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Developing the McGowan WREP

In 2017, James “Hank” McGowan enrolled 154.4 acres into the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) program. This is one of the largest private land projects in the Rainwater Basin with about 120 acres of wetland and 34 acres of upland.

Prior to enrolling his property in WREP, the entire quarter section was irrigated by a center pivot system. There was quite a bit of restoration work that needed to be done. A lot of dirt work was necessary to remove sediment and smooth out contours. There was also a large stand of mature trees in the southwest corner of the property that needed to be removed. Usually, we assist the landowner in bidding out this type of work to contractors. Hank volunteered to do it himself. He also employs young local men who are interested in pursuing careers in the farming industry. Hank and his men used his own equipment. Despite multiple breakdowns and many other time commitments, they worked hard to complete the restoration on schedule.

Upon completion of the restoration in Fall 2020, it was time to think about future management of the property. We explained that simply seeding in native plant species and preserving the area was not enough. In order to have the most vibrant and productive wetland, we would need to actively manage the easement to develop and enhance the wetland. The 2019 UNL Extension article, Grazing Rainwater Basin Wetlands by Anderson et al., described that grazing in this region is an effective tool for promoting desirable moist soil communities while inhibiting the growth of undesirable plant species.

The next step was installing grazing infrastructure on Hank’s easement. There was an old electric submersible well that had fallen into disrepair. It was determined that it could be upgraded and put back into use. Sargent Drilling was hired to repair the well and get it back into working order. Ruehl’s Well Services also helped with boring under the road to deliver electricity to the well. Over 10,690 linear feet of 5-strand perimeter fence was installed according to NRCS's wildlife-friendly fencing specifications, which includes a barbless bottom wire and four strands of barbed wire and additional specifications on the height of the top and bottom wire placement. Another 2,345 linear feet of cross- fencing was installed to separate the upland acres from the wetland acres. Several gates were installed at strategic locations to facilitate easy movement of cattle. The livestock watering facilities were constructed so that cattle could access water from either paddock.

Hank has been a model landowner to work with. He understands the value of wetlands and their impact on the surrounding hydrology. He also understands that grazing wetlands can be beneficial in raising beef cattle. Now that the grazing infrastructure is complete, we look forward to working with Hank for years to come to manage his cattle stocking rates and grazing periods to most benefit both the wetland habitat and the forage quality for his cattle. Grazing wetlands is truly valuable for both the resource and the producer.