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June – August 2014 Update

Grants, grants, and more grants. With enactment of the 2014 Farm Bill, there have been a variety of new funding opportunities available to the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture partnership (RWBJV). The partnership has continued to pursue the traditional funding sources as well. The following is an overview of some of the projects, activities, and grants the RWBJV is pursuing.

Biological Planning & Conservation Design Activities

Highly Erodible Lands Layer: The RWBJV Science Office coordinated with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop a statewide dataset describing soil erosion potential. This dataset provides an estimate (by 30m x 30m cell) of tons of soil lost per year. Two data sets were generated. One describes soil loss from wind, while the other describes soil loss from water. These estimates were generated based on the Universal Soil Loss Equation. The dataset has been integrated with the Common Land Unit field boundary data layer. By integrating these datasets, the percent of highly erodible land can be queried on a field basis. The dataset can be quickly used to identify those fields that have a high probability of qualifying for the Conservation Reserve Program. It was also integrated into the Northeast Decision Support System. This Decision Support System is being used to identify priorities for a Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) application to benefit Greater Prairie-Chickens. The RCPP is one of the new options in the Farm Bill.

Garden County Species Distribution Models:Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge received a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge Inventory and Monitoring grant to develop spatially explicit species distribution models for the refuge. These models were based on years of point counts collected by the refuge biologist. Several of the species of interest were also species that the RWBJV had been able to model using data from the Breeding Bird Survey. The models derived from the refuge data were very similar to the models that were generated based on the landscape models developed from the Breeding Bird Survey data. This suggests that the Breeding Bird Survey models can be used at finer scales to help guide conservation actions at the local level.

Platte River Imagery Library: In addition to the initial14 datasets previously included in the Central Platte River Image Library, the RWBJV Science Office has completed ortho-rectification of five additional datasets from 1963 to 1988. The individual images will be mosaicked, added to the current database, and be available to the partnership shortly. These additional datasets were contributed to the Platte River Image Library by the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program.


State-wide Black-tailed Prairie Dog Colony Inventory: The RWBJV has completed the state-wide inventory for black-tailed prairie dog colonies, based on photo-interpretation of aerial photography. Delineation of the colonies followed the “Recommended Methods for Range-Wide Monitoring of Prairie Dogs in the United States” developed by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Partner biologists’ oversight and review helped ensure colonies were being accurately delineated. This dataset should assist the RWBJV partners with conservation actions associated with Burrowing Owls.


Interior Least Tern & Piping Plover Nesting Habitat:Processing of suitable Interior Least Tern and Piping Plover nesting habitat for 2013 has begun. The RWBJV Science Office is currently classifying vegetative cover, water, and exposed sand using color-infrared imagery, which will serve as the base layer for further analysis. This project is a continuation of previously completed analysis from 2007-2012, in partnership with the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program.

Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program Monitoring Project:The 2012 vegetation map, which documents vegetation communities in all 11,000 historic Rainwater Basin wetlands, was recently completed by the RWBJV Science Office. The final step in the process is to complete the Conservation Effects Assessment Program report for the vegetation map. The report will document the findings from vegetation surveys conducted for the vegetation map, assess the waterfowl and shorebird carrying capacity based on vegetation communities, and evaluate how vegetation communities changed between 2004 and 2012. After the report is completed, the map and report will be made available for public download.


North and South Platte River Waterfowl and Sandhill Crane Surveys: After the successful survey season this spring waterfowl and Sandhill Crane survey data collected along the North and South Platte Rivers is being uploaded into an ESRI geodatabase. Spatial land cover and habitat matrices are being integrated into the database to begin the initial spatial analyses. Emily Munter, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, presented the initial survey results at the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative Science and Steering Committees meeting the week August 18th in Scottsbluff.


Rainwater Basin Cooperative Recovery Initiative: The spring pesticide results for the 20 wetlands sampled as part of the Cooperative Recovery Initiative have returned from the lab. This is the first year of a four-year monitoring effort to evaluate nutrient loading that might result from the watershed restoration and irrigation pit-fill activities. The project is a cooperative effort with the Rainwater Basin WMD, USFWS Partners for Fish & Wildlife, and USFWS Nebraska Ecological Services as part of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge Inventory & Monitoring grant.


Communication and Outreach

Rainwater Basin Joint Venture Webpage: The RWBJV staff has been busy developing new communication and outreach materials to highlight the great work of the partnership. The Library section has been reformatted to provide partners and interested parties easy access to the Implementation Plan, RWBJV Bird Plans, and annual reports, as well as the presentations form last spring’s RWBJV Informational Seminar. Special thanks to Doreen Pfost for getting all the resources formatted and uploaded.

Lindsay Corporation: The RWBJV recently met with Lindsay Corporation, makers of Zimmatic Pivots, to discuss different pivot modification options that might be available. Lindsay has just introduced the NFTrax, an airless tire that reduces wheel track depth 30% - 50%, and is half the price of the traditional trax systems. These new tires could be a great tool for restoring wetlands embedded in pivot-irrigated fields. There was a lot of interest from Lindsay staff about the opportunities to partner.


