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Improving Habitat at Gleason WPA

This Kearney County Waterfowl Production Area was purchased in 1967, and consists of five tracts of land totaling 569.2 acres. The wetland footprint is 292 acres, and the Fish and Wildlife Service currently owns 98 % of this footprint. The Service also owns and manages 282 acres of associated upland habitat on this WPA. Based on waterfowl surveys between 2000 and 2016, Gleason has had some of the highest concentrations of ducks during spring migration in the district – when it ponds water. However, in recent years there have been noticeable declines in ponding frequency and ponded area during spring migration (Figure 1, bottom photo). For this reason, Gleason has been a priority for wetland restoration work in recent years. Restoration practices such as sediment removal, ditch plugs, pit fills, and culvert replacements have been implemented to restore this WPA to its full function. The following summary provides a little more background on this restoration work and management strategies the Service uses to maximize the habitat value to migratory birds.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Gleason WPA in June 1967 (top photo) at full pool, and March 2007 (bottom photo) after supplemental water was added to increase available food resources for waterfowl. Both photos are looking west, the white arrows are pointing north.

Figure 2

Figure 2 Restoration work on the north unit of Gleason, this work removed sediment that has accumulated on the north ¼ section of the WPA

On the north unit, restoration work completed by the Service’s Partners for Wildlife Program (PFW) biologist Mindy Meade removed sediment and placed it in a large pit that was just north of the WPA’s north boundary. This was completed in two phases. First, the dirt needed to fill the pit on private land north of the WPA (black arrow, Figure 2) was filled in 2005. On the WPA side, the flow obstruction (a small dike) was removed (red arrow, Figure 2) allowing water to freely flow south into the deepest portions of the wetland. The second part of this work was completed by PFW biologist Laurel Badura in 2016. This work removed the sediment in the southeast portion of the north Gleason tract (black dotted polygon, Figure 2) and was used to fill the pit to the east (black/white arrow, Figure 2) on private land and fill a shallow pit on the WPA. The remaining dirt was stockpiled in the southeast portion of this unit and will be used for land-leveling crop fields in non- wetland areas by adjacent landowners. This dirt has a high nutrient value ($295/acre) according to core samples evaluated by Ward Laboratories (Kearney, NE) and should produce good crops where it is used.

 

Figure 3 Temporary wetland restored with a ditch plug (black arrow) on the southeast unit of Gleason WPA. The white arrow is pointing north.

Figure 3 Temporary wetland restored with a ditch plug (black arrow) on the southeast unit of Gleason WPA. The white arrow is pointing north.

The southeast unit has the largest portion – 82 acres – of the wetland and typically provides some of the best waterfowl habitat in the RWB during spring migration compared to other WPAs. Ducks Unlimited engineers surveyed this area and worked with Service experts to design a restoration project that restored a small temporary wetland (Figure 3) in 2010. This work added an addition 12 acres of wetland habitat, and when it is flooded during spring migration, it will be capable of meeting the energy demands of 8,000-12,000 ducks annually.

The west unit had a series of small dikes and significant sediment deposits, across the wetland area. The PFW biologist collaborated with the Wetland Management Districts restoration expert and developed a restoration plan that identified the dikes and areas of sediment that would be removed in 2016 (Figure 4). The dirt removed was used to fill the remaining pits in the 3,724-acres watershed to maximize the amount of runoff that can be delivered to the WPA. Additionally, because high amounts of organic matter and porous soils existed in this area prior to restoration, the water holding capacity within the soil profile was so high that this area ponded water only infrequently. The Service and partners hired private contractors to remove this material down to the clay layer, whose water storage capacity is very low; saturation causes the clay particles to swell and become an impermeable layer that will “show” water quickly.

Figure 4 Before (left) and after (right) photos of the western portion of Gleason WPA. Dirt work completed through October 2016 removed most of the sediment from this area.

Figure 4 Before (left) and after (right) photos of the western portion of Gleason WPA. Dirt work completed through October 2016 removed most of the sediment from this area.

In total, the PFW program helped to fill 8 pits within the Gleason WPA watershed that previously stored approximately 34 acre-feet of water. By filling the pits, we should now see significantly more runoff water reach the wetland. Given that this wetland has the capacity of storing some 170 acre-feet of water, this additional runoff is expected to provide ponded water more frequently and for a longer period, thus mimicking historical conditions.

Adding supplemental water has been a strategy used to increase ponded available habitat during spring migration.

Figure 5 New electric well outlet pumping water into the north unit of Gleason WPA.

Figure 5 New electric well outlet pumping water into the north unit of Gleason WPA.

At Gleason, there have been two groundwater wells in operation, one powered by diesel and the other powered by natural gas. The natural gas motor on the north well has been in operation since 1955. This well was moved to the west and upgraded to an electric 3-phase submersible well (Figure 5) in 2014 and now provides a more efficient option for supplementing water. The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture (RWBJV) funded the infrastructure and upgrades to improve the capacity by 300 gpm (M. Assenmacher, personal communication), efficiency, and lowered the energy cost by $62/day. Water delivery cost for this new well is now $17.63/acre-foot. Additional infrastructure was added

Figure 6 A damaged culvert that has recently been replaced to facilitate water delivery to the deepest portion of the wetland.

Figure 6 A damaged culvert that has recently been replaced to facilitate water delivery to the deepest portion of the wetland.

to facilitate flows into the southeast unit (the deepest area of the wetland) by replacing the road culverts (Figure 6) and filling in the ditches so that the right-of-way slopes down to the wetland. From an energetic perspective (feeding ducks) where increasing the amount of seeds available during spring migration is needed, this is equivalent to a cost of only $0.02 per duck energy day provided (DED is the amount of energy needed to sustain a duck each day during spring migration).

 

Wetland management has been challenging on this property. Wetland plant communities within Gleason are dominated by both desirable and undesirable plant communities, but in areas where reed canary grass is encroaching, more intense management is needed. The RWBJV has helped by financially supporting these efforts by hiring local companies to spray chemical on the areas infested with reed canary grass. The Service continues to use fire, grazing, and haying to mimic historic disturbances at the appropriate frequencies to help maintain and increase native plant community dominance.

 

Figure 7 Gleason at full pool prior to the restoration work completed recently.

Figure 7 Gleason at full pool prior to the restoration work completed recently.

 

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