As so-called improvements have continued unabated, distinct characteristics and features of the sand hills have been destroyed or have disappeared. Some features are known only as history associated with times in decades long gone.
Prominently, the region was once an immense expanse of dune covered with prairie grasses, interspersed with small blue lakes and wetlands, with a few trees here and there. Any horizon presented an expanse of unending hills and natural vistas of a unique natural ecosystem.
The hills are now a fractured landscape because of the ongoing and continual imposition of development and civilization, one step at a time. There are roads, towers, endless powerlines, changed habitats and landscapes obvious during the day. More subtle are pervasive invasive species. At night, lights can hardly be avoided.
There is currently a peak in the deleterious conditions, dubitably achieved after one change and another throughout many decades of endless change i.e., so-called improvements after another. More will occur, and more features will certainly disappear.
Historic Origins in the 1850s
U.S. Army caravans, more than once or twice, forced native residents from the hills, forcing them into smaller and smaller territories, and eventually onto reservations. Was this an improvement in the lives of the Indians.
Officials land surveyors indicated townships and sections lines upon across the dunes. Was this an improvement for what had been an unmarked place without individual claims of ownership?
The U.S. Government would provide a land claim to pioneers, as long as it was improved by breaking the sod and cultivating a crop in sandy soils, or adding some trees. Was this an improvement upon the native prairie which had developed naturally for thousands of years?
Railroads were built to the edge of the frontier, opening new places to towns and settlers. Was this an improvement as civilization encroached further and further?
The first attempt by the U.S. Government to get the land settled was not quite as successful as it could have been, so the claim law was changed, by a politician. A claimant could get 640 vs. 160 acres. The settler had to still till the ground. This was not an improvement on the earlier Homestead Act.
With the extirpation of elk and bison, gray wolves, residents for eons, tried to survive by eating "slow elk." A bounty was enacted so soon this native mammal was completely extirpated. There are stories among the chronicles that celebrate the death of the wolves. These predators were among the last of the lingering original condition of the sandhills. All the elk were killed long before the wolves.
Ranchers claimed land, and as government officials enforced boundaries, they were limited to property they actually owned. There are a bunch of ranch entities, some still operating which were involved in this ruse. There were illegal land claims, and how did the many instances benefit the sandhills, since the intent was to benefit a land-owner's pocket-book?
Limitations on range land meant that land actually owned was the sole source of grass where cattle could range and hayland for a ranch. Early in the 1900s, ranchers decided upon a new option. Ditch the wetlands to provide a hay meadow rather than an unwanted swamp. In Cherry County in July 1900, N.S. Rowley, of Kennedy, was cooperating with Messrs. Bachelor and Ball to complete a drainage ditch two miles in length, ten feet wide, and five feet deep to drain the Boardman Swamp. Further details followed, as issued on a page of a local newspaper, or in a book of reminiscences by an oldtime rancher.
How was this effort an improvement for the flora and fauna present? What did the birds think when they arrived at a former haven, only to discover that there was no water habitat?
Most of the prairie dog towns present within the sandhills have been destroyed, because they created unwanted holes recognized as hazards. How did their extirpation benefit burrowing owls and other species present at these places?
How many snakes have been killed because, they are also an unwelcomed resident. The same for gophers.
These are obvious examples of animal eradication. Add the elk to this list. Then include unique plants associated with plants that formerly thrived in inter-dune valleys, especially fens which are a unique habitat, and which have mostly been ditched and partially drained.
REA lines spread electric power throughout the region. It was a wonderful comparison to the pioneer times when kerosene lamps or candles where the only light available during the night. With electricity always available, the radio, refrigerator and television spread into every household, provided by wires strung along poles built to every residence. It was a boon to the people. After the initial effort, there were subsequently more power distribution lines constructed by utility providers to give improved service to residents. The poles and lines connect every community within the region. Each segment was carefully constructed, with reliability a focus.
A line from Stapleton connects to Tryon and then to Arthur. Hyannis is serviced by a powerline built to its south, through the Sandhills National Natural Landmark. Along the Highway 20 corridor through northern Cherry county, there is a powerline. For each of these lines, no one was asked whether or not they wanted these constructs. It was just done by a utility company to improve service.
Because it was easier to dump things over the hill, beyond the ranch buildings, there are many unknown dumps, places where unwanted equipment, machinery or things called trash has accumulated, or spots of a similar context, whatever they might be called. The sort of discards is unknown, but is obvious at some places, especially north of Ashby. It may have been easy to get rids of unwanted things, since out of sight, out of mind.
How does dumping discards into an available swale indicate any respect for the land? It is certainly not an improvement, but rather a disgraceful situation that will linger forever, once done, and as never removed.
Cellular-phone towers have proliferated in recent years. The intent is obviously to provide complete coverage, because self-centered people had to have instant access to others. The towers, usually hundreds of feet in height, regularly have a blinking light on its top. They are obviously an essential during emergencies, but cell towers are not built to provide emergency communications.
How does the placement of many towers more than 400 feet in height, contribute to any appreciation of a dark sky at night within, in particular, Cherry County?
These are among the most recent improvements contributing to the demise.
There are more pending.
The R-Project being promoted by the Nebraska Public Power District is a juggernaut by a public utility which expects nothing more than an approval for their proposal. Rate-payers will pay to provide a transmission line to distribute electricity generated by turbines in Nebraska to elsewhere. It will be imposed across 220 miles of landscape, though the constructor did not receive permission from anyone for its construction.
There are plans to place wind turbines at various place within the sandhills. Two prominent spots are south of Cody and westward of Baldy Hill, in northeast Arthur County. Others will certainly be proposed because there are efforts underway in this regard. Each turbine complex will be presented as an improvement to provide green energy ... and how wonderful it will be while the only reason the facility is being built is because of subsidies paid by power users and the general public. The turbines will be hazards to birds and bats, fracture habitat and further the decline in open spaces. The generated power will likely be sent outstate. The impact will be imposed locally while the benefactors will be distant, including the people making money. Of course a few local land-owners will be getting checks, while they gaze in wonder at massive turbines, slowly turning on their property, and the associated access roads and buried powerlines. Ain't that sweet?
Throughout these 150 years of history, there have been only a few murmurs expressing views associated with conservation of natural vistas and an opportunity to enjoy a natural horizon of just land and sky.
Several years, a personal opinion was indicated in an article published in the Lincoln Journal Star, regarding the imposition of cellular service towers in northern Cherry county. It meant nothing, because there are more cellular towers present now within the region than ever before.
The Nebraska Public Power District has recently decided to impost a new transmission line upon Cherry County. It will be built. There will be more turbines.
There will be more and more things placed upon the land, based upon economic benefit for businesses and land-owners.
The land has no opinion. Birds can't express any perspective, and when one hits and turbine blade and falls to the ground to be eaten by a coyote, there is no report in the newspaper. Plants are mute when ripped from the round when a new turbine access road is constructed.
When some light atop a cellular tower blinks ever night now and forever, no one has complained.
Improvements and monetary gain are the primary focus. And don't forget doing any and everything to promote any benefit to the livestock industry, even if that might include killing as many coyotes as possible. Or carrying to pistol to shoot any gopher seen, because they are no longer welcomed in the cattle pastures.
The sand hills' environment is under an ongoing assault which will result in a huge loss of features which future generations might want to appreciate and enjoy. Each year, any such opportunity is lessened. It's such a shame.
This commentary conveys a basic perspective which reflects an obvious reality.
Improvements in many instances are actually degradation, but there is no voice for the land?