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May – September 2017 Update

I don’t know where summer went - school has started and so have the hunting seasons. It has been a busy summer for all of the partners. Below is a short synopsis of the projects that have been completed. Please contact the office if you have questions or want more information. - Andy Bishop, RWBJV Coordinator


Biological Planning & Conservation Design

14th North American Arctic Goose Conference:  The 14th North American Arctic Goose Conference (NAAG) will be held March 14-17, 2018, at the Embassy Suites in Lincoln, NE. Co-hosted by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, University of Nebraska-Kearney, and Ducks Unlimited–Nebraska, we anticipate over 150 waterfowl professionals, students, and enthusiasts from around the world. As the largest goose meeting in North America, NAAG plays an important role in gathering together scientists and managers to present contemporary goose research and identify the most important topics for goose management and conservation for the 21st century. Abstracts for talks and posters are being accepted until December 1, 2017. Click here for more information.

Milkweed Planting Project:  Data collection for a milkweed-planting project was completed in August. The purpose of this project is to introduce four species of milkweed into an established Natural Resources Conservation Service Wetlands Reserve Program easement. In September 2015, 940 seedlings were planted; the following year another 585 seedlings were planted. The milkweed plants were monitored at regular intervals in early and late summer. Surviving plants of all four species were found. RWBJV student intern Heather Johnson will analyze the data and compile a final report, which will be available early next year. This project was conducted in partnership with the Prairie Plains Institute and was funded with a $5,000 grant from Monsanto-Pioneer through the Sand County Foundation.


Communication and Outreach

Migratory Bird SAFE Landowner Meeting: The State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) is a 10-15 year Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contract that provides producers with annual rental payments, incentives, and cost-share for establishing conservation plant species that improve or create higher-quality wildlife habitat. As part of our outreach efforts we sent out 7,990 invitations to landowners with at least five acres of hydric soils to attend meetings held in seven cities: Broken Bow, David City, Geneva, Grant, Holdrege, Sidney, and York. A total of 65 landowners and farm operators attended the meetings. Farm Service Agency has prepared a factsheet that will be mailed as a follow-up to the landowners. The RWBJV is currently working with FSA Nebraska staff developing factsheets and an application process overview that will be provided to the field offices and landowners to help ensure the process is streamlined and consistent.

Nebraska Public Radio Spot: Nebraska Educational Telecommunications (NET) featured the Rainwater Basin landscape in July as part of a series highlighting unique habitats found throughout the state.  Ariana Brocious with NET did a great job consolidating the interview with Jerry Stevens (Fillmore County landowner), Brian Shaw (clay County landowner), Brad Crohn (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and John Denton (Ducks Unlimited). The story spot-lighted the Rainwater Basin landscape, the avian resources, and the unique approach the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture takes to getting conservation on the ground. To listen to the story, click here.

Congressional Coordination Meeting:  The RWBJV hosted two back-to-back coordination meetings in August, the timing allowing the participants to attend both and mingle.  First was the Nebraska congressional coordination meeting; staffers from Nebraska’s congressional delegation attended along with representatives from all of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) divisions.  The half-day meeting highlighted conservation successes and potential emerging issues.  The meeting was well attended and the congressional delegation was very interested in opportunities to continue successful delivery of conservation projects on private lands.  There was a lot of discussion about funding and potential revisions to the upcoming USDA Farm Bill.  Thanks go to the Crane Trust for hosting the meeting and Ducks Unlimited for arranging the social that followed the meeting.  It was a great venue and the social provided a nice opportunity to meet the congressional staffers and discuss topics that did not get covered in the meeting.

On the following morning, the NGPC/USFWS agency coordination meeting was held. Agency staff highlighted new projects that were getting kicked off and opportunities to collaborate on upcoming projects.  Some of the projects that were highlighted included the efforts to update the landcover dataset for Nebraska, a decision framework for grassland management of USFWS refuges in the Sandhills, and lake renovations on Valentine National Wildlife Refuge.


RWBJV Updates

RWBJV Water Plan: The RWBJV Water Plan has been vetted through the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources; Little Blue Natural Resources District; Tri-Basin Natural Resources District; Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District; Nebraska Game and Parks Commission; and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Public Land Managers, Private Lands Workgroup, and Technical Committee. All of these groups have reviewed and approved the plan. The RWBJV Water Plan will be presented to the RWBJV Management Board for approval at the upcoming September meeting. If implemented in its current format, the RWBJV will work to establish a $6.2 million endowment that is expected to provide funding ($310,000 annually) to deliver supplemental water. At this funding level there would be $108,500 available for fall supplemental water deliveries with $97,650 for public lands (90% of the available funds) and $10,850 for private lands (10% of the available funds). In the spring there will be $201,500 available for fall supplemental water deliveries with $181,350 for public lands (90% of the available funds) and $20,150 for private lands (10% of the available funds).

Communication Contractor: The RWBJV, in partnership with Prairie Potholes Joint Venture, has hired Dorie Stolley of Three Birds Consulting to assist with communication and outreach activities.  In the coming months, we will be developing some additional content for the website to highlight different partner actions in both the Rainwater Basin and our other Geographic Focus Areas.  Dorie and I will be reaching out to partners in the future to get your stories that you would like highlighted on the web page.  Thanks again to all of the partners that have provided materials in the past.  Thanks go to Ryan Lodge and Ben Wheeler for their contributions highlighting the great work happening in the Sandhills and in the Loess Hills.

