Chris Helzer

I am The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Science in Nebraska.  My main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and share those lessons with other land managers.  I also work to raise awareness about the value of prairies and prairie conservation through my photography, writing, and presentations.

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 and Wildflower magazine.

I’m the author of two books published by the University of Iowa Press –  “The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States” and “Hidden Prairie: Photographing Life in One Square Meter”.

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

You can email me at chelzer(at)

242 thoughts on “Chris Helzer

      • 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.

      • Chris,
        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

        • 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, 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.

        • Dawn, you’ll need to subscribe by putting your email address in the space provided on the blog page. If you’re on a computer, it should be on the right side of the page. If you’re on your phone, scroll as far down as you can and near the bottom will be a “sign me up” option.

    • 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.

      • 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!

        • Asclepias tuberosa loves late summer fire. The specimens we have doubled their bloom production after the last burn. We did not observe any remarkable size increase following previous spring burns.

          • No evidence of fire, but hunting for signs of Monarch activity in Washington, Illinois in late May during my morning run, the year after the November Washington tornado, I found a large dense patch of Asclepias syriaca in a front yard in the completely destroyed zone of the tornado’s path. This was in the fancy residential area and I could not imagine people purposely raising that much milkweed in such an area.

    • 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.

  1. Chris,
    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

  2. 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

    • 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?

  3. Chris,

    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

  4. 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?

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

  5. Chris,
    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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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”.

  9. 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

  10. 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,


  11. 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.

  12. 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?

  13. 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

    • 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.



  14. 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!

  15. 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.

    • 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.


  16. 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.

  17. 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.

    • 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!

  18. 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.

  19. 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….

  20. 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!

    • Darvin,

      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.

    • 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.

  21. Chris,

    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!

    • 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…


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

  23. 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?

    • 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…

      • 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.

  24. 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!

    • 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!

  25. 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!

  26. Chris,
    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.

  27. Chris,
    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

  28. Chris,
    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

    • 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!

  29. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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?

        • 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.

  30. 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…

      • 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,

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

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

  33. 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!

  34. 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)?

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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

    • 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!

  38. 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!

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

  40. 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

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

  42. 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.

  43. 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

  44. 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!

  45. Chris,
    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.

    • 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.

  46. 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:

      • 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

  47. 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”?

  48. 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.

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

  50. 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

  51. 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!

  52. 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

    • 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.

  53. 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????



  54. 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.


  55. 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!

  56. 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.


    • 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.

  57. 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.

    • 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 )

  58. 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.

    • 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.

  59. I read your 2010 blog, Grazing Prairies – Part 1 and am searching for Part 2 and beyond if they exist. Do they and if so where can they be found?

  60. Hi Chris,
    I read your post of 3/15/11 “Using Defoliation of Dominant Grasses to Increase Prairie Plant Diversity”. We are in year 15 of a prairie project where we took 30 acres of our Central IL farm and established it in forbs and prairie grasses. Over the years the Big Bluestem has taken over. We’d like to knock it back somehow. The forbs are still there and I think they could do much better if we did this. In your post you mentioned applying a selective herbicide (I think you mentioned Poast). I’m wondering if you have had any additional experience with this since then with spraying and whether you think this approach is worthwhile. If so, when would you spray? Thanks.

    • Hi Tom, Sorry for the delay in responding. I think Poast could be a good option for you – I’d try a small area first, of course… I haven’t done much with it lately, but I know others are starting to us it more often. Typically, it’s best to spray just as the grasses are starting to grow strongly – about 6-8″ tall, I believe – but check the label to be sure. To just injure, but not kill the big bluestem, you’d want to use the rate labeled for annual grasses, I think. You could also consider doing some mowing of the grass at the point at which it’s just starting to bloom. I wouldn’t mow it all, but mowing some patches might help suppress big bluestem temporarily as well. It could be a complement to some Poast treatment. The risk with both treatments is that you might find out that the replacement for big bluestem is not forbs but cool-season exotic grasses such as smooth brome. That’s why it’d be good start small and see how it works. Good luck!

  61. Don’t forget the use of large ungulate grazers! they were around before Poast (even the domestic ones). Graze before the grass is 6″ tall at a moderately heavy intensity.

