In September 2010, I launched The Prairie Ecologist blog. My book on prairie ecology and management had just been published and, though I was proud of it, I was frustrated by not being able to update it as I learned more and developed new ideas. I also wanted a more interactive forum for discussing ideas about prairie management and restoration. A book can transmit information but it’s one-way communication. I really wanted to learn from others and get their responses to some of my ideas and experiences.
In addition, I wanted to share the beauty, diversity, and resilience of prairies with a general audience – one that might be interested in nature, but not necessarily in grasslands. I felt my combined interests of photography and writing might lend themselves to that mission, and a blog seemed like a reasonable platform to try. I had only a vague idea of what a blog was at the time, but with the help of Bob Lalasz (The Nature Conservancy) and others, I started to learn.
I hope those of you who have been around since the early days still find the blog engaging and worth your time. The number of people who follow the blog, or at least check in regularly, is pretty staggering, given my low expectations and inexperience when I started. Over 5,000 people are currently subscribed, but many others are regular readers. Some of you also follow my Instagram account (@prairieecologist), where I post lots of photos and natural history blurbs.
While the blog has been running for 10 years, I know that quite a few current readers have only been aware of the blog for a few years at most. Because of that, I wondered if you might have questions for me, either about prairie topics or about me, personally. This might turn out to be a terrible idea, but I figured maybe I’d solicit questions and try to answer as many as I can.
Here’s what we’ll do: If you have a question for me, ask it in the comments below and I’ll try to answer it in one of three ways. I’ll either answer directly in the comments, answer it in a blog post later this week, or try to incorporate an answer into a blog post in the future. Questions can be about whatever you like (within reason, of course). As an attempt to get you started, I’ve invented a few questions and answered them below.
Above all, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for supporting this goofy blog and for helping me justify my blogging time to my bosses…
Ok, here are my answers to a few example questions. I’m sure you can come up with better ones.
Question: How do you know so much about invertebrates when you studied birds in graduate school and focused on learning plant identification/ecology during your early career?
As I’ve said many times, I’m not an entomologist, I’m an insect enthusiast. I’ve learned most of what I know about invertebrates by photographing them and then trying to figure out what I just photographed and learn about its back story. I use Bugguide.net and an assortment of very generous friends to identify species. Once I know what it is, I go looking for whatever information I can glean from online and print sources, as well as from those generous friends I already mentioned. Often, I use my own blog as an information source to help me remember facts I know I’ve previously learned and reported!
Question: You’ve written several times about river otters, mostly complaining about never seeing one at the Platte River Prairies, despite it being one of the places in Nebraska with the highest density of otters. It’s been 10 years now (and more than 25 years that you’ve been working on the Platte River). Surely you’ve seen one by now, right?
Question: You write a lot about cattle grazing as a prairie management tool. Are you getting paid by the livestock industry?
I’d like to say this is a goofy question, but I’ve actually been accused of this. No, I’m not getting kickbacks from anyone for talking about cattle. The truth is that I think cattle (and bison) grazing creates some unique habitat structure and provides some prairie management options that can’t be replicated through other approaches. Grazing is not appropriate in every prairie, but where it’s feasible, I’ve not found a substitute that can create the kind of habitat heterogeneity that helps many prairie creatures thrive. In addition, the vast majority of prairie acres remaining in North America are on ranches, so developing and testing approaches to grazing that promote plant and animal diversity has obvious (I think) relevance to conservation.
Question: I bet you haven’t changed in appearance at all in the last 10 years. Is that true?
Absolutely. The difference between 38-year-old Chris Helzer and 48-year-old Chris Helzer is nearly impossible to see. Here are two photographs that demonstrate that.
Question: Gosh, I love what you’ve done with your hair. How do you get it to do that??
I have a very rigorous hair care routine. I don’t want to brag, but I’ve been known to spend as much as $3 for a bottle of shampoo. I think I’m worth it.
Ok, those are examples of the kinds of pithy questions you can ask me. If you have any actual questions, please submit them in the comments section.. Thanks!