RWBJV Corporate Partner: The RWBJV Management Board is working through the process to expand the Management Board to include a corporate partner.  Bob Bettger (landowner), Kelsi Wehrman (Pheasants Forever), Mel Taylor (landowner), and Clint Riley (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) have done a great job fleshing out the process and recruitment opportunities.  Stay tuned - the Management Board will be discussing the topic at their upcoming meeting.

In addition to a corporate partner on the Management Board the RWBJV was approached by Bunge Corporation to partner on water sustainability in the supply footprint of their mill in Crete, Nebraska.  As part of the discussion they are interested in supporting our Whole Field Solutions approach to conservation that is the framework of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (wetland restoration and adoption of variable rate irrigation).  This RWBJV conservation model is being presented to Bunge leadership this month as one of the opportunities that exist to meet the water sustainability goals for the Crete mill.

Nebraska Trust Species and Habitat Fund: American Burying Beetle experts met in July to identify the limiting factors impacting the species and the opportunities to address these issues.  Habitat, especially for the population north of the Niobrara River, was identified as the key limiting factor.  The group is preparing recommendations to be presented for consideration by the Nebraska Trust Species and Habitat Workgroup, which will evaluate them and then prepare final recommendations for the Management Board.


Grant Updates

Nebraska Environmental Trust Grants: The RWBJV partners submitted two Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) grants for the 2018 cycle.  To help support the Prescribed Fire Training Exchange in the Central Loess Hills, a two-year grant for $342,000 was submitted.  This grant will help build off the 29,000 acres that have had prescribed fire successfully implemented over the last six years.  At goal, over 13,000 acres of prescribed fire will be implemented in this important Geographic Focus Area.  Special thanks go to Ben Wheeler with Pheasants Forever for taking the lead on this grant.

The other grant that was submitted by the RWBJV was titled “Rainwater Basin Watershed Restoration Initiative.” The primary objective of this grant is to fill at least 39 abandoned irrigation reuse pits in watersheds of priority public wetlands and/or private wetlands enrolled conservation programs.  In 1975, Nebraska passed the first law regulating groundwater discharge.  This law required producers to manage groundwater in a manner that does not impact neighboring properties.  As a result, over 10,000 irrigation reuse pits were excavated.  Today many of the fields with these irrigation reuse pits have been converted to pivot irrigation systems and the irrigation reuse pits are not needed; unfortunately, these abandoned irrigation reuse pits must fill with water before runoff from precipitation events can reach the wetlands.  Filling abandoned irrigation reuse pits with compacted soil provides a “win-win” for producers and wildlife.  When an irrigation reuse pit is filled, the producer eliminates an obstacle in the field and acquires additional farmable acres.  Removing the pit also restores wetland hydrology and watershed function by facilitating runoff to the wetland on a regular basis.  To maximize effectiveness, emphasis will be placed on irrigation reuse pits closest to wetlands with large storage capacities.  Since RWB wetlands are major recharge sites to the underlying Ogallala Aquifer, grant activities will also benefit local residents and area producers by supporting a sustainable aquifer.

Water Sustainability Fund:  In July, Central Public Power and Irrigation District submitted a Water Sustainability Fund application.  The purpose of this grant is to increase water delivery capacity at five Western Rainwater Basin Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs).  These WPAs are Cottonwood, Funk, Johnson, Linder, and Victor Lakes.  Total estimated costs for these upgrades are $1.2 million with Central Public Power and Irrigation District providing $500,000 and the Water Sustainability Fund providing $775,000.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, and RWBJV will provide non-match funding for a 36-inch pipeline into Funk WPA.  After project elements are completed these wetlands will be able to receive 3,000 acre/ft. within a seven-day fill period.  This infrastructure will allow these wetlands to receive water in November after the target flows are reduced.  Tri-Basin NRD has agreed to pay a significant portion of the water delivery costs to put water into these wetlands.  As part of the grant, a hydrologist will be hired to quantify the recharge benefits and return flows to the Platte and Republican Rivers.  Trigger points will be established to ensure supplemental water is not delivered if there are groundwater concerns.

Department of Environmental Quality Section 319 Water Quality Grant:  John Denton with Ducks Unlimited took the lead on submitting Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Section 319 Water Quality grant.  The focus of this grant will be wetland and watershed restoration of four large Waterfowl Production Areas in Little Blue Natural Resources District.  These WPAS are Smith, Massie, McMurtry, and Hansen.  Both wetland and watershed restoration actions will be pursued as part of this grant.  Successful implementation will positively impact over 1,700 acres of wetlands on these properties.


Working Lands for Wildlife:  The Working Lands for Wildlife team continues to make great strides since the announcement of this program at the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Annual Convention in January.  There were 13 applications that were accepted impacting over 13,000 acres.  The partners are currently working to submit a $300,000 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant to continue to support these activities.  This grant is part of the Northern Great Plains Keystone Initiative.  As part of this grant there will be funds for on-the-ground delivery and conducting the evaluation and monitoring aspects what have yet to be implemented.  One of the evaluation elements that we will be pursuing is a 1-meter resolution inventory of eastern red cedar.  Once this inventory has been completed, it can be further analyzed to determine cedar density and those areas in the landscape that have the greatest return on investment if eastern red cedar control is implemented.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation:  The RWBJV submitted a $300,000 Conservation Partners Program grant to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.  This grant contains funding that would be leveraged with Pheasants Forever funding to hire a Farm Bill Biologist to assist with delivery of the Migratory Bird SAFE and management of tracts enrolled in the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).  In addition to funding for the Farm Bill Biologist, this grant also has funding for establishment of grazing infrastructure on tracts enrolled in ACEP and restoration activities for tracts enrolled in the Migratory Bird State Acres for Wildlife Conservation Reserve Program.