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RailWorks Area Manager Works to Preserve Prairies

Randy Ruppert took special training to become a burn boss, certified to conduct the controlled prairie fires necessary to eliminate invasive or otherwise unwanted plants and to encourage desired plant growth.

The Deepwater Horizon oil well disaster and the Gulf Coast’s ongoing recovery efforts have heightened many people’s awareness of protecting the planet’s biodiversity and ecosystems.

Doing his part in the Midwest is RailWorks’ Randy Ruppert, Area Manager out of the Fremont office, who has worked intently since 2005 to preserve and restore the prairies in and around his home state of Nebraska.

Randy and his wife Nancy joined the Prairie Plains Resource Institute after seeking help in returning their own 65-acre pasture to high-diversity prairie — land containing an abundant mix of grass, sedge (grass-like or rush-like plants) and especially forbs (wild flowers). Research led Randy to Prairie Plains, and eventually to stints on its board of directors, first as treasurer and later, vice president.

The non-profit organization owns seven Nebraska prairie properties totaling 5,800 acres in trust, and since 1980 has overseen the planting of 6,000 acres of high-diversity prairie. It conducts educational programs to teach Nebraskans about managing land and other natural resources. The organization focuses on “endless initiatives” within Nebraska and works in concert with other conservancy groups, absorbing Randy’s time outside RailWorks and fueling a passion for conservation.

“We don’t watch much TV,” he says. “The weekends are either spent working on our prairie or the other prairies. There’s nothing finer than being in the middle of a piece of prairie that has escaped the plow.”

As Prairie Plains’ vice president, Randy has two main goals. “My focus is on taking that organization and making the education and preservation continue as a non-profit, and taking the restoration arm and turning it into a for-profit portion.”

Through Prairie Plains, Randy has several irons in the fire. Seems he keeps irons in the water, too.

“One of our big initiatives is a coalition of eight other partners: to get green zones around all our lakes, streams and rivers — a 50-foot buffer to prevent nitrogen runoff into our streams.” And as a member of Snake Falls Sportsmen’s Club, Randy is working to preserve a portion of the Snake River to protect native trout. “We have one trout stream in Nebraska that’s a native trout stream where they live and breed. It’s being closed in by developers, so we’re trying to come up with investors to buy a 6-mile piece of river where they breed.”

Randy doesn’t leave his environmental efforts behind when he’s on the RailWorks clock. “I am very strict about waste oils and oil spills, and equipment running unnecessarily,” he says. “Paying attention to environmental concerns produces a safe and professional job site.”

Meanwhile, the pasture-to-prairie project on the Ruppert property is flourishing. The hallmarks of high diversity are about 25 different grasses and sedge, and 350 forb species. June’s Prairie — named after Randy and Nancy’s beloved boxer, June, who played there until her death at age 3 — boasts 21 grasses and sedges, and 117 forbs.