Chris Helzer

I am an ecologist and program director for The Nature Conservancy. I’m responsible for the management and restoration of about 4,000 acres of Conservancy-owned land in central and eastern Nebraska – mostly along the central Platte River.  In addition, much of my time is devoted to developing, testing, and exporting techniques for prairie management and restoration.  To that end, I conduct a lot of research – both formal and informal – on how prairies function and how we as managers can help maintain that function and diversity.

I spend a lot of time photographing prairies and their inhabitants.  My photos can be frequently be seen in publications and on websites of The Nature Conservancy.  I’m also a frequent contributor of text and photos to NEBRASKAland magazine.

I’m the author of a book entitled “The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States”, published by the University of Iowa Press.

I live in Aurora, Nebraska, a beautiful small town right on the edge of tallgrass and mixed-grass prairie.

140 Responses to Chris Helzer

  1. Trey Davis says:

    Thanks much for this site, Chris.
    Trey Davis, TNC Wyoming

    • Chris Helzer says:

      You’re welcome. Glad to see someone west of me reading it! Let me know if there are topics or ideas I should address that would be helpful in your neck of the woods!

      • Todd Boller says:

        Chris I would like to talk to you about Tall and Flodman Thistles. If you could call me at 402-366-1921 I would appriciate it.

      • Warren McNeely says:

        The following question may not fit into your area of expertize, but I have wondered about it for years and if the rate of depletion of aquifers might be reduced as a result.

        The question is about the recharging of aquifers via rivers in the Missouri system. Does river/flood waters penetrate into the local or regional aquifers, in particular the Ogallala aquifer? Are there flood-prone areas which could be blocked in such a way as to prevent rapid discharge back into lower river, levels after flooding, so as to allow aquifer recharge to occur instead of just running off?

        Thanks for any comment you might have with regards to the foregoing.
        Warren McNeely

        • Chris Helzer says:

          Warren, as you guessed, I’m not enough of an expert to give you a definitive answer. Here’s my best guess, based on some degree of familiarity with the Missouri and similar river systems. I don’t think Missouri River floodwaters could have much impact on the aquifer for two big reasons. First, even though it seems like a massive amount of water, I don’t think the quantity of floodwater from a big MO river flood would actually amount to a very significant amount of recharge for the aquifer. Second, I think that if the floodwater was held back, as you propose (and a lot of that already happens just because of the topography of the area) much of it would evaporate and what soaks into the ground would be carried downstream because the groundwater beneath those floodplain areas (I THINK) flows in the same direction as the river. Sorry I can’t give you a more solid answer.

      • Steven Whisman says:

        How would wolves fit into a management and restoration plan?

        • Chris Helzer says:

          Steven, I’m not sure how to answer that. Wolves are not really a possibility in my part of Nebraska. Coyotes certainly play an important role as the largest common predator in our landscape, and if research from elsewhere applies here (and it should) they probably help suppress the population size of some of the slightly smaller predators (badgers, foxes, coons) and have a number of ripple effects through the ecosystem. Mountain lions may become more important as their populations increase, and could have a significant impact on deer behavior, which could impact our plant communities. Unfortunately, I can’t control any of those predator populations through our restoration and management work because we don’t own large enough parcels. We sure support having those predators on our properties, but some of our neighbors have other ideas and the way they manage predators on their land affects us as well.

    • J. Brent Harrel says:

      Chris, regarding your common milkweed post. I am a restoration biologist in KY with the USFWS. But my wife has bees and I was reading about which plants produce the most pollen-nectar for bees…. one acre of common milkweed through the bees can produces hundreds of pounds of honey. Very good for bees. Just FYI.

      • Chris Helzer says:

        Thanks Brent. It’s certainly a species that attracts pollinators of all kinds. Doesn’t surprise me that it makes lots of honey – though hundreds of pounds from a single acre is very impressive!

    • Mary says:

      Yes, thanks for this site. Would it be ok for my high school Environmental Science class(18 students) to subscribe to your blog? I want to increase their awareness of the beauty and problems in conserving biodiversity on the prairie. Oklahoma was once part of the great prairies of this country.
      Mrs. Tyler, Newcastle, OK.

  2. Nate Walker says:

    The blog looks great! Very intriguing topics so far and I’m sure more to come. Keep up the good work.
    Nate Walker
    Northern Prairies Land Trust

  3. Hi Chris,

    I’m doing a post featuring a few blogs, including yours. I’d love to include a thumbnail image of one of your favorite photos linked to this site. Would you be okay with this? You could either send me a jpeg or an image link. I hope to put the post up in the next day or so.

    Best regards,
    Ted C. MacRae

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Of course – you’re welcome to any of them. Let me know if you have one in particular you like.

      I’m not sure how to get it to you – is there an email address I can send it to you from as an attachment?

  4. Hi Chris — thanks, I’ll just hotlink one directly from this site since I have your permission. If you ever need to contact me, just go to the “Contact” page on my site.

  5. Chris Zeiner says:


    Wonderful blog, have been reading your posts for the past couple hours and taking in the great photos! I am looking forward to the next post!!

