#19: Chris Helzer – The Prairie Ecologist

#19: Chris Helzer – The Prairie Ecologist Nature's Archive

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My guest in this episode is Chris Helzer. When I started this podcast nearly a year ago, Chris was on my short list of people I wanted to interview, so I’m very happy that the day has come.

Chris is The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Science in Nebraska, where his main role is to evaluate, capture, and share lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work. 

Chris is also the creator of the popular blog called The Prairie Ecologist, where he combines his knowledge and insights with his photography to raise awareness about the value of prairies and prairie conservation. 

Chris is also the author of two books –  “The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States” and “Hidden Prairie: Photographing Life in One Square Meter”.

You can also find Chris’ photography of prairies and their inhabitants in a variety of publications, including NEBRASKAland magazine and Wildflower magazine. You can also find Chris on Instagram @prairieecologist.

Chris Helzer at Lincoln Creek Prairie – square meter photography project.

In this episode we discuss what a prairie is, and dispel common myths about prairies. We get a quick lesson on ecological succession, and how drought and fire play important roles in sustaining prairies. Chris also describes the framework that is used when making land management decisions.

We also discuss how Chris combines his scientific background with his photographic and storytelling skills to create a very successful outreach portfolio through his blog and instagram.

Chris is a highly skilled environmental educator, so I took the opportunity to ask him about his approach of “meeting people where they are at” to connect with people at any interest level. We also dove into how he’s used photography and his “One Square Meter” book and project to demonstrate the beauty and biodiversity of the prairie, enabling him to connect with many more people.

And of course, much more!

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and sensitive briar (Mimosa quadrivalvus). Flower abundance following two years of intensive grazing. Helzer family prairie near Stockham, Nebraska.

Links To Topics Discussed

People and Organizations

Michael Forsberg – award winning photographer famous for his work in the Great Plains, among many topics. Chris mentions Michael’s photography and story telling as influential on his own work.

The Nature Conservancy, and in Nebraska specifically. Chris oversees the Hubbard Fellowship program.

University of Nebraska State Museum – Morrill Hall – where Chris will have an exhibit in the fall of 2021.

Books and Other Things

A Field Guide to Roadside Wildflowers at Full Speed – A humorous field guide of blurry photos – check it out!

Chinook Winds – downsloping winds originating along the rocky mountains, and extending over the great plains. These winds cause adiabatic warming and dramatically reduce humidity, and are occasionally associated with wildfire spread.

Hidden Prairie: Photographing Life in One Square Meter – Chris wrote this book about discoveries he found in a square meter of prairie.

Meeting People Where They Are – Chris created this video describing this important concept that those performing environmental outreach should consider

The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States – by Chris Helzer. This is Chris’ highly regarded book that is recommended for any prairie enthusiast.

Note: links to books are affiliate links.

Music Credits

Opening – Fearless First by Kevin MacLoed

Closing – Beauty Flow by Kevin MacLoed

Both can be obtained from https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/

5 thoughts on “#19: Chris Helzer – The Prairie Ecologist

  1. What a pleasure to listen to this! I’m inspired by the blend of Chris’ love of prairies and the science of their ecology and management, his communication with people “wherever they are at” and especially to his mentorship of others – this is what prairies and people need! And I love his description of how his mind and perspective change when he’s holding a camera, looking at whatever he might find out there in a prairie. Bliss – right here. So glad to learn about Nature’s Archive too – I’ll be digging in : )


    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment! Yes, Chris is an amazing advocate for nature, and was a pleasure to have on the show. And as you dig into past episodes, please let me know if you have *any* suggestions – content, guests, format, whatever. Oh…and as a teaser I have an episode slotted for early June with another spectacular nature advocate and communicator, and we talk a bit about redwood prairies – how’s that for a unique prairie ecosystem?


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