Curated news from the prairie
Great Plains Focus is a resource for stories on the region and updates on our Fellows' activities. Got a story? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Center Graduate Fellow wins WLA award
Great Plains Graduate Fellow Aubrey Streit Krug (English) has won Western Literature Association's J. Golden Taylor Award for the best graduate student paper presented at the annual conference, for "Learning the Language of Relation: Plants, Peoples, and the Ethnobotany of Melvin R. Gilmore."
More on the conference >
Center Fellow Wishart receives Nebraska Book Award
"David Wishart, professor of geography, has received a 2014 Nebraska Book Award in the non-fiction (history) category for his book "The Last Days of the Rainbelt." The awards are presented by the Nebraska Center for the Book."
Story from UNL >
Center Fellow publishes poetry/prose collection
Larkin Powell, professor of conservation biology and animal ecology in UNL's School of Natural Resources has published "Cursed with Wings," a collection of original poetry and prose that "captures quiet moments of life and death within and among nature."
Story from UNL, photo credit UNL >
Michael Forsberg: Moving Slowly To Capture the Swift Fox
"Photographer Michael Forsberg is a patient man. A very. Patient. Man. This trait came in extremely useful during an assignment to photograph swift foxes in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland in western South Dakota. Forsberg visited the prairielands multiple times over a three-year period to capture images of the tiny canids, which are about the size of a house cat."
Story from National Geographic, photo credit Michael Forsberg >
Great Plains graduate fellow receives two awards for geology research
Jason Nolan, a graduate student in Earth and atmospheric sciences, has won two awards, which include funding for his research, from the Geological Society of America.
Great Plains graduate fellow in photography wins national fellowship
Amanda Breitbach, a second-year Master of Fine Arts student in the Department of Art and Art History’s photography program, has been selected as the recipient of an Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life/Joy of Giving Something, Inc. $2,000 fellowship award.
Great Plains Fellow investigates fossil burrows
Matt Joeckel and his colleague Shane Tucker, a paleontologist for the University of Nebraska Museum, have sifted through pounds of sediment, searching for fossils within burrows found at the Happy Jack Chalk Mine in Scotia, Nebraska. The specimens found within give clues to a world during the last great period of climate change.
Photo from NET, posted 7/10/2014
Great Plains opinion piece
Alan Neville, who recently participated in the Center's 2014 symposium on drought in the Great Plains, wrote this piece for the Aberdeen News. "Today, most of us enjoy the beautiful landscapes of the Great Plains despite the challenges of weather. Spring and summer are perfect times to get out of the house and go and explore the magnificent Great Plains."
Read the story >
Fellow's work in Africa
Great Plains Fellow and UNL climatologist Tsegaye Tadesse is leading a drought project in Africa: "Tsegaye Tadesse, climatologist and remote sensing expert at UNL’s National Drought Mitigation Center, is leading a three-year, $1.6 million, multi-institution NASA-funded project to help predict drought and flood in the Greater Horn of Africa. UNL’s portion of the award is $987,767."
Read the piece >
Photo via UNLToday, posted 3/19/2014
Cranes inspire Great Plains Fellow
Author, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Professor Emeritus, and Great Plains Fellow Paul Johnsgard gave the keynote speaker Saturday afternoon for Rowe Sanctuary’s 40th-anniversary celebration. "'If it wasn’t for the cranes, I probably wouldn’t have stayed in Nebraska. I can’t live without the cranes,' Johnsgard said, as sandhill cranes flew over the Rowe Sanctuary's Iain Nicholson Audubon Center southwest of Gibbon."
Read the story >
Photo via the Kearney Hub, posted 3/18/2014
Great Plains Fellow named distinguished scholar
Dawn Braithwaite, Great Plains fellow, professor and chair of communication studies at UNL, has earned the Western States Communication Association Distinguished Scholar Award, which recognizes members who have made sustained contributions to the study of human communication.
