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.Eco Suffix Lets Websites Declare Their Environmental Consciousness


Designed to have a similar purpose and level of credibility as domain addresses like .edu or .gov., the internet’s latest domain suffix, .eco, lets websites declare their environmental consciousness and commitment to viewers.

Who Manages .Eco

Efforts to open .eco for purchase and find a company to manage it began almost ten years ago by the non-profit organization Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.

Several individuals, such as Al Gore, competed for the rights to manage the .eco domain name. Big Room, started by two former employees of ICANN, Trevor Bowden and Jacob Malthouse, won the bid by partnering with major environmental groups to develop .eco as a credible suffix.

Together, Big Room and conservation groups like the World Wildlife Fund, formed the Dot Eco Council. The Dot Eco Council collaborated and developed Big Room’s intended mission, goals and registration processes if they won the bid to manage .eco. World Wildlife Fund, along with other organizations from the Dot Eco Council, all wrote letters of support for Big Room to ICANN, resulting in Big Room winning the rights to .eco.

Today, more than 60 global environment organizations, including World Wildlife Fund and the UN Environmental Program, support Big Room and the .eco domain name, giving it a unique advantage over other upcoming domain suffixes.

How .Eco Works

Designed to offer credibility and trust to consumers, .eco features several steps for companies, organizations and people to complete before they can operate a .eco domain address. The purchase of a .eco domain name is unregulated by Big Room and their company that manages .eco, Dot Eco Registry. Anyone can buy any one of the more than 10 million .eco domain names available. .Eco websites, however, can’t go live without the site owner completing the following with Dot-Eco Registry:

1. Agree to the Dot Eco Registry, pledge to support the environment and provide honest and accurate information about you, your company or your organization’s environmental consciousness.

2. State and specify you, your organization or your company’s sustainability priorities and current environmental efforts with supporting evidence, such as documents.

3. Start a public profile on Dot Eco Registry’s community website including the above information.

4. Systems to monitor or verify these public profiles and provided evidence have yet to be published by Big Room and Dot Eco Registry.

Company leaders Bowden and Malthouse feel the public profiles and the site owner’s documentation of their environmental consciousness lends itself to reliable information because the information is public and available to consumers and journalists worldwide to analyze and fact check. Early adopters of .eco addresses have also responded positively to the current registration system via feedback gathered by Big Room during its early access period for .eco. Since its April 25, 2017 launch, more than 1,000 .eco domain names have been purchased. Companies, organizations and individuals are also required to pay an annual fee to register their .eco domain name. The fee ranges from $65 to $100.

How .Eco Helps Organizations Show Their Environmental Support

.Eco helps organizations show their support for the environment in a few ways. One method is through the annual fee every business, organization or individual pays to maintain their .eco site. Big Room intends to use the funds from these annual fees to establish a non-profit organization. The organization would use a percentage of .eco domain address sales to support environmental charities and other non-profits. Thus, .eco owners are not only maintaining their site, but helping out charities. Organizations or individuals with a .eco suffix also receive use of Dot Eco Registry’s .eco trustmark. The trustmark lets a company or person show their support of environmental or conservation efforts on their website and social media pages via the .eco trustmark logo.

Growth of the .eco domain name, as well as its credibility and trustworthiness, will help validate a company’s environmental-friendliness to the site’s visitors. A company would then not only be showing their support of the environment, but building trust and respect with consumers.  Because .eco launched less than a month ago, it’s difficult to gauge its long-term success among organizations and web users. Its support from major environmental and conservation organizations offers it a unique advantage to build itself as a credible domain name exclusively for proven environmentally-friendly organizations, which can build consumer trust in a company.

Photos and photo credits Pixabay

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Sustainability Considerations for the Metal Mining Industry


 Metals are a core component of green technology, yet the gathering and refining of metals is far from being environmentally friendly due to air and water pollution, as well as damage to natural habitats. It’s an ongoing quandary for the metals industry and the world.

How Governments Push Back

Governments generally regulate mining to limit its impact on the environment. Certain countries, such as El Salvador and China, have begun to expand regulations in response to environmental factors. China increased its regulation of the metal industry to reduce air pollution, which has led to the country’s ongoing problem with smog. New regulations resulted in the closing of metal refineries, plants and mines.