  62. Hello Chris,
    I came across your blog by accident while searching for possible sites to collect common sunflower seeds from Nebraska. I went through your blog and found your work interesting. I am a PhD student from Mississippi State studying local adaptation in common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus). I am planning to go on a collection trip to Nebraska and Texas to collect seeds and was wondering if you could help me plan my trip to Nebraska. Could you let me know which time of the year is best to collect seeds in Nebraska. I know that flowering time varies across the latitudes so I want to plan my trip accordingly. I’d appreciate any information you could give me on this. Thanks!


  63. Chris,

    You may have already addressed this but…we are receiving great rainfall in Colorado, the cool season grasses are finally beginning to develop, and the CHEATGRASS is going crazy…Can you lend assistance or thoughts on the management of cheatgrass.



    • Hi Kip,

      I hesitate to give specific advice because cheat acts so differently that far west than it does here. Here, we try to suppress it with fire and/or grazing before it blooms, but it’s not usually a major problem plant for us because we have enough moisture that it’s not as competitive as it is in drier sites. Mowing can work too, depending upon the scale you’re dealing with. It seems cheat causes problems in two main ways – by stealing spring moisture and leaving soil dry for the summer, and by shading out plants beneath a thick carpet of vegetation. Anything you can do to suppress its growth and/or reduce its density/height before summer should be helpful. Sorry I can’t give you much more advice than that.

  64. Hi Chris,
    I happend upon your site while searching for natural ways (without the use of glyphosate) to restore a grassy wooded property in Northern Wisconsin. By “restore” I mean remove invasive weeds and encourage natural grass, ferns and wildflowers. Do you have a colleague in Wisconsin that you can put me in touch with? Thanks!

  65. Hello Chris,
    I have really enjoyed your passion for restoration while reading this web site. I own 40 acres in SE Kansas, that was disked and over seeded fescue about 35 years ago. I am patient and expect to take the long, slow road with this restoration. The problem I am having I finding a well written resource for a hobbyist. Any thoughts on where I can find such resource? Something like a “Prairie Restoration for Dummies” or Prairie Restoration Bible”. I want to gather information and plan prior to starting the project, but am confused by the “fragmentation” of the information out there on restorations. Any thoughts?

    • Andrew – my book on prairie management (The ecology and management of prairies in the Central U.S.) might be of some general help. For more specific restoration guidance, there are a couple nice resources out there. There is a good guide to restoration (cropfield restoration to prairie)for Nebraska you can download here: . Otherwise the best guides are relatively technical, but still useful – The Tallgrass Restoration Handbook by Packard and colleagues, and the The Tallgrass Prairie Center Guide to Prairie Restoration in the Upper Midwest by Daryl Smith are two good ones.

  66. Hi Chris,
    I’m writing a historical novel. My characters travel on horseback from the Kearny area, across the Platte to the original location of the Fort, and over the prairie to Lowell, Kenesaw, Hastings, and Hebron, during 1861. I’d been a bit frustrated with Google images & Streetview along the highway(I live in California!), since it differed so much what’s described in the 19th Century diaries & memoirs I’d read. The Nebraska Native Plants website was helpful, but I was beyond thrilled when I stumbled upon your blog! I’m a gardener and a bit of a science geek myself, so I love all the great details about the creatures that bring the Prairie to life. Your terrific photos were so helpful, especially those taken during the early spring; I was able to describe the lay of the land, specific plants and animals, and the look of a natural prairie. And how wonderful to see the work your group is doing to restore this important ecosystem! Would you be able to refer me to any specific photos of the Thirty-Two Mile Creek area between Kenesaw & Hastings, away from the highway? I’m also curious how the streams run in the area; is there a point where small streams or creeks stop flowing into the Platte and go southeast toward the Little Blue and the Missouri?
    Thank you!
    J.R. Griffin
    San Diego, CA

    • Hi J.R.,
      There is a break between the Platte and Little Blue, but I can’t tell you much about where that’s at. In terms of the photos you’re looking for, I’d check with NEBRASKAland magazine – you can call Nebraska Game and Parks commission (402-472-0641) and ask for the photo department. They have a very large collection of images from across the state. The state historical society would be another possible option. Good luck!

