers know, Nebraska’s Central Platte River is normally the site of a massive staging event of sandhill cranes each spring, when about 600,000 of them converge on the river. Those cranes roost overnight in the river and spend their days feeding and building body condition for the rest of their migration and the breeding season. Typically, cranes begin arriving on the Platte in mid-February and are mostly gone by early April.

Sonny's Corner: Nebraska's Tax Structure

By Mark Intermill

I grew up near that point on the map where the Republican River crosses into Kansas from Nebraska. I lived in Kansas. But I attended school and, when I was old enough, worked in Nebraska. Most of the goods and services that my family purchased were purchased in Nebraska. When my dad would sell steers and heifers, it was at the Superior Livestock Commission Company in Nebraska. I have crossed the state line thousands of times. And when I did so, I would almost concurrently cross the Republican River

Most Nebraskans know the Republican River as a point of litigation between the States of Kansas and Nebraska. I see it as an analogy.

Sonny's Corner: Pentagon Spending Update

By Dan Schlitt

As time goes by we learn more about the problems in bringing federal income and spending into balance. Central to this is how we deal with Pentagon spending, as I wrote in a January article.

In a rare public appearance at the Pentagon, President Obama released the Defense Department’s strategic review. Some observers looked at this as a significant change. They cite the use of terms like “the global commons” and “rebalancing” as an indication of change. Others consider it a slightly slimmed-down version of the same old thing. In any case, it is far from the broad new look at the role of the United States in the world that is needed.

Immigration in Nebraska

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