March 2013


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).

Can Religion Embrace Science to Save the World?

By Clay Farris Naff

I may be a science journalist and, worse yet, an atheist, but I’m old enough to know that faith can be a force for good. Way back in the days of the Vietnam War, when I was just 13, an Episcopal priest took me and several other future draftees to the armed forces recruiting office in Philadelphia to protest. Rev. Scott didn’t have publicity or personal gain in mind; protesting slaughter was just his way of living out his faith. Did we end the war? Well, perhaps not. All I’m saying is the draft ended months before I was due to be called up.

Scott was one of three ministers who lived on the West Philadelphia block where we lived. The other two were black. Ours was one of the first to integrate, and it’s no accident that clergy on both sides of the racial divide led the way. Following the King assassination, Rev. Scott took a bunch of us to the National Cathedral in Washington for a reconciliation service. I’ll never forget tearfully linking arm in arm with thousands of people to sing “We Shall Overcome.”

The Sentinels of Spring

Sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) at Rowe Audubon Sanctuary on the Platte River. (Joel Sartore/

By Joel Sartore

If you’ve driven I-80 along the Platte River in March, you must have seen them. Mile after mile they stand there, gray sentinels too numerous to count. Lining both sides of the Interstate between Kearney and Grand Island, they’ve been waiting to put on a show … just for you.

And what a show it is. After all, they’ve been rehearsing in Nebraska for at least 10,000 years. 

Can Ecotourism Help Save the Great Plains?

By Richard Edwards

Bill Taddicken, director of the Rowe Bird Sanctuary in central Nebraska, says the four saddest words in the English language are “You should have seen…” They might be followed by “vast flocks of passenger pigeons” or “oceans of rolling tallgrass prairie” or “immense herds of Buffaloe, Elk, deer, and Antelopes feeding in one common and boundless pasture.” That last bit was written by Meriwether Lewis.

Taddicken’s observation is double-edged. It is a lament for things not seen and that can now never be seen. But it is also an exhortation to see those natural marvels still available and to preserve them.

One way to see them is to view Michael Forsberg’s stunning photographs now on display at the Great Plains Art Museum. But Taddicken’s call is to see the real thing, to experience the noise and flutter of the sandhill cranes along the Platte or smell a Sandhills prairie in spring or thrill at the return from near-extinction of black-footed ferrets in the Conata Basin. Nature, the real thing, activates all the senses.

An App for Water

By Brian Reetz

Water is wonderful! Sit back and think about it—water is everywhere. It’s hard to do anything without water being involved in some way—from the food that is on our table to the coffee that we stop and grab at the drive-through; when we need to get our clothes clean and when we need to wash our dishes after a great home-cooked meal. But what do we know about water? Do you ever wonder about it?

A Plethora of Pelicans

By Paul A. Johnsgard

Of all the birds of the Great Plains, probably none is more widely recognized by the general public than is the American white pelican. Its almost cartoon-like profile, with a impossibly long pouched bill and a waddling gait on land that reminds one of an overweight uncle, is impossible to mistake. Yet, when swimming, a group of pelicans has the appearance of a slow but regal procession, with each bird maintaining a decorous distance behind the leader. In flight the birds produce a mesmerizing slow-motion aerial ballet. With their great wing areas providing lift for their relatively heavy bodies, pelicans can soar effortlessly in the slightest updraft, and during normal flight nearly a third of their time is spent in restful gliding. To maximize flying efficiency, the birds often assume an echelon formation, with the lead bird setting the flap-glide rhythm. As it shifts from flapping to gliding, the bird just behind does the same, and the rest follow in rapid progression. The result is a wave-like, almost hypnotizing, visual effect, which reduces the energy cost of flying for all of the birds using the slipstream of the one just ahead.

Birding at Nebraska City, Neb.

By Laurence L. Falk, Ph.D., and Susan P. Quinn

Nebraska City is located beside the Missouri River in Otoe County along the Missouri River flyway. Its rolling hills and abundant trees provide a mixed habitat for resident and migratory birds. In 1804 Wm. Clark comments about this site: “This prospect was So Sudden & entertaining that I forgot the object of my prosute and turned my attention to the Variety which presented themselves to my view” (Clark’s spelling). The creeks observed by Clark (North and South Table creeks) continue to flow, and now there are more trees along the creeks and river. The area surrounding Nebraska City was altered by recent weather extremes with constant summer flooding of the Missouri River in 2011 and drought in 2012. The flooding affected wetland areas in both Otoe County and Fremont County in Iowa lying opposite Nebraska City on the east side of the Missouri River. The wildlife effects of dike moving and repair are yet to be fully determined.

Go Wild with Nebraska's Abundant Wildlife-watching Opportunities

By Tom Tabor

When most people from Nebraska—or even from outside of Nebraska—hear the words wildlife watching, bird-watching most likely springs to the forefront of their minds. Topping those thoughts would likely be the sandhill cranes due to the fact that the crane migration is one of the top 10 species migration happenings in the world. This is similar to what one thinks of when the Serengeti in Africa is brought up and images of large wildlife, such as wildebeest, lions, elephants, rhinos, zebra and cheetahs are envisioned. Nebraska, with its diverse landscape, has an abundance of watchable wildlife beyond the noted sandhill cranes. Although not as large as elephants, there are many unique species that have adapted to the Great Plains and can excite any wildlife-watching enthusiast.

