The Environment

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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).

Human-Altered Missouri Valley Spreads Floodwaters

Deroin Bend on the Missouri River near Indian Cave State Park, Oct. 24, 2011. (Army Corps of Engineers)

By Robert Kelley Schneiders

During the construction of the Missouri River navigation channel, the Army Corps of Engineers erected thousands of pile dikes and revetments to narrow, deepen and straighten the wide, shallow, meandering stream. Once the engineering works went into the river, the Missouri deposited its heavy silt load on the downstream side of the structures. Over time, new, elevated lands appeared in the river’s floodplain. Side channels, marshlands and scour holes—everything that constituted the floodplain—filled with alluvium. Accumulated sediments sharply reduced the floodplain’s ability to store floodwater. Valley farmers benefitted from the newly accreted land. They expanded their operations into the floodplain, planting row crops where native vegetation once grew. The floodplain’s loss meant the farmer’s monetary gain.

Nonpoint Source Pollution: Worse than the XL Pipeline

By Jane Griffin

Who would have guessed that it would be a proposed pipeline that would put in evidence the concern for and interest in the aquifer and the life-sustaining resource it contains: groundwater. But, boy, it sure has. It almost seems as if the fate of the pipeline equates the fate of the aquifer. Instead, the one indisputable fact relevant to this discussion is this: no matter what the outcome is of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, there will continue to be issues that strain or put our water supply at risk as our society grows and evolves.

Listening to the Conversations

By W. Cecil Steward

Water is essential to the sustainability of all life on the planet. Without access to a sufficient supply of clean water, human civilization and even human life itself is impossible. Human activity in Nebraska relies on a combination of surface- and groundwater sources. Surface water is obtained from nine major watersheds in Nebraska, while the High Plains (Ogallala) Aquifer serves as the source for an estimated 2.145 billion acre-feet of water, the second largest source of potable water on Earth.

Exploring Conservation Success in Africa

By Eric Schacht

In today’s economic climate, many beef cattle ranches find it tough to survive. In order to remain successful, grassland management models have been adapting.

In Nebraska, a multiple-enterprise ranch, where nature-based activities like birding, hunting and hospitality are integrated into the traditional beef cattle ranch, is rare, though it has started to pop up here and there around the state. However, internationally, in South America and Africa, landowners have for quite some time now have developed hospitality and tourism businesses that complement their cattle operations.

Energy Efficient Programs Are Best for Nebraska's Future

By Duane Hovorka

Nebraska electric utilities face important decisions in the coming months that will impact Nebraska’s air and water quality, economy and electric rates for decades to come.

At issue are a handful of power plants that burn coal to generate electricity for Nebraskans. Almost all were built in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, well before modern pollution-control technology like that now required for all new power plants.

The Feathers of Winter

By Paul A. Johnsgard

For many Nebraska birders, the last big event of the year is the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which is held annually during the last week of December. It is an occasion to join with friends in a day out to try see as many species as possible in a single day. More importantly, it provides a database that, combined with those of more than 50,000 other observers, provides a highly documented population sample of early-winter birds throughout North America, Latin America and the Caribbean region.

The "Loess Bowl"

Heavy black clouds of dust rising over the Texas Panhandle, Texas, March 1936, LC-DIG-fsa-8b27276 (digital file from original negative). (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

By Robert Kelley Schneiders

From 1929 to 1940 the Great Plains experienced a devastating drought. Scorching temperatures, an overabundance of sunshine and dry winds ravaged the land. From the Dakotas to Texas, soils turned to powder and blew away. In those hard, lean years, Plains residents experienced hundreds of deadly dust storms. The Black Blizzards threw billowing clouds of dirt into the atmosphere, blotted out the sun, suffocated stock animals and inflicted a phenomenon known as dust pneumonia on the rural population. Untold numbers died from the respiratory ailment.

How to Winterize Your Community's Watershed

By Amanda Conway

As we dive headlong into fall, homeowners are starting to prepare for winter. For most of us that simply means checking the antifreeze, fixing oil leaks, raking leaves and possibly applying lawn or garden fertilizer to ensure our vehicles and lawns last throughout the cold season. All are an important aspect of winterizing for your community’s watershed.

Cleaner Green Lincoln: Our Home, Our Future, Our Choice: Sustainability Goals and Performance Measures Process

By Milo Mumgaard

Lincoln, Neb., is justifiably proud of its high quality of life. Our clean air and water, green spaces and parks, bike trails and recycling programs, all are the fruits of many generations. This quality is a product of our shared commitment to environmental stewardship and economic vitality, and to an engaged, active and knowledgeable community. It is also directly linked to our strong local economy. A strong economy is what makes possible our investments in the assets that make Lincoln a special place to call home.