El Salvador chose to ban all faucets of metal production last month in lieu of revised regulations. The unprecedented move resulted from the country’s limited supply of available clean water, which new mines could potentially pollute.

Decisions such as China’s and El Salvador’s emphasize the growing importance of the environment, renewable energy and environmentally-friendly practices to a government and its constituents.

How Metal Is Giving Back

Metal is essential for green technology. Companies focused on green technology rely on metals to make products like wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles. 

Raw metals, such as copper, aluminum and especially lithium have grown in demand due to their use in environmentally-friendly products. All three of these metals are used by manufacturers of electric cars.

Metal alloys assist in the production of green products, as well as extending the longevity of items. Since each alloy has unique physical and mechanical properties, they can be used in different ways.

Aluminum alloy is used for alloy wheels because it’s lightweight and resistant to corrosion, which reduces gas mileage for non-electric cars and extends the lifetime of the wheel for both electric and non-electric cars.

Metal is a crucial component of green products and initiatives, which complicates its position in a world that’s becoming more conscious of the environment.

How Science Is Fighting Back

Scientists recognize the metal industry’s unique situation and its invaluable role in green technology. Many have begun research into ways to reduce the industry’s sizeable carbon footprint and make it more environmentally friendly.

One method, developed by an MIT researchers, produces metals and other alloys without carbon emissions. Another method creates green technology for cooling products, which release gases that contribute to global warming, through a new type of alloy. A third method makes more durable and longer lasting alloys for large-scale building and engineering projects.

Another series of methods or tactics focus on sustainability practices, which many companies in the metal industry have adopted.

In the U.S., these practices include government programs, such as the Lean and Clean Advantage, which analyzes and reviews a company’s processes and resulting waste and provides alternatives for reducing waste.

The metal industry occupies a unique position in today’s greener world. It’s necessary in a variety of products, including green technology, and it’s often considered the alternative to throwaway, plastic products, such as straws. Its production and refinement contributes to global warming and pollution.

How the industry responds to alternatives and initiatives by scientists and governments will directly impact its future with the governments that control and grant access to resources the industry needs to thrive.

So far, the metal industry is conducive to being more environmentally-conscious. Aside from participating in government initiatives, the industry has begun to publish magazines, host trade shows and support conferences that focus on environmentally-friendly practices.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living and has an especially strong passion for helping others increase their mental health and happiness by improving their daily productivity and positivity. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts oProductivity Theory. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Learning Survival Skills


If our modern conveniences were suddenly stripped away, would we survive? I think that, as man has grown increasingly detached from nature, this question has become subconsciously present in the minds of more and more people - as is evident from both nonfiction informative books on the subject, and fiction in the genre of post-apocalyptic survivalism (including a new novel by yours truly, Wild Children, written under the pen name of Hannah Ross).

It all seems to be asking the following question: if the world is turned upside down and we can no longer rely on the fancy tools of modern man, do we stand a chance?

Well, do we? Honest introspection leads me, and many others, to conclude that we are less resourceful, resilient and capable than our forefathers. We do less things with our hands. We walk less on our feet. We don't exercise our minds as much, because the convenience of the Internet is just too alluring. Many times, when struggling to remember a piece of information, I open up Wikipedia at once rather than strain my memory.

During WWII, after my grandparents were stripped of their belongings and put on a train to Siberia, along with a bunch of other people who fell into disfavor under Stalin's rule, they were plunked down in the middle of nowhere and told to build a settlement and work, all with minimal resources. Cutting through an inch-thick layer of ice to get drinking water and fending off hungry howling wolves became everyday routine. Many died in the harsh conditions, with inadequate food, housing and medical care.

Grandma and Grandpa were educated people, but all this education wasn't worth very much out in the middle of nowhere near the Arctic Circle. Chopping firewood, basic building and carpentry skills, animal husbandry, sewing and knitting were far more useful. It was a harsh life, but they adapted. They had a far better starting point than most people today would, however. They grew up in homes where gardens were routinely tended and animals kept and bred. Grandma, a big sister in a family of five boys, was used to patching up clothes and letting down hems. They knew how to work with their hands, which enabled them to live.

