February 26, 2011


February's weather in Nebraska has a flirtatious nature. Warm and enticing one moment, and icy and cold the next.

The prairie just sits there, through it all, waiting for periods of warm weather that are long enough to start seeds germinating.

I was out in the Platte River valley for a workshop on Friday...not the greatest day for taking photos, in terms of light and contrasts. But, it was a good day to catch some animals that had been snookered by Mother Nature, with the allure of temperatures in the 70's just a week ago. All of these photos were taken during a snow storm, which added the final, emphatic touch to a cold, windy day: winter has not left the Plains.

These geese and ducks were huddled down in mixed flocks, out of the winds along the Platte, which had thawed the previous week.
Chunks of ice were flowing in the Platte. Surely this is not ideal conditions for Sandhill cranes that are wanting to roost, at night, in the river.
These cranes were gathering and feeding in a corn field as the day ended. Perhaps they'll stay here, instead of going to the ice-filled river to roost.
These Canada geese appeared ready to spend the night, nestled among cornstalks.

Angus bull in a cornfield along the Platte River near Doniphan, NE. I love this picture. It's easy to pretend it's a bison rooting on the prairie during a snow storm.

Keep warm everyone---surely spring will be back soon.

February 20, 2011

A trip to Spring Creek

I took him to the prairie
When he was four
On a day when we both needed
Out of the house.

Thankful for the trails mowed
So he might run.
Grateful for noisy birds and
Rabbits that would shoot into view and
Grab his attention.
Competition, I hoped, for cartoons.

But, it was after only a few steps
That he knelt and started to
A flower
Petal by petal. Stems and then leaves.
Perfect for four.

L. Powell, in Lincoln, NE
Fall 2010


Spring Creek Prairie is southwest of Lincoln, NE, and it is a great place to take your son or daughter for a walk. Image: from here by Dale Benham (at Spring Creek)

February 18, 2011

Chester, MT

Our train’s whistle signals Chester, MT,
Which is a brief interruption of the
Steady stripes of gold and brown,
Gold and brown.

A simple landscape of
Wheat, fallow,
Wheat, fallow,
Wheat, fallow.

We snake between two horizons of boredom and intrigue,
And the grain unfurls endlessly out each window
Making it hard to believe this land
Was settled 160 acres at a time.

But it was,
And the cemetery proves it.
Headstones, robust like bedrock in a landscape with
Shacks and sod houses that have
Eroded with time to leave
The silent row of testaments perched in the
Midst of wheat.

Mowed and manicured
By an invisible pilgrim who maintains
A memory of a time when no one could afford fallow fields,
When the landscape was a patchwork of grain and pasture,
And our tracks and the daily train were a constant reminder
That there was a way out.

L. Powell, 16 August 2010
Near Chester, MT on eastbound Amtrak
Image of eastern MT obtained here, by Alex MacLean

February 12, 2011

Do we need the constitutional right to hunt and fish?

The Nebraska Legislature is currently considering a constitutional amendment (LR40CA) which would add the following line to the Constitution:

Fishing, hunting, and trapping are a valued part of the heritage of the people and will be a right forever preserved for the people subject to reasonable restrictions as prescribed by law.

Nebraska is one of many states who have recently taken up this discussion. In fact, Nebraska tried the exact same resolution in 2007. A long-time Senator, Ernie Chambers (since removed by term limits) argued the bill was not needed; to make his point, Mr. Chambers introduced a bill that would ban hunting and fishing. The logic: if the right to hunt and fish was precarious, Mr. Chambers bill might have a chance---although everyone knew it had no chance. And, that was his point...as predicted, Mr. Chambers' bill failed 'big time'.

The real question about this bill, in my opinion, is whether hunting enjoys a more hallowed ground than other hobbies and sports. Should Nebraska include a statement in the Constitution about the right to watch a Cornhusker football game, or wear red during the months of September, October, and November?!

