(Posted 5/8/18) The Rainwater Basin (RWB) is an important staging area for migrating waterfowl, extending over 21 counties with approximately 40,000 acres of wetlands. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) owns and manages 35 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in 11 of the 21 counties. These properties encompass 8,953 acres of upland and wetland habitat.
The Marsh Duck (WMA) is one of these properties. Located near Waco, Nebraska in York County, the 153-acre WMA was purchased in 2005. The Marsh Duck WMA contains approximately 75 acres of wetland along with 78 acres of upland and is open for public uses such as hunting, trapping, bird watching, and hiking. It is primarily managed for waterfowl and upland game. The Marsh Duck WMA watershed is 758 acres in size and contributes runoff to the 75 acres of wetland on the WMA and the 45 acres of restored privately owned wetland that is across the county road.
As is the case with most RWB wetlands purchased by NGPC, the wetland on the WMA had hydrology modifications put in place by previous landowners in an attempt to shrink the size of the wetland and increase the amount of farmland. The modification having the largest impact on the wetland was a water concentration pit (~2½ acres in size). The pit was surrounded by an earthen berm (with breaks to allow water in), which subsequently became covered with willow and cottonwood trees. In addition, sediment from the cropland in the watershed had been deposited in the wetland, primarily in the temporary zone.
Once the area was acquired, NGPC worked with RWBJV partners to develop a restoration plan to improve wetland and watershed hydrology. The wetland was restored through Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Wetland Reserve Program (WRP). Restoration elements included 1) removing trees from the property, 2) removing the berm around the concentration pit, 3) removing sediment from 23 acres of the wetland, 4) filling a small concentration pit in the hydric soil footprint, 5) filling the deep county road ditch and replacing culverts to maximize runoff to the wetland, 6) replanting the upland back to native grasses and forbs, 7) installation of a new boundary fence, and 8) burying a pipeline from the existing well to provide supplemental water for the wetland.
The private wetland on the west side of the county road was enrolled in a permanent WRP contract in 2001. Initially, 40 acres nearest the road were enrolled. Three concentration pits were filled back to grade using sediment excavated from the wetland, a berm and trees were removed, the deep road ditch was filled, and the road shoulder re-built to a 12:1 slope. Then, in 2003, the landowner enrolled an additional 40 acres into WRP bringing the total area enrolled to 80 acres. Additional sediment removal was done and the upland area re-seeded to native grasses and forbs. There are 45 acres of wetland and 35 acres of upland on this tract.
In 2016 through the RWBJV’s Working Lands Initiative, the entire 80 acre WRP was fenced and a solar livestock well and tanks were installed to support grazing as a management tool. Also in 2016, aerial application of herbicide occurred on both the WMA and the WRP tracts to control perennial vegetation, increase open water, and allow for the establishment of early successional plants.
Private land work also occurred in the watershed to fill 4 irrigation reuse pits, 3 in 2010 and 1 in 2012. There are 2 pits remaining to be filled in the watershed to help restore natural hydrology through runoff into the wetland.
The conservation actions associated with the Marsh Duck WMA and private lands portion of the wetland were multi-partner efforts. Partners included Natural Resource Conservation Service, RWBJV, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, York County Department of Roads, the Nebraska Environmental Trust, NGPC and private landowners. Many different programs and funding sources from each of these agencies were utilized to restore this wetland.