Some people think learning survival skills is some loony Doomsday watch-out-the-world-is-ending thing, but it isn't necessarily so. Short-term skills (starting a fire, finding water) can save hikers who have lost their way. Long-term abilities (growing food, repairing clothes, carpentry) can be real handy not just when food and goods are scarce, but when they are expensive. Many people can't even picture the possibility of being unable to buy whatever they need, whenever they need it, but I remember the days of the Perestroika and walking with my mom into food stores empty of just about everything except some tins of sardines. Not so long ago, butter, then eggs, went missing from store shelves around here. It only lasted a couple of days, but we were sure happy to have our own eggs.

We think that survival skills, both short term and long term - foraging, growing and preserving food, first aid, raising and breeding animals, and in general becoming more self-sufficient - are worth learning, and we live our lives and teach our children accordingly. In the normal course of things we gain the satisfaction of working with our hands and a little island of sanity in a fast-paced and crazy world. We also save money and develop a more sustainable local community. And if The Big Bad Thing happens (war, natural disaster, economic crisis), these skills may well make the difference between life and death, or at least between struggling and well-being.

Two of my favorite books with lots of good info on the subject of self-sufficiency and living a more sustainable life are The Backyard Homestead and the old classic Possum Living.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here

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6 Easy Environmentally-Friendly Things To Do This Week

Most people desire to be environmentally sensitive to our good ole Mother Earth but just don't know where to start.  It can seem overwhelming to jump in with both feet but I'm here to tell you it's not hard if you start small and build on your success as you go.  And the good news is that it's not complicated, and it can even be a nice little money saver!  Gentle actions can be incorporated into your daily life very easily as long as you start with a few things & add to them as you become comfortable.  Before long your days are a smooth transition to an environmentally gentle life. To get the creative juices flowing, I thought it would be fun to show a few simple things I've done to be environmentally aware this week.

0416 Yellow flowers in old canning jar vase TaylorMadeHomestead

Wild Flowers In Vase

What's the difference between crappy pasture weeds & a beautiful floral arrangement?  NOTHING!  Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. My hubby spied these 'weeds' when he was walking our pastures recently. Knowing how beautiful I think they are, he pulled some & brought them to me. They are now in a vase beautifying our home!  And these gorgeous flowers didn't cost a dime.

Homemade Snacks For Parties

We were invited to several covered-dish functions over the past week.  I made my favorite homemade Blackberry Cobbler for a cookout, my Double Chocolate Banana Chunk Cookies for another gathering (where it was requested to bring finger foods), and decadent fudgy Iced Brownies for a supper gathering with our son & his family.  Homemade desserts are delicious & these recipes are all simple & very quick to make.  And once again I've saved some money. Plus there's no landfill-bound trash like there would be if I was buying from the bakery or even baking from a boxed mix.

Making Sun Tea

We love iced tea and I always brew it using the power of the sun.  I have a repurposed hourglass-shaped picante jar that I fill with filtered water & a teabag.  Then I  screw on the lid & place the jar on our picnic table in the sun.  A few hours in that Texas sun and BOOM!  I pour the concentrated tea into a glass pitcher, add some water and we enjoy some delicious iced tea.  Other drink options such as cola or juice would be more expensive & almost always involve some sort of trash to be produced.  But the only trash our sun tea produces is the tea bag which is dropped into my compost bin.  In a few weeks that used tea bag will be part of the black gold compost I use in my garden!


Repurposed sugar jar TaylorMadeHomestead

Bonus points added since I've made a handy & convenient sugar jar using a repurposed canning jar with a pour spout!  The canning jar fits nicely with the home-canning theme in my kitchen and the pour spout was cut from the top of an empty container of salt.  I simply cut the top of the cardboard salt container to fit my canning jar, placed it on my jar and screwed the canning ring on to hold it in place.  Now when we want to sweeten our tea we simply flip the spout & pour!

