The Big Dry Arm Spring Storm in the Great Basin Red Cliffs Desert Tortoise Reserve March Morning on the Platte River After a Spring Storm in the Great Basin Hunting Upland Birds at Kingsbury Lake Waterfowl Production Area Sandhill Migration on the Platte River Badlands Sunrise The Green River at Ouray NWR North Park Lupines Moab Sunset
PFW - Nebraska
Mountain-Prairie Region
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Partners for Fish & Wildlife - Nebraska

 

Overview | Accomplishments | Focus Areas | Sand Hills Program | Partners Program at Rainwater Basin WMD | Contact Us | Open / Close All

  • Aerial view of Central Platte River wetland. Credit: USFWS.

    Aerial view of Central Platte River wetland. Credit: USFWS.

  • Central Platte River restoration project. Credit: USFWS.

    Central Platte River restoration project. Credit: USFWS.

  • Kyle Kirk and Jim Van Vinkle. Credit: USFWS.

    Kyle Kirk and Jim Van Vinkle. Credit: USFWS.

  • Loess Canyon American burying beetle. Credit: USFWS.

    Loess Canyon American burying beetle. Credit: USFWS.

  • Loess Canyon cedar invasion. Credit: USFWS.

    Loess Canyon cedar invasion. Credit: USFWS.

  • North Platte River restoration project. Credit: USFWS.

    North Platte River restoration project. Credit: USFWS.

  • Sandhills wetland grassland project. Credit: USFWS.

    Sandhills wetland grassland project. Credit: USFWS.

  • Sandhills post restoration. Credit: USFWS.

    Sandhills post restoration. Credit: USFWS.

Nearly 1,000 landowners in Nebraska have joined with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through its Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to restore fish and wildlife habitat on their lands. Through the Partners Program, the Service provides technical and financial assistance to help farmers and ranchers realize their goal of making their land a better place for fish and wildlife while sustaining profitable farming and ranching.

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program was first implemented in Nebraska in 1991 and has been growing ever since. Since the early 1990's, approximately 1,000 projects have been accomplished, resulting in a substantial amount of habitat restored for Federal trust species (i.e., migratory birds and threatened and endangered species).

Nebraska is located in the heart of the central Great Plains, and its wildlife resources are highly diverse and very dynamic. The Partners Program works with farmers and ranchers to restore wetlands, stream and river corridors, prairies, grasslands, and other important fish and wildlife habitat.


Overview »

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Technical Assistance | Priorities | Goals | Habitats | Conservation Strategies | Partners


Technical Assistance

Central Loess Hills Loup River Project, Phase-1. Credit: USFWS.

Central Loess Hills Loup River Project, Phase-1. Credit: USFWS.

In Nebraska, the predominant wetland restoration and enhancement techniques involve restoring the natural hydrology through the blocking of drains, breaking tiles, filling in concentration pits, removing sediment, installing grass buffers, installing fences along stream corridors, and addressing problems throughout the watershed. Wetland enhancement activities include working with the landowners to better manage the wetland through the use of grazing, haying, discing, and burning.

Upland and riparian areas are restored and enhanced through the installation of cross fencing, providing alternative sources of water, and the development of grassland/grazing management plans. Prairie restoration along the central Platte River involves the conversion of cropland to a high diversity mixture (e.g., 100 to 200 species) of local harvested native grasses and forbs.


Priorities

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The Partners Program in Nebraska identifies priorities based on numerous criteria including:

  • Habitat loss
  • Future threats
  • Habitat functions and values
  • Benefits to federal trust species
  • Land ownership and partners goals and objectives

Nebraska's landscape, and thus its wildlife resources, are very diverse and vary due to their geographic location, hydrology and other physical properties. In Nebraska, the Partners Program focuses its efforts in ecosystems or watersheds where our efforts will accomplish the greatest benefits. A high priority is given to projects located in three major geographic focus areas of international importance to wildlife: the Rainwater Basin area of south-central Nebraska, the Big Bend reach of the Central Platte River and the Sandhills in north-central Nebraska. Additional important habitat complexes of importance in Nebraska include the Missouri River, Eastern saline wetlands and the North Platte River Valley which contain important habitats for migrating, wintering and breeding fish and wildlife.

The priorities for the Nebraska Partners Program are developed in coordination with our partners including the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, The Nature Conservancy, Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, Sandhills Task Force, Platte River Whooping Crane Maintenance Trust, Ducks Unlimited and numerous other groups and organizations. The overall priority of the Nebraska Partners Program is to continue to develop successful partnerships with private landowners and other agencies and organizations to improve habitat on private land through Nebraska.

Our target species include the whooping crane, sandhill crane, lease tern, piping plover, waterfowl, shorebirds, grassland nesting birds and native fish and mussels.


