September 2015


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).

Oil, Culture, and What Small Places Have to Teach Us

Oil development nearly crowds out Stanley’s Welcome. (Rick Edwards)

By Rick Edwards

Oil production in North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation and Alberta’s tar sands is helping to reshape oil markets, creating a worldwide glut and sending prices plunging. Opposition to developing these resources has focused mainly on their contribution to global climate change and on the Keystone XL pipeline, designed to carry crude to refineries. NASA scientist James Hanson famously declared that if the tar sands are developed, “it will be game over for the climate.”

Less attention has focused on the social and cultural effects of frenzied, reckless oil exploitation. While most small towns in the Great Plains wrestle with depopulation, western North Dakota is presumably enjoying the pleasures of growth. The boom has indeed brought an influx of newcomers, new businesses, and tax revenues, yet in some ways its effects are as devastating as population decline.

Book Review: "Natural Treasures of the Great Plains: An Ecological Perspective"

Review by Aubrey Streit Krug

Title: Natural Treasures of the Great Plains: An Ecological Perspective
Editors: Tom Lynch, Paul A. Johnsgard, Jack Phillips
Publisher: Prairie Chronicles Press in partnership with the Great Plains Ecotourism Coalition

This anthology gathers essays originally published from 2007–14 in the regional journal Prairie Fire into a volume designed to encourage ecotourism. The phrase “natural treasures” in the title describes what visitors, newcomers, and longtime residents alike might encounter and learn to love in the Great Plains (especially in Nebraska): indigenous and pioneer human cultures, fossils and rocks, grasslands and forests, watersheds and wetlands, plants and animals. Although the book’s twenty-six essays are grouped into four sections based on their topics, their writers collectively take an “ecological perspective” that emphasizes connections between creatures, habitats, and larger forces.

Civic Health Update: Community Engagement and Political Involvement in Nebraska

By Kelsey Arends, Dr. Lisa Pytlik Zillig, and Dr. Mitchel Herian

Developing muscle strength can be a tedious process. Generally it starts by realizing a weakness. At the beginning of training, a muscle can feel awkward or sore, but before long, the muscle is strong, the body is more capable and efficient, and it’s difficult to remember life before the newfound strength.

Just like physical strength, civic life in Nebraska shows clear strengths, as well as areas that could use a metaphorical workout. Last month we introduced the topic of civic health, measured by indicators ranging from connecting with family and friends to having confidence in institutions to actions like volunteering and voting. Just as it is important for individuals to check up on their personal health, as a community it is important to check up on our civic health. That checkup comes in the form of the 2015 Nebraska Civic Health Index, which uses data from the US Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey to document Nebraskans’ tendency to participate in community and civic life.

Last month we looked at the strengths of Nebraska communities. In general, the data show Nebraska enjoys particularly strong social connectedness and high confidence in public institutions. This month we look at areas of civic health where Nebraska falls to the middle of the road and even the back of the pack when compared to other states and the District of Columbia.

No Home on the Range: Climate Change and the Buffalo Commons

By Robert K. Schneiders

In 1987 geographers Frank and Deborah Popper wrote their now-famous “Buffalo Commons” article. In the article, published in December of that year in Planning magazine under the title “The Great Plains: From Dust to Dust,” the Poppers argued that the interplay of environmental, economic, and demographic variables would foster the eventual formation of a “Buffalo Commons” across remote, depopulated segments of the American Great Plains. This “Commons” would consist of large bison herds, which according to the Poppers represented the most environmentally sustainable and economically viable use of the semiarid grassland regions of the continental United States.

Yet, over twenty-five years after the publication of the widely readarticle, it is now evident that the Poppers’ vision of the Great Plains will never come to pass. Three environmental factors (all related to climate change)guarantee that the Buffalo Commons will remain only a theoryrather than an actual means of organizing the Great Plains environment and economy.

A Simple Solution for the Public to Transform Recycling

By Mitch Hedlund

A Recycling Update: Recycling has the potential to be the number one thing we can do for the environment, for the economy, for sustainable manufacturing, and to prevent waste from going into the oceans—but it only works when society recycles right. Unfortunately, recycling hasn’t been working very well in the US. In fact, today the national recycling levels are at 33 percent and falling (down from the already low 34.5 percent, US EPA). Recently, the largest recycling haulers in the US have declared recycling unprofitable and in crisis, announcing the closing of many of their processing plants.

Here’s why recycling hasn’t been working well: Recycling is a public action. The recycling industry and manufacturers who want to use recycled content in their manufacturing rely on you, me, and three hundred million other people in this country to recycle properly.

Rethinking Our Gas Tank

By Bryan Mellage

Ever since the invention of the horseless carriage, there has been the need for transportation fuel. From the very beginning, the construction of motorized vehicles required certain items, such as an engine, tires, a steering wheel, and some kind of drivetrain. Early models did not even have windshields or brakes; they came later. But you had to have a gas tank to make the engine run. Now that you had a gas tank, you needed to fill it up with some kind of fuel to propel your motor vehicle.

Henry Ford was a farmer who promoted the idea of using ethanol as the means to fuel the engines of the cars and trucks he was building. The marketplace made the decision, and gasoline became the transportation fuel of choice. We now have over a hundred years of building the infrastructure to find, supply, deliver, and subsidize the systems needed so that we can drive to our local gas station and, without any regard to how the fuel got there, fill up our gas tanks with relatively low-cost premium ethyl.

The Prodigal Naturalist, Part Four: Cosmic Saunters and Rusty Bats

By Jack Phillips

I, who cannot stay in my chamber for a single day without acquiring some rust, and when sometimes I have stolen forth for a walk at the eleventh hour, or four o’clock in the afternoon, too late to redeem the day, when the shades of night were already to be mingled with the daylight, have felt as if I had committed some sin to be atoned for.... —Thoreau, “Walking”

I can usually tell what our Labrador retrievers have discovered by their body language and choreography. They aren’t much for standing point, preferring to dance around and stomp, dart, and lunge with hackles up, putting on ferocious airs. The possum dance, snake dance, baby rabbit dance, fledgling flicker dance, all follow the genetic remonstrations directed by some distant rubric of evolution. Deer and turkeys make them crazy. At such times one might imagine they descended from wolves. The fact that they have thoroughly confirmed their ancestry did not deter them from making that case once again for the edification of a very unhappy and wet bat.

Immigration in Nebraska

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