May 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).

Reap the Benefits of Traveling in Nebraska

By Shannon Peterson

The first full week of May is National Travel and Tourism Week. Simply put, the annual celebration gives us the opportunity to recognize the important role travel plays in our lives and our state.

Travel has a profound impact on our lives and our economy. It grows businesses and provides opportunity. It reinvents and reinvigorates the economy.


Unpublished Journal
March 20, 1992

Yesterday’s weather was more wet than dry. Today the sky is clearly blue, and the morning sun has an unimpeded chance to flood the terrain with sunshine. I’m writing this at 9 a.m. and, heeding the Progress Swedish Philospher’s admonition, “You never know how a day goes ’til it gets to the end,” I refuse to predict an all-day blue clarity overhead. Gloria Eckerson of Aurora called earlier today, and I promised to help her and Wilma Aalborg check bluebird boxes in the Platte valley where she maintains a bluebird box trail.

The Economic Benefits of Immigration

New immigrants taking the oath to become U.S. citizens at a public ceremony. (P_Wei/

By Matthew Denhart

Americans today would like to see stronger economic growth. But they are at a loss as to where that growth might come from. One answer is unexpected: immigrants. Indeed, the hidden advantage of immigrants is that they contribute mightily to the U.S. economy.

Immigrants remind us of the promise of economic advancement. It is hard to leave one’s native land and make out for a new country with a foreign culture. But the allure of growth has led immigrants to flock to America’s shores. Immigrants cling to the belief that in America opportunities exist that will allow them to improve the lives of their families.

Digging up the Garden: Revisioning a Pipeline in the Public Interest

By Sally Herrin

Back in the late 1990s, I was appointed by Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns to serve on his ethanol pricing task force. We spent a lot of time talking with oil industry folks, who often said they and their franchise operators didn’t much want to mess with ethanol blends. “We just don’t have the infrastructure,” was the message. “Too many problems. Can’t be done.” From testimony we heard, at that time the U.S. petroleum industry had not invested much in mid-continent refineries or pipelines since World War II, without doubt one reason why the industry could post the kind of profits, decade after decade, that built some of the largest family fortunes in North America, and securing as well —not incidentally—enormous political and economic power.

The Extra Large Loophole

By Julie Myers

Until 2011, oil pipeline companies developing big projects through Nebraska had the same right as the state itself to declare eminent domain and take private property from individuals. The only question was how much they had to pay for the land, not whether they could have it. They received this right from a Nebraska law.1

This law (by itself) was a wholesale grant of power, because whether it was in the public interest—the crucial justification for the government’s right to seize an individual’s private property—did not have to be proved. Instead, the law presumed that oil pipelines carrying hazardous materials are desirable, no matter where they might impinge on prior land uses; for example, Nebraska’s groundwater-dependent agriculture.

When TransCanada proposed to route its second pipeline through Nebraska’s permeable Sandhills, this government giveaway of land rights put private landowners in the intolerable position of supplicants trying to talk sense to a major corporation with over 4,000 employees and annual earnings of $4.8 billion, which is more than half the $7.1 billion budget for the State of Nebraska.2

Just Add Water, Part Two

By Tisha Johnson

Funding large amounts of money depends on the leveraging of funds from two to three lenders or partners. A good example of this is the State Revolving Fund (SRF), which is a federally funded grant program that requires state-matched funds that provide a lower-rate loan program to municipalities. State government, specifically the Department of Environmental Quality, administers the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and the Drinking Water State Revolving fund (DWSRF) in Nebraska. Providing loans at a lower rate than would be possible on the open market, the SRF is a federal initiative that services local governments. The SRF department collects interest and repayments on existing loans, then reinvests by leveraging both the annual federal funding plus the loan repayments. Over the long run the fund pool increases. For both the Clean Water and the Drinking Water programs, Nebraska’s SRF program is receiving $16 million annually from federal funding and a 20 percent state match for each awarded grant. To be eligible, projects must fall into the following categories: wastewater improvement, nonpoint source pollution control or estuary pollution control. For some facilities, storm water run-off control measures are eligible. To receive a lower loan rate, projects must be “green” or Lied-certified. Green projects save money over the long term and are defined as those which save energy, conserve water or resources and use more efficient technologies.

Local Food in Local Universities

By Jenn Simons, Chuck Francis and Pam Edwards

The growing disconnect between most people and where their food is produced is an increasing concern in our culture. Urban dwellers are not only distant from where most food originates, they are unfamiliar with who grows that food, under what conditions and who benefits from the business. Individual purchases and institutional sourcing products locally from nearby farmers is one way to bring consumers closer to the origins of their food. Yet it will take education and greater promotion to fully remedy the missing connection between consumers and what they eat.

