New Year Gratitude

With the dawning of another year, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who reads and responds to this blog.  I’ve been amazed and humbled by the number of you who regularly visit this site.  There are currently 437 of you who are email subscribers, and quite a few more of you who follow the blog in other ways.  On an average day, about 300 people visit the site, and that number continues to grow steadily.  It’s astonishing, really.

The readership of the blog spans quite a range of geography, backgrounds and interests.  There are naturalists, photographers, farmers, ranchers, scientists, birdwatchers, and many others.  I don’t know where most of you live, but I know that there are regular readers from all over North America, as well as from Australia and Europe.  Some of you follow the blog mainly for the photography while others enjoy the nitty gritty of prairie ecology, management and restoration discussions.  Hopefully, you’ll continue to find enough of what draws you here to hold your interest, but I also hope you’re enjoying being exposed to new and different ideas.

Late day light on prairie grasses - central Nebraska. As always, you can click on a photo to see a larger and sharper version of it.

I would love to hear from any or all of you about where you’re from, what you like or don’t like about the blog, and especially ideas you have for future topics we should explore together.  Please feel free to leave a comment below (if you don’t see a place to leave comments, click on the title of this blog post and then scroll down to the bottom).

Perhaps more than anything else, I really appreciate the tone of the discussions we’ve had.  There have been some topics that have brought out strong opinions and emotions from readers (e.g. the use of fire and/or grazing) and have stimulated numerous back and forth comments between you and me – as well as between readers.  While some of you have disagreed strongly with me and with comments from other readers, I have never yet had to censor or delete a comment to this blog.  All of the comments have been appropriately respectful of others and their opinions, even while disagreeing with them.  I can’t thank you enough for that.

Finally, I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned writing this blog.  I’ve made it a personal objective to publish something at least twice a week.  That frequency forces me to regularly explore new topics and expand upon familiar ones.  I learn from researching ideas, organizing my thoughts while writing, and – most of all – from your responses.

One of my greatest hopes for this blog is that it can help facilitate a sense of community among people who enjoy prairies.  I can see signs of that happening, which is fantastic.  Please continue to participate in discussions through this blog, and let me know if you have other ideas about how to make this a more effective platform.  Also, thank you to all of you who have helped expand our little group by forwarding posts to others you think would be interested.  Keep that up!

Thanks again, and have a spectacular New Year!

This entry was posted in General and tagged , , , , , by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

29 thoughts on “New Year Gratitude

  1. Same to you Chris. I find your blog enlightening and beneficial as I continue to provide management guidelines for a remnant Blackland prairie located in the middle of the city (Dallas, Texas.) Looking forward to a New Year!

  2. Thanks, Chris. Your blog is terrific! Whether a person’s interests mainly lean toward restoring populations of plants and pollinators or of pronghorns and prairie wolves, restorations of meaningful places will continue to depend on motivated people and effective organizations. Sometime, we might our share lists of those groups that are getting the good work done. Happy New Year!

  3. Chris, Thanks for keeping the blog up and running. There are many times when I am pleasantly surprised by the insights gleaned from reading your musings. Your photos are top notch and beautiful. I look forward to the blog addressing the human interaction with natural processes. Nature has not been separate from man’s touch for many thousands of years now and I think it is an area that is sometimes ignored in the conservation community. We know the native Americans set fires, farmed the land, cut trees and cleared forests and all that had its effects over the years.
    Hope 2012 is a great and productive one for you and yours.
    Happy shooting, Ernie

  4. Hi Chris — as an entomologist, I have little opportunity to involve myself with prairie management but have great interest in the invertebrate fauna that is impacted by such activities. Thanks for bucking the “floral diversity” only focus of so many land managers and considering impacts on insects also as you explore options for managing our few remaining prairies.

  5. Hi Chris. I live in Colorado Springs now but I did live briefly in Nebraska and there is a beauty and splendor to those prairies which touched my soul. I enjoy your photos and your blog. I’m an advocate of nature and wild places and I love the way you strive to preserve and recreate a natural prairie environment. I’m also a photographer and you do an excellent job of capturing the beauty and wildness of the prairies. Keep up the great work!


  6. Hi Chris – I’m the overall site manager for a 3621 acre municipal natural area in Fort Worth, TX. I truly enjoy reading your posts and live vicariously through them since we don’t have the resources to conduct the level of scientific research you do. Also my sister-in-law and her husband lived in NE for 20 years so I visited there many times and developed quite a fondness for the beautiful prairies, especially the Sandhills. All my best in the New Year – you have quite a talent for writing as well as research and photography.

  7. I like your blog for the thoughtfulness and wonderful photos. Your blog is the first I go to when I open my email in the morning. Found the site perhaps thru an Aldo Leopold Foundation link. I help manage a 400 acre ridgeline forest preserve and also help run an after school nature program in southern VT. Perhaps it the contrast with an almost totally forested home that draws me to the open.

  8. Hi Chris,

    In trying to keep up with the new technology and social media that is constantly evolving, I have been struggling to find the relevance in much of it. There seems to be a lot of what I would call drivle. Your blog has kept me interested in blogs in general. You have a good mix of eye catching photos that inspire and and cause us to look closer. You back much of what you post with research, but are not afraid to offer thoughtful observations and opinions. Best of all, you encourage your readers to be curious, ask why, stop and observe, and continue to be inspired by prairies and all of the life they support. Thanks for investing your energy into this, it is appreciated. Happy New Year!

  9. I agree with all your commenters, Chris. You have inspired a diverse lot to take a refreshing look at the continents dwindling grasslands, from Vermont to Colorado, from Texas to Canada. One of the comments that struck closest to how I have come to look at the prairies in the last couple decades may best be said by Ernest. Man has indeed had a hand in the what we consider the natural world for several thousand years, influencing plant responses, plant-animal interaction, and successional direction. The act of preserving, without employing the events that determined the perseved condition can be the most unnatural and devestating act of all. The Heath Hen didn’t die out because of peoples efforts to save them, but because of failure to recognize successional change and efforts to control environmental factors that ensured its habitat. The only way to avoid repeating history is to ignore lessons we learn from it.
    Have a very good new year.


  10. Chris-
    Thanks for all the effort you put into the blog. As requested, one suggestion I have about topics to discuss is the increasing use of prairie and natural plants on private properties and home gardens. It would be interesting to learn more about if and/or how exactly this can benefit native insects, birds, and other wildlife. And keep the photos coming!
    (ecology student at University of Wisconsin)

  11. As a fellow TNC prairie manager in ND, I share your enthusiasm for the prairie. I have gained a great deal of knowledge by reading your blog that has helped me in my decision making process here at the ranch. I especially enjoy the topics of fire and grazing since those are two tools I use the most. One thing that maybe you could discuss a little more concerning grazing is the monetary side of things. By that I mean where is the breakeven point for a landowner to run livestock on thier property, pay the taxes and make a profit without hurting the land? Is it even possible? I’ve been thinking about this because I see many operations in my area run the land pretty hard and they appear to see little profit from thier efforts. If you could lend some insight on this I know I would sure appreciate it and I’m sure other readers would as well.
    I’m also a fan of photography and greatly enjoy the insight and unique views you provide through the lens!
    Thank you for your dedication to this blog and especially to conservation!

    Eric H.

    • Thanks for the comment, Eric. Profitability is a tough issue for me to figure out how to address. It’s such an individual issue – different for every landowner. Still, it’s probably worth thinking about some more. Keep pushing me! I’ll see if I can come up with a good way to think about it.

    • Eric – here’s a link to a 1999 article that examined all of the published research that existed at that time on the effect of stocking rate on forage production, range trend, livestock production and financial returns:

      Click to access HABITAT_GRAZINGSTUDIES0000338.pdf

      Holecheck et al’s textbook, Range Management: Principles and Management (the 6th edition was published in 2010) also devotes a chapter to this issue (stocking rate effects). Here’s a quote from the 5th edition (the one I have) of the textbook:

      “Heavy grazing generally maximizes gross economic returns, but net economic returns are maximized by moderate grazing”.

      Some of the factors that Holecheck et al identify as being reflected in net returns but not gross returns are death losses, feed costs and weaning percentages. The ability to manage risks such as drought is also decreased at higher stocking rates.

  12. Hi Chris, I enjoy reading all your posts (ecological issues, photography, etc.). I live in Cambridge, IA and work for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. I saw your presentation at the Iowa Prairie Network Winter Meeting last year and have been enjoying your posts since! Keep up the good work!

    Take Care,

  13. Chris,

    I am always looking forward to your next blog post. I enjoy hearing about your experiences and research on the prairie lands that I hope to visit some day. Your writing style, personal observations, links to scientific literature, and thought provoking questions are just a few of the reasons I visit the blog regularly. (Other than the photography) I hope you are able to continue to provide everyone with such a great place to be enriched, enlightened, and to become apart of the prairie conversation.

    In regards to grazing profitability there was a great presentation by Dr. Larry Redmon, of Texas A&M University and Texas Agrilife Extension about using native forages vs. improved forage grasses here in Texas. It is complete with cash flow tables, input/output tables, etc….if you could get in touch with him it may make a post about profitability easier. It is primarily focused on bermuda grass as the exotic grass.

    Best of Regards in the New Year,

    Tim from Texas

  14. I really enjoy the blog, from several perspectives. I’ve been a long time prairie lover. Dating back to my high school days. I worked on a small prairie restoration project as my Eagle Scout project in 1968….my biology teacher and the local Soil Conservation manager got me interested in prairies. I did a special project for my botany professor in college that focused on developing a bibliography for teachers to use about tallgrass prairies. Fast forward to today….I am the webmaster for the Wachiska Audubon Society, a group that has made its major misson to preserve and restore native tallgrass prairie remnants here in southeast Nebraska. I’m also the Butterfly Curator at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, so I certainly enjoy the butterfly and insect related photographs Chris features on the blog. Keep up the good work, looking forward to following the blog in 2012!

  15. Chris, I too really look forward to your posts and photographs. I was born and raised on a small farm in Richardson Co., Nebr., and have lived the last 36 years in Denver — 32 years’ work at the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s the short version! Our Nebr. farm has no prairie, but it has quite a bit of non-tillable land and interesting old flora. I used to pick wild raspberries “out in the timber” and watch the unique spiders that lived in those berry thickets. I always hoped (?) to come eye-to-eye with a little black bear among the bushes, but never did! Thank you for all these great posts and photographs, and for all your work with prairies. (BTW, I Facebooked the link on regal fritillaries to Robert Michael Pyle, and the “submarine sora” one to a favorite cousin who has been very much into birds since he was about 11.) Happy New Year to you!

  16. Chris, your blog is just wonderful for so many reasons – and it makes a huge difference in my week. I had to laugh at the comment by Tom Prunier that it’s the first email he goes to. I’ve started ‘saving’ mine – just like hording a piece of chocolate. I wait until mid-morning – then open it and savor every word (and frequently go back to the photos again for an ‘afternoon snack!’). Thank you so much for posting often.

    I love the breadth of topics, both photographic and scientific, and the way your appreciation, respect and curiosity for the prairie fills every post. Not to mention your welcoming spirit! My job at Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in Lincoln is strictly office work – so your photos and thoughts provide my best window every work week to the beauty, mystery and richness of nature.

    Over the holidays I started a book about raising poultry – and was intrigued by descriptions of ‘chicken tractors’ with movable electric fences to pasture and move a flock. So that has me wondering … it seems as if most discussion and research on prairie management focuses on cattle grazing, tree clearing, seeding and burning – but I don’t see much discussion on impacts or timing of haying, or of using other types of animals to create ‘patch’ disturbances. It would be very interesting to hear even speculation about benefits and drawbacks to other types of prairie management.

  17. Hi Chris,

    I work seasonal jobs for TNC, currently wintering in NE. There are numerous things I like about the blog; one of which is your sense of design. Maybe it’s just the blog software or template, but the excellent picture at the top with the black border looks simple, clean, and classy. It reminds me of the Park Service brochures you get at the gate. My least favorite thing is that the more I learn from the blog the more questions I have, and thus feel even more lost.

  18. Happy New Year, Chris! I hope your holidays were good and restful!
    Thanks for the wonderful statement of gratitude to all of us who partake of your blog. I like everything about it. It is filled with valuable information about the prairies I love and the photography is marvelous!
    I do have a suggestion for future, if not past, consideration. I would love to see buffalo back on the prairie where they belong! I know the prairie is a sensitive biom, but the buffalo where there long before we came along and the prairie seemed to thrive. Is there an area in which the buffalo roam freely in the state? I have been away from Nebraska for many years and don’t know about all the added features to the land.
    I live in Northern Alabama now and certainly miss the prairie. I have been priviliged in the past years to visit and enjoyed it very much. Hopefully I will be able to again one day.
    Thank you again, Chris, for your wonderful outlook on “our” state and the prairies especially!
    God Bless.
    Donna Gibson

  19. All the preceeding statements of express feelings like my own as I think about my appreciation of this blog, Chris. And I would add this – I like the tone. There are a lot of opinions about our interactions with nature out there, often with not much data on which to base them, but yours are presented with backing as thorough as can be found outside the science journals, and with a total lack of shrillness. It is always with genuine interest, and pleasure, that I click on it among my favorites list and read on your blog. Long may you wave!

  20. I’ve been following this blog since the beginning and have loved every post. It’s great to see the science behind grasslands interspersed with why we all love prairies (cause sometimes they’re just gosh darn pretty). With the comments its really turned into a nice little community, keep up the terrific work and wonderful photographs.

  21. Good Morning, Chris~
    I’ve been meaning to respond to this post for a month. I hope that you can find it this late and buried in among your other supporters’ comments. I really appreciate this blog as well. It is a good blend of intellectual and aesthetic topics. The photos are great, but so are your more personal insights. As a land owner with new management responsibilities in southwestern MN, I particularly appreciate the prairie ecology technical posts. We are not trying to restore our 200 acre pasture to native prairie, but we are trying to manage it in a way that is consistent with prairie processes–both earth systems and biologic systems. That means pushing beyond the rotational grazing that we’ve used for 20 years and exploring new sustainable ag practices.

    Thanks for your help thinking about these prairie topics. “Keep it rural”(SD Public Radio salutation)~

    George Shurr


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