RWBJV Updates

RWBJV Science Coordinator: We had a very competitive slate of applicants for the RWBJV Science Coordinator position. I am pleased to announce that the position has been accepted by Dr. Dana Varner. Dr. Varner has a strong waterfowl background; her Masters work focused on wintering behavior of Trumpeter Swans, and her Doctorate work evaluated breeding and wintering ecology of Mottled Ducks. Dr. Varner is scheduled to start September 29th.


GPLCC Data Steward Partnership: The partnership between the RWBJV and the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative for a shared GIS Specialist/Data Steward position has been extended for another year. The Joint Venture looks forward to continuing this partnership which adds value to both organizations. If you have a chance, go to the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative website and look at the summaries that the Data Steward developed to highlight past research projects funded by the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative.


County Step-Down Document Revision: The Private Lands workgroup has just revised the County Step Down document that helps describe the conservation objectives on a county-by-county basis. This planning document also provides a cost estimate to inform the RWBJV Management Board about the financial resources that will be required to achieve our conservation objectives by 2030.

Evaluation Plan: The Conservation Planning Workgroup is in the process of developing a draft RWBJV Evaluation Plan. This plan will synthesize the research, inventory, and monitoring needs that were identified in the four RWBJV bird plans and in the Implementation Plan. I look forward to working with the partners to identify key uncertainties and leverage the funding to develop the research/inventory/monitoring projects that will be required to better understand these issues.

Communication Plan: The RWBJV Communication Workgroup is currently working with a Communication Specialist to revise the RWBJV Communication Plan. As part of this revision the Management Board and workgroups will each meet with the specialist. On November 19th the Management Board and Communication Workgroup will meet, November 20th the Private Lands Workgroup will meet in the morning, while the Conservation Planning Workgroup will be meeting in the afternoon. On the 21st the Acquisition Workgroup and Public Lands Workgroup will jointly meet in the morning. During these sessions the workgroups will define the goals, messages, audiences, and strategies that need to be developed to increase the partnership’s communication effectiveness.

WRP Specialist Position: The Natural Resources Conservation Service, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and the RWBJV were able to leverage sufficient funds to continue the WRP Specialist position. Nate Walker is currently in this position and has done a great job of pulling together management plans for Wetland Reserve Program easements. We look forward to helping Nate implement these plans in the future.


Grants Update

Threatened and Endangered Birds: The Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District was awarded a $166,667 grant to continue restoration activities at Macon Lakes Waterfowl Production Area. This portion of the restoration will remove 66,000 cubic yards of fill from the wetland footprint. In addition, waterways will be re-contoured and new culverts will be installed to facilitate surface flows into the wetland. A small surface drain and a road ditch will be filled to provide more reliable water in the wetland, away from the road. These wetland and watershed restoration measures will ensure more reliable wetland habitat for Whooping Cranes during both their spring and fall migrations. Great work, Kenny Dinan, Laurel Badura, and Ronnie Sanchez, in securing this funding.

Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program:The RWBJV partners were invited to submit a full proposal to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Jennifer Swanson, Nebraska Association of Resource Districts, graciously agreed to submit the proposal for the partnership. This $8.1 million dollar grant builds on our past successes with the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program. This grant will provide both financial and technical resources to support both Wetlands Reserve Easements and Agriculture Land Easements within the Rainwater Basin. The Wetlands Reserve Easements would be very similar to our existing Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program projects (Wetland restored to the fullest extent possible, with the pivot allowed to cross the enrolled acres). The Agriculture Land Easement properties would be restored to the extent possible, with a wetland easement that would preclude wetland drainage, but still allow the producer to farm the tract using normal farming practices. In addition to the wetland restoration measures, this grant would also provide cost-share to applicants to upgrade their pivots to Variable Rate Irrigation Systems. These systems would allow the producers to vary irrigation inputs over the field, based on the crop water budget and data from the soil moisture probes. The grant would also fund an agronomist to help producers calibrate the Variable Rate System and work with the RWBJV Private Lands Workgroup to enroll participants. Three major pivot manufactures (Lindsay, Reinke, and Valmont) have signed on as partners, providing cost-share to producers who choose to enroll.

Nebraska Environmental Trust Grants: The RWBJV is submitting two grants to the Nebraska Environmental Trust this cycle. The first grant seeks funding to continue the Working Lands Initiative. This grant is a three-year grant for $225,000 that will provide funding to develop infrastructure (perimeter fence, cross fence, livestock well, pipeline, tanks) on idled wetlands in the Rainwater Basin. The preliminary goal is to develop infrastructure on 1,600 acres of wetlands and associated uplands. The other grant is designed to leverage funds to implement management actions on the Platte River from Ogallala to Columbus. The activities outlined in this grant will build on the tremendous success of the local Weed Management Areas. The end goal is to significantly reduce distribution and abundance of invasive species along this 336 mile stretch of river. The Nebraska Association of Resources Districts is submitting a grant on behalf of the RWBJV to provide non-federal matching funds to implement the RCPP activities described above.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Grant:The RWBJV was asked to submit a full proposal to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support conservation actions in Nebraska’s Sandhills. This is a multi-faceted project that will remove eastern red cedars, develop grazing infrastructure, and restore wetlands. Projects will be developed on U.S. Forest Service lands and private lands. Project partners include the Sandhills Task Force, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and The Nature Conservancy. Thanks to Jeff Abegglen (USFS) and Kyle Graham (USFWS) for keeping the grant proposal moving forward.