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Corps of Engineers Aids Missouri River Wildlife
Photo Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
By Michael Olson and Barb Perkins
The Missouri River flows for 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) from its headwaters in Three Forks, Montana, to St. Louis, Missouri. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is charged by Congress to manage the river for social and economic benefits. The Corps’ Missouri River Endangered Species Office at its Gavins Point Project in Yankton, South Dakota, has taken that charge one step further. It envisions "a sustainable ecosystem capable of supporting thriving populations of native species while providing for current social and economic values."
The Missouri River Recovery Program is aimed at restoring an ecosystem that has been highly altered due to the construction and operation of the mainstem dams in the upper basin and the construction of the bank stabilization and navigation project located on the lowest 750 miles (1,210 km) of the river. Recovery of the endangered least tern (Sterna antillarum), piping plover (Charadrius melodus), and pallid sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus albus), and the Missouri River itself, would not be possible without the commitment, partnership, and leadership provided by the Corps. In the early 1990s, the Fish and Wildlife Service recognized that the job of monitoring these species on the Missouri River system was much more work than we could perform, so we turned to the Corps for assistance and support.
The Corps – specifically, Casey Kruse and his staff – worked to develop and implement one of the most comprehensive and geographically challenging endangered species monitoring and recovery programs ever imagined. This program annually implements nearly $100 million for recovery actions ranging from research and monitoring to habitat construction and captive propagation support.
This program coordinates the monitoring of more than 2,500 miles (4,020 km) of reservoir shoreline and hundreds of river miles. Researchers annually monitor more than 1,000 least tern adults and 500 tern chicks, as well as 1,200 piping plover adults and 1,000 chicks that call the Missouri River home. This effort includes hiring and training dozens of summer employees, placing cages over (or physically moving) at-risk nests, and weekly surveys of bird productivity. The office also has developed the first comprehensive monitoring plan and population assessment for pallid sturgeon on the Missouri River.
In addition to monitoring efforts, the Corps has committed to the construction and restoration of hundreds of acres of new emergent sandbar habitat, development and implementation of a comprehensive predator control plan, and implementation of an ambitious education and outreach program. An adaptive management program that integrates all aspects of the recovery program with Missouri River basin stakeholders is also underway. This critical piece of the recovery effort will allow for the integration of public values into future recovery decisions, and permit recovery actions, including flow changes, to move forward. All of these activities are closely coordinated with the Service.
The professionalism of Kruse and his staff has given a new sense of optimism for recovery of the Missouri River ecosystem. This optimism is shared by all involved in the recovery program, including the Service, the Corps, eight states, 28 tribes, and non governmental stakeholders.
Corps personnel use a set of guiding principles to shape their program:
- Science - incorporate objective, fact driven investigations, constructive debate, and peer review;
- Transparency and access - offer transparency and universal access to tools and data;
- Consensus-building - use fair processes and strive for consensus on conclusions and proposals;
- Inclusiveness - use collaboration to foster inclusiveness; and
- Accountability - meet schedules, maintain professional responsibilities, and provide quality products.
In addition to Missouri River recovery efforts, the Corps offered office space for two of our most important Missouri River positions, including the Missouri River Natural Resources Committee Coordinator. In this position, Wayne Nelson-Stastny works hand in glove with staff at the Corps’ office on issues of mutual importance.
The Service recently recognized the Corps staff in the Yankton Office as a "Recovery Champion" for its ongoing efforts to advance recovery of the Missouri River listed species. Service Director H. Dale Hall said of the 16 recipients, "The Recovery Champion award not only recognizes the exceptional conservation accomplishments of the honorees, it also provides the public with a unique opportunity to learn about endangered species conservation. These Recovery Champions are extraordinary conservationists dedicated to protecting and restoring our nation’s wildlife and ensuring that future generations of Americans enjoy the natural treasures we experience today."
There are great days ahead for the Missouri River Recovery program thanks to the continued hard work of our partners in the Corps’ Yankton Endangered Species Office.
Michael Olson, the Service’s Missouri River coordinator, can be reached at 701-250-4481 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Barb Perkins was a public affairs specialist in the Service’s Lakewood, Colorado, Regional Office until she retired recently
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