Over 180 landowners, agricultural producers, conservation professionals, researchers and students (representing over 40 different organizations) gathered on Thursday, February 2nd for the 22nd Annual Rainwater Basin Joint Venture Informational Seminar at the Hotel Grand Conference Center in Grand Island, Nebraska to meet, learn, exchange ideas and discuss conservation issues, research, and habitat programs in the Rainwater Basin region.
The morning plenary sessions were presented by Mark Brohman, Executive Director of the Nebraska Environmental Trust, and Kristal Stoner, Wildlife Diversity Program Manager for Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Three concurrent break-out sessions allowed attendees to choose from 15 different sessions which included landowner projects involving VRI, pivot bridges and grazing infrastructure, NRCS’ Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, restoration on public and private lands, water/irrigation policy changes, the NGPC Berggren Plan, ecotourism, and current research being conducted in the Rainwater Basin region, such as agrichemicals in runoff and Rainwater Basin (RWB) wetlands, groundwater recharge through playas, bee communities in the RWB, trumpeter swans in the Nebraska Sandhills, secretive marshbirds in the RWB and precipitation effects on playa plans and soils in the RWB. Copies of the presentations can be found under the “Our Work” tab on our website at www.rwbjv.org. After each 35 minute session and during lunch the attendees were able to visit and network, look at the exhibitor displays and posters. We had 14 displays and posters this year from a multitude of agencies such as Valmont, Lindsay Corporation, Reinke Manufacturing, Central Platte Natural Resources District, Platte River Recovery and Implementation Plan, and the Nebraska Environmental Trust.
The lunch break culminates with the announcement of the winners of the Annual Habitat Stewardship Awards by the Joint Venture Coordinator, Andy Bishop. This year three winners were chosen from several nominations. Roger Grosse, Geographic Information systems (GIS) analyst for the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture for the last ten years, received the award for his integral part in developing the robust GIS library to support many of the conservation delivery initiatives that are delivered by the conservation partners. The Marsh Family received the award for their early adoption and embracement of integrating new conservation opportunities in their farm option. Randy Smith, Superintendent of the Kearney County Roads Department, received the award for his long term and continued collaboration with RWB partners on a variety of projects that enhance wetland habitat for millions of migratory waterbirds.
On February 7th, dozens of RWBJV partners and conference attendees met for the 2nd Playa Wetland Ecology Symposium at the Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference in Lincoln. A wide variety of playa-focused research projects were covered in 18 presentations during this full-day symposium. Abstracts can be viewed on the conference website at www.midwestfw.org.
Students and faculty from four universities presented, along with researchers from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Playa Lakes Joint Venture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Geological Survey. Willow Malone (Kansas State University) described the positive impacts of playa wetlands on bird and plant biodiversity. Dr. Dan Uden (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) presented model data that predict a decline in wetland habitat in the Rainwater Basin under various climate change scenarios. Travis Schepker (University of Missouri) reported on spring food availability for dabbling ducks in cropped, public, and Wetlands Reserve Program wetlands. Angela Begosh (Oklahoma State University) described her research on pollinator community diversity in playas and uplands in Texas. Other topics included mapping inundation in the spring, groundwater recharge, pollinators, waterbirds, shorebirds, impacts of cattle grazing on vegetation, agricultural contaminants, and more. We also held a roundtable discussion with more than 30 participants to discuss the most important future research needs.
The first symposium was held on March 17, 2011, co-hosted by the RWBJV and Playa Lakes Joint Venture in Grand Island. We plan to host these meetings every 5 years to bring together local and regional partners to share the most recent results and findings of playa research and conservation programs.