December 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).


Unpublished Journal
Aug. 31, 1992

Today is the last chance for a roasting bit of August heat, and the month is due to end cold with a 70 degree high. I never thought I’d wish for August’s sweaty days, but then I don’t remember having experienced an August as cold as the one this year. In the good old days when the Polk Progress was alive but financially sick, there were late summer mornings when the temperature on the thermostat was over 90 degrees when I unlocked the front door. This morning I turned up the thermostat to take the chill out of the shop. It showed 65 degrees.

The Salvation of the State Is Watchfulness in the Citizen

By W. Don Nelson

This quotation is carved over the main entrance of the Nebraska State Capitol.

It is illegal for public funds to be used for campaign purposes. This is also common sense to the majority of Nebraskans. Federal, state and local government entities, including public power districts, natural resources districts and school districts, are not allowed to take money collected from ratepayers or taxpayers to support or oppose the outcome of an election.

Two cases before the Nebraska Supreme Court involve exactly this situation. Issues arose in the 2010 election season where Mike Van Buskirk filed two Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission (NADC) complaints against Rolland Skinner and Les Tlustos, who are the manager and marketing manager of Northwest Rural Public Power District in Hay Springs, Neb. According to legal documents reviewed by Prairie Fire, a dispute arose when two public power district employees ran over 170 radio advertisements addressing campaign issues central to the candidacy of then-candidate Van Buskirk. According to public documents, the Northwest Rural Public Power District employees used public funds to pay for them.

Reaching for Dreams, Building Communities

By Kathie Starkweather, Juan Sandoval, Adele Phillips and Erin Frank

Hispanic residents of Nebraska embody both the past and future of our state. They capture the community spirit, entrepreneurship and adventure of building a life in rural places.

Santiago Vasquez helps to grow gardens and productive citizens in his town. Sidnia Zepeda is making steady progress in leaving her factory job for her own farm. Victor Lopez has his own business and faces the typical challenges of a business owner. The Center for Rural Affairs is providing assistance to these three and others like them.

Standing up for Immigration Change

By Mary Garbacz

Some people in the Scottsbluff area are tired.

Tired of the public perception of people of color; they want that to change. They want that perception to change for themselves and for their children and grandchildren.

Some people in the area are tired of trying to figure out immigration processes and paperwork that keep wives from joining husbands and keep people from getting the documentation that makes them legal U.S. residents, documentation that some citizens mistakenly believe is so easy to acquire. Some are tired of hearing others talk about immigration when they don’t know the truths surrounding a broken U.S. immigration system.

Changing Great Plains Climate and Bird Migrations

A multitude of snow geese. (Paul A. Johnsgard)

By Paul A. Johnsgard

When I was a youngster in North Dakota during the 1940s and 1950s, the seasons were very obvious and clear-cut to me. For example, I knew that the peak of fall foliage color would occur early in September. Most small birds would be gone by the end of that month, and the major waterfowl migration of ducks and geese would occur in October. By the first of November fall was usually over, and winter snowstorms could strike at any time. Then it would be an infinitely long wait until the spring thaw, and I could not expect to see even early waterfowl migrants, such as snow geese, returning to the prairie marshes of southeastern North Dakota until early April. Sadly, they would stay only a few short weeks before pushing north as rapidly as the melting ice would allow.

The Bur Oak Manifesto

Bur oak acorns, Loess Hills ecotype. (Jacob Phillips)

By Jack Phillips

A curious group had assembled for my Planting Ecology workshop at the nature center. I passed out oil pastels and white sheets of paper to enhance their diagraming, doodling or whatever they were doing as I quickly slid into a rant. They politely listened as I flailed about, wildly covering my flip chart with arrows and circles aimed at displaying the essence of rhizosphere interactions. That is, the intense zone of chemical and biological activity associated with living roots.

The Green School Initiative at Omaha Public Schools

By Ron Azoulay

At some point in February 2011 I placed a small box next to my classroom door and started putting recyclable materials into it. The materials included paper, milk containers and water bottles. At the end of the week the makeshift recycling box went home with me and its contents were dumped into my personal recycling container. After a few weeks, I had had enough. I had been with the Omaha Public Schools (OPS) district for a few months, after moving to the Midwest from New York City, and I felt that as a public servant the least I could do was recycle at work. Instead of accepting the lack of recycling at my school, I decided to talk directly with the head engineer at Miller Park Elementary, Jim Dolan, and find a solution.

There are a plethora of reasons urban public school districts choose to identify spe- cific strategies related to resource conservation. The budget shortfalls and financial reality faced by the Omaha Public Schools district in 2008 provided a unique opportunity for the district to conserve energy and resources while simultaneously exploring innovative ways to save dollars.

Book Review: "Tom's River: A Story of Science and Salvation" by Dan Fagin

Review by Carolyn Johnsen

“Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation”
Author: Dan Fagin
Publisher: Bantam Books

In “Toms River” Dan Fagin explores the long route that parents and public officials took in Toms River, N.J., to scientifically identify the childhood cancer cluster found there in the mid-1990s and then to determine what to do about that discovery.

Book Review: "Big Jim Exon: A Political Biography" by Charles M. Pallesen Jr. and Samuel Van Pelt

Review by Robert Sittig

“Big Jim Exon: A Political Biography”
Authors: Charles M. Pallesen Jr. and Samuel Van Pelt
Publisher: Infusionmedia

This volume covers the political history of J. J. Exon by concentrating on his long involvement in the public arena, first as an activist in the State Democratic Party and later as a frequent successful candidate for high political office.

The work sets the stage by recounting Exon’s birth and childhood in South Dakota, where his forebearers settled after immigrating from England. He moved to Omaha upon graduation from high school in 1939 and attended college until World War II started when he enlisted in the Army. He met Pat Pros in Omaha, and they were married in 1943 while he was on furlough. After his discharge, the couple lived in Omaha where he worked for a financial company, and they raised a family of three children. In 1953 they moved to Lincoln with the same company, and Exon later started an office equipment store on his own, which he ran until he was elected governor in 1970.

Prized Ideas: The Ag Innovation Prize Could Become an Annual Competition

By Kathy I. Andersen

We are in the midst of a transition to a new economy, one where the ability to harness innovation and creativity trump modus operandi, assembly-line thinking. This pending sea change also holds promise for agriculture, where the food-security challenges facing the U.S. and the world will demand innovative improvements in systems, policy and technology. To channel the energy of America’s young people, and to help promote a culture of new ideas and cross-disciplinary collaboration, the Ag Innovation Prize is offering over $200,000 for student teams “to develop innovative plans to address social and agricultural challenges within food systems, improving the standard of living and quality of life for the world’s population” (

Nebraska's Winter Tourism Season Heats Up

By Angela White

In Nebraska you can have just as much fun celebrating the cold as you can enjoying the summer. Visitors and residents alike often ice-skate, cross-country ski and sleigh ride their way through the wintry months. And when the cold gets too cold, our nationally renowned performing arts, sporting events, concerts and festivals easily make winter one of our hottest seasons.

Living by "The Way of the Horse"

By Brent Bowyer

Kronos (linear) time is upon me. I need to write this article and pronto!

Where better to go to achieve this task than to visit with the herd and sit and listen for and be opened to experiencing Kairos (nonlinear) time; experiencing those moments that arise in the horse’s natural environment, out in the pasture amongst the stark-naked white-trunked trees, with blue skies and warm winter sunshine, while listening to the accompanying birdsong. The view of rolling hills, even with the bareness of winter upon us, display real beauty. Nothing in nature is insignificant, no matter the size, form, soul or spirit it expresses. The golden copper breast of a robin, the first of the spring birds to appear, gives rise to delight in the eye and signals hope, great hope for the future.

Immigration in Nebraska

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