GRAND ISLAND, NE, – The skies along the Platte River of Nebraska have been grayer the past month. It’s not a strange weather phenomenon; it’s the annual migration of waterfowl and other birds heading back to northern nesting grounds. Millions of them funnel through this oasis in a semi-arid area, looking for a place to rest and refuel before the important job of producing the next generation of birds. A new $725,000 grant from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act will mean DU and its partners can provide more habitat for this huge annual gathering.
“Platte River habitat has suffered from extensive man-made changes, like flood control dams and irrigation diversions. The river is also chocked by invasive plant species that have degraded the system,” said Steve Donovan, Ducks Unlimited manager of conservation programs for Nebraska. “It is imperative today that we protect key intact habitat along the river and begin to restore places where the habitat has been lost. The longer we wait, the more we’ll lose.”
With the NAWCA grant funds, DU and its partners will protect, restore and enhance 4,141 acres of wetlands and grass next to the Platte River in western Nebraska. Work during Phase II of the Platte River Confluence effort will expand the river’s capacity to provide the proper food and shelter needed for soon-to-be-nesting birds.
More than 225 migratory bird species have been documented in the project area, including the federally-listed whooping crane, least tern and piping plover. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the project area provides habitat for more than two million ducks and 500,000 geese during annual migrations.
“The Platte River is a high priority in nearly all conservation plans developed by DU and its partners,” Donovan said. “Wetlands along the Platte are important because they are needed by millions of migratory birds each year.”
As part of the project, four landowners along the Platte have agreed to place permanent conservation easements on their properties.
Public access for hunting and other outdoor recreational activities will increase with this grant. A key acquisition in western Nebraska will not only include extensive wetland restoration activities but will also be open to the public for recreation and hunting, becoming one of the few publicly open areas on the North Platte River near Scottsbluff. An enhancement project at the Kiowa State Wildlife Management Area will improve both habitat conditions and hunting opportunities.
In addition to several private landowners, other partners in the project include the Nebraska Environmental Trust, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Nebraska Department of Agriculture, the West Central Weed Management Area, and Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District. “We could not accomplish this project without our partners,” Donovan said.
Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to conserving North America’s continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 12 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.