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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.

Pursuing the parks – a great value

Campground Trail at Chadron State Park

It is late May, spring has finally sprung, and only the most ardent of homebodies are not excited about getting outdoors. It is no secret — some of the best places to enjoy that time outdoors is at our state parks. From horseback riding to swimming, the parks are putting their activities and amenities into full gear this month. While the parks may be open and enjoyable year-around, the first official day of the busy season is May 26. I …

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For the love of birds

Black-crowned night heron

If people ask, one group of animals often receives credit for fueling my passion for wildlife photography a little more than the others do. Capturing imagery of mammals, reptiles and amphibians is certainly just as rewarding, but it is often the birds that keep me going.  It seems there are always birds around whenever and wherever I feel the need to shoot a wildlife photo, and with more than 400 species of birds in Nebraska, I still have a lot …

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Wildcat Hills improvements popular

One of the Nebraska state park system’s most modern attractions happens to be in the Panhandle. Those of you who have not visited the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area south of Gering in the past year or so are sure to like what you see when you do. The newly renovated and expanded Nature Center with its interactive displays and event space have been a big hit among visitors, as has the new shooting complex that features targets for a …

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Junior Explorers invited to get their badge at Wildcat Hills

Junior Explorer Book and Badge

GERING, Neb. — Children have long enjoyed exploring nature at Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area, whether by hiking the trails of the 1,000-plus-acre park or by viewing the interactive displays of its Nature Center. Now there is a new program to guide their exploration and make it official. This month, on Free Park Entry and Fishing Day on May 19, the Nature Center will begin awarding badges and certificates to children who complete its new Junior Explorer program. The program …

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Grassland tribute

Supermoon over Sugarloaf Butte

In the May issue of NEBRASKAland Magazine, you will find a story and photos about one of my favorite places in the Panhandle – an area that might sometimes be overshadowed by its neighbor. The Oglala Grassland is a region in northern Dawes and Sioux counties that borders Nebraska’s stunning Pine Ridge and the South Dakota border. The region is designated one of the Panhandle’s 11 designated biologically unique landscapes in the Natural Legacy Project – the state’s wildlife action …

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Fort Robinson pond project bringing excitement

Among the Panhandle’s best fishing assets are the opportunities in and around Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford. With the 22,000-acre park’s 11 fishponds and coldwater streams in and near there, anglers can seek everything from warm water species such as largemouth bass, catfish and crappie to all species of trout found in Nebraska. Furthermore, the buttes and pine-studded bluffs provide a beautiful scenic backdrop for photos of your catch. As good as the fishing may be, it is sure …

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Whitney Lake briefly closing to boating Sunday

CRAWFORD, Neb. – The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission will close Whitney Lake Wildlife Management Area to boats and other watercraft during a 3½-hour training exercise of the Nebraska Wildland Fire Academy on Sunday, April 22. As part of the exercise, firefighters will use a helicopter with a hanging bucket to pick up water from the lake between 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. The Commission is closing the lake during that time to ensure public safety. Although boating will not …

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Teeming with Turkeys

Merriam's Wild Turkey

Nebraskans have become accustomed to seeing wild turkeys from border to border but it has not always been that way. When I was growing up in southwestern Nebraska in the 1970s and ‘80s, it was much more of a rarity to see them. Similar to many wildlife species, wild turkeys are native to Nebraska but factors related to Euro-American settlement wiped them out of the state in the early 1900s. Along with a lot of other wildlife, though, turkeys have …

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The dance of the sharptail

Sharp-tailed grouse

If you travel far at all on many of our dirt roads, you have a good chance of a seeing one or more sharp-tailed grouse – that is, if you can pick them out with their brown, black and buff camouflaged bodies. Sharptails, popular game birds in Nebraska, are at home on much our landscape, enjoying a mix of open grassland with some trees and shrubs. This is certainly the time of year that grouse are most fun to watch. …

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Pollinators all the buzz at Wildcat Hills

Bumblebee and soldier beetle on aster.

GERING, Neb. — The Wildcat Hills Nature Center south of Gering will be buzzing about pollinators this weekend. “Powerful Pollinators,” the latest event in the Wildcat Weekends series, will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 14, and is open to the public free of charge. Amanda Filipi, Commission outdoor education specialist, said she will tell attendees about the importance of pollinators, which experts say are responsible in the creation of one-third of the food humans eat and provide many other …

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