Plant Grocery Store Produce

With the gorgeous spring weather we fired up the grill recently.  My hubby knows I love grilled jalapenos but although my garden is planted it's not yet producing.  So we had to buy the huge jalapenos that we wanted to grill from the grocery store.  I saved a few of those jalapeno seeds and planted them in the garden.  Although they're not heirloom seeds, hopefully they'll sprout and develop into a few more jalapeno plants for our dining pleasure.  I also wrote about planting sprouted red potatoes a few weeks ago as well.  I often plant from store-bought produce when I have to buy it.

Crackers in glass jars TaylorMadeHomestead

Store Food In Glass Jars

I long ago got rid of all those mismatched and stained plastic food storage options in my kitchen.  These days I'm using glass for almost all of my food storage.  Sometimes I use canning jars, sometimes repurposed jars rescued from the recycling bin. Storing food in glass helps us to remember what we've got in the fridge needing to be consumed. And storing dry goods in jars in my pantry helps me to monitor my supplies.  This week I made some delightful Rosemary Crackers & stored them in some of those repurposed jars.

Repurposed Plastic Lid For Cutting Board

You know the lids that come from a canister of coffee?  Those handy lids are always repurposed into cutting boards in my kitchen.  They're lightweight, store easily & the rims easily contain the juice from something like a tomato or lemon.  Plus the lid protects my counter top as well as helps keep my knife blades sharp.  There's always a plentiful supply so when the lids start getting scratched up I toss 'em into the recycle bin and save a new one to take its place.

These are just a few things I thought I'd share with you.  Keeping an eye on the environment doesn't have to be time consuming or difficult.  It just takes thinking outside the box sometimes.  We can all do a little to make a big impact!

Tammy Taylor is the owner of the ~Taylor-Made Homestead~ blog. Tammy lives & works on a Northeast Texas ranch and writes about home cooking, gardening, food preservation, MIY, DIY and living as gently as possible on this big blue planet we call home. You can visit her Homestead Blog – or follow her on Facebook or Pinterest. Find all of Tammy's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Bees in Your Backyard

bees in your backyard header

About half a year ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Olivia Messinger-Carril, who co-authored, The Bees in your Backyard, published by Princeton Press.  She had recently moved to New Mexico and I was ecstatic to meet a fellow bee enthusiast.  We were cyber-introduced through a beekeeping acquaintance in Ohio.

As fate ordained it, I had been asked to set up a pollinator exhibit for the New Mexico State University Alcalde Sustainable Agriculture Research Center's Field Day. I knew I had to invite her to join me at the Field Day.  And so we shared a space; me with beekeeping info and a honey tasting bar on one side, and her with some native pollinators specimens and her new book, The Bees in Your Backyard, on the other.

olivia  melanie pollinator exhibit nmsu Aug 2016 web

She has since been awarded a grant to ID native pollinators at the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument site. I hope to be joining her on some of her pollinator ID trips this year! 

The Bees in Your Backyard provides an engaging introduction to the roughly 4,000 different bee species found in the United States and Canada, dispelling common myths about native solitary bees while offering essential tips for telling them apart.  The book features more than 900 stunning color photos of bees living all around us — in our gardens and parks, along nature trails, and in the wild spaces between. It describes their natural history, including where they live, how they gather food, and their role as pollinators.

There is even a full chapter on how to attract them to your own backyard. Ideal for amateur naturalists and experts alike, it gives detailed accounts of every bee family and genus in North America, describing key identification features, distributions, diets, nesting habits, and more.  This book provides the most comprehensive and accessible guide to all bees found in the United States and Canada. Among the photos of bees visiting flowers are macro-photos that demonstrate how to distinguish between different kinds of bees.

This book is written by Dr. Joseph S. Wilson, who lives in Utah where he is an assistant professor of biology at Utah State University.  He has been studying bees and wasps for more than a decade. 

Dr. Olivia Carril lives in northern New Mexico.  She has studied bees in deserts, on mountain tops, on Greek Islands, and in swamps for twenty years.  Of particular interest to her is the relationship shared by bees and the plants they visit.