  67. Hi Chris,

    Do you think 3 years of site preparation is the best? I’ve got a former weedy field that I’ve prepared since spring 2014. I burned it once, herbicided 3 times each year and very lightly tilled it once. It’s mostly bordered by cropland. Some of the retail prairie restoration companies say 2 years is enough, but I’m thinking of doing a third year. Thanks

    • Charles, I’ve never regretted extra site prep time when trying to eliminate existing vegetation. I have definitely had situations where we felt we should have done more. If you’ve got the time and freedom to spend an extra year, I don’t see any disadvantage at all.

  68. Thanks for this blog, I just found out about it via Fermilab Natural Areas. I do insect monitoring there, mostly bumblebee chasing. :)
    I’m part of a group you might enjoy following or contributing to. We’re new, but we’re trying to spread knowledge of native bees. You can find us on Facebook, we’re named the Native Bee Awareness Initiative.
    I look forward to following your work.

  69. Hi Chris, excited to find this blog as well and enjoyed your article comparing buffalo to cows, that is exactly where we are right now. We have a 125+ acre farm in Ohio and currently raising 6 beefalo. I manage the farm and the owner would very much like to convert to buffalo or have both. First, can both co-exist or must be kept separate? I would guess separate but want to clarify. Also, the one area that is new to us that we plan to use for grazing is a natural area planted with native grasses and left to it’s own devices over the last for the last 5 years. The owner wants to bush hog the entire area and replant pasture seed. I’m leaning towards leaving it to the cows or bison to “mow” down and/or burn the area in the Spring and let them take over the land. Suggestions? Very much appreciate the advice. He takes a more mechanical approach, I’m on the permaculture side of thinking and slowing making him a convert. : ) Resources, back up materials, are all very helpful to make my case, or not. Thanks again. Jennifer

    • I have had cattle, bison and horses on 640 acres for some months through the fall and winter. It did not go well for the horses. I think there would be an increased risk to cattle also when forced into smaller acreages with bison, just plan/budget that something undesirable is going to happen. Bison are hard on small diameter woodies (ex: Custer State Park) but you describe a situation where the bison would be overwhelmed. Bison might be able to do some maintenance once the brush is knocked back.

  70. Good luck on trying to contain a buffalo bull on a small plot unless you have some very attractive female cows. One story from Eloy, Arizona, did not go so well and the rest of the story was hilarious to the rest of us. Fences did not matter much to this bull. End of story.

  71. Chris I see that there is a workshop September 13, 14 with GRN. I don’t see how to register though. Can you provide more information? I would like to announce it on the Northern Plains Conservation Network website. Thank you, Dawn Montanye, Coordinator

  72. Hi, I’m from a small community college in Wisconsin.
    For my biology class, we have to do a research project on the prairie.
    I don’t know what to do basically. So I was wondering if you can recommend me ideas on what to do? Or give me some inspiration so I can have a better understanding, and hopefully make ideas on what to do.
    Please, and thank you.

  73. Think about the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area in northwestern Wisconsin. It is a little like a prairie area ie brushy grassy environment. Maintained like the prairies by Fire as in the old days. Very diverse and very interesting. Check out or their facebook site also. We can help you with information. DNR leadership under Nancy Cervantes and I am president of the Friends group.

  74. Chris: I have been following you for several years. Your picture this week of the Niobrara River Valley near sunset is fantastic. I wonder if I could by a high definition digital copy with your copy right included to use on a calendar that I would distribute to not more than fifteen friends and family?

  75. Hi, I was reading your article from 2012 about restoring cottonwoods to the Missouri river. I was not able to find any more articles about the project on your blog. I was wondering if you wrote any follow up articles about the project; I am interested in the results of the study.

  76. Do you ever sell your photo or the right to use it? I don’t know how something like that works. But I have been looking for a picture for my living room. And “Hay bales and windmill in the Nebraska Sandhills” is perfect.

  77. I have noticed a lot of farmers/ranchers getting interested in mob grazing. I know you have mentioned it in the past, but I was wondering if there have been any diversity studies on this type of management? Any thing providingredients data on the pros and cons from a conservation perspective?