    Chris Zeiner
    McHenry County Conservation District

  6. Roy Plumlee says:

    I like the site. Can you answer a question for me about the Basal Bark Treatment of Small Trees? I read on your site that a 3:1 ratio of Crop Oil to Triclopyr is used to kill small trees anytime of year. Should the triclopyr be mixed with water, or used in the ratio, full-strength?

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Sure. No water, just straight triclopyr (Remedy, etc.) at 25% of the mix and crop oil at 75%. It’s a lot of undiluted herbicide, but you’ll use very very little on each tree, so it goes a long way.

      • Jim Gorman says:

        Does that mean there’s an easier way to kill young locust trees? It sure would save my back not having to prune them to ground level followed with a shot of Tordon. I suppose you mix up the triclopyr and crop oil in a 1 or 2 gallon sprayer? Thanks for the info.

        • Chris Helzer says:

          Jim – yes, the basal bark treatment methods works really well for locust trees. You can use a small cheap sprayer or a pvc wand (google “pvc herbicide wand” for a design). You can use the wand to apply the herbicide even more efficiently than with a sprayer.

  7. Dennis Toll says:

    Thanks for a great blog. I share your enthusiasm for prairie and the rich landscape created by grasses and wildflowers. There are many nature-based blogs, but very few dedicated to prairie ecology. I live in the Flint Hills of Kansas and have the privilege of seeing tallgrass prairie every day. I try, in my own non-expert-kind-of-way, to share my passion for this special ecosystem through words and pictures at So I am very glad to find more sites were grasslands are featured. Thanks!

  8. Cliff Gibbons says:

    Great site! I live in Central Georgia where there are no prairies, but fragmented tiny grasslands scattered between mixed pine/oak woodlots, pine plantations, and agricultural land. I have an interest in grassland plants as well as the butterflies and moths that inhabit them. I hope to visit a real prairie one of these days. Keep up the good work!

  9. Cliff Gibbons says:

    Thanks for the reply! Perhaps I will make it to Nebraska one day. Check out the following website ( Oaky Woods was a Wildlife Management Area that belonged to a private company, was bought by real estate developers, and now is in the process (at least in part) of being purchased by the State of Georgia in order to protect the unique habitat there. This site contains remnants of a type of prairie known as “black belt” prairie. There are some disjunct prairie plants there that are not very common east of the Mississippi. Anyway, this is as close to a praire as I can get in Central Georgia. Take care!

  10. Jim Peters says:

    Nice articles Chris. I relocated to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1997 from Missouri. I call Nebraska home now fully appreciating the ecological importance of the Platte River and our prairies. I’m an avid photographer as well and would love to assist with your research. The Nature Conservancy garners my most avid support and I hope to get more involved with this group when I retire in a few years. Perhaps someday an ecologically diverse lawn will be the status symbol versus the over fertilized and toxic green plots we see today and prize as “well maintained”.

  11. Jon Groelz says:

    Loving the Blog Chris! It’s been a long time since I’ve been back to Nebraska. I’ll have to stop by the next time I’m in Aurora to catch up!

    Jon Groelz (I used to work for Chris in Nebraska)
    Hilo, HI

  12. Timothy Barksdale says:

    I’ll be coming through from Montana on my way back to the midwest in early March. This is the final year of my film on the Greater Prairie Chicken for PBS. I’d like to stop to meet you and see if you might fit into some angle of this film….

    All my Best,


  13. Cortney says:

    As a born and raised Nebraskan, I really enjoy your blog. I’m living outside the state now but am longing to move home when I check your website. How did you get started with Prairie Restoration? Is this something lay people can get involved with? Thanks for all you work.

  14. Tracy Tucker says:

    I’m just completing my English and Great Plains Studies masters degree at UNL, but I’m interested in pursuing a career that has more to do with actual groundwork or activism than with academia. Could you tell me more about the Prairie Plains Resource Institute or other places that give fieldwork training?

  15. Susan Dunavan says:

    I came across The Prairie Ecologist while doing research on Nebraska Native Prairie biodiversity. We have native prairie in Southern York County that is in the path of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. It is heartbreaking to know that less than 6% of York County is pastureland and only a small fraction of that is native prairie that will be destroyed if the Department of State permit is approved. I have been trying to document what plants we have here to show TransCanada how priceless we consider our prairie to be. So far they could care less. Do you have any information on the alteration in vegetation productivity and phenology due to increased soil temperatures associated with heat input from pipelines? TransCanada insists that there is no effect on prairie plants. TransCanada also does not think there is any effect on prairie plants whose roots go up to 16 feet deep with the pipeline going in at a depth of 4 feet. Do you know how much biomass is lost underground per acre with the destruction of native prairie? If you could direct me to any research on these and other pipeline related issues, it would be greatly appreciated.

    Susan Dunavan

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Susan –
      A very tough situation. Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to give you much help (other than maybe some moral support).

      There is data out there on changes in soil after long-term farming (loss of organic matter is the biggest change) but I’m not aware of any research on changes following a one-time disturbance like excavating for a pipeline installation. And I don’t have any idea what might happen with the increased soil temps… My guess is that the root depths might not be a big deal because even with deep-rooted plants, the majority of their roots are shallow, and while you might have a few species that are unable to survive above the pipeline, the biggest problem will probably be the initial excavation, not the pipeline itself (excluding all the obvious issues that would arise if it leaks).

