August 2, 2015

Sticker shock? Get used to it!

Another example of what can happen if you let repairs go
unattended for too long (photo by L. Powell).
I'd put myself in the group of people who tend to wait on car repairs until their car is almost not drivable before taking it in to have everything fixed at once.  It saves time, right?!

But, the bill is always a big one.  If I had done small repairs on my vehicle along the way, the sticker shock would be much less and it would fit into our budget much better.

Turns out, that same idea applies to conservation and ecosystem restoration.  The Lincoln Journal Star published my Local View submission today, regarding the supposed high cost to restore our saline wetland watershed (immediately north of Lincoln).  Last week, the LJS editorial team wrote a commentary in which they suggested the $30 million price tag provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service was way too high.  Yup--they had a bad case of sticker shock.

My argument is that we need to realize that little changes we make through time have cumulative effects.  If we'd make better decisions along the way--while still producing food and energy on our farms, and making a living with the business in north Lincoln that have paved over wetlands--we'd be in a better place today.  And, we wouldn't have sticker shock about that $30 million dollar price tag for Salt Creek tiger beetles--we would be able to stomach that bill for repair of our ecosystem.

I enjoy reading Alan Guebert's columns in the Sunday paper as well (here's a link to his column on Iowa's water quality from last week that my piece references), and had a chance to meet Alan this week in Lincoln.  I asked Alan what his goal was when he wrote a column.  The part of his answer that I remember was: "I always try to provide 2-3 facts that the readers are not going to have found anywhere else, and I always make sure I believe what I write."  Mostly paraphrased, but worthy of quotes.  Good points.  I hope my column fits that description as well.

July 31, 2015

Piles of pebbles

We have these piles of coastal pebbles
In our house,
Hidden in dishes, bowls, and jars
Or stashed in dresser drawers.
Washington Island's are monotone grey,
And it was surprisingly hard to walk on them with bare feet.
Florida's have yellows and whites with the dark
And are mixed with polished bits of coral and shells.
The waves of Northern California gave us mostly black
With dark reds that gleamed when wet from the pounding surf.
And from Luderitz, we have a handful of agates
With stripes that kept us searching for hours.
What is it about these little rocks
That draws us through the waves to pounce
And pocket a treasure?
Is it the magnitude of their history, pulled back
And forth against the sand by waves for longer 
Than we have been alive?
Do we think we are saving them from their destiny as
Bits of sand--stopping time's process by placing in a jar 
In our sock drawer out of elements?
Maybe we crave something smooth in our hand
And rocks will never pull away, hesitating to commit?
Or, are these shiny stones a record of a moment, a shrine
To an hour when time stood still for us--no phones, no cars, 
No arguments--just the sand, the wind, and the 
Waves that gave up their jewels to a stranger
Who needed to smile?
L. Powell

June 12, 2015

More of mice and men, um, people

Earlier, I blogged about the potential long-term effects of a dichotomy of views between country folk and city folk.  Today, the annual Rural Survey was released by University of Nebraska, and the authors are touting the same theme...rural and city folk think differently and have different priorities and opinions.  Check out the survey here.

This photo has nothing to do with the topic of this blog post, but I like it.  It's from 2011 in the Sandhills,
near Rose, NE.  Photo by Larkin Powell.

May 6, 2015

Finding the photo to match the words

Most readers of this blog realize that I do some poetic musings from time to time.  And, I like to find imagery to match the words--but sometimes, it is just easier to let the words create their own images.  A couple years ago, I wrote a piece called "Arriving at night" that was based on my experiences of driving into a new landscape at dark and watching the view unfold at daybreak.  This morning, as I drove through thick fog into the Nebraska Sandhills, I found some imagery to go with that piece.  Read along below (you can find this piece, along with others, in my recent book, Cursed with Wings: and other frustrations):

Arriving at night

We came to this place
down a road that seemed like
most other roads
in the narrow glare of our high-beams.

We set up camp
with the help of shadows that seemed familiar.
The fire's glow created
a room for two
in this open field,
and there were no surprises as
we drifted to sleep.

But as we awoke,
the dawn made us aware
this place was like no other we had seen before.
The new view from our camp
broadened as the fog rose
and finally we were standing
as captains of a ship
that has risen from the depths
of an ocean of grass and hills.

And we ask,
How could we have missed this
in the dark?

March 27, 2015

What will ag land value correction mean for conservation

Anyone who has been watching the paper for the past 3-4 years knows that farm land in the Midwest and Great Plains regions had reached record levels.  The psychological push to invest in ag lands when times are good (corn prices were high) is intriguing--as we normally think of trying to do the opposite for long-term investment (buy low/sell high).

Of course, our landscapes are affected by the economics of land sales and land use.  In recent years, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in the central US fell by over 20% in many states--because it made more sense ($$$) to plant corn than to take the lower lease price offered by USDA for CRP land.

I've just published an article in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation that details the history of land values and conservation efforts in the US.  You can click here to read the entire article--which has a fun cartoon if that makes you want to click!

The bottom line is that we are poised near the top of a peak in land values and history suggests a correction is coming.  Previous corrections, as you can see from the figure above, include the Great Depression, the Recession of the 1950s, and the Farm Crisis of the 1980's.  Although this correction may not be of the scale of those previous corrections, we are not in good company folks!  There are signs that ag loan repayments are declining and extension requests are up.  The Wall Street Journal reported recently (as my manuscript was in press) that ag land values dropped by 3% this year--the first decline in decades.

My colleagues who work in the field of conservation on private lands--essentially people who help farmers and ranchers develop programs to fund conservation on their land--have had a rough go of it in the past 10 years.  The high commodity prices made it tough to convince folks to "leave some for the wildlife."

Now, that dynamic has changed.  I make some suggestions in the article about the innovative new tools that might appear in the next Farm Bill, because political will (to help farmers in a poor economy) and the economic payoff (CRP lease prices are now looking pretty good, with corn down to $2.50 a bushel instead of over $6/bushel) will collide.

What will we see in the next Farm Bill?  It will be fun to watch, and I encourage my colleagues in wildlife and conservation to participate in the discussion.  This opportunity seems to only happen every 30 years, so it won't happen again during our careers!