  78. Hi Mark, I don’t think much has been done yet to look at how this kind of grazing influences plant or animal diversity. There are a couple (at least) ongoing studies looking at some of the aspects of mob grazing, particularly from forage and soil health standpoints, but also looking at plant composition, but I don’t believe they’ll be able to be very definitive about impacts on biodiversity. It’s a tough question to answer without long-term data. More importantly, mob grazing is such a variable term, it’s hard to quantify what it is and test it when people use the term to describe a wide range of grazing strategies. I’ve got a study design I really want to implement but haven’t yet found the funding to do it.

  79. I would love to get some milkweed plants!!! I bought some last year, but it either didn’t make it through the winter or just haven’t come back yet.

  80. Chris, my feelings and love of the prairie run so deep that I have written a book which includes a “prairie series,” and will be in print before the summer ends. In my poems I visualize the prairie as it once was. I would be happy to send you a copy of my book as soon as I receive copies from the publisher. I am very proud of these poems and spent a great deal of time writing them. I have never written to someone I do no know before, but we have a common interest, and I appreciate the work you are involved in.

  81. Chris, we are IL prairie folk on a summer family road trip from UT to IL and we’ll soon be heading east through NE. Any advice for good routes crossing the state with a mind to explore rich natural areas along the way? (We’re vascillating between I-80 N Platte River route vs. a more northerly way.) Appreciate your words and images about the Nebraska landscape and prairie wildlife. Keep up the good work/word!

    • Great question. I’m a fan of Highway 20 along northern Nebraska. You can hit some of the panhandle sites (Oglala National Grasslands, Toadstool Park, Fort Robinson, etc.) and then come through the northern edge of the Sandhills (McKelvie National Forest – mostly prairie) Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, and TNC’s Niobrara Valley Preserve). You could also cut down through highway 2 and see the Crescent Lake Wildlife Refuge (off the beaten path), Halsey National Forest – again, mostly grassland, and drive through some gorgeous Sandhills scenery all the way. If you come through the Platte River, you can stop and hike our little trails at the Platte River Prairies. Enjoy your trip!

      • Thanks for the reply, Chris, and the detailed advice. Much appreciated! Looking forward to poring over our Nebraska maps as we plan our journey. Sincerely, Mike Bryson (Joliet IL)

  82. I’ve clicked my way to you and was hoping you may be able to help me identify this burying beetle I have found? I was ecstatic thinking I found the “Americanus” but I’m not so sure now :(

  83. Hello Chris! Thanks for your work!

    Id love to see information on Prairie Dropseed, and photos/info on native thistles.

    I have dropseed coming in naturally on a small parcel, and have some late blooming thistles In curious about.


  84. Hi Chris,

    Thank you for your beautiful blog! I’m working on a project for a class on global citizenship. Our assignment is to produce a PSA call to action about a global issue of our choice. My issue is the decline in pollinator populations and I’m thinking my call to action will be for people to plant native plants in their home gardens. My main question right now is, what else can individuals do to help mitigate the issue of pollinator declines? Is there something that would be more effective than making changes to our own landscapes? I’m also trying to think in terms of what is doable for the average person who maybe isn’t aware of the importance of native plants and pollinators. I would appreciate any thoughts you have on the issue!


    • Hi Annie. If you haven’t already seen it, check out the Xerces Society’s info on pollinators: I think native plants is a big one. Also, ensuring consistency of flowering throughout the season (making sure there are always a few different flowers blooming throughout the entire season) is really important. There are nesting habitat projects people can undertake – anything from actually building bee nesting tubes to just leaving bare ground and piles of wood/sticks around and trimming dead plants to a height that allows nesting inside the hollow stems. Check out the Xerces Society to find other options – they’ve thought a lot about it – and good luck.

      • Thanks so much for your feedback, Chris! I did come across the Xerces Society in my research and they have some great information. I agree that having something flowering all the time is important, I’ll try to include that in my PSA. Thanks again!

  85. Chris, I was struck by your comment on serendipity in today’s post. I’m currently writing about serendipity in a post occasioned by finding a fasciated Rudbeckia on the Nash Prairie here in Texas, and wondered if I might not only quote you, but also make use of your photo of the spider and the ant. My blog is personal, not commercial, and of course I would credit and link back to your entry. I would have inquired privately, but I couldn’t find a way to do that. Thanks!

  86. Chris:

    I enjoy your blog, especially the photos. My wife and I live in the Canadian River Breaks just northwest of Amarillo, Texas. It is amazing how many plants, insects and animals we have in common across the Great Plains!

