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renae blum

Renae works for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and has written for NEBRASKAland Magazine and the Lincoln Journal Star.

A Second Chance

A Retired Wildlife Ecologist Gives Back At first sight, a plains pocket mouse makes a lasting impression. There’s only one word for it: cute. It’s tiny and delicate-looking, with small ears and fur-lined cheek pouches. Retired wildlife ecologist Mike Schrad can identify one in seconds, as he does on this cool October morning, striding through a restored prairie near Wood River, Nebraska. He lifts one from a live trap baited with oatmeal and birdseed, and hands it me to warm …

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Becoming Part of Something Bigger

The Wildlife Conservation Fund The Nebraska state income tax form isn’t known for its wildlife illustrations. Yet, tucked on the second page is a small illustration of a peregrine falcon, along with a space to donate to the Wildlife Conservation Fund. These tax-deductible donations play a vital role in conserving Nebraska’s wildlife, said Melissa Panella, Nebraska Game and Parks’ wildlife diversity program manager. They form the Wildlife Conservation Fund, which is “one of the primary means that Game and Parks …

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The Book of Names

Plain and unremarkable, the black binder usually sits on a small coffee table in Fort Atkinson State Historical Park’s visitor center. But inside, it contains a remarkable picture of Fort Atkinson: Its pages list the names of everyone known to have lived at the fort, along with details about them that can reveal personalities, backgrounds and their futures. Susan Juza, Fort Atkinson’s long-time curator and a passionate lover of history, began the project as a relatively new employee at the …

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A Conservation Dream Come True

A man-made prairie-chicken lek finds success. It was a calm March morning when Dan Leuenberger first heard it: the echoing calls of greater prairie-chickens. Climbing a hill on his Johnson County farm, he spotted a flock of about 20 birds gathered for mating season. Each spring, males congregate on leks, or display grounds, to perform mating rituals that have made the species an icon of the prairie. They stomp, leap, spin in circles, inflate orange air sacs on their neck …

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New Research on Eastern Redcedar

For decades, mechanical removal has been a key strategy to control eastern redcedar, an invasive species sweeping north across the Great Plains. But new research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln indicates that this method isn’t as successful as previously expected. Eastern redcedar moves aggressively, with the ability to convert open grasslands to woodland in as little as 40 years, and it’s happening on a large scale. Our current strategies aren’t keeping pace with the rate of invasion, said Dillon Fogarty, …

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A Weekend of Exploration

My experience of Becoming an Outdoors-Woman As part of the communications team at Nebraska Game and Parks, I have been aware of the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman Weekend Workshop for a long time, a three-day event featuring a variety of outdoors skills workshops for women. Each year I received e-mails encouraging employees to attend, but always resisted. I’ll admit it: I am not an “outdoors woman.” My hobbies – reading, cooking fancy recipes, watching foreign films – are usually indoor ones. …

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Halt Eastern Redcedar Invasion

Opportunities coming to halt eastern redcedar invasion One of the greatest threats to Nebraska livestock production comes in an unassuming package. Eastern redcedar (juniperus virginiana), with its fragrant foliage and purplish “berries,” doesn’t look like a threat. But science has shown that once it takes over an area, rangeland productivity decreases by 75 percent, as the trees strip forage grasses of necessary sunlight and water. And once rangeland has been compromised by redcedar, restoring productivity isn’t cheap: cedar removal can …

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Citizen Science

Making their own discoveries. Jessica Gieseke is a bumble bee-catching machine. She picks her way through a clump of goldenrod buzzing with flies and soldier beetles and spots her target. In one swift, graceful movement, Gieseke slides a vial along a stem, tips a bumble bee inside and caps the vial. The vial joins 25 others in her cooler packed with ice cubes. The ice chills the bees, rendering them sleepy and nearly immobile – a perfect photography subject. One …

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A Stitch in Time

In the world of living history, the clothes make the man (and woman). The cannon smoke has mostly dispersed, visitors are trickling back to the parking lot, and Sarah Dack is taking a break. She portrays an officer’s wife at Fort Kearny State Historical Park’s living history events, and looks every inch the part. Dack is wearing a big-brimmed sunbonnet, leather ankle boots, a sky-blue skirt, and a muslin shirt with pearl buttons, a stand-up collar, and a gathered yoke. …

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Do-It-Yourself Dried Arrangements

Native flowers and plants aren’t just great gardening choices; they also make stunning dried arrangements that are both fun and easy to create. Mary Jane Frogge, a horticulture expert with Nebraska Extension, sat down with me to share the process. The following are her words, edited for length and clarity. – Renae Blum The Process It’s good to collect flowers when they’re at their peak of bloom, so you have nice color. With grasses, the main thing is to pick …

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