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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.

Game and Parks grateful for firefighting partners

ALLIANCE, Neb. – The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission credits the outstanding work of volunteer fire departments and other responders in limiting damage from two Panhandle wildfires in late August. The Hubbard’s Gap Fire in the Wildcat Hills south of McGrew burned about 4,000 acres, including more than 60 percent of the land at the 1,829-acre William’s Gap Wildlife Management Area. During the same period, the Aristocrat Fire burned about 400 acres in the Pine Ridge 3 miles south of …

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Wildlife officials observing effects from wildfires

McGREW, Neb. – Wildlife managers in the Nebraska Panhandle say the full effects of the region’s wildfires during the final days of August largely will be determined by what Mother Nature does in coming weeks and months. The public land most affected was Williams Gap Wildlife Management Area in Banner County. Along with 2,900 acres of adjacent private land, the fire burned about 1,100 acres on the 1,829-acre wildlife area. During the same period, some U.S. Forest Service property 3 …

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Crews responding to wildfires in the Panhandle

Wildfire in Wildcat Hills

ALLIANCE, Neb. – Visitors to public lands and other recreational sites in the Nebraska Panhandle are being advised of wildfires in the region, and are being asked to be especially cautious because the heightened risk for fires brought on by hot and dry weather. The Hubbard Gap Fire in the Wildcat Hills in Banner County south of McGrew had burned about 4,000 acres as of Friday afternoon. In addition to threatening and affecting private agricultural lands, early estimates indicate the …

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Poison ivy: Three leaves of dread

Hike for any length of time on Nebraska’s wild places and you will surely encounter the three-leaved nemesis known as poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). Shelley Steffl, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission private lands wildlife biologist of Chadron, often encounters poison ivy while consulting landowners on habitat projects. “Normally it’s found around more wooded areas and in places that have a little more sunshine present,” Steffl said. “Uplands, woodlands, maybe a little moister soil. It can be found in any kind …

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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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