(Posted 5/9/18) Expert information, landowner opportunities, networking, and great food, company and conversation were some of the reasons the 23rd annual RWBJV Informational Seminar was considered a huge success by its 194 attendees, including landowners, conservation professionals, academics, students, and natural resource volunteers. Over 40 agencies and organizations were represented. The Seminar, held at the Ramada Midtown Conference Center (formerly known as the Hotel Grand) in Grand Island, Nebraska featured an exciting agenda, awards presentation, exhibitor booths, and a hearty lunch.
The day began with a plenary session focused on an increasingly important component of wetland conservation - Human Dimensions, the study of social attitudes and processes that influence how people perceive and use natural resources. Presentations given by Drs. Chris Chizinski and T.J. Fontaine had similar messages: public wetlands in the Rainwater Basin are both important habitat for migratory birds during spring migration as well as destinations for significant numbers of hunters and birdwatchers from across the country and gaining knowledge about the attitudes, preferences, and actions of these stakeholders is important in valuating and planning natural resource conservation efforts.
Following the plenary, attendees chose between three different tracks for concurrent breakout sessions: 1) research results and monitoring technologies, 2) private lands projects and available conservation programs, and 3) wetland grazing.
Track 1 topics included evaluation of variable rate irrigation and wetland restoration on net-farm income, management techniques for upland game birds, Nebraska statewide assessment of wetland condition, use of drones to evaluate wetland condition, and impacts of agrochemicals on amphibian communities in playa wetlands.
Track 2 was focused on the different wetland conservation programs that are available to landowners and included presentations on the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) Conservation Reserve Program, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, an overview of the RWBJV partnership's new water plan and the funding that will be available for supplemental water deliveries, and the positive impacts of the Watershed Restoration Initiative.
Track 3 was dedicated to grazing wetlands with presentations on forage quality, animal health considerations, and grazing plans, plus a forum for land managers and grazers to discuss the tools and techniques needed to achieve desired habitat conditions.
During lunch awards were presented to three outstanding conservationists. Jeff Abegglen of the U.S. Forest Service received the Conservation Partner of the Year Award for his agency’s significant contribution to expanding the impact of the RWBJV partnership into the Nebraska Sandhills. Chuck Lesiak was presented with the Conservationist of the Year Award for his 35-year career managing Nebraska Game and Parks Wildlife Management Areas, and Tyler Fitzke was awarded the Private Wetland Stewardship Award for his commitment to incorporating wetlands into his farm operation.
Participants appreciated and valued the Informational Seminar for a variety of reasons, many of which were recorded in short snippets. For instance,
Ele Nugent, Habitat Specialist for the RWBJV who works with private landowners to help them sign up for conservation programs and line up management on private and public wetlands commented, “This seminar is really important for us to get landowners’ perspectives on conservation programs and what we can do to improve our conservation delivery and bring new ideas to the table for different options we can help them out with.”
Another example came from John Denton of Ducks Unlimited who valued the networking, opportunity to learn about the latest science and collaboration with partners. He wasn’t the only one to appreciate collaboration. Joanna Pope of NRCS areported that people attending from
Colorado and California commented on Nebraska’s excellent partnerships and the dedication of all to working collaboratively toward common goals without ego or turf wars.
A perspective from volunteers was offered by Sue and Jerry, who were attending for the fourth consecutive year. They stated, “We work with these concepts and ideas and we want to hear more in terms of expert input.” They were particularly pleased with the presentations on grazing management, which will help them understand and carry out their volunteer duties. Sue and Jerry were appreciative of the fact that their agency encouraged them to attend and they look forward to the knowledge they can gain and assimilate for the benefit of that agency
Having been involved in planning the Information Seminar for at least 19 years, Randy Stutheit of Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has watched increasing numbers of landowners attend and learn how to turn wetlands and restorations into positives for their operations. One of those landowners, Rich Synek, was effusive in his praise of the Seminar. He particularly enjoyed hearing Tyler Fitzke speak because he remembered Fitzke’s father and grandfather. And, he appreciated his conversations at lunch with two professors from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. As Synek stated, “learning makes a good day – that was a good day.”
If you missed the 23rd Seminar, make sure to put Thursday, February 7, 2019 on your calendar now for the 24th RWBJV Informational Seminar. And, you can access the 2018 agenda, pdfs of the presentations and short audio recordings from a variety of participants, including:
1 Joanna Pope, NRCS
2 Greg Reisdorff, FSA
3 Ele Nugent, RWBJV
4 Susan and Jerry, Volunteers
5,6 Randy Stutheit, NGPC
7 Paul Meyer, Reinke
8 Rich Synek, Landowner and Producer
9 Katie Krajicek and Kimberly Baker, NE DOT
10 John Denton, Ducks Unlimited
11 Brice Krohn, Crane Trust
12 Rachel Owen, University of Missouri