September 2014


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).

The ‘Democratization’ of College Football

The 1902  Nebraska Cornhuskers football team from the 1903 University of Nebraska yearbook. (Public domain/Wikimedia Commons)

By Scott Stempson

As another season of college football gets underway, it seems like a good time to look back and see how we got here.

College football began in the late nineteenth century as an upper-class, Ivy League endeavor. Princeton, Yale, and Harvard led the way as the sons of the rich and famous first experimented with the new game of American football. The game was really an amalgam of rugby and soccer but eventually took on its own characteristics separate from all other games.

The man who should be credited with many of the changes that put the American stamp on the game was Walter Camp. In fact, he is often referred to as the “Father of American Football.”

The Tuskegee Airmen: The Commemorative Air Force Red Tail Squadron’s Rise Above Traveling Exhibit Features the First Black Pilots in US Military History

Stateside, the Tuskegee Airmen fought for the dignity and respect any serviceman deserves.  Their battle on the home front would become the fight for Civil Rights. (Office of Air Force History, Maxwell Air Force Base)

By Susan Cook

Many people associate the civil rights movement with the 1960s; however, the civil rights movement has a tradition stretching back into the early nineteenth century. The Tuskegee Airmen furthered this movement in the 1940s. These airmen showed courage and fought with honor while serving the United States Air Force during World War II, even though they had to fight for their opportunity. Their character and success challenged the long-held belief that blacks had little to offer the military. Their valor and bravery, along with the achievements of other black soldiers from World War II, led to the desegregation of the armed forces by President Truman in 1948.

Who were these Tuskegee Airmen? They were the first black pilots in United States military history. While running for his third presidential term, Franklin D. Roosevelt promised to allow blacks to become military pilots. The War Department agreed on the condition that they were trained and served in segregated units. The first black flying unit was the 99th Pursuit Squadron, which was activated in March 1941 at Chanute Field, Illinois. It opened without pilots because they did not have any black pilots trained yet.

That Tree, My Unintended Adventure

By Mark Hirsch

While recovering from a near fatal car accident in 2012, I was inspired by a friend to use my iPhone as a camera. This somehow inspired me to embark on a unique adventure of making a photo-a-day of a lone bur oak tree in the middle of a Wisconsin cornfield.

My interaction with That Tree started out organically, and then it evolved into what I describe as my unintended adventure. It seems odd to explain it this way, but I have developed an incredible friendship with a tree.

Book Review: The Bur Oak Manifesto: Seeking Nature and Planting Trees in the Great Plains by Jack Phillips

Review by Aubrey Streit Krug

Title: The Bur Oak Manifesto: Seeking Nature and Planting Trees in the Great Plains
Author: Jack Phillips
Publisher: Prairie Fire Press

Bur oaks are slow-growing but long-lived trees with thick bark, lobed leaves, and large acorns. On the Great Plains they are found in the open in areas called oak savannas. Bur oaks have evolved to survive competition and catastrophe. As conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote in A Sand County Almanac, “Bur oak is the only tree that can stand up to a prairie fire and live.” They provide shade and food, shelter, and fuel. And, concludes Jack Phillips, they can teach humans what it means to be part of the community of nature.

How to Make Sense of Inconsistencies in Science

By Jennifer Melander

People often joke that scientists can’t seem to get things right. One year eggs are a good source of protein, the next year eggs contain too much cholesterol. Why can’t scientists seem to agree on anything? And if they’re always changing their minds about things, why should we trust anything they say?

To understand inconsistencies in science we must first understand the function of science. At its core, science is an explanation of reality based on observations. Science is not reality; it is simply our best explanation of reality. Scientific theories, such as the theory of gravity, result from the accumulation of these explanations. Scientific theories describe how we have observed the world act in the past and how we assume the world will continue to act in the future. It is important to remember that scientific theories don’t guide the behavior of the events we experience. Theories are simply our description of the underlying principles of how these events behave.

The Loss of Monarch Butterflies Is a Loss of Far More

By Benjamin Vogt

It’s good that in 2014 we’ve had a national conversation about monarch butterflies, whose overwintering numbers in Mexico plummeted for a second year in a row (two colonies covering only 1.5 acres). The causes are many, with lack of milkweed habitat in the United States a leading player. But in our commonly emotional responses to the loss of a quintessential summer insect, we’re skimming over a much larger conversation we need to be having—what else is vanishing along with the monarch, and why aren’t we doing anything more profound to preserve and create habitat for native ecosystems like prairie, where milkweed once thrived?

Climate Change Report Release Kicks off 2014–15 Heuermann Lectures Season

By Jessie Brophy

When Ronnie Green became vice president of the University of Nebraska and Harlan vice chancellor of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln four years ago, he laid out a new vision for the future of IANR. Part of that vision included enhancing and growing the community of IANR by introducing an institute-wide colloquium bringing people together around the important topics of the day. He approached B. Keith and Norma Heuermann of Phillips, Nebraska, long-time university supporters, about the idea of establishing an internationally recognized lecture series on food and natural resources security that would go with the emerging themes of IANR—“Growing a Healthy Future: Food, Fuel, Water, Landscapes, and People.”

Keith Heuermann shares Green’s enthusiasm for engaging in these types of important discussions. “The key issue is quantity. We are going to have to produce more with less,” said Heuermann. “Education is the key to everything.” The lecture series is funded by a continuing gift from the Heuermanns, who have a strong commitment to Nebraska’s production agriculture, natural resources, rural areas, and people.

Benefits and Costs Need to Be Considered in Managing the Waters of the Great Plains in a Sustainable Way

By Peter Calow

In a part of the world where conditions lurch from drought to flood over a matter of weeks, as they have done on the Plains in recent years, it is understandable that water problems are generally seen in terms of supply. But water quality is also important. All the beneficial uses that we make of our waters, such as for drinking, to support food production through irrigation, to satisfy domestic and industrial needs, not to forget the support of wildlife, depend crucially on good quality water. Yet many of those uses potentially add contaminants to the water.

The dilemma is a familiar one. Something we all derive great benefit from, on the Great Plains especially food production from agriculture, has side effects on other aspects of our lives that impair environment and human health. Sustainable management solutions have to take account of these trade-offs

Seeds of Wisdom: Gabe Brown’s Low-stress, High-profit Agriculture

By Peter Carrels

The countryside of the northern Plains would look much different if it were populated by more people like Gabe Brown.

Some might contend that the region’s land and water resources would be healthier, and the vitality, fertility, and resilience of soils would be improved. Some might even say that the quality of our food would be better.

Brown’s thoughtful, ecological land management practices were earned through turmoil and hardship, like many meaningful, lasting lessons are learned.

What the Test Holes Told Us: From Drilling Data to Water Policy

By Jim Goeke

There’s nothing quite like sticking my hands into a flowing stream of mud to help me settle into deep time. More specifically, into a flow of mud coming out of a drill rig that is probing deep into the Ogallala/High Plains Aquifer. The deeper the drill stem goes, the further back in time it reaches. And every foot of the way, there are rock fragments and bits of fossils and clumps of ancient soils that tell a story as surely as if written in the pages of a book.

As John McPhee points out in Basin and Range, the top of Mount Everest is a marine limestone. That leads geologists to all kinds of musings and discussions about how a rock made of ocean-dwelling plants and animals could end up at the top of earth’s highest mountain range. Without massive amounts of data derived from fieldwork and office computations, these big-picture models would not be possible. That is the case right here in Nebraska, where thousands of individual data points from test holes have given us regional models that our state policy makers can use when determining how best to manage our groundwater.

Immigration in Nebraska

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