Goals

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The long-term goals of the Nebraska Partners Program are to protect and restore Federal trust species habitats on private lands and to contribute to the conservation of biological diversity through the careful selection, design and implementation of restoration projects.


Habitats

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Black Terns on wetland at Rainwater Basin. Credit: USFWS.

Tallgrass prairie in Flint Hills, Kansas. Credit: USFWS.

In Nebraska, the Partners Program focuses in ecosystems or watersheds where our efforts will accomplish the greatest benefit. Three major geographic areas located in Nebraska are recognized as being of international importance to wildlife. Potential habitat restoration projects located within these geographic areas are considered to be a high priority for the Partners Program.

Nebraska’s Major Geographic Focus Areas

  • Rainwater Basins
  • Central Platte River
  • Sandhills

In addition to the three major geographic focus areas, the Partners Program also recognizes the importance of other fish and wildlife resources located throughout Nebraska. Other important habitat areas of concern include the Missouri, North Platte, Niobrara, Loup, and Republican Rivers, eastern saline wetlands, Todd Valley wetlands, and the southwest high plains playas. These areas contain important habitats for migrating, wintering, and breeding fish and wildlife.


Conservation Strategies

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Threats | Conservation Strategies | Future Needs


Sand Hills Wetland Grassland Project with Cattle. Credit: USFWS.

Sand Hills Wetland Grassland Project with Cattle. Credit: USFWS.

Threats - « Back to section top

Nebraska’s wetland resources have been greatly reduced since settlement. Historically, Nebraska contained an estimated 2,910,000 acres of wetlands that covered about 6 % of the State. By 1989, approximately 1,005,000 wetland acres or 35% had been lost, and many of the remaining wetlands have been degraded.

Wetland losses primarily occurred as a result of agricultural and urban development and was accomplished primarily by draining, filling, tiling, ditching, digging concentration pits, land leveling, stream degradation, and increasing sedimentation.

While wetlands have been lost throughout Nebraska, we estimate that about 90% of the historic Rainwater Basins, 45% of central Platte River wet meadows, and 36% of the original Sandhills wetlands have been lost.


Conservation Strategies - « Back to section top

The objectives of the Partners Program in Nebraska are to:

(a) protect and restore Federal trust species on private lands through cooperative efforts with other governmental agencies and private partnerships;

(b) conserve biological diversity through the careful selection, design, and implementation of restoration projects; and

(c) provide technical assistance to USDA and landowners involved in the implementation of key conservation programs.


Future Needs - « Back to section top

The Partners Program needs to continue to restore/establish wetland, grassland, riverine, and riparian habitat on private land throughout Nebraska. More specifically, the Partners Program in Nebraska has the following future needs:

  • Protect, restore, and enhance 12,500 acres of degraded or destroyed wetlands plus 12,500 acres of associated upland habitat throughout the Rainwater Basin area of south-central Nebraska.
  • Protect and restore approximately 20,000 acres of drained wetlands throughout Nebraska’s Sandhills and enhance the Sandhill wetland-grassland ecosystem.
  • Protect, restore, and enhance approximately 10,000 acres of riverine and wet meadow habitat along the central Platte River for federally listed species and migratory waterbirds and grassland nesting birds.
  • Restore and conserve 10,000 acres of riverine floodplain habitat along the Missouri River for migratory waterbirds and other native fish and wildlife species.
  • Restore and enhance over 5,000 acres of wetland and grassland habitat along the North Platte River Valley.
  • Protect, restore, and enhance over 500 miles of stream/riparian habitat throughout Nebraska.
  • Work with private landowners throughout Nebraska and other partners to improve habitat on their property.


Partners

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The key to the success of the Partners Program in Nebraska has been the partnerships that have been developed with private landowners and other groups, agencies, and organizations. Major partners include the hundreds of landowners located throughout Nebraska that have participated in the Partners Program, as well as the partners listed below.

Federal Government Partners

  • Natural Resources Conservation Service Farm Service Agency
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs

State and Local Government Partners

  • Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
  • Nebraska Board of Educational Lands and Funds
  • Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and Iowa
  • Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska
  • Little Blue Natural Resources District
  • Lower Elkhorn NRD
  • Lower Loup NRD
  • Lower Niobrara NRD
  • Lower Platte South NRD
  • Middle Niobrara NRD
  • Nemaha NRD
  • Papio-Missouri River NRD
  • Tri-basin NRD
  • Upper Big Blue NRD
  • Upper Elkhorn NRD

Private Organizations

  • Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund
  • Ducks Unlimited
  • Platte River Whooping Crane Maintenance Trust
  • National Audubon Society
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Rainwater Basin Joint Venture
  • Sandhills Task Force
  • Nebraska Cattlemen
  • Pheasants Forever
  • National Arbor Day Foundation


Accomplishments »

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North Platte River Restoration Project. Credit: USFWS.

North Platte River Restoration Project. Credit: USFWS.

FY2015 Habitat Accomplishments

6,537 upland acres restored or enhanced
1,267 wetland acres restored, established, or enhanced
9 miles of riparian habitat restored or enhanced

FY 1992-2015 Cumulative Habitat Accomplishments

245,162 upland acres restored or enhanced
56,713 wetland acres restored, established, or enhanced
416 miles of riparian habitat restored or enhanced

The Nebraska Partners Program has completed 1,113 projects with private landowners throughout the state.


Focus Areas »


Sand Hills Program »

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What are the Sand Hills? | The Land | Landscape Ecology | Wildlife | Ecosystem Managment | "Win-Win" Solutions


Trumpeter Swan at Sand Hills Wetland Restoration Project. Credit: USFWS.

Trumpeter Swan at Sand Hills Wetland Restoration Project. Credit: USFWS.

What are the Sand Hills?

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The Nebraska Sandhills is a unique area, both in size and appearance. Native grassland covers 19,600 square miles of wind-deposited sand dunes. Its geology makes the area rich for wildlife, water and ranching.


The Land

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  • 19,600 square miles
  • Largest sand dune formation in America
  • 95% grassland
  • 1.3 million acres of wetlands
  • 1 billion acre-feet of groundwater
  • 2.4 million acre-feet of spring-fed streamflow discharged annually


Landscape Ecology

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The Sandhills Habitat Program is an ecosystem management approach based on an understanding of the Sandhills' geologic and economic forces that shape the natural environment of the region. Without knowing the land and the people, management is ineffective.

The sand dunes' influence on the area's hydrology is the basis of the Sandhills ecology. Hundreds of feet of course sand and gravel lie below the surface and contain one of the largest aquifers in North America. The dunes act like a giant sponge that quickly absorbs precipitation, allowing very little to run off. One fourth to one-half of the annual rainfall percolates downward to the groundwater. In the lower interdunal valleys, the water table is elevated above the surface and forms many of the 1.3 million acres of wetlands scattered throughout the area.

Sand Hills area map. Credit: USFWS.

Sand Hills area map. Credit: USFWS.

Groundwater movement is relatively unrestricted (up to 500 feet per year) and excess water is discharged into valleys, wetlands, and streams. As wetlands begin to fill, they buffer or restrict groundwater discharge and maintain the high water table. Plants located in the valleys tap into the constant water source and produce dense stands of vegetation for wildlife and the ranching industry. In contrast, groundwater discharged into a drained valley maintains a continual flow of water from the area. Ninety percent of annual stream flow (2.4 million acre-feet) is groundwater.

Wetland drainage began in the early 1900's to provide additional winter hay for livestock. The linear orientation of the dunes allowed ditches to connect from one valley to the next until they reached natural streams. Drainage extended the reach of natural streams and affected the balance of groundwater and wetlands. Wetlands that once buffered the discharge of groundwater were no longer effective and a continual discharge of groundwater occurs into the ditches. The added flows cause natural streams to adjust their shape to wider and deeper channels. As the streams cut downward, the lower streambeds capture more groundwater, lower the local water table, drain adjacent wetlands, and lower the productivity of the valleys.

(A) Normal Sandhill stream.
(B) Downcutting of stream bed has captured more groundwater and lowered the water table associated with subirrigated meadows and wetlands.

Effects of Stream Degradation on the Local Water Table. Credit: USFWS.

Effects of Stream Degradation on the Local Water Table. Credit: USFWS.

Cultivation attempts in the early 1900's failed because the semi-arid climate did not provide adequate rainfall to sustain row crops. Today, abundant groundwater supplies and center pivot irrigation has made it possible to irrigate the porous and erodible sands. The sandy soils require large amounts of water and fertilizer to grow crops. The excess water leaches agrichemicals downward to the local water table. Domestic wells are becoming contaminated with nitrates and pesticides. Pumping water from deep depths to the surface has flooded the local water table and increased stream flows. Thus, adding to the impact of wetland drainage and channelization.


Wildlife

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  • Central Flyway migration
  • 720 species of plants
  • 314 species of animals
  • 24-27 species of migratory birds of management concern visit the area


Sand Hill Cranes at sunset on the Central Platte River. Credit: USFWS.

Effects of Stream Degradation on the Local Water Table. Credit: USFWS.

Ecosystem Management

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Ranching has proven to be the best economic and environmental use of the Sandhills. The natural resources which make the area suitable for ranching also benefit a wide diversity of flora and fauna. In 1991, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began an ecosystem approach to resource management in the Sandhills. A Sandhills Coordinator was hired to bring a variety of people together to share their common interests and to develop a management plan acceptable to ranching and the environment.

