December 29, 2012

A Christmas Elk?

With appreciation from the Keith County Historical Society, Ogallala, Nebraska. Donated by Mrs. William H. Copeland. 

It's the end of the year, and I have been busy as I try to organize all the photos and stories that I gathered this year from various archives around Nebraska.  As many of you know, I am currently writing a book on the history of wildlife in Nebraska--with a focus on how people have changed landscapes and therefore affected the wildlife in our state.  The book will be filled with stories and photos like the one above.

Culture also changes with time.  The photo is from the Keith County Historical Society. The photo shows shows the Keith County Market, a butcher shop in Ogallala, NE at Christmas time in 1888. It was donated to the Historical Society by Mrs. William H. Copeland, the granddaughter of the butcher at the right in the photo. These personal records are key to understanding how important wildlife has been to the history of Nebraska, and how our landscape and culture have changed since these photos were taken. How many species of wild animals can you see in this photo?!

Did you run out and grab your Christmas Elk this year?  Odds are, you did not.  And, odds are that you did not eat elk all year.  Most of us gobble up beef as a main source of protein, now; as we explored on this blog before, citizens of the US did not always enjoy beef.  We relied much more on wild animals, and had a much more diverse diet! 

So, Happy Holidays to one and all, and enjoy this photo as a window to days gone by, when elk were available in the vicinity of Ogallala (they are now about an hour south or a couple hours north) and when Christmas meant a trip to the butcher to get a measure of nature's bounty.

By the way: if you have stories or photos you would like to share with me, click here to find out how to contact me.  I would love to hear stories or see photos from your family's collection!

December 28, 2012

Our agreement

I have an agreement with the
large bucks of Nebraska
that stipulates that we will
only come face to face
when I am not carrying my rifle.

This agreement works especially well
for two reasons:
I did not go hunting as much as I should,
and bucks are well-suited to avoid me when I do.

Just yesterday, I was visiting a friend
and awoke early to look out the
bedroom window
to spot a 10-point creature
slowly making its way across
the alfalfa field to the far cedars.
Hunting season: check.
Permit purchased: check.
Gun/ammunition: no.

But, as much as I need a day in the field
that ends with that sacred moment
hidden in a swale while you come
face to face with your own mortality,
I am also grounded by
the view of the tail of that buck as it disappears
into the cedars to prove
that I mean absolutely nothing to him.

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 even as the fog rose
and finally we were standing
as captains of a ship
that has risen from the depths
in an ocean of grass and hills.

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

December 23, 2012

Pittman and Robertson never considered this

I always enjoy games where people try to connect two seemingly disparate topics. Want to play? OK, try this on for size:

(1) Mass shooting tragedies and (2) funding for wildlife research

What is the connection? Give up?

The connection is that tragedies like December's horrific shootings in Connecticut usually start conversations about guns and gun control. Those conversations make some people nervous, and those people go to gun stores and buy handguns and other firearms they fear may be outlawed in the near future. When they buy those guns, they pay an excise tax (11%; handguns: 10%) that is applied to all guns and ammunition. And, the federal government distributes those funds to the states to fund habitat management and research to support game species of wildlife (as well as hunter education programs).

And, it appears to be happening again. Gun stores are reporting record sales. And, wildlife research should be well-funded for the next couple of years. An odd turn, to say the least.

The legislation that supports this excise tax was passed during the midst of the Depression in 1937; it was the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, but is most often referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act. Pittman and Robertson were federal legislators from Nevada and Virginia. The Act was a grand idea, and a unique part of the American experience--hunters supporting conservation.

Of course, Pittman and Robertson most likely never considered the large collector market, much less the potential for non-hunting weapons to contribute to the pot of funds. In the coming year, we citizens will debate the best way to protect society, and especially our children. A bit of common sense shall do us well.

December 1, 2012

The Great Plains shelterbelt plan

If you watched Ken Burns' "The Dust Bowl" documentary, you saw some brief references to a large plan to create a network of shelterbelts, or wind breaks, throughout the Great Plains. I did a bit of digging around, and found some interesting photos and tidbits about this program.

For Cornhuskers, you might be interested to know that Lincoln, Nebraska was home to this regional project for the USDA Forest Service. The USDA Agroforestry Research Center on the East Campus of UNL is the modern-day, visible sign of this federal investment in the midst of the Depression.

The US Forest Service archives have a couple cool photos that I thought I would share here. It is an example of how the landscape of the Great Plains has been altered by government policies. The shelterbelt program was credited with slowing wind erosion in local areas.

The US Forest Service estimates that shelterbelts were placed on 30,000 farms (over 200 million trees), and the total length of shelterbelts was 18,600 miles (circumference of the earth at equator: approximately 25,000 miles).

The addition of trees to the Plains has had far-reaching effects on wildlife diversity as well. More deer, turkeys, and shrub and forest-dwelling birds now populate the Plains.

Public Photos:
Map of areas of highest planting intensity, 1935-42, available on-line at:

Photo of Raphael Zon, standing in front of map of proposed planting areas, available on-line at: