A Monthly Publication of the Nebraska Environmental Trust

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Dave Heineman, Governor

Board of Trustees

District I
District II
District III

Agency Directors

Trust Staff

December 2014

In This Issue:

  1. Executive Director Corner
  2. In Sandhills, Grant Returns Grassland To Its Roots
  3. The Nebraska Natural Legacy Conference, Where Research and Management Discussions Shape the Future of Conservation
  4. Roy Stewart Stream Restoration Project
  5. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas from the Staff of NET
  6. Upcoming Events

 

Executive Director Corner

The Holiday season is upon us.  Where did 2014 go?  We had the best turnout ever for our Holiday Open House at the Ferguson House on December 7th.  We had over 500 visitors and as always we learn new things about the house, the Fergusons and their businesses.  A gentleman came through that owns one of the bumper cars from Capital Beach (the Fergusons owned the amusement park).  Leta Powell Drake (a.k.a. Kalamity Kate) brought in several treasures from Capital Beach.  She has lived at Capital Beach since the late 60’s.  She generously donated several postcards of the park, fliers for a fun day at the park and a framed set of photographs of the swimming pool at Capital Beach when admission was only 10 cents.

The Lady Huskers surprised everyone with a victory in volleyball over the number three rated Washington Huskies on their home court in the Super Regional, sending them to the elite eight, only to get beaten by the Cinderella team of the year, BYU.  Washington had not been beaten at home in over two years.  We were one win away from going to the Final Four in Oklahoma, but with only one senior, I’m ready for a great season next year.  After the dust settles with the football team I hope we can get back on track and at least be competitive in the western division of the Big 10 and hopefully in the full Conference.  The new coach will be under a microscope, but let’s hope we get the right combination of a leader, staff supervisor, a recruiter, a mentor and a coach.

Change is inevitable and the Trust Board will be seeing some change.  Governor-elect Ricketts has announced Greg Ibach will continue to lead the Department of Agriculture and remain on the board.  Unfortunately Brian Dunnigan has announced his resignation from the Department of Natural Resources and thus will be leaving the Trust Board.  We wish Brian the best at his new position at Olsson Associates.  In March we’ll say goodbye to Rod Christian from Steinauer.  Rod’s congressional district changed with the last census and like Vince Kramper a few years ago, he has lost his Trust Board seat as a result of now living in the 3rd congressional district instead of the 1st district.

The grant committee continues meeting and ranking grants and will present those rankings in late January.  The next board meeting will be February 12, 2015 at 1:30 at the Ferguson House.

Have a Wonderful Holiday Season and a Great 2015!

Mark A. Brohman
Executive Director

 

In Sandhills, Grant Returns Grassland To Its Roots - submitted by Nate Jenkins

Dickens, Neb. – Thirty-five years ago, cattle trails were wiped out by pivot tire tracks that drew circles on thousands of acres north and south of here and corn replaced coneflowers and other native species as the predominant plant.

Due in large part to a $700,000 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust awarded in 2014, 19,000 acres south of North Platte included in the NCORPE (Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement) stream flow enhancement project is going back to its native prairie roots.Progress in Year 1 of what may be the largest grassland restoration project in the history of Nebraska exceeded expectations.

Thanks to ideal growing conditions in Spring and Summer 2014, Sand Bluestem, Indian Grass, Little Bluestem, Western Wheatgrass, Blackeyed Susan and other grasses and forbs are now a common sight on the NCORPE property. The grant money from NET purchased more than 14,000 lbs. of grass seed and paid for the drilling of it into nearly 3,600 acres last spring. More would have been planted, but the drought of 2012 and 2013 depressed grass seed availability nationwide. A wetter 2014 has raised hopes for a robust grass seed crop that will allow many more NCORPE acres to be drilled to native grass and forbs in Spring 2015. Approximately 10,500 acres remain to be seeded.

Establishing native grass on the NCORPE property is a significant aspect of the project that is also known for increasing stream flows in the Republican, and eventually the Platte, rivers. Four Natural Resources Districts – Upper Republican, Middle Republican, Lower Republican and Twin Platte NRDs – purchased the property in December 2012 from a hedge fund. It had been the largest contiguous irrigated farm in Nebraska since the late 1970’s when the ground was bought and developed for irrigation by Prudential Insurance. The development of the property at that time helped spur Initiative 300, Nebraska’s former ban on corporate farming.

After the NRDs bought the property, all the acres were seeded to a cover crop to prevent erosion. The 100-plus pivots that used to grow corn, soybeans and potatoes were turned off and are now in the process of being sold. Water that would have been used for irrigation is instead being stored underground and delivered to a tributary of the Republican River to help increase stream flows to guarantee compliance with the Republican River Compact. Within the next few years, water will also be delivered to the Platte River to meet river flow obligations on that river and help boost water supplies for municipalities, recreation and other uses.

The NRDs worked with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to develop a seed mix that would work for the property. Specifically, North Platte-based NRCS Rangeland Management Specialist Jeff Nichols and Imperial-based Nadine Bishop, State Range Management Specialist for NRCS, have helped with the seed mix, monitored emergence of grasses and forbs, and offered many useful recommendations on how to manage the property. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Pheasants Forever and the University of Nebraska’s West Central Research and Extension Center have also provided valuable input. All have said that grass and forbs emergence on the property in Year 1 of planting native species was exceptional.

We look forward to bringing more of the property back to its roots in 2015 with help from NET.

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The picture is of (left to right) Jeff Nichols of NRCS; NCORPE employee Mike Keller; Jerry Volesky of the University of Nebraska; Nadine Bishop of NRCS; and Upper Republican NRD Assistant Manager Dirk Dinnel during a recent visit to NCORPE to evaluate the emergence of grasses on the property.

 

The Nebraska Natural Legacy Conference, Where Research and Management Discussions Shape the Future of Conservation - submitted by Melissa Panella, Wildlide Biologist, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

The Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) has been a long-standing supporter of the Nebraska Natural Legacy Project, our State Wildlife Action Plan.  The Natural Legacy Project was first introduced to Nebraska in 2005 with the mission of working with stakeholders, often finding win-win solutions to conserve wildlife and their habitats.  In 2011, the core Natural Legacy Team and their Partner organizations chose Grand Island as an ideal meeting place in central Nebraska to host the first annual Natural Legacy Conference, where research and management discussions could improve future conservation actions statewide.  Since the first conference, the event has traveled to North Platte, Nebraska City, and most recently Gering.  Moving the conference to different cities around the state allows biologists and land managers to better highlight conservation efforts taking place in the various eco regions of Nebraska.  Tours of Nebraska’s Biologically Unique Landscapes (BULs) have become a staple experience praised by participants of the annual conference.

In the fall of 2014, the Nebraska Natural Legacy Project held its fourth annual conference in scenic Gering at the local civic center.  One hundred and twenty-five people attended the event with 34 presenters.  From Golden Eagles to pollinators, topics included many current happenings and research projects that influence multiple facets of natural resource management in Nebraska.  As luck would have it, the conference date agreed with NET’s Executive Director Mark Brohman’s calendar, and he happily agreed to give the keynote address.  His presentation helped all of the conferees gain a better understanding of how far NET’s influence on conservation reaches to preserve natural Nebraska. Brohman shared how NET’s grant dollars have had a much greater influence on conservation because of an astounding doubling of matching funds from recipients.  Match funds make actions possible that otherwise may not have been possible or serve as icing on the cake to make even greater positive impacts on projects.  Dedicated, diverse groups of people carry out the mission.

In western Nebraska, the option to participate in one of two field tours was included in the recent conference.  One tour group took attendees to the Wildcat Hills where participants explored a couple of properties managed by Platte River Basin Environments and had an opportunity to learn more about the plants and wildlife in the BUL.  The other tour took place in the North Platte River BUL where hikers were able to see multiple wetlands and go through a guided wetland identification and delineation.  The field tours give groups a chance to learn from one another, while discussing land management options and new opportunities for conservation.

The Natural Legacy Conference was made possible because of much appreciated support from the Nebraska Environmental Trust, the Wildlife Conservation Fund and State Wildlife Grants.  With the arrival of 2015, the Natural Legacy Conference will embrace its 5th year and the 10th year of the Nebraska Natural Legacy Project itself.  Be sure to watch for conference announcements and registration details in fall 2015!  To learn more about the Nebraska Natural Legacy Project, visit:  NebraskaNaturalLegacy.org  

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Conferees Amber Schiltz, Jessica Edgar, and Kelsey Drey (pictured left to right) enjoy the commute by pick-up truck during a field tour to focus on the native plants and animals of the Wildcat Hills Biologically Unique Landscape at Natural Legacy Conference 2014.  Photo by Jessica Edgar.

 

Roy Stewart Stream Restoration Project

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The above photo was taken in November during a field tour of the Roy Stewart Stream Restoration Project.  Partners for the project included the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Sandhills Task Force.  Funds from the Sandhills Task Force came from an NET Grant. An estimated 60 people were in attendance.  Some were landowners, some were from the partnering agencies.

This portion of the Elkhorn River exhibited the signs of an actively downcutting stream likely caused by historic straightening of the stream channel coupled with an inadequate riparian buffer.  Due to the scale of the degradation, the project involved two phases, completed at separate times.  The project has been completed resulting in approximately one stream mile and 500 acres of wet meadows and wetlands associated with the stream being positively impacted.

Practices implemented in this project include; recreating historic stream meanders, installation of in-stream structures to raise the water level to historic levels, re-seeding of native vegetation in disturbed areas and reshaping stream banks.

Species benefiting from this project include American burying beetle, Bald Eagle, Whooping Cranes, Trumpeter Swan and other species associated with Sandhills streams and wet meadows.

 

Merry Christmas from the Staff of NET

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Upcoming Events

- February 12, 2015 (Thursday), 1:30pm - 1st Quarter Board Meeting, Ferguson House, Lncoln NE.

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