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September – December 2017 Update

Rainwater Basin Joint Venture Partnership Update

September 2017 – December 2017

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. It is that time of year for winter, but it was a quick change from sandals at Thanksgiving to coveralls at Christmas. With the frigid weather, construction has slowed, but the partners have made great progress since the last update. Below is a short synopsis of partnership activities. Please contact the RWBJV office if you have questions or want more information.

Biological Planning & Conservation Design

North and South Platte River Waterfowl and Sandhill Crane Project: Spring waterfowl and Sandhill Crane surveys along the North and South Platte Rivers from the City of North Platte to the Colorado and Wyoming state lines were completed each year from 2014 to 2016. We identified important river segments for these species and the habitat covariates that were associated with heavy use. The results of these efforts will be used to better inform future conservation actions for waterfowl and Sandhill Cranes along the North and South Platte River. Several RWBJV partners assisted with the project and with compiling data and writing a draft manuscript for Avian Conservation and Ecology, which is currently under review. Co-authors include Dana M. Varner (RWBJV), Aaron T. Pearse (USGS), Andrew A. Bishop (RWBJV), Jonas I. Davis (DU), John C. Denton (DU), Roger C. Grosse (RWBJV), Heather M. Johnson (UNK), Emily J. Munter (USFWS), Kirk D. Schroeder (USFWS), Robert E. Spangler (USFWS), Mark P. Vrtiska (NGPC), and Angelina E. Wright (DU).

Communication and Outreach

RWBJV Informational Seminar: The 23rd annual RWBJV Informational Seminar will be held February 1st at the Hotel Grand in Grand Island. We have an exciting agenda this year with the plenary session focused on human dimensions, which is the science of understanding how human behavior influences natural resource management. Concurrent sessions will be focused on wetland grazing, recent research and monitoring projects, as well as a session highlighting the private lands projects and available conservation programs. Registration is open on the RWBJV webpage: www.rwbjv.org  

14th North American Arctic Goose Conference: The 14th North American Arctic Goose Conference (NAAGC) 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, NAAGC 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. The deadline to submit abstracts for talks and posters has been extended to January 15, 2018. Online registration is now open.

Regional Conservation Partnership Program Signing Ceremony: In September Gayle Marsh hosted the Regional Conservation Partnership Program partners for a signing ceremony at his field near Giltner. The ceremony officially kicked off the nearly $3 million “Divots in the Pivots” project. The goal of this project is to develop 10 whole-field solutions that incorporate wetland restoration and pivot modification to both restore habitat and maximize irrigation inputs on the adjacent upland cropland. We had a beautiful day for the ceremony and nearly 70 people attended. Several local news outlets picked up the story, including the Hastings Tribune. To read that article, click here.

Waterfowl Production Areas as Recharge sites: Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District submitted a Water Sustainability Fund grant to the Nebraska Natural Resource Commission for infrastructure upgrades at five U.S. Fish and Wildlife owned and managed Waterfowl Production Areas to more efficiently deliver surface water to the sites. The infrastructure will allow 3,000 acre-feet of water to be delivered to these sites in a seven-day period. These deliveries will increase flooded wetland habitat, recharge the Ogallala Aquifer, and ultimately provide return flows to the Platte and Republic Rivers. After reviewing the proposal Nebraska Department of Natural Resources determined that they could directly fund this proposal allowing the partners to move forward quickly. This could be one of the fastest project completions in partnership history with the 36-inch pipe already installed at Funk Waterfowl Production Area. To read an article about the project, click here.

Working Lands for Wildlife Landowner Meeting: The RWBJV is working with Natural Resources Conservation Service, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Pheasants Forever,   the Sandhills Task Force, The Natural Conservancy, and USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife to host a landowner meeting about the new Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative. This initiative is focused on eastern red cedar removal in the 10 eastern counties in the Sandhills. To support this initiative Natural Resources Conservation Service is providing a special allocation of Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding for livestock friendly grazing infrastructure, mechanical removal of eastern red cedar, and implementation of prescribed fire. Partners are also leveraging funds to support these activities. To promote the program, a total of 875 postcards were mailed to landowners with at least 640 acres of rangeland in the identified counties. As part of the program promotion, these partners will be hosting a landowner meeting February 13th at Calamus Outfitters. At the meeting speakers from across the country will highlight the program and successes.

Agriculture Conservation Easement Program Promotion: In collaboration with Natural Resources Conservation Service the RWBJV mailed out 675 letters to producers with 20 acres or more of hydric soils that have ponded water two out of the last 10 years. These letters highlighted the program, the easement compensation rates, as well as the partner cost-share for pivot modifications and grazing infrastructure. This application period there were five applications from the Rainwater Basin.

