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Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

Those Fiery Redheads

Beauty or beast, this woodpecker has an eye-catching appearance Aerial proficiency to swoop and snatch prey from the sky. Symmetrically arranged talons for clinging to vertical surfaces and a chiseled beak that hammers hardwood surfaces at 1,000 times the force of gravity. A long barbed tongue, three times as long as that self-sharpening dagger-like bill, for retrieving victims from deep within a crevice. All that, and a fiery red head. If readers were to consider that description alone, they might …

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Preserving the Pine Ridge

Catastrophic wildfires have ravaged more than half of northwestern Nebraska’s pine forests. Land managers are making strides toward a more sustainable future. On this sunny day, Bryce Gerlach is visiting a timber-thinning project at Gilbert-Baker Wildlife Management Area in the northwest corner of the state. Gerlach, who is a forester funded by the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, likes what he sees. “This is the project that is going to save Gilbert-Baker someday,” he …

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Despite conservation woes, Blanding’s turtle keeps smiling

Among Nebraska’s eight species of native turtles, the happy-looking one gets special attention. The Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) is listed as a “tier 1” species in the Natural Legacy Project, Nebraska’s wildlife action plan. That makes it the only turtle species among the state’s animals and plants determined to have the greatest need for conservation efforts. Amanda Filipi, an outdoor education specialist at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Wildcat Hills Nature Center near Gering, said the turtle’s dark shell …

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Fort Robinson pond project boosts fishing opportunities

CRAWFORD, Neb. – Northwest Nebraska has regained a few fishing spots this spring. Construction has been completed on the first phase of a $2.8 million renovation project to the ponds at Fort Robinson State Park. Improvements have occurred to all but one of the Grabel Ponds, Cherry Creek Pond, the Cherry Creek diversion pond, and the lower Ice House Pond. All but Cherry Creek Pond is stocked and ready for fishing. The most obvious improvements to the ponds, each of …

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New mountain lion data for the Pine Ridge

Mountain Lion

CHADRON, Nebraska — The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has new data for a cat that triggers a lot of discussion, yet is rarely seen. It’s the puma, the cougar, or as most people call it, the mountain lion. Sam Wilson, the furbearer and carnivore program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, reported updates for the states’ management of the species during the agency’s May 8 commissioners meeting. The report included a new population figure for the Pine …

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Nebraska boasts wild turkey variety

Tom wild turkeys

One reason Nebraska claims to have the nation’s best turkey hunting is its variety of subspecies of the big bird. Bryce Gerlach, a forester for the National Wild Turkey Federation and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission who is an avid hunter, said the Cornhusker State is special because three of the four subspecies of the federation’s popular Grand Slam reside within Nebraska’s borders. Once extirpated from Nebraska, the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is a conservation success story here and throughout …

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Forest thinning ramping up on Game and Parks properties

CHADRON, Neb. – Forest thinning is either underway or scheduled to begin soon at three Nebraska Game and Parks Commission properties in the Pine Ridge near Crawford and Harrison. The projects consist of 258 acres at Gilbert-Baker Wildlife Management Area, 84 acres at Ponderosa Wildlife Management Area, and 80 acres at Fort Robinson State Park. The work is beginning this spring and will continue into fall. Most of the efforts are targeting stands of ponderosa pine trees, which, as with …

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Prairie grouse use variety of vegetation

Sharp-tailed grouse

Gathering with others is not encouraged during this pandemic, but one segment of western Nebraska’s population has been going at it in full swing. Don’t worry — I’m just talking about the grassland-loving prairie grouse and their annual spring mating ritual on grounds known as leks. Those who have seen and heard the spectacular booming of prairie chickens and dancing of sharp-tailed grouse know the birds like to perform on a site with short to no vegetation. Despite that, they …

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COVID-19 alters Panhandle turkey hunting scene

Merriam's Wild Turkey

This time of year, with Nebraska’s popular firearm turkey season getting underway, the Panhandle and its public lands are usually bustling with people from near and far in pursuit of a gobbler. This spring, though, people are being asked to keep their outdoor recreational pursuits close to home and there are not nearly as many hunters coming from out-of-state. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is taking the coronavirus crisis seriously, and is asking hunters to do so, too. Nebraska …

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Wildcat Hills Nature Center plans online Earth Day program

GERING, Neb. – In order to serve people homebound from the COVID-19 issue, the Wildcat Hills Nature Center is beginning a series of outdoor education programs on the popular online meeting platform Zoom this week with an Earth Day celebration. The event is set for 6 p.m. MDT Wednesday, April 22. Amanda Filipi, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission outdoor education specialist, will tell about the history of Earth Day and lead participants in a project to create art from recycled …

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