It was a late February morning when Mike Perlinger noticed a large cloud of birds circling the South Platte River just outside the window of his Nebraska home. After a long, hard winter Perlinger became increasingly curious as to whether any of those ducks were using the recently restored DU project on his property.
In fall 2010, Perlinger worked with DU to restore the hydrology to 15 acres of floodplain habitat adjacent to the main stem of the South Platte River, east of Paxton. As he walked the trail from his house to the river and came upon the new slough, the sky erupted with thousands of pintails, wigeon, teal, and mallards exiting the restoration project. What was five months ago a dry swale lined with cactus and mature cottonwood trees that had not seen water in many years was now alive with thousands of ducks taking advantage of the newly available wetland habitat. Excited, Perlinger quickly set up trail cameras to document the spectacle that is the spring migration on the Platte River in Nebraska.
The Platte River has served as vital waterfowl migration habitat for centuries. The river provides one of the last crucial stopover sites in the spring, as waterfowl return to their nesting grounds. With land-use changes, the river has slowly narrowed over the past 50 years, deepening and reducing seasonal channels within the floodplain. With the loss of the backwater channels and seasonal sloughs, the river provides less productive habitat than it once did.
The Perlinger slough project is a prime example of how DU can positively influence breeding success to the north through vital wetland restoration in Nebraska. Where old channel scars existed but sediment had slowly filled in over time, DU restored the hydrology by excavating the material down to groundwater. The newly restored channels now seasonally function as they did historically.
This project was made possible through funding provided by grassroots efforts, the North American Wetland Conservation Act, and the Nebraska Environmental Trust. Without this collaboration, the project would not have been possible. Currently, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 5,000 acres of floodplain habitat along the Platte River system with multiple projects waiting to be completed.