More from UNL news >
Fellow's Amazon research
UNL paleoclimatologist and Great Plains Fellow Sherilyn Fritz is project coordinator for a large multidisciplinary team of North and South American scientists that recently won a five-year, $4.4 million Frontiers in Earth-System Dynamics grant from the National Science Foundation.
Whole story from UNL news >
Associate Fellow named state poet
Twyla Hansen, a Great Plains Associate Fellow, has been named Nebraska's state poet for a term of five years -- the first woman to hold the position. Awards for her poetry include the High Plains Book Award, the WILLA Literary Award, and the Nebraska Book Award. Hansen has an undergraduate degree in horticulture and a master's degree in agroecology, both from UNL.
Whole story from the Omaha World Herald >
GP Fellow named to AMS board
Great Plains Fellow and UNL professor Ken Dewey has been appointed to the American Meteorological Society board on outreach and pre-college education. His appointment will last for three years.
Story from UNL News >
Great Plains book on the 'Rainbelt'
Great Plains Scholar David Wishart's new book is on the myth of the Rainbelt -- the myth that prompted late 19th century settlers to flock to the western High Plains and plant trees, believing that by the act of planting, the area's rainfall would increase.
Wishart was the editor for the Center's Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.
More from UNL News >
Photo via UNL, posted 10/22/2013
New book on Nebraska landslides
Duane Eversoll, professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Natural Resources, has written a book on Nebraska's landslides. The book contains research Eversoll began in 1981 covering more than 300 landslides. In Nebraska, landslides are more common in the eastern and northeastern parts of the state.
More from UNL News >
Photo via UNL, posted 10/17/2013
Fellow writes Abraham Lincoln book
Great Plains Fellow and UNL History Professor Ken Winkle has a new book on Abraham Lincoln's time spent in Washington titled "Lincoln's Citadel: The Civil War in Washington, D.C." Winkle has been a Fellow since 1988.
More about the book >
Johnsgard publishes 61st book
Great Plains Fellow and UNL Emeritus Biological Sciences Professor Paul Johnsgard has now published his 61st book with three recent works: "Yellowstone Wildlife: Ecology and Natural History of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem," "Bird and Birding in the Bighorn Mountains Region of Wyoming," and "The Birds of Nebraska."
Read more about Johnsgard via UNL News>
Great Plains Fellow named to AOU
Mary Bomberger Brown, research assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources and coordinator of the Tern and Plover Conservation Partnership, has been named as a fellow in the American Ornithologists' Union. Bomberger Brown has been a Fellow of the Center since 1998.
Read more about the appointment here >
Montana fieldwork for Fellow
Great Plains Fellow Carroll Van West, Director, MTSU Center for Historic Preservation Tennessee State Historian, has launched a blog of his fieldwork in Montana. In 1984-1985, Van West undertook a major project for the State Historic Preservation Office at the Montana Historical Society to travel the state to develop an inventory of places, both known and unknown, to consider in the state historic preservation plan. He's been asked to update the project, focusing on heritage development. Posted 8/23/2013
Ecotourism comes to North Platte, Neb.
"Agri/eco tourism isn’t well known, said Lisa Burke, executive director of the North Platte and Lincoln County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. But there are a lot of examples of it throughout the county."
North Platte Telegram >
Photo from North Platte Telegram, posted 1/12/2015
High Plains Aquifer Continues Decline
"The aquifer lost enough water over a recent two-year period to cover the entire state of Iowa in a foot of water, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey that studies water level changes from 2011-13."
NET Nebraska story >
Photo from NET, posted 12/19/2014
Prairies around airports: Environmentally friendly and safer
"In an effort to make the airport greener, less expensive to maintain, and safer from bird strikes, [Dayton International Airport] is turning nearly 300 acres of airport land into native prairie grasses."
PBS story >
Photo from PBS, posted 12/2/2014
NSF Grant to Determine Fate of Great Plains Wetlands Species
"A team of South Dakota State University researchers will evaluate the impact that changes in climate and land use have had on the connectivity of wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region through a three-year National Science Foundation grant. The region extends from Canada through the Dakotas into Minnesota and Iowa, supporting more than half of migrating waterfowl in North America."
South Dakota State Univ. story >
Photo from SDSU, posted 10/23/2014
The Loss of Monarch Butterflies Is a Loss of Far More
"The new habitat manager at the National Audubon Society’s Rowe Sanctuary southwest of Gibbon never took an ornithology course in college, but he has spent most of his career focused on birds...His responsibilities as Rowe habitat manager include overseeing bird habitat restoration and maintenance on the sanctuary’s wet meadows and Platte River channels and working with private landowners who lease Rowe’s crop and grazing acres."
Kearney Hub story >
Photo from the Kearney Hub, posted 9/26/2014
The Loss of Monarch Butterflies Is a Loss of Far More
"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."
Prairie Fire story >
Photo from Prairie Fire, posted 9/2/2014
Rarest Native Animals Find Haven on Tribal Lands
Yellowstone bison were released at the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana in 2013. Native American tribes have created a host of programs to aid unique Western species.
New York Times story >
Photo from New York Times, posted 8/27/2014
Drought In Nebraska’s Sandhills
Great Plains Fellow and UNL ecologist Dave Wedin’s "Grassland Destabilization Experiment has been going on for about a decade on university property in north-central Nebraska. Several test plots hold only patchy vegetation and lots of bare sand. In addition to herbicides, he’s used an agricultural disk to scrape off the grass in some places."
NET story >
Photo from NET, posted 8/12/2014
Study Finds Pesticides Leading Cause of Grassland Bird Declines
A new study led by a preeminent Canadian toxicologist identifies toxic pesticides as the most likely cause of the widespread decline in grassland bird numbers in the U.S., challenging the assumption that habitat loss is the cause of population declines.
American Bird Conservancy >
Photo from American Bird C., posted 6/30/2014
Winter wheat suffers in drought
"...The current winter wheat crop looks like it will be one of the worst in recent memory, stressing farmers in the heart of the Wheat Belt – from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska. More than 40% of the wheat acres in Colorado are poor or worse; nearly 60% in Kansas and Texas; and an incredible 80% in Oklahoma."
Northern Colorado NPR story >
Grouse going strong on grassland in Fort Pierre
"Prairie grouse have become a management "indicator species" for the grassland. That means they are a native species and they need what every other native animal needs in order to be successful. Essentially, when grouse do well, so does everything else."
Rapid City Journal >
Climate change and the plains
From the Associated Press: "Climate change will bring more drought, fierce storms and searing heat to the Great Plains, causing hardships that will test the region's legendry capacity to cope with severe weather, says a report by the National Climate Assessment."
ABC News >
Cornfields could yield less by 2050
From National Geographic: "Corn yields in the U.S. have become more sensitive to drought, not less, over the past 18 years, according to a study published May 1 in Science. The report warns that if the trend persists, yields could fall substantially by midcentury as higher temperatures subject corn plants to more water stress."
National Geographic >
CO2 levels extend growing season
A study from Nature published April 23 shows that warming in a temperate grassland leads to a longer growing season and earlier emergence of grass. The elevated CO2 extended the season by conserving water, which enabled most species to remain active longer.
Cranes arriving in Nebraska
Lots of news stories are coming out featuring the migration of the Sandhill cranes. This one from the Smithsonian organization is well written with excellent photography. It quotes a couple of our Great Plains Fellows, Allison Hedge Coke and Paul Johnsgard and our conservation-minded friend Brad Mellema at the Grand Island CVB.
Read the story >
Photo from Smithsonian, posted 2/26/2014
Study: Fertilizer on grasslands
"A worldwide study shows that, on average, additional nitrogen will increase the amount of grass that can be grown. But a smaller number of species thrive, crowding out others that are better adapted to survive in harsher times. It results in wilder swings in the amount of available forage."