    This particular area is a mixture of High Plains and Rolling Plains, with a bit of Chihuahuan Desert pitched in for good measure. Some has been mined for clay and gravel, some was plowed up by farmers who were unaware of their own ignorance and paid an awful price for believing real estate promoters. But nearly all this area has been overgrazed to a point that verges on desertification, and mesquite invasion is severe. Fortunately our plot retains a lot of native vegetation to use as a basis for an attempt at restoration. Even though I am 73, I’m looking forward to working on this project–albeit at a leisurely pace.

    If you travel through this area, give me an advance e-mail. I’ll try to find a local ecologist with more expertise than me.

  87. Chris, I thought you might find this video from BBC Earth interesting. It’s the Portia jumping spider doing some hunting. It’s four minutes long. I really do love these little guys.

  88. There was a time 150 years ago when amateur naturalist were comfortable with the technical language that is necessary to distinguish very similar species. Of course, that was a time when the educated almost universally were versed in Latin, if not also some Greek, which makes interpretation of most of these terms much, much easier. If anyone is looking for a shortcut, that is where to start.

  89. Hello Chris

    Lovely work! I work in K-12 education and wondered if anyone has developed lesson plans around your work and this site. I see a lot of potential to instruct and inspire middle school students to view the natural world with the photographer’s eye.

    • Hi Anne, Thank you so much! I don’t know of any particular lessons plans that have been developed, though I have heard of teachers using individual posts to help flesh out concepts they are discussing. It would be an honor to have any of my work be useful to teachers.

  90. Hi, Chris! I love your blog and read it regularly, and used it as often as I could when I was teaching environmental science in Kansas. (I retired last year.) Anyway, this article came to my attention and I can’t recall if you have addressed in any detail the comparison of grasslands and forests with regard to carbon sequestration.
    (Sorry, I don’t know how to insert a live link in this format.)

    In my area, if students get any environmental education in the lower grades at all, it’s pretty much limited to “plant more trees” or “save the rain forest.” When they get to high school, a lot of them cannot understand the ecological value of prairies because they have been so conditioned to the idea that trees are always best. This article would have been very useful to me in addressing that prejudice, especially when we think how we may lose some of our vulnerable forests as the climate changes. However, we are starting to address the idea of carbon sequestration where I volunteer in local prairie restoration work, and I really would love to read whatever you have to say on this topic.

    Thank you!

    Elizabeth McIntyre

    • Yes, we get the same ‘complaints’ up here in the Northwestern Wisconsin Sand Barrens, eg Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area. “Why did you cut down the trees to make this place!” is the common theme to questions. Since less than 1% of the ‘Barrens’ is left, people are surprised to find the remnants of a once large habitat. The other concept to understand are ‘Fires’ which we use to maintain the Barrens. “Fires are dangerous aren’t they?” Our fires of course are minimal compared to the devastating forest fires like we have also seen in this area.
      Don’t stop writing and educating!

  91. Hellow, Chris! I have been active photographing flora and fauna at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia since the spring of 2013. During the spring, summer and fall of the year, I am the photographer for the weekly Nature Rambling blogpost, published by Dale Hoyt. This documents our weekly rambles across the Bot Garden property. I am also working to photodocument pollilnators at the Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies, located at the Garden. Linda Chafin, a conservation botanist at the Garden, and I have been enjoying your Prairie Ecologist posts and have decided that we would like to a square meter project in the Garden’s Elaine Nash Prairie Project, where a broad, hillside area located in the Georgia Power right-of-way on the property. We are anticipating staking out our square in the very near future and would be interested in any advice you might offer, such as species diversity in the square, observation frequency and time of day for the observations. Any other advice would be appreciated, as well. Thanks in advance for any quidance you can provide.

  92. Chris I can’t seem to find an email so I apologize for leaving this here…. I am with the Environmental Education Association of IL. I stumbled upon your amazing prairie photography through Facebook. I was wondering if you might consider donating a print to our annual silent auction that supports our grant program. I think the prairie images would be a huge hit with our conference participants and we would love to promote your book, photography and other work in exchange for the donation. EEAI is the state nonprofit, member-based organization that provides and promotes environmental education to formal and informal educators all throughout IL. We would be honored to have a donation from you as a part of this year’s auction being held on March 22nd as a part of our annual statewide conference. Thanks for considering this!

