The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture presented its Wetland Stewardship Award to three recipients at the 20th annual Informational Seminar in Grand Island on February 10. The award recognizes significant contributions to wetland and habitat conservation in the Rainwater Basin and Nebraska’s mixed-grass prairie regions.
One award went to Tim Smith of Grand Island. Smith was the RWBJV’s Wetland Habitat Specialist for four years, until he assumed the position of Land Manager at the Crane Trust in 2014. While working for the RWBJV, he coordinated with land managers to help remove invasive plants and thus improve habitat in public and privately owned Rainwater Basin wetlands. He also worked with landowners and agriculture producers interested in the Joint Venture’s conservation programs, including the Working Landscapes Initiative for grazing wetlands.
The other two award recipients were agriculture producers Jerry Stevens and Ben Votipka, both of Fillmore County. Stevens enrolled 34.9 acres in the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program in 2012. A provision of the WREP made it possible for him to integrate the wetland into his operation with the use of a modified pivot irrigation system. Stevens cooperated with RWBJV partners in restoration of the wetland on his property and he makes the site available for tours, to demonstrate the program’s benefits.
Ben Votipka worked with RWBJV partners to restore 60 acres of previously-drained wetlands, plant 35 acres of native grasses, and remove invasive trees. The restored wetlands are ephemeral, which means they have relatively short periods of inundation; such wetlands have extremely productive native plant communities and provide vital habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds.