Vegetation Management Activities Maintain Healthy Wetland Habitat

Vegetation management is a necessary component of wetland conservation in the Rainwater Basin region. Historically, these wetlands were regularly disturbed by fire and intensive grazing from bison and other ungulate species. If these natural disturbances are not replaced by human-directed management, such as cattle grazing, controlled burns, and herbicide spraying, invasive species may displace native plants. These invasives, such as reed canary grass, river bulrush, and hybrid cattails, are not good sources of food for waterfowl and other wetland wildlife. In fact, a bio-energetic model created by RWBJV determined that native wetland plant communities produce ten times more food resources for waterfowl than common invasives. A 2012 mapping project found that 20% of the wetland area in conservation was dominated by these undesirable invasive plant communities.

Since 2011, the RWBJV has worked closely with partners to assist with management activities that help promote the growth of healthy wetland plant communities on lands owned by Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and conservation-minded private citizens. Nebraska Environmental Trust and North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants awarded to the RWBJV partnership have provided funding for some of these management activities. From 2011 to 2015, over 3,000 acres of state, federal, and privately-owned land were treated with herbicide each year, totaling 16,386 acres sprayed.  Over this same period of time (2011 and 2014), 4,201 acres have been disked.

Using funds provided by the Nebraska Environmental Trust, tree cutting was implemented for the first time in 2016 to control large trees. These trees were too large to be impacted by herbicide application, so an alternative method had to be employed. Cut trees were piled and the stumps of deciduous trees were treated with triclopyr. Trees were not historically found in RWB wetlands and can negatively impact habitat for some species.  For example, the endangered whooping crane will not use a wetland that has large trees because they block their ability to spot predators.

Fall management activities are currently in progress. Spraying to control wetland invasives will occur on 1,289 acres within 23 federally-owned properties, 988 acres within 18 state-owned properties, and 813 acres within 29 privately-owned properties. Tree removal is also planned for 1,139 total acres on 13 properties. Vegetation management is an ongoing process and critical to maintaining adequate habitat for birds and other wetland wildlife. These activities would not be possible without the cooperation of our dedicated partners and generous funding from organizations such as the Nebraska Environmental Trust.