Whooper Watch Program Puts More Eyes on a Very Important Subject

The endangered whooping crane is a magnificent specimen, standing 5 feet tall and brandishing a wingspan of up to 8 feet from tip to tip. Its migration courses through central Nebraska and is more than 2,500 miles each way. (Michael Sloat)

By Dr. Mary Harner

The sandhill crane migration is upon us in full force in central Nebraska, which means the endangered whooping cranes are soon to follow. Each spring, whooping cranes typically migrate through Nebraska in late March and April on their 2,500-mile journey from wintering grounds along the Gulf Coast of Texas to their breeding grounds in northern Canada. Given this year’s mild winter and spring, however, they may arrive earlier than normal, so it’s not too soon for people to be on the watch for whoopers in Nebraska.

How to Shoot Cranes (Photographically)

By Paul A. Johnsgard

For many decades I have tried to photograph sandhill cranes flying in front of the moon, but during the era of relatively slow color films, this proved to be impossible—the light was never great enough to produce an image worth saving. Digital cameras now often have ISO speeds of 1000 or more, rapid autofocus lenses and rapid-burst exposures, making it feasible to obtain fine moon/crane images.

How I learned Ecology from the Rudeness of Crows

By Jack Phillips

My cold morning walk in a wooded ravine drew insults from local crows. They began with the multiphonic croak-whistle, a sound made possible by unique avian anatomy that equips birds for producing multiple tones simultaneously. The first calls seemed to be a taunt and a test to see if I could somehow understand that the interval between the pitches was actually an opening into a primordial reality, something we call “nature.” I didn’t know what these crazy corvids expected me to do. They quickly added my lack of response to the mounting evidence for human ignorance and proceeded to demonstrate their vocal prowess with an impressive display of ridicule and rudeness.

Book Reviews: "Wings over the Great Plains: Bird Migrations in the Central Flyway" and "Nebraska's Wetlands: Their Wildlife and Ecology" by Paul A. Johnsgard

Review by Jon Farrar

“Wings over the Great Plains: Bird Migrations in the Central Flyway”
Paul A. Johnsgards
Publisher: Zea Books

“Nebraska’s Wetlands: Their Wildlife and Ecology”
Paul A. Johnsgard
Publisher: Conservation and Survey Division, School of Natural Resources, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Paul Johnsgard—Foundation Professor of Biological Sciences Emeritus, University of Nebraska-Lincoln—produces books so prolifically you wonder if it’s time for his elves to unionize and demand shorter workweeks and vacations. Two new books were published late in 2012. They are especially good companions for birders whose interests lean toward wetland species. But those with more diverse tastes will not be left unsatisfied.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Picking Up Where We Left Off, Part One

By Tamar Jacoby

No one knows who invented the term, but sometime in 2003 lawmakers and advocates in Washington began talking about what they called “comprehensive immigration reform.” The first bills were sketchy—more concept papers than workable legislation. Then in late 2004 staffers from four Hill offices—Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ), Reps. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL)—went into a back room and emerged six months later with the legislation that became known as McCain-Kennedy: in many ways the blueprint for all comprehensive reform bills that have been considered since.

What exactly was included in a comprehensive package went through innumerable changes as version after version was proposed in Congress between 2005 and 2010. As with any legislation, the details were critically important: a few small choices could make or break a measure politically—and also make the difference between a bill that worked to solve the problem and one that did not, as the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act had not solved it two decades before. But the essence of comprehensive reform—what supporters sometimes call the architecture—remained largely consistent through the years, and it is still the starting point for any serious discussion of what would constitute a meaningful immigration overhaul.

This architecture consisted of three pillars: enforcement, legalization and worker visas. In the eyes of most reformers, these were three moving parts of a single engine—each indispensable to the functioning of the others and of the machine as a whole.

Sonny's Corner

By Roger Welsch

I suspect our situation is typical: we love these 60 acres we live on and fear what will happen to them after we are … uuuuuh … you know … like … gone. I bought this 60-acre scrap of land in 1974 under 3 feet of snow … a brilliant way to buy land, and every day of thaw in the spring of ’75 I was happier as my prize was revealed. The uplands were naked sand, the river bottom marsh, slough and jungly tangle. Just what I wanted.

We have replanted the uplands to native grass, planted tens of thousands of trees, reestablished plants like white cedar, calamus, sand cherries, leadplant and Osage orange. We know the deer, turkeys, raccoons, possums and crows by name. We love our river, the Middle Loup. Our house is old and drafty, but it is full of memories and stories. The cabin down by the river is a treasure, originally built by a Civil War veteran out of oak and walnut he cut himself just west of Lincoln, Neb.

Immigration in Nebraska

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