There has been much talk over the past several months about the fiscal cliff staring the United States in the face if our government could not address the revenue/spending problem. I think that our nation has been moving toward another more serious “cliff” over the past several years. That cliff is the degradation of one of our most precious resources—our soil. Unlike the fiscal “cliff,” which became evident over a relatively short time, we have been moving toward the soil resource cliff for at least a couple of decades. This apparently has been evident to very few people as little or nothing has been done on a national level to prevent us from inexorably moving toward the brink. In fact, our movement toward the brink has sped up dramatically over the past couple of years with the rapid increase in grain prices.
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).
Migration 2013 has begun, and Nebraska’s portion of the Central Flyway is alive with greater and lesser sandhill cranes, the rare whooping crane, eagles and prairie chickens. Though the cranes are admittedly kings of the season, their vast numbers along the Platte River an astounding spectacle of wings and sound, don’t miss the other amazing natural beauty and wildlife viewing the season has to offer.
Feeding and watching wild birds at a feeding station is one of the most pleasant ways of spending time during Nebraska’s long and dreary winter period. It has become a multimillion-dollar business, and recreational bird-feeding now involves almost one-third of North Americans, or about the combined total of Americans regularly engaged in hunting and fishing. Not only does it provide unlimited entertainment, but can be a wonderful way to learn to identify many of our native birds, often closer than would be possible by simply trying to observe them in the wild.
Of Nebraska’s roughly 350 species of regularly occurring birds, about 100 are likely to be seen during the winter period. The most recent Nebraska winter survey available, the 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count, tallied 104 species. This count totaled over 114,000 birds, from more than 800 locations in Nebraska. Besides typical bird-feeder species, 21 species of ducks, geese and swans and 15 species of raptors were also reported. However, nearly half of the species observed were ones that might be seen at or at least near a typical urban or suburban Nebraska backyard feeding station. Among the typical bird-feeder species seen, the 11 most abundant, in descending sequence, were American goldfinch, dark-eyed junco, European starling, house sparrow, American robin, rock pigeon, house finch, northern cardinal, American tree sparrow, American crow and black-capped chickadee.
As they have done for millennia, the sandhill cranes arrive in March as a part of their annual life cycle, creating a sight and sound experience that is rivaled by few events on earth. And every year you have passed up the opportunity to hop in the car and travel to the central Platte River valley to see and hear these magnificent birds. Why? Perhaps you’ve been too busy; perhaps you’re not sure where to start. As with any trip long or short, it’s a good idea to know about your subject so you can better know what to expect and how to get the most out of your visit to the area.
The fate of threatened and endangered species lies in the hands of those willing to go the extra mile to protect and recover their vulnerable populations. Since 1985, when they were added to the federal Endangered Species List, the endangered interior least tern (Sternula antillarum athalassos) and the threatened piping plover (Charadrius melodus) have been relying on the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) to restore their populations in Nebraska. The Tern and Plover Conservation Partnership (TPCP) joined the effort in 1999. In addition, since the recovery’s inception, sand and gravel mining companies in Nebraska teamed up with these organizations and have enthusiastically taken an integral role as tern and plover conservationists. Their past and future involvement just may be the answer to ensuring a positive future for these two imperiled species.
Click for a map and details for the Central Nebraska Viewing Guide.
The swirling hordes of sandhill cranes that roost in the Platte shallows in March showcase one of the great wildlife migrations on our planet. The birds jostle one another like New Year’s eve revelers in Times Square. Individuals are lost in the mass of bouncing bodies. An alien from space, looking down on such a throng, probably wouldn’t guess that our fundamental social unit is a family. For cranes as for people, understanding the species takes more than gawking at a mob.
We have been privileged to study the social interactions within one particular sandhill crane family. Every April for over a decade we have watched “our” pair of cranes drop from the sky onto our backyard, a snowy bog near Fairbanks, Alaska. These birds, whom we know as “Millie” and “Roy,” left the Platte River valley two to three weeks earlier, as reported for a similar group of Fairbanks cranes followed by satellite tracking (Jason Caikoski and John Wright, Alaska Department Fish and Game). Upon arrival here, the pair vigorously defends their territory from intruding cranes. By comparing photographs of their detailed facial feather patterns and recordings of their unison calls from year to year, we are convinced that Millie and Roy are the same individuals whom we see every summer on our pond.
Click for a list of events related to this year's Central Nebraska Migration Season.
This was a period of rapid growth for CALMIT. In 1990 the center moved to new, much larger quarters in W205 of Nebraska Hall. The facilities were constructed with the considerable assistance of UNL Chancellor Dr. Martin Massengale and John Benson, who at that time was the director of institutional research and planning. The space, allocated to CALMIT by Massengale and Benson, was a former study hall of the Engineering Library. An office addition was constructed for CALMIT in 1994, with a training facility added during 1996, thanks to the assistance of Dr. Perry Wigley, director of CSD, and IANR Vice-Chancellor Dr. Irv Omtvedt. Facilities managers supervising activities in the new space included Chris Keithley (1991–1994), Jim Lacy (1995–2002), Jeff Arnold (2002–2003) and Chad Boshart (2004–2006).
Six o’clock, Friday the last week of June, a dented white step van pulls into Irvingdale Park. The road crew, also actors as it turns out, have already arrived and begin unloading the truck. First out is a pile of rubber mats passed on by members of The Lincoln Dog training program who got them as throwaway items from Goodyear. Under the eyes of Stage Manager Michelle Zinke and Tour Coordinator Andy Dillehay, the actors quickly arrange the rubber mats to form the stage, a long alleyway 14 feet wide and 30 feet long.
While the deal ending this latest round of high-stakes fiscal drama made some progress toward tax fairness, retirees and workers need to remain vigilant against long-standing threats to seniors’ health care and economic security.
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—landmark national efforts to help retirees pay their bills and stay healthy—continue to be unfairly targeted as a way of keeping the wealthiest Americans and big corporations from paying their fair share of taxes.