More from UNL Today >
Monarch population hits low point
The World Wildlife Fund released a story charting the decline of monarch butterfly numbers.
"The research shows a 43.7% decrease (nearly three acres) in the total amount of forestland occupied by monarchs in and near Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve."
More from WWF >
Photo from WWF, posted 1/29/2014
Saving the greater sage grouse
Experts from across North America have gathered this week at the Calgary Zoo to determine how best to incorporate captive and wild conservation management techniques into an integrated plan to support the recovery of the greater sage grouse on Canada's Plains.
More from Calgary Zoo >
Photo from Idaho Game and Parks
Wind energy subsidy research
Research from Washington University in St. Louis' business school investigates the effectiveness of renewable energy subsidies in the "American Economic Journal: Economic Policy"
More from Washington University >
Photo from Washington University
Strips of native prairie research
An interdisciplinary team of researchers from several Iowa State University departments and collaborating institutions are investigating using strips of native prairie to improve the function and integrity of row crops. "The team is showing that small areas of prairie, strategically placed on the contours and foot slope of a row-cropped watershed, provide multifunctional benefits for farmland health."
More from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Ag >
Photo via Leopold Center, posted 1/8/2014
Time lapse project presented
Great Plains Fellows and UNL assistant professors of practice Mike Forsberg and Mike Farrell presented their Platte Basin Timelapse project on December 3. Forty-three cameras in three states have taken a photo every daylight hour of every day since 2011 resulting in half a million photos.
Prairie chicken movement studied
A School of Natural Resources research team banded 70 prairie chickens living near a wind farm near Ainsworth, Neb. to study the birds' movements and whether the movements are influenced by the presence of the wind farm. Prairie chickens are native to Nebraska and the Great Plains.
Read the whole story from UNL News >
Photo via U.S. FWS, posted 11/13/2013
Sandhills travel article in the New York Times
"The vast grasslands of Nebraska, the Sand Hills, cover more than a quarter of the state. The region 'reminds you of a place we like to think we used to be,' the author writes."
New York Times story >
CGPS photo, posted 1/5/2015
National Park Service piece for the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre
"The Sand Creek Massacre, tragic and unnecessary, impacted Federal-Indian relations and created the circumstances for years of warfare. With the events of November 29, 1864 fixed in their minds, Plains Indian nations faced an uncertain future between warring against and accommodating the federal government."
Indian Country Today story >
Photo from History Colorado, posted 11/21/2014
Wichita State anthropologist hopes to unearth a Plains people’s lost story
"The serpent is roughly 600 years old, a work of art cut into the sod by the Quivirans, ancestors to the Wichita. [Donald] Blakeslee, an anthropologist and archaeologist, teaches at Wichita State University. Many years of digs turned him into an expert on the Plains Indians."
Wichita Eagle story >
Photo from Wichita Eagle, posted 11/13/2014
Bison to return to Cherokee nation after 40-year absence
"After a four-decade absence, bison are returning to Cherokee Nation tribal land. The Cherokee Nation last raised bison in the 1970s for tourism.... A herd of bison is coming to the Cherokee Nation from the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Another 10 head of bison will be delivered to the tribe in mid-October from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota."
Native News Online >
Photo by Paul Johnsguard, posted 10/7/2014
Nebraska Homestead Act Records Can be Searched Online
"Nebraska is home to the country's first homesteader under the 1862 Homestead Act--Daniel Freeman who settled near Beatrice. Nebraska also is the first state to have its homestead records entirely digitized, indexed and made searchable on an online database."
Farm Progress >
Photo by National Homestead Monument of America, posted 8/4/2014
Shale tested for possible energy uses
"Tests this summer on Pierre Shale that stretches across much of the Great Plains could help build the case for an underground lab and, if feasible, lead to energy production or underground storage in the rock formation."