The Bees in your Backyard

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Interview with Susan Silber


Interview with SusanSilber

What is the vision, mission and goals for the NorCal Community Resilience Network? What have been some of your successes? Some of your learnings?

The mission of the NorCal Community Resilience Network (NorCal Network) is to activate and support community-based and ecological solutions to climate change, economic instability, and social inequities. We seek to transform our homes, neighborhoods, and communities into vibrant, regenerative, and resilient places. Our work increases capacity for grassroots projects and programs, builds solidarity across divides of race, class, sector and region, and broadens support for the Northern California community resilience movement as a whole. Some of our successes include:

+ Building solidarity within the movement by putting the spotlight on permaculture educators and solutionaries from underserved communities:

The Network played a major role in producing the 2015 and 2016 Convergences at the Solar Living Institute, notably the most diverse and largest Permaculture Convergence in the United States. The Network hosted cutting edge discussions about Indigenous Voices and permaculture, recruited notable keynote speakers, and helped to raise funds to bring nearly 75 individuals from diverse communities to the Convergence.

+ Organizing work parties that introduce hundreds of individuals and dozens of groups to the community resilience movement, all while growing food, saving water, and building community solidarity:

We have co-hosted numerous work parties in collaboration with our partners, bringing in new audiences to build both gardens and community. And for three years, we have spearheaded the East Bay’s Community Resilience Challenge, inspiring thousands of individuals, businesses and government agencies to save water, grow food, and conserve energy as they build community. We worked with close to 40 partners to co-host events and projects, ranging from garden work parties to water conservation tours.

+ We are strengthening our own organization: We are currently in the midst of a strategic planning process to grow the organization into a diverse and effective nonprofit. In March, we are launching our innovative membership model—our “Circle of Collaborators”—with an initial core of approximately 30 community-based organizations and businesses. We are also expanding our Steering Committee and Advisory Board to reflect the diversity of the communities we serve, and are actively seeking funds to make the Network more financially viable.

We are learning all the time how many amazing projects and organizations there are there! We wish we could visit them all!

I see the need to integrate permaculture, transition, spirit, nature and mythology. Do you have a similar vision in the work that you are doing with the Network?

Yes, the Network is all about integrating and weaving in various pieces of our movement. Transition was born from permaculture, and permaculture is rooted in a deep respect for nature. Likewise, it’s my belief that a deep respect for nature is spiritual; while mythology helps to capture some of the magic that is present in all this work.

What does you mean by “our movement”? What would an inclusive movement look like to you?

“Our movement” to me is regenerative culture - permaculture design, food justice, living low-carbon and simply, supporting community and collaboration and connections. It goes beyond sustainability to really look at a whole systems approach that embraces the heart, the hands and the head.

Inclusivity to me means that everyone has access to jobs, resources and whatever it will take to build resilient homes, neighborhoods and communities. And that we look at every aspect of our movement - from providing scholarships to PDC’s to making sure that events are accessible for everyone, to prioritizing working on projects in marginalized communities.

One of the Principles in the Circle of Collaborators project involves environmental justice principles. What are these specifically, and what is your vision for integrating them into the Network?

To summarize a piece from the NRDC about environmental justice: People who live in polluted areas are most often living in poverty, and most often people of color. They are most often targeted to host facilities that are polluting. That’s environmental racism! You can find the core principles here, which were adopted in 1991. They are spot-on, and our Network will be taking a close look at them to see how we can best integrate them into our programs and work with our Collaborators.

Please tell us some stories from the last international convergence.

It was pretty intense first of all, merging with the North American Convergence this year. We had close to 800 people from around the country, with some from India and other countries as well. We hosted some really cutting-edge discussions, including a memorable one about decolonizing permaculture that Susan Park led and a panel discussion with Indigenous leaders. The music was super fun too - Jasmine Fuego tore up the stage with her Pop-up Band, among many amazing acts. I also loved listening to Alfia Walking Tree and the Thrive East Bay choir.

So, it was a beautiful combination of art and discussions, and was extremely diverse besides. Of course, it was a challenge organizing the whole conference in a matter of just four or so months so we had some logistical challenges, while it was insanely hot as well. But overall I thought it was a big success. We had a great time who really worked hard to pull it off.