  93. I hope I’m not being presumptuous by posting this here, but I know you love a good mystery, and I seem to have one. I found some very unusual cattail formations at one of our refuges, and posted about them here. A variety of people have suggested and then decided against everything from insects to birds to chemical drift to abiotic factors, and we still are puzzling. Have you ever seen something similar?

  94. Dear Chris, dear readers. I will include a prairie field lab into my terrestrial ecology course this year. We have a nice restored 9.75 acres tall grass prairie in a park not farm from my school in Adrian, SE-Michigan. Any suggestions what we could observe, measure, estimate about the prairie in the field – besides identifying the plants? We have about 2 hours. There are several paths going through the prairie – I do not want my students to leave the paths – or if – only stepping a few feet inside the prairie to minimize the impact. Thanks a lot in advance!

    • Are you looking for anything specific? When I lead prairie tours generally I’m teaching about bees and wasps, but we find all sorts of animal life. Birds are a bit easier than insects for the casual viewer, but you can probably get good enough at bumblebees to note which species is using various plants. There will be a lot to try to record, but you could potentially group people into units to look for and record different data.

    • Tom, sorry for the delay in responding. One activity I like with kids of various ages is to take a hula hoop or something of similar size and have them toss it randomly into the prairie. Then you can have them find it, gather around, and try to count as many unique species of plants and animals as possible. They don’t have to identify what the species are, just count how many are different from the others. You could also have them categorize the species by color, number of legs, plant/animal, or other categories you or they come up with. It’s a great way to get them to observe and explore, and it also brings out their competitive drive to find more than their peers do. You can do something similar by sound. Have them spend a minute or so with eyes closed, just listening for as many different animal sounds as possible to see how many they can find. You could also include ALL sounds, if you wanted, including plants rubbing against each other in the breeze, planes passing overhead, etc.

      In the fall, especially, it’s a lot of fun to talk about seed dispersal, and try to have the kids guess how various plants might disperse their seeds based on what they look like. It doesn’t matter if they’re right or not – it’s just good to have them think through how the shape and size of seeds might make them well suited for animals to eat and poop versus seeds that stick to fur or are picked up by the wind.

      If you can get sweep nets, there’s no better way to explore the diversity of a prairie than by having kids sweep net a prairie and get excited about all the insects they find. I always equate it to snorkeling in a coral reef. From above the water, it doesn’t look like much is there, but when you get in and really look… Sure, you’ll stomp the prairie down a little, but you won’t be hurting anything and the reward for the kids will be worth it.

      I hope those ideas help.


      • Dear Chris,

        Sorry for not thanking you before. I will use some of your suggestions and will report back. Thank you very much!


        • Went out to the restored prairie with my undergraduate junior and senior ecology class course about 10 days ago. Most plants were already quite deteriorated and difficult to ID but we also went with just “number of unique species” in a half-meter quadrat. 3-6 species in the 0.25 sqcm quadrat. This is probably an underestimate due to the late season? Does anybody know where I could find representative numbers for primary (remnant) and restored prairies – preferably from a scientific journal? I might try to establish stationary 1 sqm quadrats and track the chronosere as presence/absence of species, species numbers and prairie vs. weeds. Any suggestions highly appreciated. I also did insect sweep-netting and that was also not overwhelming in diversity – around 5-10 unique species only. A summer course would be much better but our student body is not able to take courses in summer as they need to make some money…

  95. Hi Chris
    Thanks for your fascinating blog. Apologies for reposting this if you’ve already seen it, I can’t find an email for contacting you directly. I’m writing from England (where we don’t have prairies) asking for your permission to use the first two images in this thread:, to be acknowledged as ©Chris Helzer/The Nature Conservancy, in a book I’m preparing about Prehistoric Rock Art in England. In my discussions about environments, I talk about how prehistoric hunter-gatherers used to burn woodland (it was pretty much all woodland then) so that clearings were created allowing much better browse for prey animals, and thus, as you say, easier hunting. It also allowed growth of plants for food, medicine and other uses like making baskets. Your two pictures illustrate this very clearly, and I’d be very grateful to be allowed to use them.
    There are no comparable pictures from Britain that I could find – it’s a very densely populated country, and we don’t have much wilderness left, especially woodland. Thanks!

