These objectives are to be
accomplished in a way acceptable to the local communities.
In May of 1996, 2,700 acres
of deeded land were acquired from a landowner by The Nature Conservancy. This purchase
formed the basis for a conservation partnership with the Sandhills Task Force. The ranch
included lands known locally as the Jumbo and Pullman Valleys, approximately 26 miles
north of Whitman, Nebraska in south-central Cherry County.
view (146 k)
Funding for land
acquisition was provided by the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund, while operational
support is being provided by the Sandhills Task Force (including private ranchers, the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nebraska Cattlemen, NRCS, Nebraska Game and Parks
Commission, local NRD's, and County Governments) and The Nature Conservancy through site
management activities (leases) and fund-raising. The Nature Conservancy is providing staff
and administrative support in paying operating costs, taxes, land management, and
coordination of inventory and scientific studies. They are paying taxes and other costs
but will be reimbursed once the property is sold.
Fundamental to the project
partnership is a commitment to locally driven private-land conservation. The group
envisions restored fens in private ownership, though possibly with management needs which
change the use and value of these lands. They expect to discover land uses and management
regimes which maintain unique fen species and natural communities within the context of
existing ranch operations. Or if this is not possible, to quantify the lost economic
opportunities landowners incur if they restore fens to meet public conservation goals.
organization called the Sandhills Task Force has established a fund called the Sandhills
Resource Conservation Fund. When the fen property is restored and an easement has been
placed on the property, it will be sold to a private ranching operation. Monies received
above the costs of restoration, management, and conservation easement will be placed in
this fund and used to accomplish other conservation projects throughout the Sandhills. To
date, funding (placed in this Conservation Fund) has been received from various public and
private organizations to assist the Task Force in doing projects. They range from
educational workshops, to establishing whole-ranch grassland management plans, to
controlling stream erosion and improving riparian habitat.
Another significance of the
fen project is proof that partnerships and an attitude of cooperation can find win-win
solutions to environmental issues. This fen project demonstrates that:
Landowners and government
agencies share common visions,
Government agencies can
work together on conservation practices,
Landowners and agencies
can work together;
Ranching and wildlife are
not mutually exclusive, and
Projects that no one
agency or organization has the resources or skill to accomplish can be accomplished
The Jumbo and Pullman
Valley wetlands (where the fens occur) encompass from 700 to 900 acres separated by a
major sand dune. Upland range also occurs on the north and southwest portions of the
During the first year of the project the members of the
Sandhills Task Force, local ranchers and Conservancy personnel familiarized themselves
with the site. Preliminary field reconnaissance, plant inventory and vegetation
classification, topographic surveys, and instrumenting Jumbo Valley for hydrology
monitoring were also accomplished.
In year two, a wide array
of biological inventory and monitoring projects were initiated. A day-long workshop
attended by Sandhills Task Force members, local ranchers, resource specialists, and
scientists was held in July, 1997 to identify the significant issues and make
recommendations for the fen restoration.
Fens are wetlands uniquely
characterized by the up-welling of ground water in saturated peat deposits. Unlike wet
meadows, ditching is relatively ineffective in draining fens because of the slow movement
of water through peat. Surface water currently moves through the fens within the narrow
ditches constructed to increase water flow through the valleys. The water level in these
ditches is from 2 to 5 feet below the historic fen surface, across which a more dispersed
structures will be used to restore the historic seasonal water levels near the
main channels at or near the land surface, while allowing drainage to flow through the
valley. A series of small control structures will be installed in the primary channel of
Jumbo Valley and the north channel of Pullman Valley, with a main structure being placed
on the eastern end of each.
Small control structures used to maintain
high water levels in the channels.
Weir used as main structure to pass
all water coming down the drainage.
Ditch Plugs will be used to impede water movement from the lateral ditches into
the main channel and restore seasonal water levels to near historic levels.
Ditches - The purpose for re-contouring several lateral ditches is to
compare the efficacy of this method (relative to local water level and vegetation
response) to the ditch plugs.
Beaver Activity - Beaver
will be allowed to spread within the valleys to raise local water levels to the fen
surface and allow a comparison with costs and effects of the water control structures.
Beaver activity may cause problems with the function of the control structures.
Appropriate measures, such as modifying the structures, may have to be taken.
The plant species
associated with sandhills fens are adapted to the peat soils and hydrogeology. Most of
these species have wide geographic distribution, but many are isolated considerable
distances from their more northern primary range. Notable species include the northern bog
bean, cotton grass, marsh and sensitive fern, tufted loosestrife, western lily, and marsh
marigold. Unlike uplands and wet meadows, the native plant communities characteristic of
Nebraska Sandhills fens are dominated by sedges, rushes, and shrubs. Open water areas may
be dominated by cattail.
Vegetation will be managed
to restore the distribution and abundance of the species characteristic of sandhills fens.
This will involve expanding or re-locating populations of individual native species, and
suppressing non-native species. Fire, grazing, and haying will be used to manage for the
many plant community expressions found in fens with undisturbed hydrologic regimes.
Unique Species - Unique
fen species will be managed to expand their populations to those portions of the fens from
which they may have been removed by the effects of artificial drainage. The primary
strategy for expanding unique fen species is to manage for the appropriate habitat
conditions, rather than initiating re-seeding/transplanting efforts.
Exotic Species - Exotic
species will be managed to reduce their distribution and abundance as much as possible
given the resources of the project. The primary strategy for reducing exotic species will
be to manage against the habitat conditions on which they depend. The initial focus will
be on reed canarygrass and Garrison creeping fox-tail. Successful re-hydration of peat
soils will likely exclude canarygrass and fox-tail from most fen habitats, though they
will probably persist in wet meadow habitats. In wet meadow habitats, fire grazing and
haying combinations will be employed for control.
Management - Fire management will be used to incorporate an ecological process
which was responsible for some of the dynamic aspects of fen structure and function. Since
the project goal is to restore examples of Sandhill fen plant communities fire will be
managed so as not to consume the peat deposits in the Jumbo and Pullman Valleys.
Prescribed burns will be conducted only when the peat is wet or frozen. It is expected
that prescribed burns will generally be used in combination with grazing and haying as
part of a strategy to improve fen habitats and allow for compatible levels of forage
- Grazing management will be implemented to economically harvest some of the
forage produced on, or adjacent to the Jumbo and Pullman Valley fens, in a way which
maintains the viability of fen species and habitats. Currently very little is known about
grazing un-drained fens. This project will provide some of the first scientific data on
the ecological role and potential use of cattle grazing on sandhills fens.
Management - Haying management will be implemented to economically harvest some
of the forage produced on, or adjacent to the Jumbo and Pullman Valley fens, in a way
which maintains the viability of fen species and habitats. Un-drained fens will be
expected to have limited opportunities for harvesting hay in normal-to-wet years. However,
hay production on the wet-meadow transition between fen and upland will be evaluated as a
ranching practice compatible with fen restoration. Fen areas supporting shrub communities
will not be hayed.
Biological Inventory & Monitoring
The ecology and management
of Nebraska Sandhills fens are poorly understood. Therefore, a major goal of this project
is to improve our understanding of the hydrological and biological resources represented
by these unique wetlands. Significant resources will be committed to identifying the
various species, habitats, and processes characteristic of the two fens prior to
restoration and documenting the changes which occur during the restoration process.