Conservation partners have been working together in the Sandhills to improve grassland and wetland habitat on private and public lands. The condition of grasslands and wetlands in Nebraska’s Sandhills are generally better than in many other areas, due in large part to the land ethic of the ranching community, which is committed to sustaining Sandhills cattle ranching for generations to come.
That’s good news for the priority grassland bird species that nest here, including: Greater Prairie-Chickens, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Long-billed Curlews, Ferruginous Hawks, Northern Harriers, Loggerhead Shrikes, and Grasshopper Sparrows.
However, several threats to privately owned grasslands and wetland were affecting the quality of both rangeland and bird habitat. In many areas, eastern red cedar trees have encroached on grasslands, fragmenting open habitat, shading out grasses, and reducing the grazing potential of the land. In addition, the quality of some Sandhills wetlands declined because of low groundwater levels, resulting from eroded drainage ditches. In other wetlands, invasive species – especially common carp – reduced water quality.
A $300,000 grant to the RWBJV from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has helped conservation partners – led by the Sandhills Task Force – begin to tackled these challenges. Funds have been used to remove nearly 10,000 acres of eastern red cedars from privately owned grasslands and to remove carp from privately owned wetlands, thus improving water quality and habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds.
On National Forest Service land in the Sandhills, rotational grazing systems contribute to profitable ranching in the region while also helping to manage grassland habitat. Funding from the grant helped provide infrastructure – perimeter fence, cross-fence, and livestock water sources – to improve rotational grazing in the McKelvie National Forest and to remove eastern red cedars from over 5,000 acres of grassland.
Matching contributions for the grant came from the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the Sandhills Task Force, the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture and private landowners in the Sandhills.
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