The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, of which Ducks Unlimited is a partner, has received a $750,000 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust for the Rainwater Basin Conservation Easement Initiative. The initiative was developed to restore wetlands for migratory bird habitat, while maintaining them as a working, productive part of the agricultural landscape.
The Nebraska Environmental Trust, funded by the Nebraska Lottery, provides grants to organizations and communities state-wide, to help preserve and enhance Nebraska’s natural resources.
Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, have committed matching funds of $690,988 and $449,257 respectively. Portions of both DU’s and PF’s contributions were funded by federal grants through the North American Waterfowl Conservation Act (NAWCA).
Grant dollars will fund restoration of wetlands and surrounding grasslands, and the purchase of conservation easements, on eight properties – totaling 1,404 acres – in Fillmore, Franklin, Kearney, and Phelps Counties. The easements will prohibit plowing the restored grasslands or draining the wetlands; however, landowners retain the right to hay and graze grasslands and wetlands. Although the eight properties included in the first phase of the Conservation Easement Initiative are concentrated in four counties, Joint Venture partners hope to create similar “working landscape” opportunities throughout the Rainwater Basin region.
According to Joint Venture coordinator Steve Moran, the Conservation Easement Initiative offers multiple benefits, beginning with improved wetland quality, and suppression of invasive plants. “Grazing and haying operations provide vitally important habitat management, maintaining vegetation in the early successional condition that is most beneficial to the millions of migratory birds that pass through the Rainwater Basin each year,” Moran said.
In addition to providing habitat, wetlands and grasslands contribute to improved water quality. An added benefit, when former cropland is converted to pasture, is a voluntary reduction in the region’s total irrigated acres. As part of a “Working Landscape” program, however, the land continues to produce income, and remains an integral part of the local agricultural economy.
Easements on two of the eight properties had been secured as of early July; the remaining easements are pending. Restoration work is scheduled to begin this fall, and to be completed by February 2008.
“The Nebraska Environmental Trust is a gold nugget for the conservation community that is the envy of every other state I’ve been associated with,” Moran said. “It allows citizen-led conservation, and empowers the citizens of Nebraska to take an active role in conservation.”
NET funds for the Conservation Easement Initiative will be used to leverage federal grant dollars that would not otherwise be spent in Nebraska.
The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture is a public-private partnership created through the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.