There are people who fear that animal rights groups will begin to restrict rights to hunting, fishing, and trapping. Interestingly, as some colleagues of mine (including my wife) recently reported (Journal of Wildlife Management) after a survey of all states' wildlife agencies, "Despite recent efforts by anti-trapping organizations and occasional dissension among consumptive use groups, national trends in snaring regulations included less restrictive regulations through time."

Fears in that direction appear to be misplaced when one looks at the facts.

What do you think? I'm a hunter. I also participate in educational activities to expose today's youth to hunting (photo above). A constitutional amendment for hunting seems like voting for apple pie and all that is good. But, it also seems like a giant waste of time, to me. Do you agree?

February 5, 2011

Why conservation biologists should care about peace and justice

The events in Tunesia and Egypt have provided gripping images for those of us peering through the lens of CNN. It's a drama worth watching, from a political perspective.

I would also argue that conservation biologists should be paying attention. How do peace and justice relate to conservation, you ask?

It's a pretty simple answer. People worry about personal safety and feeding their family first. Our ethical response to our environment is shaped by our experience.

For example, it may seem so obvious to a person in a warm apartment in Lincoln, NE that rainforests are a critical habitat. But, if you're the farmer trying to eek out a living in that spot, the trees are going to come down to make way for a place to plant crops or graze cattle. Short-term needs create decisions made on the short-term time scale. It's the micro-economy, stupid (as a political campaign strategist once said)!

Ojasti* wrote: "The top administrators of developing countries face urgent
problems of economic development, politics, education, health, etc., and pay
attention to natural resources only when their productivity and monetary returns
are large."

Tunisia and Egypt are both in a biodiversity hotspot: the Mediterranean Basin. There are conservation efforts in each country, but their potential may be dampened by economic concerns. Certainly, Egypt has enjoyed support from the US and might not be classified as a 'developing nation'. Their reported unemployment rate of 9% in 2009 was much less than Namibia's rate of 50% (2008 figure). Tunisia's rate of 14% helped spark the uprising there.
Want an interesting fact? Economic inequality in the United States is actually worse than both Tunisia and Egypt! As a recent study from Duke and Harvard indicates, American citizens constantly underestimate the inequality in our country. Perhaps we have this jaded view that no matter what happens, we have to be better than the rest of the world. Perhaps.
Inequality is measured by the GINI statistic, shown in the map above (go here for original image). A score of 0 means perfect economic equality in a country, a score of 100 means perfect inequality--massive gaps between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'.

What is the take-away message? Conservation biologists should pay attention to economic gaps, as we work in the context of individual citizen's daily decisions about how to use resources.

And, it's not just something to think about for developing countries. To bring this home to Nebraska, it should not be a surprise that water decisions along the Platte and Republican Rivers hinge around agriculture and conservation needs. When our legislature makes decisions about water this spring, I'll bet agriculture will win. Short term needs. Short term decisions. It's the economy, stupid.

Successful conservation biologists will figure out how to work in that landscape.

*1984. Hunting and conservation of mammals in Latin America. Acta Zoological Fennica, Vol. 172.

February 2, 2011

nu wAz 2 read Leopold

I'm working on a t-shirt design for students in our Fisheries and Wildlife major. After receiving several emails from students who use the now-common texting shortcuts (e.g., the title of this blog post is "New ways to read Leopold" in popular English), I decided to cave in.

Why not harness the texting craze for the t-shirt? So, I'm taking votes on Facebook for their favorite Aldo Leopold quote, using text language. All three quotes are very commonly used quotes on the backs of wildlife t-shirts, for student groups around the country. But, I've never seen any in text language. Always on the cutting edge, here!

Can you decipher these (or, should I say "cn u desIfer deez)?"

"IM glad Ill nt B yung ina fucha w/o wilderness."

"der r sum hu cn liv w/o wyld fings n sum hu cnot"

"We abuse l& coz we C it as a commodity belonging 2 us. wen we C l& as a comunity 2 wich we Blong, we may Bgin 2 uz it W lov n respect."
If you're the member of another generation, and you want to connect with your Millennial friends, you can translate English into texting at this web site (also can go backwards to English if you receive something you can't understand!).
**Thanks for the photo