Ted LaGrange moved to Nebraska 20 years ago from Iowa. As the wetland program manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, he works across the state on conservation, restoration, education, outreach and research related to wetlands.
I’ve always been drawn to wetlands just because they’re such unique features on the landscape. And so part of it revolves back to when I was young and always enjoyed going out in wetland areas, just highly productive with lots of wildlife. I grew up duck hunting and wetlands were important for that.
Wetlands have a lot of different common names. People might think of them as sloughs or marshes, swampy areas. We have wetlands throughout all of Nebraska and a good majority of our fish and wildlife species have some tie to wetland areas to support their life cycles.
Early May is a good time or late April, I sometimes will wear waders and go sit out on a muskrat house or something that’s out there in the water and just wait for the sun to set. There’s always a lot of activity around sunset anyhow, that’s also a very busy time of year in the wetlands. There’s lots of birds and amphibians and things that are giving their breeding calls, so there’s lots of noise and activity. If you were to take someone and drop them into that setting or to play the audio for them and ask them where that was, they might guess the Amazon or some tropical forest somewhere, and if you told them that that was 10 miles from Lincoln, Nebraska (in the saline wetlands), I think they’d have a hard time believing that there’s that much life in a place that they regularly just drive by.
I did not have an epiphany moment where like suddenly, aha! This is it, I love the outdoors or I want to be a wildlife biologist. I’ve always wanted to be a wildlife biologist, I’ve always loved being outside.
I’m hard pressed to name a favorite season, I’m also hard-pressed to name a favorite place. One of the things that I really like about my job is that I work throughout the state. I work in the Sandhills and on the Platte and in our rainwater basin and on the Missouri River and in the saline wetlands and all of these different wetland types and it changes throughout the state. It’s different people, it’s different landscapes, different economies, different wildlife. And so I think we need to conserve that diversity because those places are all special.
A lot of people just don’t take the time or have the knowledge maybe to get out and really appreciate tallgrass prairie or a prairie marsh or a big meadow in the Sandhills or standing along the Platte River during the spring migration. So I think there’s lots of wonderful opportunities here to get out and enjoy nature.
Wetlands and wild places are important for things like flood control, groundwater recharge, water quality improvement. Wetlands, like a lot of our wild areas, are under pressure to be developed for agriculture, for urban development. And obviously as a society we need those things, we need food, we want our highways to travel on, we want cities to live in. We have to figure out how we work together to have those things that we all need and still conserve wild places like wetlands. So I think that’s the challenge and the opportunity but it’s the path we have to take if we’re going to have these areas for our future generations.
Music excerpted in this piece: “Meadows” by Lyndn Gauntlett and “Lives and Landscapes” by Danny Eldridge, Mark Cousins, and Adam Saunders (De Wolfe Music). Additional sound courtesy Ted LaGrange and CC.
Voices of the Platte is a collaboration between Platte Basin Timelapse and NET Radio’s Humanities Desk. These audio essays have been edited for length and clarity.