      I think that if the pipeline does end up going through your prairie, my best advice would be to put your resources into influencing the impacts of the soil disturbance. Any concessions you can get that would minimize the size of the footprint (area excavated) would be important, I think. And even more important will be the post-excavation remediation work. My guess is that they’ll offer to re-seed the site with some kind of perennial vegetation. Obviously, it’ll be important to keep them from using something like smooth brome or other invasive/exotic species. But even if you can get them to use native species, they’ll likely go with a low-diversity seeding of cultivar varieties of grass. Since you’re in York County, you might check with Bill Whitney of Prairie Plains Resource Institute in Aurora about the possibility of using their prairie seed for your project. They harvest seed from hundreds of prairie plants annually, and use them for prairie restoration projects around eastern and central Nebraska. If you can convince the TransCanada to use their seed mix, you’ll greatly reduce the risks from the project, I think, and limit the damage at least to some extent. In the worst case, you might have to refuse the seeding by TransCanada and see about having Bill seed yours separately. Maybe other landowners along the line would be interested in the same idea. You can get Bill at 402-694-5535 or I don’t suppose they could scalp the sod and save it – and then lay it down again afterwards…

      Other than that, I’m afraid I can’t offer much help. It sounds like the decision is up to the state dept now. My thoughts are with you.

      If you do have other questions, feel free to contact me, and I’ll do what I can to help.

      – Chris

    • Susan,

      FYI, Prairie Plains did some pipeline remediation work in Colfax County near the town of Richland, NE. I could be wrong, but I believe that the landowner was reimbursed in full by TransCanada for that work.

      Let me know if you are interested in discussing our restoration work.



  16. Emily says:

    Chris– As a Minnesotan, I fully appreciate the diversity that exists within prairies. Your photographs are lovelylovely, and make it amply clear that prairies are an ecosystem to learn from and cherish. Thank you. I look forward to stopping back here soon!

  17. Suzanne Tuttle says:

    Chris, I just returned from Rowe Sanctuary and had the opportunity to visit the Platte River prairie near Wood River. Your restoration sites look great – I’m interested to know how close they have begun to approximate the biotic community on the remnant site there.

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Hi Suzanne,
      Thanks! March isn’t necessarily the best time to see the prairies – but it’s a great time to see the cranes! Come back in the growing season sometime, and I’ll give you a tour.

      Your question is pretty complicated, actually. See my Jan 31 and Feb 4 posts to see what I’m trying to accomplish and how we’re trying to measure. The quick answer is that things look good so far. Plant species are establishing well, insect species that we’ve searched for seem to be moving in, but we’ve only looked at the easy ones (not rare and/or specialist species) so there’s much more to do there. Birds are easy to get. Lots more to measure but early signs are very positive.


  18. I’m pretty far away from Nebraska (not much prairie restoration going on in Maryland) but I’m very thankful for your blog. It is interesting, informative, and well-written.

  19. Fabulous articles – we’re using them to teach one of our field courses about ecosystems, and will be traveling through the area this summer with students using a lot of your information. Great site! Thanks for taking the time to do this.

  20. Bob Harrold says:

    Chris, I enjoyed your presentation for the 2011 TNC training exchange in Gothenburg. I’m a burn contractor with Prescription Pyro and a wildland fire fighter from Broken Bow, NE I’m working on a lot of reserve acres to restore and upgrade the native prairies. We have been using your theory to connect all the little pieces of ground to make a bigger and more diverse habitat. We use a lot of pivot corners and pastures to do this. I’m trying to find more books, learning material on fire ecology and native Nebraska’s tall grass prairies and how to restore them. If you have any suggestions I would appreciate the help. Thanks for your time. Bob H.

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Bob – I’m glad you enjoyed the presentation. My prairie management book, of course, could be some use to you. If you’re looking for prairie restoration advice (converting cropland to prairie) you can download a really nice guide from There is also a range guide there – a prairie management guide for ranchers. If those don’t give you what you need, feel free to call or email me anytime!

  21. Tom Lynn says:

    Hey Chris, love your blog. I’m learning so much from reading it. I’m currently photographing a prairie in Wisconsin for a book project that the International Crane Foundation is working on. I would enjoy talking to you about the project.

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Tom – I’d be happy to talk. I’m traveling for the next two weeks, but if you want to call or email the last week of July, maybe we can find a good time.

  22. Frank Reid says:

    Here’s a concept that I would like to see, the EXPLOSION of mayflies, at least here in the east. Bellevue, Plattsmouth, Omaha, we have been innundated with mayflies. As a fly fisherman, I would call them a “mahogany dun.” However, I’ve seen a couple that could only be hexagenia females.
    We don’t have that much clear, clean running water near us. Some of these bugs have been a couple of miles from running water. Its impressive. If the Missouri was open right now, I would have my fly rod in hand and be chasing down the hatch.
    I’ve lived here, on and off, since 1990. Don’t ever recall seeing so many mayflies. Now if we could only dam the Platte at Ashland and make that lake with the tail water fishery….

  23. Jim Gorman says:


    This is the link I was hoping you would correct and repost:


  24. jaime says:

    Hey Chris! Nice work!
    I love prairies and the Nature Conservancy! Keep up the good PR!!