Young Photojournalist of the Plains - of the World

By Amanda Mobley Guenther

When it comes to his photography, Wesaam Al-Badry knows he is walking in the footsteps of giants.

Photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of modern photojournalism who adopted a documentary approach to image making in place of earlier practices in abstract and social-realist painting. Or Alfred Steiglitz, who set out to prove photography was as artistic a medium as painting and sculpture, then moved away from traditional painterly prints to capture contemporary life with his most famous image, “The Steerage.” Or Dorothea Lange, who took the social realism of photography even further with one of her most famous images, “Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California.”

Conservation from the Piping Plovers' Perspective

By Lauren R. Dinan

Imagine floating down the river in a kayak on a warm summer day. In the distance you see a broad expanse of sand peeking out of the water. The sandbar is dotted with small pieces of debris and driftwood, and in the midst of it all, a small sand-colored shorebird sits hunkered down tightly on its nest. It’s a piping plover. Piping plovers nest on exposed river sandbars, reservoir shorelines and sandpit lakes along the Missouri, Platte, Loup, Elkhorn and Niobrara river systems in Nebraska, but where do these birds go when they leave Nebraska for the winter? Do they return to the same place to nest each summer? Based on the results from an ongoing research program, we are answering these questions.

The piping plover is a state and federally threatened migratory shorebird that spends significant portions of the year in different parts of North America. This presents a unique conservation challenge, as knowing what is going on during the breeding season is only one piece of the puzzle. To better protect and manage this species, it is important that we implement conservation strategies from the piping plovers’ perspective. By doing this we are not only able to address issues that affect them during the breeding season but we are also able to address issues that affect them throughout their annual cycle.

"Hacking at Books": A Nebraska Forum on Digital Humanities

From left, Rob Shepard, William G. Thomas and Brian Sarnacki share ideas during the forum’s digital poster  presentation. (Matthew Lavin)

By Matthew Lavin

In the wake of President Barack Obama’s electoral rout over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney last fall, the concept of data mining has become conversationally ubiquitous. The 2012 election result, however, is just one example of what might be characterized more broadly as the digital turn in American culture. This turn has included streaming video and smartphones, but it has also involved the collection of sophisticated information and the leveraging of that information in service of various agendas.

In the higher education, a related movement known as digital humanities (DH) has garnered increased attention in recent years. Multiple definitions and characterizations of DH exist, but the most prevalent is the application of computation methods to humanities research.

Such a definition demands specification. What kinds of computational methods? What kinds of applications? What insights are you offering? Why should anyone outside your discipline care about what you’re doing?

A group of digital humanities scholars gathered in Lincoln, Neb., this February to discuss some of these important issues. “Hacking at Books,” a Nebraska Forum on Digital Humanities, was the 2013 edition of an annual, thematic exploration of DH issues hosted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. Previously called Nebraska Digital Workshop, it has been held since 2006.

Book Review: "The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?" by Doug Sanders

Review by Gene Bedient

“The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?”
Author: Doug Sanders
Publisher: Random House

Rational: Based on or in accordance with reason or logic. Reasonable, sensible, sane, logical.

“All in the Family”: In this 1970s television series, a working-class bigot argues with his family members over issues of the day. It was wildly popular. A certain reality was revealed to me one day as I was discussing the series with one of my dear colleagues at work. While not arguing for one point of view or another, my friend told me what he didn’t like about the show. Namely that the viewers tend to side with one camp or the other because their own prejudices have already been established. The show did little to persuade viewers that their perspective should change. He was right.

For those who have already made up their minds that Muslim immigrants are taking over Western culture and civilization, this important work of Doug Saunders will have no meaning. For the reader who would like to consult a well-written, well-documented, impartial source on the subject, this book is for you.

Sonny's Corner

By Berwyn E. Jones

I keep staring at the article by Eugene Glock in the February 2013 issue of Prairie Fire, recalling an experience I had as a very young man working on my father’s farm in Seward County. While I was harrowing a field for planting wheat, I noticed, at the base of the REA power pole in the middle of the field, a ring of grassy soil that stood a half-foot higher that the rest of the field. That power pole had been there no more than 10 or so years, since “the electric” came after World War II, and I left Nebraska for university in 1958. In that short time, the level of soil in that field had dropped half a foot. Since then, we have been destroying the shelterbelts, terraces, grassed waterways and farm ponds that our fathers and grandfathers invested in to stop the Dust Bowl, in our greed for ever-more production. We have given up contour plowing in favor of ever-larger machinery that allows one person to farm ever-increasing acreages, all in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Yes, we have been destroying our precious, irreplaceable fossil soil that took centuries of prairie grass to build.

Immigration in Nebraska

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