The group, called the Sandhills Task Force, drafted the Sandhills Management Plan which reflects their goal and management approach for the Sandhills. In 1992, the plan was signed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Task Force members.

The Goal
To enhance the sandhill wetland-grassland ecosystem in a way that sustains profitable private ranching, wildlife and vegetation diversity, and associated water supplies.

Strategies
The Sandhills Management Plan identified six strategies to help attain the established goal. The strategies are not all equal in need or value, but do give a full compliment of tools to accomplish specific tasks:

Education
Education is cost effective and can have a long-term effect on the land. The Service has joined with other partners to improve people's awareness of the Sandhill resources. Over four dozen presentations have been given to a variety of audiences, ranging from school and civic groups to professional organizations. The Sandhills Habitat Program has also appeared in newspapers, magazines, and television programs. One chapter in the book "Prairie Conservation: Preserving North America's Endangered Ecosystem" focuses on the Program as one example of ecosystem management. Resource management workshops and training courses have been given to both ranchers and conservation personnel.

Technical Assistance
Technical assistance is the most active part of the Sandhills Program. It not only involves the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but other agencies as well. Partners have included landowners, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA), several local Natural Resource Districts, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, The Nature Conservancy, county governments, and the EPA.

Partnership agreements have been written to improve a diversity of habitat. Wetlands have been restored or enhanced, riparian habitat on streams has been improved, and fencing and planned grazing have improved uplands.

The Sandhills Habitat Program has provided technical assistance to landowners and various agencies which have given them a better understanding of the hydrology and grassland ecology. The decisions they have made with this information have affected thousands of acres.

Acquisition
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not have an active acquisition program in the Sandhills. But we have been involved in assisting other organizations to solve resource issues. The Task Force has assisted The Nature Conservancy in the restoration of two fens. The Service has worked with the Nebraska Department of Roads and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to mitigate wetlands in the Sandhills.

Legislation
No actions have been taken either by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Task Force on legislative issues.

Lease Agreements
Lease agreements have not been done by the Service, but we have actively worked with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to incorporate their lease program in wildlife projects.

Financial Support
Efforts are continuing to obtain outside support for conservation projects. One such project obtained restoration funds from the Nebraska Environmental Trust. The project, sponsored by the Task Force, brought matching money and support from local landowners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Upper Elkhorn Natural Resource District, Nebraska Cattlemen, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and local County Commissioners.


"Win-Win" Solutions

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he Sandhills Management Plan was built on the belief that "win-win" solutions can be found if landowners and agencies joined together. The Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program has been the backbone of the success experienced in the Sandhills. Nebraska Partners for Fish and Wildlife has provided funds and staff to coordinate and complete projects in education and technical assistance. The types of projects have varied to meet specific needs of landowners and communities.

I've never seen government work like this. We get along real good. This was a unique opportunity to work with them instead of against them. We're trying to get along, with the land, with the wildlife, with the government."

John Lee, Rancher
Brownlee, Nebraska

". . . This is a complete ecosystem management plan developed specifically for the Sandhills of Nebraska. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has handled this area perfectly, in my opinion, and the success of the activity verifies that opinion. The Service worked with the ranchers and wildlife interests in the area to determine the needs of both groups . . ."

J. Robert Kerrey
Former United States Senator


Partners Program at Rainwater Basin WMD »

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The Rainwater Basin area of south-central Nebraska has been recognized as an internationally important spring staging area for waterfowl. Millions of ducks and geese stop annually in the basin to feed and roost during their spring migration. Approximately 90% of the mid-continent white-fronted goose population, 50% of the mid-continent population of mallards, and 30% of the continent’s pintail population stop in the Rainwater Basin each spring. The Rainwater Basin also serves as important migrational habitat for State and federally listed species, shorebirds, wading birds, and neotropical migrants.

For specific program information, visit the Rainwater Basin Partners homepage.


Contact Us »

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State Coordinator

Kenny Dinan
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
9325 South Alda Road
Wood River, NE 68883
(308) 382-6468 ext. 214
kenny_dinan@fws.gov

Assistant State Coordinator

Kirk Schroeder
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
9325 South Alda Road
Wood River, NE 68883
(308) 382-6468 ext. 215
kirk_d_schroeder@fws.gov

Private Lands Biologists

Laurel Badura
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District
P.O. Box 8
73746 V Road
Funk, NE 68940
(308) 263-3000 ext. 107
laurel_badura@fws.gov

Chad Christiansen
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Fort Niobrara/Valentine NWR Complex
39983 Refuge Road
Valentine, NE 69201
(402) 376-3789 ext. 223  
chad_christiansen@fws.gov  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Emily Munter

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
301 E. State Farm Road    
North Platte, NE 69101        
(308) 535-8025
emily_munter@fws.gov

 


 

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: May 05, 2016
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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