  25. Nice article on grassland bird migration!

  26. Darvin Ische says:

    Chris, I discovered your website as I was researching management for my 31 acre prairie in Minnesota. Burning is expensive when you hire it out? Is there comments or ideas, as the first section of our prairie is now about 4 years since seeded and will need a burn soon.
    Some of the benifits of our grass and forbs and legumes have been: finding a fawn laying in the grass this spring, lots of dragon flies, butterflies, frogs, toads, and garden spiders, and snakes, and birds gallore. There seems to be something new or differant on every visit to the prairie. Thank you!

    • Chris Helzer says:


      Glad you found us! Sounds like you’re seeing great results from your young prairie – great to hear. Yes, burning can be expensive in some cases, if you have to hire someone to do it. Every state (and part of state) is different in terms of what’s available for contractors and what it costs. Sometimes multiple landowners can get together and help each other burn, but that only fits well in some situations. My best advice would be to check with the Minnesota DNR or another local conservation agency to find out what your options are where you’re at. Sorry to not have a simpler answer…

      Also, remember that if your 31 acres is isolated from other prairies, you might not want to burn the whole thing at once. Some of the species you mentioned seeing will be vulnerable to fire – even in the early spring – and by leaving a portion unburned, you’ll increase your chances that the populations will have refuges from the flames and unburned habitat, for those species that need it.

  27. Chris,

    I thought you and your readers would be interested in this paper on the impact of grassland management on insect communities, especially given your recent post on our dearth of knowledge on taxa beyond birds:


    • Chris Helzer says:

      Thanks Lisa! Someone sent me that paper a couple weeks ago – very interesting. The idea of long legacies from past management and the long-lasting impacts of those management regimes is an important concept, I think. I appreciate you posting the link here.

  28. christina devillier says:


    My name’s Christina deVillier. I work for TNC on the Zumwalt Prairie in NE Oregon. I found this blog–and it’s a cool blog!–via your pamphlet called Thistle Defense.

    We’re working on restoration on our prairie too, of course, and part of that effort is reseeding some disturbed areas with native forbs. Apparently, the prairie restoration community only wants to do restoration work with innocuous pretty things–I’ve wandered all over the internet looking for any guidelines on the best planting practice for native thistles. We’ve got different varieties over here than you have in Nebraska (specifically Cirsium brevifolium), but do you have any thoughts about when to plant (spring or fall), whether the seeds might like some pre-treatment (stratification), etc? Just a neighborly sharing of information question :)

    Either way, good luck with your work. Prairie solidarity. All the best!

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Hi Christina,

      We’ve had good luck just harvesting and planting native thistle species as we do with any other seeds. We harvest them when they start to fluff out, store them in paper sacks, and then plant them either in the fall (November or later) or early spring (March or April at the latest). So far, so good. I can’t say we’ve seen a difference in establishment based on planting time, and we haven’t played around with any other pre-treatments… They seem to show up pretty easily. Of course, we’re dealing with fairly common species, so they apparently don’t have any trouble in “real life” either. The species we deal mostly with are Cirsium altissimum, C. flodmanii, and C. undulatus.

      GLad you found the blog! Visit often…


  29. Gerald "Jerry" Jasmer says:

    Hey Chris!
    Nice site. You are a great spokesperson for prairies and ecology with both your images and and words! Tell Norm Hi!

  30. Ed Davies says:

    Chris, your blog is simply wonderful. In the spirit of giving great information, please allow me to recommend a book that I am 100% certain you (and anyone following your blog) will find highly satisfying. The title is “Diary of an Amazon Jungle Guide: Amazing Encounters with Tropical Nature and Culture”, by Paul Beaver. You can read about it here:

  31. Frank Reid says:

    One thing I’ve been trying to do with my prairie restoration is restore the soil. I’ve been using Omagrow and other such treatments as my acreage is an over taxed bean and corn field. Just found a product that I’m trying out, Sumagrow ( Finally, a way to replenish the soil at a microbial level. Been reading the research, looks promising. However, there is currently no place to buy it in Nebraska (have to go on-line). Have you heard of it? Any comments?

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Frank, I’d like to hear from others on this topic – and may post an article at some point to get feedback. Here’s my take at the point in time: I’m skeptical of the idea of introducing microorganisms to a site. With any introduction, there are risks of unintended consequences. Those risks, it seems to me, multiply rapidly when we’re introducing species into communities we have very little understanding of.

      I also think it’s important be clear about objectives. Are you building the soil to improve productivity of an agricultural commodity? If not, it’s probably worth considering what you really want as an output. In my experience, most plant species (almost all) will readily establish in previously farmed soils, and they (along with the invertebrates and microorganisms that colonize with them – immediately or somewhat later) will act to diversify the soil faunal community. We still have an awful lot to learn about this facet of grasslands, but we’re slowly gaining. In the meantime, I’d avoid introducing anything…

      • Frank Reid says:

        Key thing I’m trying to do is get the areas to grow without fertilizer. Right now, the soil is so poor, the only area that grows is over the septic field. Buffalo grass is not spreading or even putting out shoots, blue grama has no seed heads. I was trying to build an “understory” in the field before I put in anything taller. Will try it on select areas and sparingly.

