Office of External Affairs
Mountain-Prairie Region
No. 4 APRIL, 2000

134 Union Blvd., Lakewood, CO 80228
Contact: Karen Miranda Gleason 303-236-7917, x 431


Fish Tales:
Good News About Native Fish

This feature news release is part of a series of "Fish Tales" communicating success stories about native fish conservation in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region, which includes the States of Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. Articles and images may be used and published freely, in whole or in part, and are available on our website at:


Restoring Plains Minnow Habitat in the Central Platte River

As the central Platte River winds its way through the prairies of Nebraska, it attracts large groups of waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, and other feathered visitors. Numerous fish species and fish-eating migratory birds have sought respite and a good meal in lazy side channels laden with nourishing minnows. Bird species such as the endangered interior least tern, bald eagles, and numerous species of herons, egrets, and other migratory birds rely on the central Platte River fish as an important food source.

Even some mammals, such as river otter and mink, feast on the many native fish in the river. The menu here overflows with dozens of species of minnows -- sand shiner, big mouth shiner, emerald shiner, river shiner, plains minnow, speckled chubs, western silvery minnow, plains kilifish, and many others.

Specialized habitats, such as backwaters and side channels, are important components of the central Platte River fish community. These natural backwaters provide a nursery and feeding ground for the fish, which come here seeking shelter, forage, and protected waters for spawning. Even channel catfish -- a popular sportfish in the state -- enter these channels at times, when the water level is high.

In the past, however, as human development has altered this ecosystem with dams and irrigation canals, the specialized habitat types of this river have been disappearing, along with the many native species of fish and wildlife that thrived here for hundreds of years.

Working in partnership with the Platte River Whooping Crane Trust, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, and others, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working toward reversing this trend. Since 1997, the Service has been integrating restoration of the natural river channel into its waterfowl habitat projects along the central Platte River.

"The central Platte River system has become overgrown with trees and other undesirable woody vegetation that have taken over the wide, shallow, sandy channels. By restoring these overgrown areas, we’ve tried to recreate a semblance of what the central Platte River looked like historically," explained Kenny Dinan, Privates Lands Coordinator for the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Nebraska.

While the primary goal of the Partners projects along the central Platte has been restoration of wetland habitat for waterfowl and migratory birds, restoring the river and these specialized riverine habitats has paid off for both birds and fish species.

"Within hours of excavating these overgrown and uninhabited sites, we see fish using these waters," said Dinan. "We’ve also seen a great response by birds who rely on this habitat for feeding, loafing, and or roosting."

Although the Partners projects on the central Platte have been active since 1992, restoration efforts have picked up considerably since 1997. Most, if not all, of the six to eight projects completed each year along the river now include excavation of the old backwaters and side channels to restore historic fish habitat.

Dinan attributes the increase in restoration projects to the successful partnership between the Service, its partners, and dozens of landowners along the river. A challenge cost-share grant from the Service and grants from the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund and the Platte River Whooping Crane Trust have funded recent projects.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps State, Tribal, and foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.

Conserving the Nature of America

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Last updated: October 19, 2009