  96. Someone emailed me a link to your site. I’m interested in being notified of your article on your blog. I’m a Master Naturalist certifies through the University of Illinois Extension.

  97. I received your wonderful email with all your beautiful photos and tonight – all thevphotos are gone!
    Judy Barnard
    Natural Land Institute
    Rockford, IL

  98. Pingback: Chris Helzer to Speak at SANPAT February Chapter Meeting – NPAT

  99. Chris, I just read a story you did “Milkweed Pollination: A Series…”, that came across my emails, then saw it on our Missouri Basin, Upper Colorado River Sharepoint site. I thoroughly enjoyed it! Love your style of writing mixing informative data with a subtle wit-makes reading scientific facts fun! Well done!
    Kathleen Gissing
    Student Intern Biologist

  100. Chris. I’ve read some of your articles and was wondering whether you can comment on the proper way to overseed a reclamation project in Alabama. I have purchased a set of seeds that consist of native grasses and pollinator type plants. The area was fertilized (0,40,0) in late fall 2020 but it was too late for the native plants. Instead, cold season grasses and a legume were seeded to project during the winter. I’d like to use a self-propelled overseeder in March to finally apply the right seed. However, due to the variability of the native seed size, I’m not if this is the right approach. Burning and cattle grazing are not an option right now. Any thoughts?

    • Hey Bruce, I’ve actually worked with Dr. Welti, the lead author of that project, and I reached out to her when I read the paper. I think it’s an incredibly powerful study and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the implications. It’s obviously scary to think about losing grasshoppers and other herbivores, especially because they’re such an important part of food webs. The idea of nutrient dilution, though, also applies to livestock, which also has potentially huge implications for ranching, which is an industry that is protecting and managing millions and millions of acres of prairie across the world. I’m not sure what else to say at this point except that this is something I hope to learn much more about.

  101. Pingback: Creating “Defining Moments” in Nature

  102. I’ve been searching everywhere for anyone that shares my obsession with crab spiders! I only recently discovered these amazing creatures and am already fascinated. I have hundreds of photos, videos and observations from the last few weeks. I found your blog while attempting to confirm that crab spiders do in fact care for their young. I was particularly amazed that they had followed her to a newer flower. I have plenty of photos of course! She even has a fly that I’ve yet to actually see her feasting on and it’s closer to a baby. Did mom possibly catch them some dinner? I’m so fascinated! If you have time, I’d love to hear your feedback on some of this. Thank you!

  103. Chris – your blogs is the best email I get.
    Wondering if you can help me figure out how to grow and sustain bittersweet. I live on 10 acres in Omaha and have space as most of my place is pasture for our 2 horses. I know I need a male and female plant – but I’ll find it in the wild one or two years and then poof! It is gone! Why????
    Thanks for your help! I share your blogs with my classroom!

    • Hi Carol – first, thank you! I’m really glad you’re enjoying the blog.

      …which makes me feel really bad that I can’t help with your bittersweet question. I have zero experience trying to grow bittersweet. My experience is limited to enjoying it in the wild and trying to figure out if what I’m looking at is the native or invasive version. I’m not even sure who to send you to. I suppose University Extension is probably your best bet… Good luck, and I’m sorry I can’t help!

    • Thanks. it’s funny – every once in a while someone will find it and post a link somewhere and another flurry of attention begins. All the serious, thoughtful, productive writing I’ve done over the years, and THIS is what actually captures people’s attention! Goofy, but fun.

  104. Thank you for your articles on boxelder bugs! These harmless and cute bugs are my favorite insect and it’s been very hard to find any information on them except from exterminator sites. I have a few boxelder bugs in my house and I want to help them survive throughout the winter since they are active and not hibernating. Do you know if they will eat any other foods besides the leaves of trees?

    Also, thank you for writing positively about pigeons as well. They are amazing animals who are often ignored because of how common they are in cities.

  105. Thanks much for helping educate me about our beautiful prairies! I’m trying to restore my six acres of grassland near Denver, Colorado, by pulling out invasive non-native weeds to make room for Buffalo grass, blue grama and other drought-tolerant grasses and wildflowers native to my area. I’m trying to turn my small piece of land back into what it used to be. Your posts are helping me do that.

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