  32. Patricia (Patsy) Mettenbrink says:

    Hi Chris, Thanks for your dedication to the Prairie! I was unable to attend 7/13/12 event day (Hall Co Fair) and am wondering if you have had feed back from the bee and ant experts? We are hardly seeing any bees this year in & around our yard/garden and pastures, and usually by this time with the plants blooming they are buzy ! we have noticed an increase in ant activity, (probably due to drought & sparse vegetative cover) as ant hills seem especially bigger than years past. Keep up the good work!

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Hi Patricia – I did do a quick report on the blog (a few weeks ago) about the insect visit, and will have more details in the coming months. I’m still seeing a lot of bees around, but they are concentrated in the few places that flowers are still blooming! I don’t know why ants would be more or less abundant than normal, but as you say, they might be easier to see with the sparse cover!

  33. Kim Klinetobe says:

    Hi Chris,
    I really enjoyed your lecture about prairies at the Science Cafe last night. I was taken with your description of the open and stark beauty of prairies and I’ve always felt that Nebraska has a unique natural beauty. Also, thanks again for your feedback to my question about milkweed and aphids. One of the many benefits of gardening with natives-they stand up to pests better!

  34. Scott Kemper says:

    I learned a lot at last week’s Science Cafe, and what you talked about and showed us left me with many more questions about the prairies around us.
    The Missouri Valley Group Sierra Club is interested in having you as a speaker. Please email me about that possibility.
    Thank you for the Science Cafe, your blog and your educational efforts.

  35. Tim Kozusko says:

    Nice work. I’m going to link here from my website. I hope to visit your prairie someday. I am involved in ecology at the Kissimmee Prairie in Florida and have long been interested in comparing-contrasting the two with a visit.
    Tim Kozusko

  36. Chris Carattini says:

    I really enjoyed your photographs of the prairie, I love the unique landscapes that prairies provide and feel that only a special few people today really appreciate them for what they are. I used to live in western North Dakota (near the Bad Lands) and now live in Chadron, NE. We had many terrible fires last fall that burned serveral acres of forest and prairie land. I think it just a cycle we are living through right now.
    I am a non-traditional college student at CSC and am living and renting a home here – on the west edge of Chadron. I want to plant some prairie or wild flowers in my yard, something that can with stand heat and dryness. Any suggestions?
    Thanks and keep up the great work!
    ~Chris Carattini

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Chris. In terms of plants, there are a number of good possibilities – the trick is finding sources of seed or plants for them. I would suggest looking at Jon Farrar’s field guide of wildflowers of Nebraska and listing the ones that occur in western Nebraska and that you like the look of. Then you can look for plants of those species from nurseries and seed companies. Since you’re at CSC, I would look up Steve Rolfsmeier and/or Chuck Butterfield at the college and ask them for their suggestions. I think grasses like buffalograss, and blue and hairy grama are really nice for yards. There are lots of great wildflowers, but many may be hard to find seed from. One that you should be able to find pretty easily, though, is shell leaf penstemon – one of my favorites. Good luck!

  37. Chris Carattini says:

    Thanks for the ideas Chris! I’ll look into it!

  38. kjsgarden says:

    Chris, I wonder if you’ve heard this TED talk about reversing desertification? Allen Savory has some interesting things to say which made me think of your work in prairie restoration. Hope you enjoy and feel it’s good research.

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Thanks. Yes, I saw it. Tried to watch it, but just couldn’t. Savory and I see the world very differently. One big example is that I think fire is an important ecological process. Savory – not so much.

      • Julia Winter says:

        Uh, do you realize how closed minded that makes you sound? Really, you couldn’t spare less than half an hour for the most impressive talk (by reports) of the latest TED talk, because this guy challenges your chosen strategy?

        Greg Judy is a cattleman in Missouri who has been doing this sort of thing there for years. Prairie plants are showing up on his land without being planted. Bird species and amphibians are returning. This accomplished with managed use of ruminants, no herbicides, no fire.

        Can you accept that possibly there is more than one way to restore prairie?

        • Chris Helzer says:

          Julia – sorry to offend you. Don’t misunderstand me. I am very familiar with Allan Savory’s thinking, so not watching the TED talk isn’t keeping me ignorant of his ideas. I absolutely agree there are multiple ways to restore prairie. I also think it’s ok to disagree about strategies and objectives. Disagreeing about whether or not fire is important doesn’t make me an enemy of Savory or anyone else. It just means we disagree.

  39. karla from colorado says:

    Ah, yes I can see that difference now that you mention it. He did say he’s changed his thinking in many ways and has regrets about much of his earlier work…

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Thanks Karla, I’d be interested to hear about his evolution in thinking – maybe I’ll watch the video after all. I appreciate you letting me know.

      • kjsgarden says:

        You’re very welcome, Chris. Sounds like he’s had a considerable reversal if philosophy. Hope you’re encouraged by it if you can watch it!
        Cheers for a good weekend,

  40. Pingback: Tuning Into Fire Frequency | The Roaming Ecologist

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  42. Great Blog Chris – Thank you. I love the photo of the western hognose. Keep the great info coming.