How do social responsibility, social justice and permaculture values intersect?

Permaculture is all about earth care, people care, fair share - so they should all be overlapping!

How might the East Bay permaculture community effectively more effectively promote your events and projects? Can you please share any personal or “unwritten” rules of participation that the 900+ members could agree on in our listserv?

I think that it would be great to limit the back and forth of conversations, and to reserve any opinions or judgments for simply directly talking to the person. And to please try to limit the listserv just to announcements, and I would say that just one posting per week is fine. It is my belief that most people simply want to hear about announcements, but I could be wrong. Maybe we could have a separate listserv for posts about politics and people’s writings, I dunno.

The Network will be starting a blog and newsletter so we could help to make these announcements. The X-Pollinator platform would be great to use for promoting events and our conversations.

Are you partnering with local corporations currently?

Not extensively. It would be great to provide corporations with opportunities to support local resiliency efforts, from volunteering at various farms around the Bay Area, to donating resources. Many corporations really encourage volunteering, so this is a huge possibility.

What is your vision for a resilient thriving world, in the year 2045?

My ultimate vision would be everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) to live in a low-carbon world, with all of our basic needs met locally, and living in community if they want to. It would be great to have bicycles dominating our roads instead of cars, urban homesteads instead of suburban tract homes, local organic farms instead of industrial agriculture. Everyone working in their Right Livelihoods. And radical women of color at the forefront of our government and decision-making.

About the Oakland Palestine Solidarity Mural

Interview by Willi Paul Studio/

Susan Silber, NorCal Steering Committee Member. Susansilber07 at Susan was introduced to community resilience after learning about the Transition Movement and co-founded the Berkeley Transition Initiative five years ago. Susan was co-producer of the Building Resilience Communities Convergence in both 2013 and 2015, and Community Resilience Challenge for two years. She also worked as an environmental educator for the past 25 years, and is proud to have introduced thousands of youth to the joys of nature, working with the Green Schools Initiative, Hostelling International, the Peace Corps and other programs.

 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Ecotourism Meets Agritourism in Nebraska: Dances with Prairie Chickens, Part 2

Greater Prairie Chickens Mating Ritual

The Greater Prairie Chicken courtship display has all the elements of a successful reality TV show: romance, conflict, suspense. It even adds in showy dances and colorful costumes. You can witness this courtship in the wild, if you’re willing to wake up early in the morning, head to a blind and patiently wait quietly. As fascinating as it is funny to watch, this ritual plays out on a stage of buffalo grass and wide expanse of prairie in what's called a lek, or “gathering place,” where these birds annually meet and mate each spring. The experience is guided by Prairie Chicken Dance Tours on a ranch outside McCook, Nebraska.

As we wrote about in our first article related to the great Sandhill Cranes migration in Nebraska, you don't need to travel half way around the world to experience an ecotourism adventure. Just a two hour drive from the blinds at Rowe Sanctuary where you can witness the Sandhill Cranes is an entirely different nature experience that puts you less than fifty feet away from where Greater Prairie Chickens strut, boom, stomp and clash in a courtship display where the toughest male wins his mate.

“To earn a spot on the lek means you are the toughest guy on the block,” explains Carol Schlegel, Director of the McCook/Red Willow County Visitors Bureau and one of the visionaries behind this tour idea that’s an ingenious blend of both ecotourism and agritourism. “One to two males at each lek are responsible for more than 80 percent of the copulation,” she shares with a wink.

From roughly the end of March through April, there is a window of opportunity to get out in the field at dawn to view these birds. Only recently has the mating ritual evolved into a growing tourist attraction thanks to Prairie Chicken Dance Tours’ launch in 2012. “It’s one of those things that the locals take for granted but visitors from far and wide descend upon McCook to view this one-of-a-kind sight,” admits Schlegel. “We just have one reservation from our 308 local area code this year so far.”

