Office of External Affairs
Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Mountain-Prairie Region
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

September 21, 2007

Contacts:  Robert Harms, FWS,  308-382-6468, ext 17

                 Robert Wiebelhaus, NDOR, 402-254-6552


Building a Bridge and Improving Wildlife Habitat at the Same Time


As part of a project to construct a bridge over the Missouri River near Yankton, South Dakota, the Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) removed sediment from a river side channel resulting in restored riverine habitat benefiting fish and wildlife species.


The NDOR is replacing the aging Meridian Bridge, previously built in the 1920s, with a new Highway 81 bridge over the Missouri River.  Since a large quantity of fill material was needed to construct a new approach to the bridge from the Nebraska side of the river, the NDOR proposed to get the fill material from a remnant side channel located upstream of the new bridge.  Removal of the channel sediment creates backwater which improves habitat for the federally endangered pallid sturgeon, least tern, and scaleshell mussel and for other fish and wildlife, including the sturgeon chub and false map turtle.  For example, the pallid sturgeon and least tern will benefit because small fish and insects are often abundant in backwater areas and provide a food resource for both species.  Long range plans are to fully restore the backwater to a flowing side channel.


“This is a great example of agency cooperation resulting in benefits to all involved,” said Bob Harms, Fish and Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Grand Island, Nebraska.  “Construction of a bridge could potentially have negative effects on surrounding fish and wildlife habitat, but in this instance, it will actually improve habitat.”


“The Nebraska Department of Roads considers the backwater restoration project a win-win addition to the project.  A win for many fish and wildlife species and the environment and a win for the taxpayer and contractor due to the available fill material from this adjacent area being used in the embankment for the bridge approach,” said Scott Brummond, Nebraska Department of Roads District Environmental Compliance Officer.


The NDOR worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks, South Dakota Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration to minimize impacts to fish and wildlife resources with an eye toward developing an environmentally-friendly bridge construction plan. 


In addition to the benefits that the backwater provides to fish and wildlife inhabitants of the Missouri River, NDOR also added numerous measures to avoid threatened and endangered species.  Among these modifications were restrictions on the placement of material into the river and prohibition of pile driving or demolition activities during the critical spawning time for pallid sturgeon in the late spring and early summer.  Another project modification was reducing the length of the temporary causeway to avoid changes in hydrology that could impact spawning habitat and stationing of two spill kits at the construction site to contain accidental spills from equipment should they occur.  Construction equipment, such as barges and tow boats, brought in from offsite locations were carefully inspected for zebra mussels, an invasive species that could severely impact the ecology of the Missouri River.  Surveys were also done by NDOR for least terns, piping plovers, scaleshell mussels, and nesting and wintering bald eagles to make sure that bridge construction does not disturb these species.


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 97-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 548 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 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 foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.


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