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North Platte River Valley Project Helps Target Habitat

In 2013, the RWBJV partnered with Ducks Unlimited, Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the University of Nebraska to initiate a project titled Sandhill Cranes and Waterfowl of the North Platte River Valley: Evaluation of Habitat Selection to Guide Conservation Delivery. The purpose of this project is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of conservation delivery on the North and South Platte Rivers by learning more about the habitat needs of spring migrating waterfowl and Sandhill Cranes. This information will help us better prioritize conservation and restoration of stopover habitat within this critical river system and its associated wetlands.

Bird use was measured each spring with a series of aerial surveys in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Each year four weekly waterfowl surveys were conducted from February 18 to March 20. The waterfowl survey route included the North and South Platte Rivers from the City of North Platte west to the Colorado and Wyoming state lines. Sandhill crane surveys were conducted from March 11 to April 7 on a route that included only certain eastern portions of the North and South Platte Rivers.

In order to identify the most important areas for ducks, Canada geese and Sandhill cranes, we divided the study area into 261 river segments 2-km in length. For waterfowl, 163 segments were identified as a core use segment during at least one survey for either ducks or Canada geese. For cranes, only 22 core use segments were identified. The next steps of this analysis involve determining which habitat attributes characterize core use segments. Our model will likely include variables that measure human disturbance, such as distance to roads and buildings, as well as visual obstructions, like trees and other woody vegetation, and foraging resources. The results of this analysis will be available in the final report in early 2017.

Special thanks to Emily Munter (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) for coordinating logistics, Heather Johnson (Nebraska Game and Parks) and Rob Spangler (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) for conducting the aerial surveys, and Aaron Pearse (U.S. Geological Survey) for assistance with the statistical analysis.