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May – June 2012 Update

With the drought conditions, construction projects have been in full swing.  Thanks to all of the partners that have made this a successful year.

Projects

The RWBJV partners were able to develop seven perpetual conservation easements this year as part of two Nebraska Environmental Trust grants.  These easements protect just over 800 acres.  Five of these properties are U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service easements, two are held by the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District, and one is held by Ducks Unlimited.   These are the first wetland/grassland easements held by the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District.

As part of the Vegetation Management Initiative,  RWBJV habitat specialist Tim Smith will be coordinating with partners to develop a slate of private and public properties in need of herbicide application to control invasive species.

Watershed Initiative

Hanson Waterfowl Production Area. Construction is nearly complete at Hanson Waterfowl Production Area.  As part of this project, surface drains, concentration pits, and a dike that previously divided the wetland were removed.  In addition, four irrigation re-use pits in the watershed were filled.

Working Lands Initiative:  A portable chute-and-alley system has been purchased by the RWBJV to facilitate grazing wetlands in the Rainwater Basin Wetland Complex.  The Little Blue Natural Resources District has agreed to license and pay insurance on this piece of equipment.  It will be available to any producer that needs the equipment to move cattle and facilitate grazing in the region.

The partners continue to work with Nebraska Cattlemen to implement the Working Lands Initiative.  Fact sheets have been prepared to describe the grazing opportunities available on public lands and tracts enrolled in the Wetlands Reserve Program.  A sample grazing contract has been developed by Nebraska Cattlemen to provide landowners and lessees a framework to structure business transactions.

A full list of active projects is provided as an attachment.

Research and Monitoring

Breeding Bird Survey Data Analysis:  Ele Nugent and Chris Jorgensen continue to make good progress analyzing the Breeding Bird Survey data.  Approximately 75% of the active routes have been validated and the landcover data are prepared for the statistical analysis.  Greater Prairie-Chickens have been used as a focal species to help guide conservation for grassland obligates.  These models will allow the RWBJV to determine if our actions for Greater Prairie-Chickens are benefiting other grassland obligates.

 2nd Generation Ethanol Production in the RWB:  Dan Uden just finished his master’s work evaluating the economic potential to generate ethanol from switchgrass on marginal acres in the RWB.  This is interesting work that highlights ethanol production under different conversion scenarios.  Dan also used the Hierarchical All-bird Strategy Database to estimate the response of grassland obligates to an increase in switchgrass within the RWB.

 

Biological Planning & Conservation Design Activities

2012 RWB Wetland Vegetation Map:  The RWBJV will be collecting color infra-red aerial photography for the entire Rainwater Basin beginning in August.  To develop the wetland vegetation map training and accuracy data will be collected at all Wetland Reserve Program sites and public wetlands.  The resulting vegetation map will allow us to compare habitat conditions documented in the 2004 vegetation assessment to contemporary conditions.  I am excited to see how our management initiative has impacted the distribution of invasive species and more importantly if we have increased the landscapes carrying capacity to support migratory waterfowl.

RWB Shorebird Plan:  The RWBJV has been working with Susan Skagen and Joel Jorgensen to develop a Shorebird Plan to help characterize the habitat needs of these species that use the RWBJV.  Based on the preliminary analysis, an estimated 1.7 million shorebirds migrate through the RWBJV.  These individuals need approximately 2.3 billion kcals from invertebrates to maintain body condition and acquire sufficient lipid reserves to continue migration and initiate nesting.

Western Governors Association:  The GIS shop continues to work on developing the final products for the WGA project.  Habitat Suitability Index models have been created for Golden Eagles and Ferruginous Hawks.  A refined empirical model has been generated for Long-billed Curlews.  For this model a portion of the data was withheld so an accuracy assessment could be completed.  A meeting is scheduled in July to review models developed to describe prairie grouse habitat selection.

Whooping Crane Maintenance Trust Meeting:  Dr. Mary Harner is the new Science Director at the Whooping Maintenance Trust.  There is a lot of overlap between the work that Crane Trust and RWBJV GIS lab are conducting.  One project we will be completing in the future is to conduct a status and trends of wetlands in the Central Platte River.  This project will allow us to compare the National Wetland Inventory data from 1980 to the contemporary conditions that were mapped as part of the 2008 National Wetlands Inventory remap.

Communication and Outreach

United States Department of Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary Tour:  In early June Deputy Undersecretary Ann Mills visited the RWB to see some of the projects that highlight the goals and objectives of the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.  We toured several Wetlands Reserve Program tracts and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Waterfowl Production Areas in York County.  The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture Partners were complimented on their ability make conservation programs fit in this highly agricultural landscape.  The RWBJV partners were also complimented on their commitment to integrating wetlands and conservation lands into producers’ operations as working lands.  Special thanks to Craig Derickson and his staff for organizing a great tour.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Coordination Meeting:  This annual meeting provided the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff an opportunity to discuss issues with both the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission staff and the Nebraska congressional delegation.  One of the new developments is the requirement that we monitor for Threatened or Endangered species prior to herbicide applications in or near waters of the state of Nebraska.  The only species that will be of concern in the RWB is Whooping Cranes.  Whooping Crane surveys must be completed between September 16 and November 16 before herbicide applications can be completed.  Representative Adrian Smith has a new congressional staffer, Ken Rahjes.  Ken will be the field liaison for agriculture and conservation issues.

 State of the Birds:  This year the theme for the annual State of the Birds Report is the contribution of private lands to North America’s avifauna.  The authors asked the RWBJV to provide several examples that highlight the types of projects we have completed that integrate RWB wetlands and associated uplands into local producers’ operations.

RWBJV Updates

Acquisition Workgroup:  We have reconvened the Acquisition Workgroup to revisit the vision and goals for that workgroup.  With the objectives outlined in the revised Implementation Plan, acquisition and easements will be an important set of tools to achieve our ultimate conservation goals.  With easements being a hybrid between the traditional private lands program and acquisition, it will be important that we have the right partners communicating and coordinating as we develop these projects.  Brandon Jones, Deputy Project Leader at the Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District was elected as the new chair of the Acquisition Workgroup.