  43. Ernst Strenge says:

    Chris ~ Enjoy reading your posts! Thanks for all that you do for the prairie ecosystem. My family and I will be driving to and from the Omaha area on I-80 the weekend of July 26 – 29. Is it possible to visit the preserve? Thanks!

  44. Beth DiGioia says:

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge!
    I recently read a re-print of your article (Vol. 34 No. 2 Missouri Prairie Journal).
    It was the best explanation of why our weather has been so crazy.
    I periodically send out information to a small mailing list and I was wondering if
    you would mind if I re-printed your article “Why a Warming Climate is Making This
    Spring so Cold (… and Last Spring so Warm)?

  45. Ben from Minneapolis says:

    Chris – I stumbled across your site tonight, great job; it’s been marked with as a ‘favorite.’ I live in the city and despite being a fragmented prairie at best I’ve been turning my alley strip and boulevard strips into ‘prairie.’ Start small and dream big! I look forward to visiting more in the future.

  46. Mary says:

    Thanks, look for us in 2 wks.

  47. Becky M says:

    Chris – I recently subscribed to you blog, and I love it! It is very informative and the photos are great. I’m a native of MO and now live just across the border in KS, and enjoy visitng the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve there, when I get a chance. I will enjoy it much more now after reading your posts. Just wondering if you are related to the Helzer’s in NW MO. My mother was a Helzer.

  48. Ken Graeve says:

    Hey Chris
    I’ve recently started sending blog-like emails (not sophisticated enough for an actual blog yet) out to a group of folks involved in roadside vegetation management at the Minnesota DOT, as well as a handful of weed inspectors, etc. I’m trying to foster a culture in which roadsides are a first line of defense against new invasive species rather than one of the most notorious vectors for their spread. Part of doing this is increasing folks’ basic knowledge of what is out there. Your goldenrod post is a pefect fit–i was just talking to a co-worker about the allergy misconception last week, and even besides that i know a lot of folks just see it as a weed, and some even spray it. I couldn’t write it or illustrate an explanation/introduction to goldenrods nearly as well myself. Do you mind if i pass your post on to my group?

    ken graeve

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Ken – please do. You might take a look at some other old posts as well. You can just do a search for “invasive species” or “weeds” from the search window on the front page of the blog to see what you can find. Good for you – good luck with the blog/emails!

  49. Jerry Jasmer says:

    Hey Chris!
    i admire the outreach and education you are doing through your site. The photos arent too shabby either. :) Giant Blue Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is being promoted lately as a favored pollinator plant. I can’t say that I am familiar with it. What can you tell me about it? Jerry Jasmer.

    Ps- tell Bill hi!

  50. Jerry Jasmer says:

    Your post earlier about the bum reputation of sunflowers is dead on. Sunflowers are one of the most benign weeds out there.

  51. Chris,

    Again, thanks for another wonderful blog (10/28/13). I was hoping to get permission from you to share this blog with followers of the Johnson County Conservation Dept. on Facebook and Twitter. There are a lot of prairie enthusiasts attempting to bring prairie into urban environments and I think you have provided some great insight. Please let me know and thanks for providing great information and inspirations.

    Brad Freidhof

  52. Beth Hayden says:

    Chris, your blog on the conservation value of backyard prairies is fantastic. Thanks for sharing your expertise and insights.

  53. Chris–You’ll be interested in this paper just out in Science: Reconstructing the Microbial Diversity
    and Function of Pre-Agricultural Tallgrass Prairie Soils in the United States, by Noah Fierer and others. I’m hoping you’ll blog about it.

  54. Andy P says:

    Your gorgeous photos have shown me a side of prairies that I didn’t know existed.

  55. Leroy Haeffner says:

    Happy thanksgiving to you and thanks for the great TD wish. Great picture of Bison. I am enjoying getting your stuff. Have worked with prairie since mid70’s when burnt first one in eastern colorado while@ CSU. Had career in helping establish postage stamp ones for NRCS and now get to manage a couple small ones as caretaker of the Waspsi Environmental ed center in eastern Iowa. appreciate all you do God bless Leroy

    So much to learn and already 63. Oh how my attitude have changed over the years about introduced stuff! yuck Thanks again would love to get out to visit! and walk you land

  56. Tom says:

    Enjoy your blog very much. I found a plant in the Prairie Moon catalogue called French grass (Psoralea onobrychis) and have been trying to find out why it’s called that. Issue #1, it’s not a grass at all. As I was googling around I found a related species, Psoralea americana L., with a native range of Italy, Sicily, and Spain. ( What’s up with that?

  57. Tom says:

    Thanks Chris. We have blue-eyed grass at the farm where I work in Maryland. Hairy star grass sounds interesting. I can make some sort of guess about French grass and early trappers and explorers, but how a plant that doesn’t grow in the new world wound up with americana in its name befuddles me. Keep up the great posts!

  58. Steve Nelle says:

    I have recently become more acutely aware of the role of soil microrganisms in a healthy grassland. Specifically, here in central Texas, we are near the southern tip of the natural range of tall grass savanna. On some sites we have an abundance of little bluestem but a total absence of big bluestem. On other more degraded sites, we have no remaining tall grasses but only the low and mid successional species. We have attempted to re-seed a native mix on hundeds and hundreds of sites over the past decades where we know little and big bluestem once occurred in significant amount. We get good results from sideoats and other grasses but almost no success with the two native bluestems. In your opinion, might this be due to long term alteration of soil fungi? Big bluestem colonies are few and far between in central Texas, due in large part to a history of poor grazing management – but how do we get it back? We can get Indiangrass and switchgrass to come up in these mixes, but not little or big blue. Any insights you can provide would be appreciated.

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Steve, I have NO idea, and would hate to guess. It’s an intriguing situation. It could certainly be microorganisms, but I’ve never heard of those grasses having trouble establishing for that reason. Sorry not to be much help! I would ask some University Extension specialists or others down in Texas, I think.

  59. Chris – shame on you for not suggesting that Steve contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in that area. Their ecological site expertise should be able to narrow the possible causes of this considerably. Steve should be able to find the appropriate contact through the Texas NRCS Plant Materials specialist:

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Jerry – I am appropriately chastened. You’re absolutely right, and thanks for providing Steve the actual contact to get him started!

      • Steve Nelle says:

        Gerald and Chris – Thanks for the comment and the referral to NRCS. Ironically, I am retired from NRCS after a 35 year career as a Range Conservationist and Biologist. I have worked very closely with Ecological Site Descriptions and the Plant Materials Program for many years. Even with all of the expertise and experience we have access to, we still do not have a good handle on why we are not able to get big bluestem and little bluestem to come up from re-seeding efforts in central Texas. Sadly enough, the easy solution is to include exotic grasses in these mixes to guarantee some establishment. That has been the culture of most NRCS range seeding efforts for many years. But there are more and more landowners who want to restore native plant diversity consistent with hisorical plant communities and some of us are seeking better solutions than we have been using. I have since done a bit of internet research on the relationship between big bluestem and mycorrhizal fungi and the relationship seems very clear. Perhaps our soils have been so biologically degraded that the appropriate fungi is missing. I know that central Tx is a long way form Nebraska and our challenges and problems may be different.
        Texas t

  60. No Problem! Norm and I are proud of the work you are doing.

  61. Steve, sorry I should have recognised your name. I was state wildlife biologist in Nebraska for 15 years. Sounds like you have a real puzzle there and I applaud your efforts to stick with the natives. Have you tried innoculating those “sterile soils” will some soil from an area that does support bluestems and then seeding in such areas? Couldnt do it on a large scale. Can mycorrhizal fungi can spread through the soil to “recollonize an area”?

  62. Steve Nelle says:

    Gerlald and others – I am going to try this approach of innoculating areas with soil material from beneath a BB colony. I am ashamed to admit that for all of these years, most of us in the conservation business in Texas have not had much appreciation or knowledge of soil biology and especially the role of fungi for healthy soils and healthy grasslands. I guess it is never too late to start learning these things.

  63. Jim in IA says:

    Chris…I’m eager to explore some of your posts. We live near Iowa City and enjoy the outdoors.

  64. Chris I’m in editing phase of my next novel about The Great Drought- its fictional and literary but with kindred heart.

  65. Pingback: Never Mind Biodiversity. Think Color, Movement, Noise « strange behaviors

  66. Rob Gardner says:

    Hello, Chris! I found your website through the announcement of your speaking engagement in Saskatchewan in January. I am very interested in your “patch burn grazing” experience. In southern Alberta, where I manage Nature Conservancy of Canada lands, ranchers are very concerned about fires. At the same time, I am concerned about the loss of floristic diversity due to repeated similar grazing by cattle. Could it be possible to create similar impacts by “burning” patches of grassland with intense grazing, using electric fences or salt locations? Or by mowing the patch quite short? This approach could help demonstrate the need for more diversity in grazing regimes, and allow ranchers to appreciate why some burning may be valuable. As it stands now, the only fires are cataclysmic wildfires covering up to 50 square miles.
    By the way, there appears to me to be an error in the 2011 paper on Patch Burn Grazing. Are the fields labelled correctly? Thanks for your inspiration! Rob Gardner, NCC, Medicine Hat, AB

  67. Wolfgang Golser says:

    Hello Chris!
    Thank you for this site! I really enjoyed the digital image photo section. I was recently in Oklahoma, where I spend a couple of weeks working on the prairie. I certainly do have an appreciation for that and realize how essential it is to protect it. Being from southern Arizona, I am reminded of the Canelo Hills, which is similar in many way to the prairie. They are located between the Santa Rita Mountains and Huachuca Mountains. During the cooler months in Arizona, the Canelo Hills are also a great place for hiking. No doubt, I did enjoy some hiking while I was in Oklahoma. Those are all great places. I also appreciate the important conservation work, which you are involved with. Continue the good work!

  68. mark nupen says:

    Hello Chris, I have become a big fan of your blog. I am president of the Friends of Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area in northwestern Wisconsin. This is a pine barrons habitat open and brushy. I have thought about setting undeveloped trail markers so visitors driving by on our dirt roads can stop at a ‘notable place’ to observe an unusually good spot for the plants at that particular season.

    Have you ever done that at your sites??? Advertise an undeveloped walk through the brushy area to observe what we think is a good trail to observe something spectacular for that part of the summer season??

    Let me know your thoughts.


    mark nupen

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Hi Mark, Great to hear from you. I’m afraid I don’t have much experience with what you’re asking about. We don’t get very many drive-by or walk-in visitors. We have developed a couple of hiking trails that are just mowed paths through the prairie and provide a simple trail guide people can take with them, but that’s about it. I think your ideas are worth trying, I just don’t have much to add! Good luck.

  69. mark nupen says:

    Thanks Chris as always for your suggestions.
    How do you educate or inform those planning to take the trail what is there and what to see????
    Your site is seasonal and will have different attractions at different times. Do you have a guide of what to see and what time of the seasons????

    I see you have a trail guide and could you send a copy of this trail guide to me: (or is it available online?) Do they pick up the trail guide at the trail site???

    I am curious if using an electronic can pick up the guide when they are at the site and might have text, pictures and even audio/video has been tried. Have you tried that or do you know who has?? Museum’s sometimes have an audio/visual guide to use when at the museums???

    Mark Nupen
    920 Brisbin St.
    Anoka, MN 55303

    Just like growing up in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona, it is not obvious to most people what there is to see in the desert and of course it is seasonal. How do we advertise it and then inform once they are on the site????



  70. Benny says:

    Hi Chris,

    I am not sure if this has been asked / addressed before. It it has, I apologize. I just wanted to find out if there were volunteer opportunities to assist with work needed on the prairies. I would love to come out some time this summer and help in any way I can and perhaps snap some photos in the meantime.

    I thank you very kindly in advance and look forward to hearing back from you.


  71. Jim O. says:

    Hello Chris, I really enjoy your photos as well as your posts. Certainly make me appreciate nature and want to get outside all the more. We lived in Grand Island for several years and am now in a small town (Delano) outside of Minneapolis. Keep up the great work and all the best!

  72. Nathan Wheeler says:

    Hi Chris – I wonder if you have resources you could direct me towards that might help me form a list of accurate and measurable indicators of soil quality and/or soil improvement over time. This is a broad category and I’m sure the specific numbers vary depending on what you are improving soil towards, but there must be some fairly universal metrics one could apply to a scientific approach towards improving soil. In short, I’m not convinced that “amount of vegetative growth” is a particularly useful metric when considering long-term soil rehabilitation. My current working list, simplified into short phrases, reads:

    * Diversity of perennial plant species supported
    * Chemical composition of soil
    * Depth and color of topsoil ( as a function of total organic matter present in soil )
    * Amount of microbial activity and predominant microbe species
    * Consistency of plant re-establishment after disturbance ( fire / high intensity grazing / extreme freezing event )

    Taking this one step further, is it possible to define ranges for these ( or other, perhaps better ) indicators in different climates and/or ecosystems? For instance, soil being rehabilitated towards supporting grazing pasture vs soil being rehabilitated for establishment of integrated orchard. For context, I am starting with highly degraded rolling hill terrain from which most nutrient has been leeched by over-intensive farming of tobacco and cotton followed by poor cattle grazing practices ( an all too common situation in Central North Carolina ). We have 1/2″ to 1″ of highly compacted topsoil over deep red highly acidic clay. Our objective is to rebuild soil structure via intensive animal rotations with cover cropping, building towards perennial pasture that can support a mixed herd of cattle, sheep, goats, chickens and perhaps a mule or two. Hogs will be added to the mix as well but in a limited capacity.


    • Chris Helzer says:

      Nathan, I’m not the right person to ask. I think the terminology around “soil health” is complicated and varied. We also don’t know all we need to know, especially about soil microbe communities. I feel like there is sometimes too much narrow focus on a few metrics such as organic matter, without thinking more broadly about the larger ecosystem (plant diversity, habitat conditions, etc.). As you explore, be aware that there are a lot of perspectives, and take a look at a variety of them to see what fits your interests/thoughts best.

  73. Hey Chris and Nathan, I suggest visiting with one of these folks with NRCS in Lincoln or Huron SD.: Mike Kucera at 402-437-4133 or Jeff Hemenway 605-352-1240 or Stan Boltz 605-352-1236 They are at the cutting edge of soil health metrics/indicators in the field on both cropland and grasslands.

    • Nathan Wheeler says:

      Thanks so much for the responses. Recognizing the complexity of soil systems is what has prompted my asking the question. Although we clearly can’t reduce soil health to a list of variables, in order to continually improve our understanding of the impact we are having on a system through animal grazing, crop rotation or whatever other techniques we adopt, it seems imperative to be measuring things that matter rather than things that just feel good to see. I’ll follow up with the folks in the post from Gerald. Thanks again for the thoughts. ( Chris, I really enjoy your writing and appreciate the work you are doing … it is inspiring as I muddle through the generally unfocused information available on the web )

  74. Josh Preister says:

    Hello Chris,
    I was hoping to get some additional insight on triclopyr usage and the potential impact on pollinators. From what I’ve researched, the products site states that it only focuses on plant enzymes, and only mentions honey bees in regards to impact.

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Josh, I reached out to a couple of people who know more about this than I do. The consensus seems to be that any impacts of triclopyr are minor. I wouldn’t let those concerns stop you from using triclopyr for management treatments that will do greater good for a number of species besides just pollinators. I’ll forward an email or two that will have more details.


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