Photos of the Week – April 30, 2020

This week, one of my favorite organizations turned 40 years old. Prairie Plains Resource Institute came to being through the vision of Bill and Jan Whitney. The two of them, along with a group of friends, had a big vision and the courage and persistence to make it a reality. The result is a terrific non-profit conservation organization that is focused on protecting local prairies, conservation education, and prairie restoration.

Gjerloff Prairie (formerly known as Griffith Prairie) after a prescribed fire. Gjerloff is a great example of a diverse and beautiful mixed-grass loess soil prairie. Even more importantly, it’s a very short drive from my house!

Most of the high quality prairie restoration work happening in Nebraska can be traced back to the pioneering work of Bill Whitney. That absolutely includes the restoration work I’ve done. One of the most fortunate aspects of my career is that I got to spend a lot of time learning from Bill during my first several years as a professional. Several years ago, Prairie Plains passed the 10,000 acre mark for their restoration program. That’s not too bad for an effort that started with a coffee can full of seed and a dream.

The conservation education work done by Prairie Plains has also been very influential around the state, but has especially been valuable for the hundreds of local kids (including mine) who have gone through the SOAR summer program, as well as many others. Jan, Bill, and a large group of staff and dedicated volunteers have set a very high standard that others tried to emulate. All the kids that have interacted with Prairie Plains have come away with not just a better understanding of nature, but a better understanding and connection to the history and culture of the landscape they are growing up in.

Perhaps most important, however, are the local community prairie preserves established and managed by Prairie Plains Resource Institute. Especially in east-central Nebraska, there are high quality prairies that exist today only because Prairie Plains stepped in to save them. Even better, they make those prairies available to those of us who live nearby. This part of the state is heavily dominated by row crop agriculture. It’s a productive use of the land, but it’s also important to retain the remnants of prairie we still have, both for the ecological value of those sites and for our own recreation, connection to place, and emotional health. I’m beyond grateful to have the good fortune of living very near several Prairie Plains prairies.

In that vein, today’s post highlights some of my favorite photos that have come from prairies owned and managed by Prairie Plains Resource Institute. I have many thousands of images taken from those sites, including all the images from my recent Square Meter Photography Project, which was located at Lincoln Creek Prairie, right here in Aurora. I hope you enjoy this small selection of what Prairie Plains Resource Institute has helped conserve. If you’re not aware of the organization, please check out their new website to learn more. Bill and Jan recently retired from the organization, but their new director and the incredible staff are continuing to sustain the very important mission and activities of the organization.

Grasshopper on milkweed in autumn. Lincoln Creek Prairie.
Fringed puccoon at Gjerloff Prairie.
Digger bee in the morning. Lincoln Creek Prairie.
Prairie dandelion seeds. Gjerloff Prairie.
Variegated meadowhawk dragonfly. Gjerloff Prairie.
Chinese praying mantis eating a tachnid fly. Lincoln Creek Prairie.
Goatsbeard seed and hoary vervain. Lincoln Creek Prairie.
Bee fly. Lincoln Creek Prairie.
Blue sage bee. Lincoln Creek Prairie.
Dragonfly and sunrise. Lincoln Creek Prairie.
Big bluestem flowers. Lincoln Creek Prairie.
Inchworm. Lincoln Creek Prairie.
Carolina anemone. Gjerloff Prairie.
Hover fly. Lincoln Creek Prairie.
Indiangrass and sunrise. Lincoln Creek Prairie.
Hover fly and New England aster. Lincoln Creek Prairie.
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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.

8 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – April 30, 2020

  1. I’m sure I’m not the first to tell you that you are a natural wonder, Chris — but you may not know that you are also a terrific travel agent. Thank you for taking me to another world today.


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