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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.

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

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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

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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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Setting sights on the walleye

Anglers with walleye

The walleye may be Nebraska’s most popular, albeit often hard-to-catch, game fish. It is known for not only having great-tasting fillets, but also for growing big and providing anglers a fishing challenge. Despite its reputation for being hard to catch, at certain times of the year walleyes can be taken by both boat and bank anglers with average skills. Joe Rydell, a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s northwest district, said we are in the midst of …

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Panhandle Afield: Outdoor education also altered

GERING — Amanda Filipi, who leads western Nebraska’s outdoor education efforts for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission from the Wildcat Hills Nature Center, is usually busy this time of year. Filipi is usually hosting a surge of field trips, leading children on hikes and presenting classroom programs. Similar to other educators she is sad to be sidelined from her normal routine. “This is usually my favorite time of year. We have roughly 2,000 students that come through in the …

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The Pine Ridge Special

Step away from ordinary equipment to fly-fish Nebraska’s trout streams. Let’s get this out of the way early. When looking for fly-fishing advice, you might want to go elsewhere. Mind you, I have fly-fished many times, but when it comes to getting serious about catching fish, a spinnerbait or can of nightcrawlers is usually involved. My fly-fishing dates back to the 1990s when I was gifted a rod-and-reel combo package. As with all fishing, it was fun. Too often, though, …

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