Raptors of Nebraska

By Paul A. Johnsgard

Probably most rural Nebraskans, if asked to name a few hawks native to Nebraska, would begin with “chicken hawk,” which is a general vernacular name for almost any hawk likely to be seen around a farmyard. Or, perhaps “buzzard” might be mentioned, but this is a commonly used name for the turkey vulture, which is a scavenger and not currently regarded as part of the hawk family.

The Land Institute's 33rd Prairie Festival

By Carolyn M. Nolte

On Sept. 23–25, 2011, strangers from across the nation gathered on a sunny Friday afternoon in Salina, Kan., to participate in the Land Institute’s 33rd Prairie Festival. The annual festival celebrates the land and continues a discussion Wes Jackson began more than 30 years ago about sustainability and the issues of agriculture. Prairie Festival presenters Brian Donahue, Kamyar Enshayan, Richard Heinberg, Wes Jackson, Naomi Klein and David Montgomery covered topics ranging from global dependency on oil to the history and importance of soil.

A View from the Mountain

By Robert Bateman

I am standing on top of Mount Maxwell. As mountains go, it is quite modest, only 1,975 feet high, but its almost vertical cliffs give it a certain topographic distinction and the conglomerate stones beneath my feet witnessed the twilight of the dinosaurs. Mount Maxwell was once part of continental uplands that began eroding about 75 million years ago, leaving deposits on massive submarine gravel beds. These beds rested on even older formations—the roots of 360-million-year-old mountains, which, according to the latest theory, originated in Australia and now act as the foundation of our own little mountain.

Keith County, Nebraska: An Introduction

By John Janovy Jr.

The Cedar Point Biological Station (CPBS) is a University of Nebraska mini-campus located eight miles north of Ogallala, with 30 or more buildings nestled in the canyons along the south shore of Lake Keystone, below Kingsley Dam, and offering a variety of classes. I was sitting in the CPBS dining hall recently, discussing a colleague’s potential field trip to Estes Park.

Safari, Namibian Style: Nebraskans Search for Conservation Models in Africa

By Teresa Franta

This August I traveled as part of a group with the Lincoln, Neb.-based nonprofit Grassland Foundation to the African country Namibia. For the past few years our organization has been studying Namibian land-use models because they have revived wildlife populations on a large scale. Since we see similarities between the landscapes of Namibia and the Nebraska Sandhills, we decided to visit Namibia and look for ideas that we could bring home.

Invasive Species Update

By Karie Decker

The land, water and other natural resources in Nebraska are being impacted by an increasing number of invasive species. For example, there are approximately 500 non-native plants in Nebraska. Many have no documented negative impact, but others are quite damaging. Dr. David Pimentel and colleagues estimate that there are over 50,000 plant, animal and microbe invasive species in the United States. They estimate that we are spending more than $120 billion dollars annually dealing with problems caused by invasive species. Globally, $1.4 trillion dollars is spent on invasive species each year: this is nearly 5 percent of the global economy. Thus, from an economic standpoint, invasive species are certainly a cause for concern. The ecological and environmental impacts of invasive species are much more difficult to quantify, but in Nebraska invasive species are the most commonly identified threat to our natural legacy, as identified in the Nebraska Legacy Plan.

Grow Local Oaks, Part Three

By Jack Phillips

Upon leaving my faculty position in the humanities a few years ago, I set out on a journey to learn everything I could about trees. It was my good fortune to be taken under the wing of Dr. Alex Shigo, the controversial and hugely influential scientist who changed the way the world thinks about trees. He was hardest on those in whom he saw promise, so I guess I should have felt honored when he sent me to dig roots from a frozen pond in New Hampshire in December.

Groundwater: To Be or Not to Be?

By Cindy Kreifels

Over the past few months, groundwater and more specifically Nebraska’s major source of groundwater, the Ogallala Aquifer, has been making the news on a regular basis. It has been especially gratifying to see the number of people who are concerned about groundwater because of potential threats to its well-being such as nitrates, the Keystone XL pipeline, Missouri River flooding and a host of other potential contaminants. So, how can we turn the concern into positive action to protect groundwater?

Appreciate, and Plant Trees, Now

By Kendall Weyers

Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone / they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Joni Mitchell, in her song “Big Yellow Taxi,” is one of many who have said we often fail to appreciate something until it is gone. The same can be said of our feelings toward our community forests, the collection of trees on private and public property throughout our towns or cities. We tend to take our community forests for granted simply because we’ve “always” had them. The longevity of trees can create an illusion of permanence.

Grow Local Oaks, Part Two

By Jack Phillips

Regardless of provenance, every bur oak (and most every organism) keeps time with the cosmos. When the sun rises on the oaks of my family home, the green magic that feeds countless creatures from turkeys to toadstools—not to mention the oak itself and the soil it grows in—begins. The photosynthetic system and all the cells that make up the symplast (web of living tree cells) function according to a circadian clock of about 24 hours—the time it takes the earth to make one axial revolution. This does not change; the cellular clock always measures the same length of time in every place and season.

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