Argus Leader story >
Photo by AP, posted 7/21/2014
A Call for Papers on Publication About Conservation on the Great Plains
The Center for Western Studies at Augustana College will publish a collection of essays, studies, and articles about conservation on the contemporary Great Plains. The book will establish an original and forward-looking understanding of conservation in the Plains. The editor, open to works in the humanities and social sciences, especially seeks scientific studies of up to 5,000 words. Authors' final contributions will be due in mid-April 2015. The book will be published in conjunction with the CWS's Dakota Conference, and, upon publication, a small honorarium will be paid to each contributor. For consideration of a submission, please send a 200-word proposal and a two-page c.v. by August 15, 2014 to Dr. Anthony Amato, Social Sciences 17, Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall, Minnesota 56258, Anthony.Amato@smsu.edu
Native American center envisioned for Kansas City
"American Indian Center of the Great Plains in Kansas City, planned to open later this year in the Loretto building, would house offices for Native American organizations."
Kansas City Star story >
Great Plains superfoods
While researchers have long suspected that the traditional plant foods consumed by Native American tribes in the Northern Plains were nutritious, no one had ever studied it. That inspired a recent paper in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis that analyzed nutrients in 10 traditional wild foods from three Native American reservations in North Dakota.
Supercell photos go viral
"Despite marginal surface moisture (something generally required for big rotating supercells), an area of developing low pressure east of the Rockies and its fast-flowing, rotating air made for two days of memorable storms."
Washington Post >
The impact of a Plains energy boom
"Several energy and economic development experts met in Rapid City last week for the ninth annual New Horizons Oil & Gas Conference at the Black Hills Learning Center to discuss the impact of the new technology at the regional and national levels."
Rapid City Journal >
Photo from Rapid City Journal, posted 4/30/2014
Op Ed: How to Heal the Heartland
From a New York Times piece: "The impulse is either to write off the dying counties as flyover country and a buffalo commons, or to further turn them into a vast oil- and gas-producing zone. But there are other ways to a livable (and that overused word "sustainable”) tomorrow. This future is just below ground level, and at the border's edge: water and immigration."
Read the story >
Visit the Prairie
The Center has teamed up with the Grand Island Convention and Visitors Bureau and Switzer Ranch and Nature Reserve to start a coalition of parties committed to conserving the Great Plains through ecotourism.
Check out the website >
Newspaper editorial on grasslands
A Dec. 29 editorial in the Lincoln Journal Star titled 'Grasslands under siege in the Plains' outlines the conversion of grassland into cropland in Nebraska. "According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, from 2011 to 2012 Nebraska led the nation in the number of acres converted from noncropland to cropland: a total of 54,876.6 acres."
More from the Lincoln Journal Star >
Photo from Pheasants Forever, posted 1/2/2014
Great Plains in the movies
A New York Times interview focuses on the Great Plains discoveries actor Will Forte found while shooting the movie "Nebraska." In the piece, Forte talks about road tripping with Bruce Dern, eating in Omaha, and encountering a beauty he "wasn't prepared to see."
Here's the movie trailer.
Interview from New York Times >
Photo from Paramount, Posted 11/20/2013
Photographs capture Great Plains
Photographer Terry Evans has been capturing these aerial scenes from the Great Plains since 1978. Recently, Evans has focused on the North Dakota oil boom made possible by fracking. Books with her photos are by Yale University Press and Radius Books.
2015 Symposium Announced
The Center for Great Plains Studies is announcing a partnership with the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs for an event centered on Native Americans in the Great Plains. The Center's 41st annual symposium will be held in the spring of 2015 with the theme of Chief Standing Bear, the Standing Bear Trail and continuing issues for Native Americans today.
Read the press release or visit the NCIA's website.
Video: Wes Jackson
The Land Institute President Wes Jackson speaks on ecologically sensitive agriculture and the future of ecosystem-based farming. In this photo, Jackson holds a picture of a perennial strain of a wheat called Kernza with a long and robust root system (bottom) versus typical annual wheat planted by farmers (top).
View the video of his lecture here and visit the Land Institute's website.