RWBJV Updates

RWBJV Water Plan: The RWBJV Water Plan was presented and approved by the RWBJV Management Board at the September meeting. Ducks Unlimited staff is currently developing the framework for the endowment and pursuing opportunities to begin funding the endowment. In the current format a $6.2 million endowment will need to be established. Estimates are that this would provide $310,000 annually for supplemental water deliveries. 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) $10,850 for private lands (10% of the available funds). In the spring there would be $201,500 available for supplemental water deliveries with $181,350 for public lands and $20,150 for private lands. For context, these spring supplemental water deliveries would provide 345 additional flooded acres on private lands and 3,000 acres of flooded habitat on public lands on an annual basis.  

Nebraska Trust Species and Habitat Fund: American burying beetle species experts and the Nebraska Trust Species and Habitat Fund workgroup collaborated to develop a Request for Proposals (RFP) for conservation projects to benefit the American burying beetle. Either protection or enhancement projects are eligible. In total, there is approximately $80,000 available for projects to benefit the Loess Plains population of the species. The RFP will be presented to the RWBJV Management Board at the upcoming January meeting for approval. If approved, the RFP will go out in February. If an RFP would go out the RWBJV Management Board would evaluate projects and make recommendations for funding at their May meeting.

Eastern Red Cedar Working Group: The RWBJV was asked to join the Eastern Red Cedar Working Group, which is currently chaired by Jessi Herrman of Nebraska Cattlemen. The December meeting was very productive; the group developed several action items, including pursuing an interim study by the unicameral. The overarching goals of the interim study would be to provide state senators with information about the current threats of eastern red cedar (to wildlife and the ranching economy), quantify potential economic loss, research whether funding streams already exist in state statute for eastern red cedar control, investigate challenges to implementing prescribed fire, and obtain public input on these topics. The results of the interim study would provide the foundation to develop a statewide eastern red cedar plan.

Grazing Tour: The RWBJV hosted a grazing tour with Natural Resources Conservation Services staff to evaluate the effects of grazing wetlands. It was a very productive tour with a lot of good discussion about desired habitat conditions, necessary stocking rates, as well as timing and duration of grazing to achieve desired results. As a result of this meeting the NRCS has established a set of guidelines for developing management and grazing plans associated with tracts enrolled in the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program and Wetlands Reserve Program. These guidelines will help streamline the process and ensure that plans will be consistent and have the necessary information to meet programmatic objectives.

Grant Updates

Water Sustainability Fund: In July, Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District (CNPPID) submitted a Water Sustainability Fund application to increase water delivery capacity to five western Rainwater Basin Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs): Cottonwood, Funk, Johnson, Linder, and Victor Lakes. The grant budgeted $1.2 million dollars for the necessary infrastructure upgrades 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 had contributed non-match funding for a 36-inch pipeline and an energy dissipation structure at Funk WPA. The Nebraska Department of Natural Resources reviewed the grant and determined they could directly fund it through its funds from the Platte Over Appropriated Activities Committee (POAC). The partners quickly initiated the project with CNPPID, acquiring the necessary easements for installation of the Funk WPA pipeline, the RWBJV purchasing the 36-inch pipe for Funk WPA, and CNPPID installing the pipeline. This infrastructure will allow 3,000 acre-feet of water to be delivered to Funk WPA in a seven-day period. Surface water delivery agreements have already been drafted for Tri-Basin Natural Resources District to pay a significant portion of the water delivery costs. The next phase will include the necessary upgrades at the other four sites as well as hiring a hydrologist 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: Ducks Unlimited was awarded a $300,000 Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Section 319 Water Quality grant. Funding from this grant will be leveraged with RWBJV partner funds to complete wetland and watershed restoration at Smith Waterfowl Production Area (WPA), Massie WPA, McMurtry WPA, and Hansen WPA. These properties contain over 1,700 acres of wetlands. DU is moving into the planning phase along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District and Partners for Fish and Wildlife to develop wetland and watershed restoration concept plans for these properties.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Grant for Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative: The RWBJV, upon request, submitted a full proposal for $300,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to complement the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) Initiative. This proposal has $75,000 for an eastern red cedar inventory at a one-meter scale. A secondary spatial dataset will be developed from the inventory to describe canopy cover at the acre scale. This dataset will streamline the WLFW Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) ranking process. Additional funds in the grant are available for mechanical removal of eastern red cedar and development of grazing infrastructure to facilitate wildlife friendly grazing practices.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation: The RWBJV was just awarded a $300,000 Conservation Partners Program (CPP) grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Grant funding will be leveraged with Pheasants Forever funds to hire a Farm Bill biologist to assist with delivery of the Migratory Bird State Acres For Wildlife (SAFE) and facilitate management on tracts enrolled in the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). This position will be located in Grand Island at the USDA Service Center. In addition to funding for the Farm Bill biologist, this grant has funding for establishment of grazing infrastructure on tracts enrolled in the ACEP and for restoration activities of tracts enrolled in SAFE.

 

Sincerely,

Andy

Andy Bishop
RWBJV Coordinator
2550 N Diers Ave Suite L
Grand Island, NE 68801

Cell (308) 380-8691
Office (308) 382-8112
Fax (308) 382-3688
Email: andy_bishop@fws.gov