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Grassland Management for Birds, Beetles, and Beef

(Posted 8/17) The 1,590-acre Martensen/Koch tract in Loup County, Nebraska hosts one of the first projects developed through NRCS's Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) program. The goal is to restore, enhance, and manage a large block of native prairie grassland habitat for the benefit of prairie wildlife, as well as cattle.

Nebraska’s Sandhills make up the largest dune stabilized grassland system in the Northern Hemisphere, covering over 19,300 square miles and containing over a million acres (1,562 square miles) of wetlands and sub-irrigated meadows. This grassland-wetland system is crucial habitat for numerous grassland birds, waterfowl, and native pollinators, as well as the federally endangered American burying beetle.

The Martensen/Koch tract prior to control of invasive eastern red cedar

In 2017, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) introduced Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW). Its purpose is to address resource concerns on working lands for the benefit of priority species using funding from a special allocation of the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). The Nebraska Cattlemen sponsored WLFW in the Eastern Sandhills, drawing together multiple partners in support of it. Partners include: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Sandhills Task Force, private landowners, and the NRCS. WLFW provides additional funding and program options to complement the significant work already being implemented by these partners.  

The 1,590-acre Martensen/Koch tract in Loup County, Nebraska hosts one of the first projects developed through WLFW. The goal of this project is to restore, enhance, and manage a large block of native prairie grassland habitat for the benefit of greater prairie chickens, sharp-tailed grouse, monarch and regal fritillary butterflies, American burying beetles, grassland nesting birds, and other wildlife species that use the Sandhills mixed-grass prairie area of Nebraska.

Project components include mechanical removal of invasive eastern red cedar trees from 1,287 acres, reconfiguration of the livestock watering infrastructure, and development of a ranch management plan. Reconfiguration of the livestock watering system will include decommissioning two wells, and installing 3,555 feet of underground pipeline and six 30-foot bottomless tanks. The ranch management plan will outlined a grazing system that will be designed and implemented to promote increased grassland structure and diversity, improving habitat for the native grassland dependent wildlife and plants. Implementation of the ranch plan will both increase grazing efficiency, benefiting the ranch’s bottom line, and enhance native plant vigor and diversity across the entire ranch. Total project costs are $77,837. Project partners include Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, private landowners, Sandhills Task Force, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NRCS.

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