Big Red working hard to improve habitat in the Rainwater Basin

Summer 2009

Ducks Unlimited Lands Manager Tim Horst and his crew of tractor drivers are having a busy year in Nebraska's Rainwater Basin. Last year, with funds from a North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant DU acquired a large, four-wheeled drive Case tractor, affectionately nicknamed "Big Red." Crews use the tractor to disk wetlands in the Rainwater Basin.

Disking wetlands is an important management practice because many wetlands in the Basin have not been disturbed for years. Over time wetlands can become choked with dense stands of cattail, reed canarygrass or river bulrush. These species have little value for waterfowl because they do not produce large amounts of wetland seed.

During spring migration when birds stop in the Rainwater Basin to rest and refuel, it is important that they find wetlands with abundant quantities of seed from natural wetland plants. Native wetland plant seeds provide the energy and nutrients that waterfowl need to replenish fat reserves and energy needed to resume their northward migration.

The relatively dry spring and summer experienced thus far in the Rainwater Basin has resulted in most wetlands going dry, a natural process that is important to the health of seasonal wetlands. With these dry conditions Tim and his crew have been able to access many overgrown wetlands and disk the dense stands of undesirable species. The crews have treated over 1,000 acres of low quality habitat with multiple passes by the tractor and heavy disk.

The disked wetlands will respond with plant communities composed mostly of annuals, such as smartweed and barnyard grass. These annual species produce large quantities of seed that can be consumed by the hordes of waterfowl that will descend upon the Rainwater Basin during migration periods.

Big Red, partners and DU staff
Big Red, partners and DU staff