In the Rainwater Basin

The Rainwater Basin is a landscape of shallow playa wetlands scattered amid the flat-to-gently-rolling loess plains of south-central Nebraska. Before European-American settlement, the region contained some 11,000 wetlands ranging in size from less than an acre to over 1,000 acres. The wetlands were fed by runoff from snowmelt, springtime rains, and intense summer storms, and all but the largest usually dried up by late summer. The growth and succession of wetland plant communities were kept in check by herds of grazing bison, elk, and pronghorns, and by periodic fires.

Until the middle of the twentieth century, Rainwater Basin wetlands were integrated and productive elements in diversified farm operations, serving as pastures and sources of hay. Grazing cattle emulated the effects of bison and other wild ungulates, helping to keep wetland vegetation in the early successional state that provided suitable migration habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, and other wetland-dependent birds.

The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture’s objective since 1992 has been to work with private landowners, agriculture producers, and conservation partners to ensure adequate wetland habitat for the migrating birds that depend on this region.

Why It Matters:

The 160-mile-wide Rainwater Basin region lies at the narrowest point on the Central Flyway migration route. Some 8.6 million geese and ducks stop over here from late February through March on the way to their breeding grounds; shorebirds follow from mid-April through mid-May.

Northbound birds need energy in the form of fat reserves to help complete their migration and to survive and reproduce on their breeding grounds. Tons of waste grain in the Rainwater Basin’s corn fields provide ample calories; however, waterfowl also need nutrients provided by wetland plants; they also need relatively secluded wetlands where they can roost without excessive disturbances. Shorebirds and other birds migrating through the region rely on invertebrates found in healthy wetlands and uplands.

 

 

 

RWBJV Administrative Regions


Conservation on the Ground

The Working Lands Initiative’s Inaugural Project

A restored wetland and 140 acres of former irrigated cropland near Norman, Nebraska represent the initial project in the Working Landscapes initiative, a collaborative effort of the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture partnership. Partners in this project include the Nebraska Environmental Trust, Ducks Unlimited, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nebraska Game

Removal of Massive Dike Helps Restore Wetland

Some efforts to convert Rainwater Basins to cropland have been extremely ambitions and costly. The attempt to convert this York County basin included construction of an eight-foot-high ring dike around the wettest portion of the wetland so that runoff from the watershed could be pumped into the enclosure to help

Clark Waterfowl Production Area Watershed Restoration

Clark Waterfowl Production Area (WPA) is a 450-acre tract in the heart of the western Rainwater Basin Wetland Complex (RWB). Prior to acquisition by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), fill had been placed in the wetland to improve farming, a pit had been excavated in the wetland for

Science Projects in the Region

Targeting the WRE Component of ACEP Using GIS Technology in the Rainwater Basin

In cooperation with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service, the RWBJV developed a model to identify eligible properties with high restoration potential in the Rainwater Basin. View the WRE Ranking Model 2015.

Rainwater Basin Wetland Inundation Decision Support System Guide 2013

The ability to predict wetland inundation helps managers make decisions about hydrologic restoration and pumping of supplemental water.

Rainwater Basin 2012 Wetland Vegetation Map

A description of methods used to map vegetation communities in Rainwater Basin wetlands in order to improve strategic conservation efforts and decision making.

Downloads


Regional Updates

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Contacts


    • Andy Bishop
    • Coordinator

    • andy_bishop@fws.gov

    • (308) 382-8112

    • Ele Nugent
    • Habitat Specialist

    • eleanor_nugent@fws.gov

    • (308) 382-8112

    • Laurel Badura
    • Wildlife Biologist, USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife

    • laurel_badura@fws.gov

    • (308) 263-3000