Discovering the Lek and Prairie Chickens

“I first found the lek by accident. My neighbor has one so I figured I must have one too,” says Angus Garey, describing how he first found the lek for the Greater Prairie Chickens on his ranch, land that had been in his family since they settled here in the 1870s. “I got up early one morning and drove up in my pasture and I thought, well I’ll get up on this high spot and then I’ll listen. And maybe I can hear where they’re at. Sure enough there’s starting to just barely be light and I can hear them starting to move.”

"It got just about half light, when all of a sudden I saw one flying right in front of my pickup. And I thought, wow!" Garey continues. With his wool plaid cap and leather jacket, the tall, lanky rancher spryly narrates his discovery of the lek with the glee of a young boy on Christmas morning. "Pretty soon I had half a dozen of 'em just walking around my pickup. I’m just sittin’ there, right in the middle of the lek. They weren’t very impressed. And they kinda tried to move around me, then they all flew off. I knew about the lek about fifteen years ago. Then Carol with the tourism group said: 'I want to see this.' So we actually we sat on five gallon buckets in a pop-up tent and watched. That’s how this whole thing got started.

Prairie Chicken Dance Tours, based in McCook, bring out small groups every spring to witness the mating ritual, antics and, sometimes, heated battles. “If you want to truly visit something, go directly where it lives,” advises Schlegel.

A key advantage to these tours is the full preparation you receive before you immerse and engage in this one-of-a-kind experience. The tour kicks-off the evening before your morning field outing with an orientation by Garey and Schlegel that gives you a crash course overview of Greater Prairie Chickens, including their behavior, what to expect in the blinds and viewing etiquette.

Then it’s off to bed early as the tour starts before sunrise the following morning. The town of McCook offers a range of accommodations, including the Chief Motel. Stop by the Coppermill Steakhouse for classic Nebraskan fare or journey an hour east to Sage Hill Vineyard & Winery for local sips and bed down in the “Winemaker’s Loft.”

Dance, Stomp and Boom of the Prairie Chickens

In the dark of night -- very early in the morning -- our group of about twenty, the most who would ever go out with Prairie Chicken Dance Tours, were shuttled from McCook to Garey's ranch, down a rough dirt road into a patch of prairie on his land. Upon arrival, we were split into two groups, funneled into two horse trailers that served as makeshift blinds. We were advised to dress warm for those early morning breezes, but kind host Garey had blankets out just in case. While bundled up, the icy cold of the early morning was tempered by the shelter of the blinds and blankets.

We sat, silently, and waited, moving our fingers and toes to keep warm. Just as the first specks of light make the prairie around us visible, six male Prairie Chickens swooped in and landed around the perimeter of the lek, with the dominant male moving into the center. If the Sandhill Crane viewing is like a big Broadway musical with thousands on stage, the Greater Prairie Chicken encounter is an intimate, intense dramatic play where you have a front seat. These slightly larger than a football-sized birds exhibit their own special combination of motion and sound, stomping and drumming their feet rapidly in one spot while uttering a crazy mix of cackling. We stare spell-bound as the birds inflate their neck air sacs to attempt to establish dominance, popping out like a vivid, ripe orange.

“The whole thing has to do with sex,” Garey said with a smile at the orientation the previous night. “You’ll see a female sometimes walk through, strutting her stuff and looking like she isn’t paying any attention but quietly observing who she thinks might be the best male.”

As the morning sun rises, the colors pop around us. A vivid prairie palette with shades of mustard yellow, gold and dark green make us feel like we’re viewing a painting from inside our blind window. One of the males jumps several feet in the air, lands, then lowers his head and runs right into a neighbor male. Just like television, a few feathers may fly, but it’s mostly for show. Greater Prairie Chickens are rarely hurt in these skirmishes. But with an end goal of love and serving as ruler of the lek, the birds remind us it’s worth putting your heart and feathers fully in the game.

When fully light out, perhaps after an hour or a bit more, the birds suddenly fly off to feed for the day. The mating dance and ritual is on hold, until tomorrow.

Lisa Kivirist is a writer, the author of Soil Sisters and founder of the Rural Women’s Project of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. She is also Senior Fellow, Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems at the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota. With her husband John D. Ivanko, she has co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently,9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.

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